Art supply stores are well stocked these days with a variety of different paper brands to choose from. When you’re a paper fan – like me – it’s a dream come true but for those just starting out, or changing medium, it can be a little daunting. When are the thing you should pay attention to when choosing a new surface to work on? Here are some tips on selecting art paper.
What medium are you using?
Paper used to be the go-to surface for drawing, sketching and watercolor washes. But some brand now also stock papers suitable for acrylic paint and even for oil paint. What you want to put on your paper, is important for choosing the right kind. I’ve collected a number of paper brand that I’ve used over the years and listed them by medium for which they’re suitable. You’ll find options for both hobby, student and (semi) professional artists.
Seawhite of Brighton: One of my all time favorite sketchbooks. Medium grain makes blending so easy. Wire and spiral bound and also available in an FSC ecological variety. This affordable sketchbook is a great choice for sketching and journaling.
Fabriano Schizzi: Affordable sketching paper with a beautiful ivory shade and a very light grain. Chlorine and acid free cellulose. Also comes in spiral bound pads.
Hahnemuhle Sketch & Drawing: Hahnemuhle papers are great to work with. This one comes in 120, 180 and 220 g/m2 in a variety of sizes. The heaviest one is also suitable for light washes.
Hahnemuhle Sketchbooks: I like most of these sketchbooks so I’ve linked to their overview page. These books also have a watercolor variety and a Diary / Travel journal layout.
Arches Sketch: Considering it’s quality this could also fall under drawing papers, but it’s weight determines it a sketching paper. This 75% cotton paper is a high quality, gorgeous sketching paper. It’s 105 g/m2 with a smooth surface.
Canson C à grain: This is a lovely, finely textured yet smooth paper made of cellulose that holds dry media very well. Weights for sketching are 125 and 180 g/m2. It’s also available in 220 g/m2 for drawing.
Fabriano Accademia: This wonderful paper come in both 120 gr and 200 gr. if you prefer to use gouache and need a heavier paper. It’s grain is medium and very consistent. A well known and much appreciated paper that won’t let you down.
Hahnemuhle Quattro: One of my favorite papers. It’s texture is just right for me; present but light. It ensure really good adherence of your pencil, both graphite and color. It’s one of the few blocks that come only in square sizes.
Fabriano Bristol: Bristol paper is very smooth and also allows for ink, airbrush and solvent based markers. It’s also perfect for fine detailed pencil work because there is very little grain that shows beneath your pencil strokes. Fabriano Bristol come in 250 g/m2 pads or sheets.
Arches Drawing: 100% cotton, fine textured paper in both a cream and bright white shade. 200 g/m2. Work with pencil, pastel, charchoal, ink and gouache; this paper will do justice to it all.
I don’t work a lot with pastel anymore, but my paper addiction still makes me hoard stacks of glorious pastel paper in all shades and sizes. Pastel is very suitable for working dark to light and therefor most pastel papers come in shades much darker than white. If you’re looking to do something different, you can even buy black paper to work on with light colors!
Canson Mi-Teintes: This renowned pastel paper is probably the most popular right now. Pulp-dyed, it comes in 50 (!) shades. You can choose which texture you want to work on: the infamous honeycomb texture on one side, or the fine grain texture on the other side. Mi-Teintes is 160 g/m2.
Fabriano Tiziano: I like this affordable paper, which comes in 6 colors plus white and black. It’s 160 g/m2.
Fabriano Roma: 100% cotton, handmade paper with deckled edges. This luxurious paper can also be used for calligraphy, tempera and watercolor.
When it comes to choosing the right watercolor paper you need to pay attention to three important factors: weight, content and texture.
The weight of a paper determines how much water you can load onto it before it buckles. I recommend using a paper that is at least 250 gr/m2. Watercolor paper weight can go up to 900 g/m2.
Watercolor paper should consist of either cotton or cellulose (mostly wood pulp), or a mix of those.
More cotton means better quality, better pliability and endurance. If you value permanence or are planning to sell you work, you should always use 100% cotton paper.
Watercolor paper comes in a variety of textures. What you enjoy working with depends on your personal taste. That’s why I always recommend you buy a few individual sheets to try out different textures. It’s so much fun seeing what a texture can do to your paint! Textured papers are divided into a few categories:
Hot pressed: The smoothest of all, perfect for very detailed work. You washes will be perfectly visible and crisp. This also makes it a tad more difficult to blend smoothly because there is no grain to cover up any mistakes. I also enjoy adding pen strokes or using watercolor pencil on this type of paper.
Cold pressed: The most used and popular texture. It’s medium grain is suitable for detailed work and good-looking washes.
Rough / Torchon: Torchon means cloth rag or cleaning cloth. This paper texture sometimes resembles a wrinkled cloth a bit. Some brands make a torchon paper texture that feels more like bumps than grain. Because of it’s heavy grain, this paper catches light and creates a color depth like no other. It’s a wonderful paper type to try out.
100% cotton papers
Fabriano Acquarello: 100% cotton, white paper. Comes in hot, cold and rough pressed. Weights available between 200 and 640 g/m2.
Hahnemuhle Leonardo: 600 g/m2, smooth and rough. This professional grade, hand moulded paper is just a delight to work with. It’s also suitable for gouache, tempera and acrylic.
Canson Moulin du Roy: I really enjoy working with this paper. It comes in 300 and 640 g/m2. Three textures are available: cold pressed, hot pressed and rough grain. Nice looking deckled edge. Produced on a traditional cylinder mould machine.
Hahnemuhle William Turner: If I could marry a 300 g/m2 piece of paper, mr. Turner would be it. I also use it’s print variety to produce my giclee prints on. It has a rough, slightly irregular grain that is pretty ‘high’ and creates amazing depth. Blocks are glued and have deckled edges. I mean, who can resisted pre-glued, deckled edges right?
Arches Watercolor: This was the first professional grade watercolor paper I purchased and it changed the way I valued high-end paper. With it’s long cotton fibers and coherent texture, it makes working with watercolor paint an absolute bliss. It handles scratching, water loading and corrections without complaint.
Cellulose mixed papers
Fabriano Watercolour: Great quality vs. price ratio. This student grade paper is available as cold pressed, 200/300 g/m2 sheets or pads.
Canson Montval: This is an excellent student grade paper with a good texture that allows for many corrections without buckling. I recommend buying the 300 g/m2 weight but it’s also available in 185 and 270.
Hahnemuhle Britannia: 300 g/m2, comes in either smooth, rough or hot pressed texture.
Hahnemuhle Cornwall: 450 g/m2, smooth or rough texture. Cornwall paper also come in a few panorama shaped sizes, great for landscapes.
Fabriano Watercolour Torchon: Round shaped, heavy grain for great effect. Comes in 270 g/m2.
Hahnemuhle Torchon: Acid-free cellulose paper with a rough texture. Also suitable for gouache and acrylic.
Paper suitable for paint are heavy and specifically treated to endure the effects of paint binders and solvents. I also use acrylic paint papers to hold watercolor washes and even pencil and pen strokes. They’re wonderfully versatile.
Fabriano Acrilico: 400 g/m2, cold pressed, cellulose based paper. Fabriano also recommends this paper for oil en tempera, if you prefer it’s texture over their Tela paper (see below).
Hahnemuhle Acrylic Paint Board: 360 and 450 g/m2, acid-free cellulose paper. Light texuture.
Canson Acrylic: I love this paper and it’s cold pressed texture. I also slap watercolor and even oil paint (for study purposes only) on it. At 400 g/m2 it’s nice and thick.
If you’ve ever tried to put oil paint on a regular piece of paper, you’ll notice two things: your paint loses it’s shine, and on the back you’ll see yellow stains. Both are caused by the paper absorbing the oil in the paint. The oil goes through the paper and leaks out the back. Over time, your paper will deteriorate. That’s why it’s important to use paper that is treated specifically for oil paint.
Fabriano Tela: 300 g/m2, acid-free and archival paper. It’s has a texture that resembles a linen canvas somewhat. Comes in sheets and blocks.
Hahnemuhle Oil & Acrylic Paint Board: 230 g/m2, linen finish that resembles a canvas surface.
Arches Oil: Just like their watercolor papers, Arches also produces a high quality oil paint paper. Light texture that mimics stretched canvas at 300 g/m2.
Canson Figueras: Just like it’s fellow oil paint papers, Figueras has a canvas texture. It’s 300 g/m2 and a very affordable alternative for Arches.
I’ll be adding a lot more papers to this blog in the future once I’m done digging through my (messy!) collection. What are your favorite papers to work with? I’d love it if you leave your recommendations in the comments below!