The Right Drawing Paper Will Make Any Sketch Look Better (Really!)

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The great thing about drawing is that you don't need special supplies. Go ahead and use the tiny pencil from mini golf or the paper bag that once carried your Chinese takeout.

But there are definitely reasons to upgrade. If both your pencils and paper are good, even a beginner-level drawing will look nicer than the same one done with cheap art supplies.

Think about these three factors when choosing drawing paper: texture, thickness (weight) and color.

As a rule, textured papers, like those by Canson Mi-Teintes, are excellent for pastel and charcoal drawings but terrible for colored-pencil work.

With thickness, the heavier the paper, the better it is for drawing, storing and framing. (All professional drawing and printmaking papers come acid-free for archival purposes, so that's a given.). You want the weight to be at least 80 lbs.; anything less is better suited for preliminary sketches. 

Read on for my rundown of the relative strengths of different paper types. But remember that what works for one artist may not work for another. Trial-and-error is part of the process, as is actually touching the paper and feeling the weight and texture for yourself.

For using with all kinds of drawing tools

Strathmore drawing-paper pads are a go-to because the brand offers a range of sizes good for graphite, pen-and-ink , charcoal and some colored-pencil drawings . Plus, Strathmore offers the best price-to-quality ratio. That's what you want if you're a beginner or experimenting with a bunch of different tools.

These drawing-paper pads are medium-weight (80 lbs.), medium-surface (a light texture) and come in light ivory or bright white.

Other brands, like Canson, also make good drawing papers. Just follow the same rules of texture, thickness and color.

For easy blending

For mechanical and pen-and-ink drawing and colored-pencil painting, Strathmore Bristol pads are it. They are heavyweight (100 lbs.) — this paper doesn't crumble. The perfectly smooth surface allows for easy lay of colored pencil and graphite. The colors seem to blend themselves.

This ultra-smoothness isn't great for pastel and charcoal because the paper doesn't accept as many layers of pigment as a lightly textured paper will.

For simple sketching

When it comes to general sketching in any dry medium, Strathmore Sketch is a great pick. Use it to make a colored-pencil sketch, transferring the outlines later onto better-quality drawing paper. 

Strathmore sketch paper is lightly textured and very thin (50 lbs.), so it can't withstand the same amount of layering and erasing as drawing paper.

For drawing in colored pencil

With colored-pencil drawing, smoothness and weight matter most. The Stonehenge paper by Legion Papers is definitely the pro move. It comes in sheets and pads and in white as well as several medium-to-light colors. It's a smooth vellum with a 90 lb. surface that accepts lots of pigment and is suitable for other dry media, including pastels and printmaking. You'll find layering and blending of colored pencils is super easy compared to other surfaces.

For black-and-white sketching

Strathmore's toned gray sketch paper pad is a smart choice for quick drawings and studies completed in black and white colored pencils or charcoal .

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The Right Drawing Paper Will Make Any Sketch Look Better (Really!)