How to Choose the Best Drawing Paper for Graphite


How to Choose the Best Drawing Paper for Graphite
How to Choose the Best Drawing Paper for Graphite

Are you wondering how to choose the best drawing paper for graphite? Telling you that anyone paper is better than others isn’t an option here. As an artist, you should select a paper that suits your needs. If that means drawing on smooth, high-quality paper, then that’s what you should do. If that means drawing on a discarded paper grocery bag or piece of cardboard, then that’s what you should do. 

The point is that you should do what makes you comfortable and what best compliments your style and technique. Below there are some suggestions for different types of art paper. You may want to try, and what the attributes of each of those types of paper are. Take some time to read through the list to see if any of the papers mentioned sound like a paper that you could see yourself drawing on.

Before reading any further, try to keep an open mind. If you have been drawing the same way for many years, and you are successful, that’s amazing, and I’m happy for you. But that doesn’t mean that you should become set in your ways. That doesn’t mean that you know enough about art that you can think that you don’t need to learn and experiment with. Will it be uncomfortable trying new things for the first time? Probably. But that doesn’t mean that you should be dissuaded. Take some time to experiment with different papers, types of graphite, and drawing techniques. If you do, your skills and versatility as an artist will grow.

My Best 8 Drawing Papers For Graphite

How can you choose the right drawing paper for you? Since all artists have their own styles, preferences, and comfort levels with different materials, coming up with a list of best papers is impossible. What I can do here is tell you about my favorite 8 graphite drawing papers and give you a little bit of info about each of them. After reading through my list, you should have a better idea of what kind of paper will work best for you. Before I get into the list of papers, I’d like to take a few minutes to explain different terms and what they mean.

Lower quality paper is made primarily from wood fibers, higher quality paper is typically hand made paper made from cotton and linen fibers. You should avoid using lower quality paper for finished artwork, but it’s ideal for sketching and practicing new things.

Paper weight is calculated by weighing 500 uniformly sized pieces of a particular type of paper. The heavier the weight of the paper, the thicker and heavier the paper is. Paper with a higher weight is better for artwork that involves watercolors, frequent erasing, and mixed media techniques. Heavier weight paper is favored by many artists because it is more durable than thinner, lighter paper, and holds up better during the process of creating a drawing.

Paper texture is referred to as tooth. The more tooth a paper has, the better softer mediums such as charcoal and pastels will adhere to their surface. More tooth might make it easier for materials to adhere to the surface of the paper, but it also makes it more challenging to add subtle lines and details to a drawing.

Now that you hopefully have a better grasp of what different paper terms mean, I’ll go over my preferred 8 best drawing papers for graphite. Remember, this is just a personal opinion, as an artist, you can and should choose to use whatever type of paper best suits your needs and skills.

1. Charcoal paper. While charcoal paper may seem like paper that should only be used for charcoal, hence it’s name, it’s actually suitable for any number of dry mediums including graphite. Charcoal paper is thin and highly textured with a light, grid-like pattern on it. This pattern makes it ideal for charcoal, but it can work very well for graphite while adding an interesting texture to your drawing. As you become more comfortable working on charcoal paper with graphite, you may want to start to introduce charcoal to the mix. Charcoal can give you bold lines and create black shadows that are beyond what you can achieve when working with graphite alone.

2. Hot press watercolor paper. Hot press watercolor paper is thick, smooth, and can be used for graphite, watercolor, or mixed media. Hot press watercolor paper has a very smooth surface that enables you to work in great detail when using graphite. If you want to get shape details, using a harder graphite lead works best. Since hot press watercolor paper is designed to work with water, you can add washes of watercolor, ink, or even acrylic to your drawings. Adding a splash of color to a drawing is a great way to bring it to life. An added bonus of working on watercolor paper is that you can draw something today, then if you develop your skills as a painter in the future, you can go back and turn that drawing into a painting.

3. Cold press watercolor paper. Cold press watercolor paper is thick and has a rougher surface that works well if you are doing more expressive graphite drawings. The rough texture adds an exciting element to your drawings, and because it’s thicker paper, it holds up well if you need to erase it repeatedly. You can also add washes of color via watercolor, ink, or acrylic, but if you plan to do this, make sure that you don’t damage the paper by erasing to frequently before adding any water. Cold press watercolor paper has a lot of tooth, so it’s a paper that you can draw on with graphite and then later come back and add charcoal, pastel, oil pastel, or even paint to if you want to add a dimension of color to your work.

4. Newsprint. Newsprint is not paper that you should be using for any drawing that you intend to show or sell. Why does it make my list of the best 8 graphite papers then? Because it’s very inexpensive. Newsprint has a soft, dull texture that works better with softer graphite. It’s a great option when you are trying to practice and develop your technique.

5. Copy paper. Copy paper makes this list for the same reason that newsprint does, it’s inexpensive. Copy paper is bright white, has a smooth surface, and is a great paper choice for sketching. You can usually go to any department or office supply store and pick up a pack of 500 sheets for around $5, that’s a price that can’t be beaten.

6. Canvas paper. Canvas paper is traditionally used as a less expensive option for acrylic and oil painters who don’t want to spend a lot of money on stretched canvas. But, canvas paper can also be used for graphite, and if you learn how to use it on this unique surface, you can get some pretty spectacular results. If you are planning to add paint to your drawing, then draw on the side that’s primed. But, if you aren’t planning to add color, there is canvas paper available that has an unprimed side that works well for graphite.

7. Bristol paper. Bristol is a smooth paper that’s just about as far from canvas paper as you can get. If you prefer doing highly detailed technical drawings, then bristol paper is a great choice.

8. Pastel paper. Pastel paper is similar to charcoal paper in that it is heavily textured. But, unlike charcoal paper, it’s the texture that isn’t formed by a grid-like pattern. It’s similar to cold press watercolor paper, but with a more delicate texture that allows it to grip large amounts of pigment. This makes it ideal or pastels and charcoal, but it also works very well for artists that work with graphite.

What Type Of Paper Should You Practice Drawing On?

What is the one thing you should do as much as possible if you want to improve as an artist? Practice. You should sketch something every day. If you have time, you should try to sketch multiple times a day. Sketching lets you flesh out ideas and practice different techniques. Sketching is a big part of how you grow and evolve as an artist. What sketching shouldn’t do is put a big dent in your bank account. When you are sketching and practicing, you shouldn’t be using expensive drawing paper. It’s wasteful, and it’s going to be too expensive for what your purposes are. You aren’t trying to create a masterpiece that you are going to sell in the future. 

You are trying to sketch and practice, so use cheap paper!

One option you might want to consider is copy paper. Yes, copy paper, the same paper that you put into printers. Copy paper comes in large packages that don’t cost a lot of money. So, you can stock up on sketching paper that will last you for a long time, and it’s not going to cost you much. One thing you should remember is that if you are going to be doing a lot of practice sketching, you should recycle any paper that you plan to throw out. Recycling paper is good for the planet, and since we all live on the same planet, it should be a focus for all of us.

Best Drawing Paper For Sketching

One great way to progress and grow as an artist is to keep to date your sketches and keep them. Then you can go back and look at ideas you explored in the past and see how your skills have evolved over time. Keeping a sketchbook is also a great way to keep track of different approaches that you may have to complete a finished drawing or painting one day. Now, if you are at the stage where you are sketching nearly all the time, and you don’t want to spend a lot of money to accommodate all of this sketching, you’ll need a cheap option to draw on. So, what are your options?

Option one is newsprint. Newsprint is inexpensive, recycled paper that you can find at any art store. It comes in large and small pads, and it’s cheap enough that you should be able to buy plenty of paper that will last you for a long time. Newsprint works well for most mediums, but remember that it’s very smooth, so it’s usually not a good choice for pastel, chalk, charcoal, or anything else that requires a lot of tooth.

Another inexpensive option to consider is a regular spiral notebook. Yes, the lines are distracting. But, who cares? Once you get used to the lines on the paper, they shouldn’t bother you. The quality of the paper isn’t great, but you are only sketching, so it really shouldn’t matter to you. Plus, you can’t beat the price? If you wait for back to school season, you can usually find spiral notebooks for under $1, which is a price that can’t be beaten.

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Which Paper To Use For Expressive Drawing

What type of paper should you use for expressive drawing? First of all, what is expressive drawing? If you asked 10 artists to define expressive drawing, you’d probably get 10 different answers. That’s because expressive drawing isn’t something that’s easily defined. Despite this, an attempt to define it will be made here, just so you can see what it is and what type of paper you should be using. 

Expressive drawing developed in the past two hundred years as people began to gravitate away from realism and into a more abstract vision for their art. Expressive drawing involves adding color and design elements to a drawing to evoke a particular emotional response from the viewer. You aren’t concerned with accuracy, you are concerned with emotion.

Now, back to the original question, what type of paper should you use for expressive drawing? That depends on what kind of medium you work with. If you work with dry mediums such as graphite or charcoal, then a rough drawing paper is the right choice. Why a rough drawing paper instead of a smooth one? Because smooth papers are better suited for detailed work, you are trying to create bold, expressive work. Now, if you sketch with watercolor or other types of paint or ink, you are going to want to use a heavier paper that can hold up well when it is wet. In this case, a cold press watercolor paper would be an ideal option. Why cold press paper? Because you should want a rougher paper to work with since you aren’t doing detailed work.

Canson Classic Cream Drawing Paper

If you enjoy drawing on an off-white surface, the creamy color of this paper should suit you very well. This paper has a medium tooth, which makes it an excellent choice for charcoal, graphite, pastel, or oil pastel. Click here to check reviews on Amazon.

The tooth of the paper is light enough that it can even handle ink well. This is a simple drawing paper that should work for most artists that work with dry mediums. It is 90 lb. weight paper, which means it is on the thinner side, so you’ll have to be careful when erasing a lot to avoid tearing it. As is the case with most other quality artist paper, it is acid-free and archival. Please keep in mind that a lighter weight paper such as this will not hold up well when wet, so if you prefer working with watercolor or ink wash, this paper isn’t a good choice for you.

Strathmore 400 Series Bristol Smooth Surface

Bristol paper is very smooth, making it ideal for detailed work. You can work with graphite, colored pencil, ink, and markers on it. Click here to visit Amazon.

While most artists prefer to use charcoal on paper with more tooth, you can get some interesting effects if you are careful when using charcoal on this paper. Just remember that without a lot of tooth, you’ll probably have to deal with a lot of charcoal dust, and smudging is also going to be a significant concern. However, if you use generous amounts of workable fixative while using charcoal on this paper, it can help to prevent smudging and reduce excess charcoal dust.

If you are interested in a paper with slightly more tooth, then Strathmore 400 Series Vellum Surface is a great option. 400 Series paper is high-quality paper, and a vellum finish gives it just enough tooth to work for charcoal, soft pastel, and oil pastels. It’s also heavy enough to handle light washes, but using too much water will usually warp and possibly even tear the paper. Being able to add a light wash to your drawing opens up a lot of possibilities, so make sure that you explore them.

Strathmore 400 Series Pastel Paper-Assorted Color Paper

Most artists that work in graphite predominantly produce monochromatic artwork. Graphite can produce anything from light grey to a dark grey that is nearly black. What it can’t deliver is color. You can overcome this limitation by adding paint or ink to your drawing, but at that point, it’s no longer a graphite drawing. It’s mixed media art. Mixed media art can be incredible, but if you are graphite artist and don’t want to start mixing different materials into your artwork, there is another option. That option is colored pastel paper. Strathmore 400 Series Pastel Paper is an excellent heavyweight paper that comes in a variety of colors and has a lot of fine-tooth to it. Click here to check the price on Amazon. Now, you can add color to your artwork, and establish an overall mood, without having to mix in paint, ink, or any other type of material.

Arches Watercolor, Hotpress

Arches is a name synonymous with quality, and the hot press watercolor paper that they produce is no exception. Arches hot press watercolor paper is a heavyweight paper that works well for watercolor, but it’s equally at home serving as a drawing surface for graphite. Hot press paper is a very smooth paper that lends itself toward detailed artwork that features fine lines, hatching, and subtle shading. Click here to visit Amazon.

If you are going to use hot press watercolor paper for graphite work, make sure that you start your drawing with a hard lead so you can sketch in the details without allowing your lines to become too dark. Erasing on hot press watercolor paper doesn’t always work very well, so working with light graphite marks before you are ready to finalize anything is your best approach.

Legion Stonehenge Drawing Paper

Legion Stonehenge drawing paper has a smooth surface that, much like hot press watercolor paper, is well suited for detailed artwork. It has a surface that works extremely well for many different mediums, making it a very versatile drawing paper. Click here to visit Amazon.

For graphite artists, the different tones that it comes in give you the ability to add color and influence the mood of your drawing, much like pastel paper does. The difference here, though, is that Strathmore Stonehenge’s paper is very smooth, while pastel paper has a fine-tooth to it.

Strathmore 400 Series Drawing Paper

Strathmore 400 Series Drawing paper comes in smooth and medium surfaces giving you the option of choosing the surface that works best for you. If you prefer to work carefully and create fine details, then the smooth paper is your best option.

If you prefer to create more expressive drawings that are rougher and less refined, then the medium surface paper is a better choice for you. Strathmore 400 Series Drawing paper is a heavyweight paper that stands up well when heavy amounts of graphite are used, and even when a lot of erasing is necessary. Read reviews on Amazon. It shouldn’t be surprising that paper meant specifically for drawing would be an ideal choice for many artists that work in graphite.

Strathmore Bristol Pad

Strathmore Bristol Pad is a pad of bristol paper that has a smooth, even surface that is ideal for technical, detailed drawings. If you are the type of artist that craves precision and control, then bristol paper is an excellent choice for you. Visit Amazon to read the reviews and check the price. It can also work for artists that have a looser approach, but frequent use of workable fixative to prevent unwanted smudging will probably be necessary.

Graphite Is Extremely Versatile, So Experiment And Try New Things And Different Types Of Papers

What’s the first thing that you can remember drawing with? Either a crayon or graphite, right? That’s why many artists love working in graphite. There is a familiarity and comfort that artists have with it that they just don’t have with most other types of artist materials. How many people started out painting? Or working in pastels or charcoal? Nobody? That’s the point, graphite is simple, familiar, and is something that many artists gravitate toward.

Now, don’t mistake this simplicity as a limitation. Graphite is extremely versatile and can create anything from a detailed technical drawing to an abstract drawing features bold strokes and shapes. The point here is that graphite is natural to work with, familiar to most artists, and very versatile. That sounds a lot like the perfect drawing medium, right?

Now, when working with graphite, make sure that you try using both hard lead and soft lead. Hard lead is excellent for creating fine lines that don’t easily smudge. Many artists that draw subjects such as cityscapes will work with hard lead on a smooth surface before progressing to softer graphite. In fact, many of these artists won’t ever move on to softer graphite, they’ll stick to lighter lines to create their drawing. Some artists will use harder lead on rough drawing paper, or softer lead on smooth drawing paper. As long as it works for you, then embrace it. There really aren’t any hard and fast rules that you need to follow when you are an artist that works with graphite. 

There are other mediums, but not so much with graphite. For example, if you were an oil painter, then you would never paint on unprimed paper because the oil would eventually destroy it. But, with graphite, there are no such limitations to be worried about.

One area that many artists could look to in order to grow and expand is their choice of drawing surface. Any experienced artist will tell you that the surface that you draw on will have a considerable impact on the look of your work. Smooth surfaces work better for detailed work, rougher surfaces work better for more expressive work. Artists are creatures of habit, and once they find a surface that they are comfortable working on, they will often continue to favor working on that surface. 

There’s nothing wrong with sticking with what’s working. Unless sticking with what’s working is preventing you from expanding your skills. How will you ever know if your style works better on charcoal paper than on drawing paper unless you try it? The point here is that to should experiment and try new things. You should embrace change and not be afraid to try drawing on new surfaces using new techniques.

Recommend Drawing Paper for Graphite

  • Canson Classic Cream Drawing Paper. This paper has a medium tooth, which makes it an excellent choice for charcoal, graphite, pastel, or oil pastel. Click here to check reviews on Amazon.
  • Strathmore 400 Series Bristol Smooth Surface. Bristol paper is very smooth, making it ideal for detailed work. You can work with graphite, colored pencil, ink, and markers on it. Click here to visit Amazon.
  • Strathmore 400 Series Pastel Paper. Strathmore 400 Series Pastel Paper is an excellent heavyweight paper that comes in a variety of colors and has a lot of fine-tooth to it. Click here to check the price on Amazon.
  • Arches Watercolor. Hot press paper is a very smooth paper that lends itself toward detailed artwork that emphasizes fine lines, hatching, and subtle shading. Click here to visit Amazon.
  • Legion Stonehenge Drawing Paper. It has a surface that works extremely well for many different mediums, making it a convenient drawing paper. Click here to visit Amazon.
  • Strathmore 400 Series Drawing paper is a heavyweight paper that stands up well when substantial quantities of graphite are used, and even when a lot of erasing is necessary. Read reviews on Amazon. 
  •  If you are the type of artist that wants precision and control, then bristol paper is an excellent choice for you. Visit Amazon to read the reviews and check the price.

Ian

Ian Walsh is the creator and author of improvedrawing.com and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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