When it comes to creating art, the types of supplies you use are important. Having dedication and talent allows you to produce the vision you have in your head, but the right tools will help you see it through. We’ve written before about the best colored pencils, markers, acrylic, and oil paints that professionals love. But you can’t forget about paper. A great piece of paper will make your media flow across the page and in some cases, stay put. It can also stand up to scoring and folding without tearing.
The type of paper you’ll want to use depends on the work you’re making. Drawing typically uses dry media, and so you’ll want to sketch on paper that has some “toothy” texture to it; this will ensure that your pencils or pastels will stick to the page instead of sliding off. Painting, on the other hand, often benefits from a smoother surface. It allows you to evenly apply thin layers of pigment until you’ve got brilliant, multifaceted colors.
When selecting paper, remember that it is weighted in pounds. The higher the number pound, the thicker the paper will be. For media like watercolor, you’ll want to ensure you’re working on a thicker paper (such as 140 pounds)—this will ensure that the paper won’t curl or wrinkle from the water.
Like all art supplies, you’ll want to try a bevy of brands and types before picking out your favorite. But to help you get started, here’s a primer on the types of paper you’ll want to use for painting, drawing, paper-crafting, hand lettering, and printmaking.
Wonder the types of paper to use for drawing, painting, and beyond? Scroll down for our guide.
Paper to Use for Painting
Watercolor paint has three different types of paper that artists like to use: hot-press, cold-press, and rough. Hot-press paper has a smooth, hard surface which makes it ideal for fine detail work, but it's often criticized as being slippery and hard to control. Cold-press has a semi-rough surface that’s suitable for detail work and washes, but you can see some of the texture peeking through. Rough paper is exactly that—it has a rigid texture. Because of this, it’s great if you enjoy creating washes of color. The texture allows the pigment extra drying time.
No matter what you press, each is meant for water-based media, but depending on your style, you might want to opt for one over the other.
Acrylic and Oil
Although we typically think that acrylic and oil paint is only for canvas, many artists enjoy working on paper. It’s more affordable and versatile than canvas—especially if you paint your own papers for collage art. To paint on paper with acrylic or oil, you’ll want to look for thick paper (similar to watercolor). The type of paper texture can vary. As long as the paper has enough weight, both smooth or rough can stand up to paint. With highly textured paper, however, it will take more pigment to cover the surface; it might get stuck in the surface’s nooks and crannies.
You can use the same type of paper with either acrylic or oil paint, but for oils, you need to prime the surface with gesso. (You can also do this for acrylic paint, but it’s not required.) If you do not prime a paper surface for oil paint, the pigment might sink into the paper and look dull.
Paper for Drawing
Like painting, the type of paper you choose for your drawing will depend on your media. There are, however, many sketch pads that contain paper that covers most of the dry materials you’ll use.
Generally, you’ll want to look for medium-weight papers (around 80 pounds) that have a light texture. (Any paper under 80 pounds is considered thin and won’t be able to withstand many layers of material.) The most popular colors are an ivory (off-white) or bright white, but if you’d like a fun challenge, try drawing on black paper.
It’s dealer’s choice when you draw with a pencil. A doodle or sketch does fine on thin paper, such as 20-pound copy paper, but for drawings that require a lot of shading, blending, and excessive erasing, you’ll want to opt for something that’s heavier.
Try this: Strathmore 400 Series Sketchpad
Like graphite, colored pencils can be applied to many types of papers. They look best on pages with a slight texture; selecting something that’s overly smooth will make them hard to get a consistent color.
Try this: Strathmore 400 Series Colored Pencil Pad
Charcoal and Dry Pastel
Charcoal and dry pastels are dry and dusty, making them hard to control. Unless you’re using a charcoal pencil, you don’t sharpen these materials like you would a pencil or colored pencil. Drawing onto a toothy surface will help to extract some of the charcoal or dry pastel onto the paper.
Make sure you select a paper that’s above 100 pounds—especially since charcoal and dry pastels often require a lot of erasing.
Oil pastels can go on rough surfaces like dry pastels. But because they have oil in them, they work well on smooth paper. They also never fully “dry,” so you can layer and blend colors on the page. For this reason, thick paper—even up to 300 pounds—is ideal.
Ideal Paper for Papercraft
Origami and Similar Paper Folding
You’ll want to use delicate papers when folding origami or similar folded art. A paper that’s too thick can show awkward crease lines or not even fold at all. Luckily, it’s not hard to find the right paper; square-shaped origami sheets are sold in packs and give you a variety of color and patterns to use.
Try this: Origami Paper Double Sided Color
Watercolor paper is a great tool for making paper sculptures! Look for thick sheets—think 300 pound—because you can manipulate them in a variety of ways using a knife or with water. The X-Acto method uses light scoring to produce bends and folds in the paper. Another approach encourages you to wet the paper, manipulate it into your chosen shape, and watch it dry the same way.
The Perfect Paper for Hand Lettering/Calligraphy
Hand Lettering and Calligraphy
For any type of hand lettering or calligraphy, smooth paper is a must. Using any sort of textured paper can break a nib or break the flow of your letterforms. Try practicing your typography using a translucent bond paper to start. When you’re ready to create finished works, thick bristol sheets will provide the smooth surface you need. Other smooth-surface papers are an option (like hot press watercolor) just as long as they don’t have a waxy finish.
Try this: Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Smooth Pad
Art Paper for Printmaking
Linoleum or Block Printing
Linoleum printing is one of the most accessible types of printmaking, whether you’re an art enthusiast or professional. You can use a variety of paper for this medium, but if you’re just beginning, try a lightly-textured paper. This will ensure that your ink is fully absorbed into the surface but it’s not so textured that it will cause inconsistent impressions in your stamp.