When you’re just starting to draw the choices in paper and pencils can be overwhelming. There really is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing either. What is more important is which paper you enjoy working with for your particular style.
Even though this paper is great in many ways, please be aware that the texture will show up in photographs and scans which can be a problem if you’re doing an illustration to be used for publication. However, for work to be displayed in a frame it’s a beautiful paper!
Arches is made of 100% cotton and is archival quality paper.
Best Drawing Paper – I think these brands are the best available in the US for graphite pencil drawing.
Arches Cover– This paper is meant for printing, but I’m mentioning it here because most beginners don’t know the difference between drawing paper and paper meant for printing. Usually, printing paper is too soft for pencil drawing, and Arches Cover is no exception.
Walnuts and Amaretto was drawn on this paper, and you can see the level of detail I was able to create on it.
The 500 Series Drawing Paper is archival quality. This paper is still made but it’s very hard to find, however it is the same surface that’s used on both sides of Strathmore’s 500 series illustration board immediately below.
The first drawing I ever sold was a drawing of three irises on piece of this paper in pale yellow, however I suggest that you buy a small assorted pad first to see what colors you prefer. It’s fairly inexpensive.
This paper works very well for portraits, landscapes, and other situations where the texture can add interest to the drawing. Additionally, it comes in several light pastel colors that work well with graphite.
Artists have many choices when it comes to drawing paper, but how do you choose which one to use? It’s a common question, especially for those who are new to drawing. Let’s explore which types of papers artists prefer for graphite pencil drawings.
This is not a bad board. I used it for several drawings in my book. It’s inexpensive and it’s consistant, but there is little bit of a learning curve in knowing how to deal with its faults.
For graphite drawings with a moderate degree of realism, a drawing paper like Strathmore Series 400 is a good place to begin. It will give you good results without breaking the bank. It’s off-white, though, so it won’t give the snappy highlights you need for really crisp realism.
Canson Drawing Paper Smooth Surface – The tooth on this paper is very inconsistant and very shallow. I doesn’t accept dark values and I do not reccommend it.
Canson makes this paper in a smooth surface which I don’t like and review below.
Paper Reviews Archival Price Rating Best Sketching Choice Best Fine Art Choice Arches Watercolor Yes High Superb X Stonehenge Drawing Paper Yes Low Excellent X Strathmore Pastel Paper No Low Excellent X X Strathmore 400 Drawing Paper No Low Good X X Canson Drawing Medium Surface No Low Good X Strathmore 500 Drawing Paper Yes High Good X Strathmore Illustration Board Yes High Good X (Limited) Strathmore 500 Bristol Board Yes High Good X (Limited) Strathmore 400 Bristol Board No Low Good X X (Limited) Strathmore 300 Bristol Board Poor Canson Drawing Smooth Surface Poor Arches Cover Poor Bienfang Raritan Poor Canson Mi-Teintes Poor Clayboard Poor Lanaquarelle Poor Rives BFK Poor
Lanaquarelle Hot Press Watercolor Paper – Another paper with fibers that become noticeable as it’s worked.
Since it’s meant for pastels, this paper has a very obvious texture. However, by using the right technique, it is possible to produce very dark blacks and fine smooth detail on it, and that makes it worth using!
Old review: An interesting paper for drawing furred animals. It holds dense blacks very well but you have to work very hard to create a good range of mid tones by using different pencil grades and many layers of hatching. I find it too rough for any subject that does not have fur or a heavily textured surface.
Another popular option that some realist artists prefer is hot-pressed watercolor paper. You do need to be careful, though.
The Enchanted Tree was drawn on this paper and I was able to create very fine detail.
The Christmas Cactus flower was drawn on this board. The 400 Series Bristol Board is acid free but not archival.
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It may take some time to find the right paper for you and it’s likely that you’ll change your mind repeatedly as you progress. Since it’s common for beginners to do a lot of erasing, consider starting out with one of those tougher papers. They’re perfect for practicing techniques and very forgiving of any mistakes.
The dragon and lamb were created on this paper. The illustration was made for a book and the image scanned and printed very well, but the image has few very dark values.
Good Drawing Paper – The following paper brands work well for pencil drawing in some circumstances.
Pending new review. This paper is being distributed again and I’ll review both the plate and vellum surfaces as soon as I can get samples of them.
This is an acid free paper, and but not archival. I’ve had no trouble with it deteriorating over time, but you should keep it from touching other acidic paper or matte board, and keep it out of direct sunlight.
Stonehenge has a smooth and somewhat soft surface. I use soft leads when I draw on this one.
Some watercolor papers have too much size and are slippery, making them less than ideal for grabbing the graphite of your pencils.
Strathmore 300 Series Smooth Bristol Board – This is a very smooth paper and similar to the 400 series Bristol Board, but it doesn’t have enough tooth to hold rich blacks. I do not reccomment it.
Poor Drawing Paper – I don’t suggest using any of these papers for graphite pencil drawing.
The surface is smoother than Arches hotpress but it’s much more delicate and gouges easily. You have to work with soft leads and apply several layers of hatching to create very dark blacks on this paper, but it can be done. It’s available in individual sheets and various sized paper pads.
Most drawing paper has a coarse texture and that will work against you.
I sketched these three onions on Canson Classic Cream Drawing Paper which I think is a pretty good paper for quick, rough sketching. For comparison, the texture is a little less rough than the Strathmore 400 Drawing Paper that I reviewed above. However, this paper is somewhat soft, and you can dent it if you press too hard with a sharp pencil point.
Yet, a minimally sized watercolor paper will have an excellent tooth and smooth surface, without the slipperiness of Bristol Plate. Try Fabriano Artistico Extra White or Arches Bright White hot press.
For tonal drawing, especially those with lots of darks, it’s worth paying a little extra for Stonehenge paper. This one has a softer surface so it really doesn’t take to lots of reworking and you’ll need to erase with care. However, the fine velvety tooth holds the medium very well and it’s a pleasure to draw on.
Strathmore 500 Series Illustration Board – This is the Strathmore Drawing paper reviewed above but placed on archival illustration board.
This is an acid free paper, and but not archival. As with the 400 series pastel paper reviewed above, the key to long life is to keep it from touching other acidic paper or cardboard, and keep it out of direct sunlight.
Canson Mi-Teintes Drawing Paper – This paper has a very pronounced laid texture. It does not hold graphite well at all. Producing a deep black is impossible.
Many professional artists opt for bristol board rather than paper for their realist tonal drawings. The surfaces are strong, tough, and very smooth. A plate finish is good for very fine detail and precise lines, while a velour surface will allow for richer darks still give a slightly visible texture.
Arches is a tough paper with a smooth surface that can stand multiple erasures. It holds blacks beautifully and you can create smooth gradations on it. I work with my entire range of pencils on this paper – from 9H to 9B. It’s available in individual sheets and various sized watercolor blocks and pads.
This paper is made of 100% cotton, archival quality paper and is very inexpensive.
Strathmore’s 400 Series Bristol Board has a somewhat uneven surface tooth that can look blotchy when blended. It is possible to work out the blotches and make a smooth tone, but it takes some practice and time.
I only used one pencil, a B, on this sketch. I’ve found that on somewhat rough papers like this one, you can create darker values with mid-range soft pencils because the grain captures the lead so well. So, if you didn’t want to bother with packing up a lot of supplies for a sketching expedition, a pad of this paper, a medium soft pencil, an eraser, and a sharpener would be all that you’d need.
Rives BFK – Hundreds of fibers rise as this paper is worked. Then they break off making a terrible mess.
This finish is almost too smooth for most graphite drawing. While you can create very delicate and smooth textures on it like flower petals, creating dense black takes patience. It can be done but it takes several layers of soft lead to achieve.
It’s a good idea to try both to see which suits your drawing style. You can’t go wrong with a plate finish Strathmore Series 500 Bristol Board.
For detailed, realist graphite pencil drawing, you need a sturdy paper that can cope with repeated erasing and working. It should also have a fine texture that allows you to create the illusion of smooth surfaces such as glass, metal, or skin.
I like this paper very much. It’s off-white and the texture is a little rough. It makes a good quick sketching paper because of that roughness. This paper erases well too, and that allows you to pull out highlights easily.
As you gain the confidence you can add to your paper collection and explore some of the other options. After some time, you’ll get a feel for which types of paper you prefer and be able to choose the best for a particular effect you’re going for in each drawing.
Bienfang Raritan Heavyweight Drawing Paper – I cannot get this paper to accept dark blacks … they just seem to fall off.
This 400 series drawing paper is acid-free but not archival, however many artists are using it for finished work. I haven’t yet, but I’m sure I will eventually because the surface texture is just too tempting to work on!
Clayboard (Not a paper but thought I’d mention it anyway.) – Much too smooth. It has almost no tooth at all, so don’t waste your money like I did. Ha!
The surface of the paper determines the fineness of detail and the range of value a draftsperson is able to create. Over the years, I have used several different kinds of paper for my graphite drawings and have found each one to be unique. Here are my reviews of several of them.