Founded in 1282, the paper mill at Fabriano (on the Esino River inland from Ancona, Italy) is the oldest continuously operating paper mill in Europe. The Cartiere Miliani Fabriano claims to have innovated three techniques which are still a part of papermaking today: the identification of papers using watermarks, the hydraulic hammer pile for pulverizing the rags, and gelatin sizing to strengthen paper and render it more receptive to ink and paint. Mechanization came in the late eighteenth century, largely through the efforts of Pietro Miliani. The Fabriano firm was acquired by the Miliani family in the 1950's and has remained at the center of its business operations to this day. — The Fabriano firm supports an enormous span of papermaking activities, from paper for the first issue of EU currency to art papers skillfully handmade with the traditional pulp furnish and cold water techniques. Some of their handmade papers include earth pigments from Sienna and Umbria regions, which gives them a luxurious, weighty quality combined with a remarkable softness of texture.

Three lines of Fabriano paper are important for the watercolorist:

Fabriano Artistico papers are a well-known, widely used and fairly inexpensive watercolor support. Papers are mouldmade, 100% cotton, acid free, surface sized, with two natural deckle edges, and the watermark "C.M. FABRIANO - 100/100 COTTON" along both edges. The rattle is moderately bright and somewhat rounded; the paper burns to a very light gray, fragile ash. Available as white sheets or rolls, in the standard three finishes (R, CP and HP), in weights of 200, 300 and 600 GSM. Price of a single 300 GSM full sheet is about US$3.20.

The Rough finish (grana grossa in Italian) offers a really unusual texture: a fairly smooth surface cratered with many differently sized, overlapping "ball peen" indentations. This produces the most pronounced pooling of granular pigments (cobalts, ultramarine blue, cadmiums) of any moderately priced paper; the drawback is that the cratering will intrude texture throughout a wash, making the paint appear spotted or splotchy. Color is a creamy warm white. The sizing is moderately heavy: despite its texture the surface does not exhaust a brush, and it takes washes very evenly with very little banding and no blossoming in the magenta areas. Resists lifted cleanly with no surface damage; scrubbing left visible streaks under a wash; however the sap green lifted completely with no visible damage to the surface. — The Cold Pressed finish (grana fina) has a robust wove texture, much like a coarse linen sheet; the texture on the wire side is mixed and much less pronounced. Color is a creamy warm white. The sizing is moderately heavy; it takes washes very evenly without exhausting the brush (but with noticeable cobalt banding in the paper texture); there was no blossoming in the magenta areas. The paper curled excessively when wet, but dried flat. Resists lifted cleanly with no damage; scrubbing left visible streaking and increased pigment texture in the wash; the green lifted completely with slight surface sluffing and wicking at the edge of repainted areas. — The Hot Pressed finish (grana satinata) has one of the more refined HP surfaces available: no protruding tufts of lint, and a very tiny, subtle wove texture is just visible to the eye under oblique light. Color is a reflective ivory, one of the warmest HP sheets, but it shows all colors to good advantage. Unfortunately the sizing is poorly adjusted: both the ultramarine washes and magenta stripes blotched and blossomed uncontrollably, and the paper curled excessively as it dried. Scrubbing roughened the surface and sluffed off little rolls of paper, leaving obtrusive streaks that showed up under a wash; resists left no damage, and lifting the sap green color roughened the surface but did not affect the appearance of the repainted area.

Fabriano provides the Artistico grade in watercolor blocks. These have a less assertive texture; the CP finish in particular does very well with granulating pigments such as cerulean blue. The sheets very infrequently show the same blotching under washes, caused by a contaminant in the surface sizing that repels water, that frequently appears in the Lanaquarelle sheets. The blocks are also considerably more absorbent (lightly sized), which causes more pronounced blossoming and unevenness in wash areas than occurs in the single sheets.

(300gsm R, CP, HP)

Fabriano Uno papers are a recent addition to the art paper offerings. Sheets are mouldmade, 100% cotton rag, acid free, internally and surface sized with Aquapel, with two natural deckle edges, with the watermark "+ Fabriano Uno" along one edge ("one the first watermarks in recorded history, a simple cross symbolizing the marriage of tradition and innovation," in the words of the inspired Fabriano marketeer); the watermark "reads right" from the wire side. The rattle is bright with a slight warble; the paper burns to a talc white, fragile, powdery ash. — Available in white sheets, in four finishes (R, CP, HP and a novel finish unique to Uno called "soft-pressed" or grana dolce, SP), in weights of 200, 300 and 600 GSM, or in blocks of 300 GSM. Price of a 300 GSM full sheet is about US$3.50.

The range of textures in the Uno line is much less contrasted than in the Artistico. The Rough finish is noticeably less textured than the R finish in many other brands (compare, for example, to Arches, Whatman or Winsor & Newton). The tooth is extremely even, gappy but not very deep, and slightly lighter on the wire side; deckles are small, thin and irregular. Color is a medium white. The sizing is moderate; takes washes very well without exhausting the brush, with enhanced pigment texturing and a very slight banding of the cobalt pigment; and very gentle blossoming in the magenta areas. Resists came off cleanly without surface damage; scrubbing left no marks; the green did not lift completely and caused slight wicking at the edges of repainted areas. — The Cold Pressed finish is again slightly less textured than the same finish in other brands. It has a subdued linen texture, similar to the wire side of the Artistico sheet, that is receptive to detail; the deckles are thin and very ragged. Color is a cool medium white. The sizing is slightly thin; the sheet took washes well without exhausting the brush, displayed the flocculation nicely but also caused banding in the cobalt pigment. The magenta blossomed slightly in the wash area. Resists came off with no damage; scrubbing left very faint streak marks easily masked by the ultramarine texture. The green lifted with effort but the scrubbing did not damage the paper or cause wicking when repainted. — The Soft Pressed finish appears to be the CP texture run under a slightly higher pressure calendering; the wire sides of the SP and CP sheets are almost indistinguishable. I find little to choose between the two surfaces. The color is a cool grayed white. In most respects the paper behaves much like the CP finish, excepting that the magenta blossoms noticeably and the green only lifted with a lot of sluffing and visible damage to the surface, though repainted areas were discolored but did not wick at the edges. — The Hot Pressed finish has a gentle eggshell texture, clean of fiber imperfections, with an irregular, ghostly blanket running across the felt side; the deckles are very thin, ragged, and characterful. Color is a bright medium white. The sizing is very good; there was little blotching or banding in the washes (for an HP sheet); but the magenta areas blossomed strongly. Resists lifted cleanly without damage. Scrubbing left visible marks; the green did not lift completely, caused sluffing, and left a noticeable discoloration under the repainted areas (but no wicking at the edges).

(300gsm R, CP, SP, HP)

Fabriano Esportatzione is a renowned and very expensive paper that Sylvie Turner calls "especially delicious." All sheets are handmade, 100% cotton and cotton rag, neutral pH, acid free, internally and tub sized with gelatin, with four natural deckle edges, the CP sheet is watermarked "Hand Made" and "CM Fabriano Italy" in opposite corners along one deckle edge. The rattle is solid and slightly wooden; the paper burns to a very scanty light gray ash. Available as an ivory white, in CP and R finishes only, in weights of 200, 315 and 600 GSM. Price of a single 315 GSM full sheet is a stunning US$24.85 (!) or more, and only a few suppliers (such as New York Central Art Supply and Jerry's Artarama) carry it in the USA.

The Rough finish is an extraordinarily assertive, declarative surface, with a very coarse and deep tooth gathered into broad striations running across the grain, punctuated with very small gouges scattered across the surface in different orientations. This is a finish that can emerge from underneath even the most exuberant acrylic or watercolor gestures. Deckles are almost nonexistent. Color is a deep ivory, the warmest of any sheet tested. The sizing is moderately heavy; the texture quickly exhausted the brush and broke up the strokes: washes must be applied juicily and aggressively. Pigment texture is impossible to read over the jumble of tooth. The magenta went on without any blossoming. Resists came off cleanly and scrubbing left no marks whatever. The green lifted with only slight sluffing of the surface but caused noticeable wicking at the edges of repainted areas, and color sunk in the deepest cracks was impossible to dig out. In general this sheet should only be attempted with a very assertive, exuberant style; it won't support detail, delicate pigment effects, or much reworking. — The Cold Pressed finish is much smoother and, although similar in texture to many other CP sheets, has a density of grain and a firmness in the tooth that lets it draw texture from many kinds of brushstrokes. Deckles are small and very thin. Color is a very warm ivory white, one of the darkest sheets tested, which will dull most transparent colors painted on it. The surface sizing is well judged: the sheet took washes very evenly, without exhausting the brush; there was faint banding in the cobalt pigment, a slight display of ultramarine flocculation, and absolutely no blossoming in the magenta. The resists came off cleanly, without scarring; scrubbing left absolutely no marks. The green lifted only with effort and significant damage to the surface; the edges of the repainted area wicked extensively. The sheet holds moisture once wet, and the internal sizing does not close all the interstices in the pulp, with the result that paint may wick beyond brushstroke edges in areas where two or more juicy layers of paint have been applied.

Fabriano makes other handmade sheets, and of these the Fabriano Umbria papers are also suitable for watercoloring. This paper has no surface sizing and responds with slightly more absorbency than a surface sized paper.

Fabriano also offers the inexpensive Fabriano Watercolor paper in sheets or blocks, a student grade made from high alpha wood cellulose.

Please see the page how to test watercolor papers for an explanation of my paper evaluation methods.