How Do I Choose the Right Paper for Drawing? 

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Choosing the right paper for your drawing can be more complicated than you imagine. There are different types, textures, and brands of paper. This makes the options you can choose from to be numerous. So, how should you select the paper for your project? 

Before shopping for your paper, you should be aware of some terms. It would be best to settle for a paper that ensures your artwork lasts many years without deteriorating. Ensure the paper you choose is acid-free; otherwise, your art will deteriorate or turn yellow, affecting the image’s quality over time. The acid-free paper is buffered with calcium carbonate, neutralizing acid from the air or natural aging processes. There are various other factors to consider when choosing the right paper, and this piece will unpack them. So, read on to find more.  

Surface Texture  

The surface texture of your drawing paper will come into play when you are planning to work with many layers. It is usually hard to layer any other colors on the surface once the surface of the paper is filled. Choosing a paper with the right tooth or texture will be helpful. 


Cotton fiber paper is the most durable paper type. Drawing paper made of this material offers the highest quality and can handle the most erasure.  

The second type of material is Bristol. It is a cotton fiber-based material known for versatility and durability. It comes in one-ply for tracing, two-ply, and vellum finish.  

There is also cellulose fiber paper. This paper is the most common and is made of wood pulp. Papers made of cellulose fiber are acidic, but the material can handle different erasures.  


Consider the finish of the paper you are selecting. The rough or unfinished paper retains its texture since it is not smoothed, making it excellent for layering. It has a substantial tooth making it suitable for grabbing smooth marking materials such as pastel and charcoal.  

A cold finish smoothes the cold press paper. This paper is less textured and has a tooth that is slightly weaker than rough paper. The cold press paper texture and tooth sit just right with most of the artists.  

If you are looking for a smoothed paper, then hot press paper is for you. It is a paper that allows the most detail of the three paper types based on finish. This paper is suitable for drafting or a polished sketch and is best for printmaking or etching.  


Another factor to bear in might when choosing your drawing paper is weight. A paper with a heavier weight can handle more layers, techniques, and water. An individual sheet does not determine the weight of the paper. A rim of 500 sheets is weighed together in the factory.  


You should ensure the paper you select is sized accurately for your medium. You need to find out if the paper is externally, internally, or internally externally sized. It is worth noting that canvas and board are prepared with gesso while the paper is sized.  

It is not uncommon for individuals to sometimes gesso paper to work in heavy mediums. However, it is always best to work with paper that is correctly sized to suit your project. You will not have to gesso the paper if you select the correct drawing paper labeled for the medium.  


Medium is one of the most crucial factors when choosing a drawing paper. Manufacturers make paper to work successfully with different mediums to ensure your work has longevity.  

It is always best to choose a paper on its recommendations. Below are the paper types and the mediums you can use with them.  


Newsprint paper is mainly used to support those learning to sketch or artists wanting to sketch their ideas. Markers, graphite, charcoal, oil pencils, carbon, and monochrome chalks are the mediums that work best with this paper.  

Sketching Paper 

Sketching paper is like a light version of drawing paper. It is used chiefly for practicing drawing, quick studies, and experimenting with dry media. Most artists use this paper type in sketchbooks they keep for reference in future compositions.  

Drawing Paper 

Drawing paper is a heavier and better-quality paper than sketching paper. The best mediums for this type of paper are charcoal, graphite, monochromes, markers, oil pastel, soft pastels, and ink.  


This type of paper has a unique pebbled surface on one side, with the other being smoother. The paper is best used with pastels, drawing chalks, charcoal, colored pencils, and monochromes.  

Charcoal Paper 

Charcoal paper is made of cotton and has a unique laid finish. It allows the artist to get precise shading control and works best with drawing chalks, charcoal, pastel, monochromes, and graphite.  

Mixed Media 

The mixed media paper is a relatively new entrant in the paper world. Manufacturers make this paper to withstand the many media techniques used by artists today. The paper’s surface has been designed to have qualities like watercolor but with a drawing surface of vellum. The most suitable mediums are colored pencil, graphite, acrylic, watercolor, pen and ink, gouache, gel pens, fine liners, and calligraphy ink, among many others.  

Bristol Paper 

Bristol paper is a very versatile and standard paper used in the college and much of the industry. These are papers in which two or more sheets are pasted together to form 3-ply sheets, two-ply sheets, etc., to achieve strength and stiffness, and to create a sheet with identical usable felt or top sides.  

There are two surfaces for Bristol paper: vellum and smooth. Smooth Bristol is best suited for airbrush, pen and ink, and detailed work with graphite or colored pencil. Vellum surface is ideal for charcoal, graphite, airbrush, crayon, pastel, and colored pencils.  

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The above factors and paper types serve as a guide of what to consider when getting drawing paper. Of course, there are other paper types, but these will serve as an excellent guide.  

It would be best to understand the purpose of your paper before selecting one. A paper for sketching will differ from a colored painting which will also vary from an airbrush painting. Your level of expertise will also play a crucial role in your choice. If you are starting, you can consider newsprint paper and work through the other paper types as you progress. 

Kevin Peter