Reviews of the Best and Worst Drawing Papers With Examples
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.
Name of the paper takes you to the review.
|Paper Reviews||Archival||Price||Rating||Best Sketching Choice||Best Fine Art Choice|
|Strathmore Pastel Paper||No||Low||Excellent||X||X|
|Strathmore 400 Drawing Paper||No||Low||Good||X||X|
|Canson Drawing Paper||No||Low||Good||X|
|Strathmore 500 Drawing Paper||Yes||High||Good||X|
|Strathmore Illustration Board||Yes||High||Excellent||X
|Strathmore 500 Bristol Board||Yes||High||Excellent||X
|Strathmore 400 Bristol Board||No||Low||Good||X||X
|Strathmore 300 Bristol Board||No||Low||Good||X||X
Best Drawing Paper – I think these brands are the best available in the US for graphite pencil drawing.
This 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.
The Enchanted Tree was drawn on this paper and I was able to create very fine detail.
Arches is made of 100% cotton and is archival quality paper.
Stonehenge has a smooth and somewhat soft surface. I use soft leads when I draw on this one.
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.
Walnuts and Amaretto was drawn on this paper, and you can see the level of detail I was able to create on it.
This paper is made of 100% cotton, archival quality paper and is very inexpensive.
Strathmore 400 Series Pastel Paper
Since it’s meant for pastels, this paper has a very obvious texture to it but not as pronounced as Canson Mi-Teintes. (Reviewed below.) Using the right technique, it is possible to produce very dark blacks and fine smooth details on it.
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.
Even though this paper is tempting in many ways, please be aware that the texture will show up in photographs and scans of the piece which can be a problem if the illustration is to be used for publication.
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. You can’t get bogged down with too many details when the paper you’re using won’t let you draw them! That makes it easier to concentrate on overall form and value. This paper erases well, too, and that allows you to pull out highlights easily.
The 400 series drawing paper is acid-free but not archival.
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.
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 harder 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.
Canson drawing paper is acid-free but not archival.
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.
The 500 Series Drawing Paper is archival quality. (This paper is still made but it’s very hard to find.)
This paper is almost too smooth for most drawings. 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.
The dragon and lamb were created on this paper. The illustration was made for a book and the image scanned and printed very well.
The 500 Series Bristol Board is archival quality.
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 time.
The Christmas Cactus flower was drawn on this paper.
The 400 Series Bristol Board is acid free but not archival.
This is a very smooth paper, very similar to the 400 series Bristol Board, and it doesn’t have enough tooth to hold rich blacks. I used a Pitt pen in to darken the edges of the shapes in this drawing, then I covered the pen line with graphite using a sharp tipped soft pencil so it would blend in.Strathmore makes pre-cut ATCs (2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″) in several papers. At twenty to a pack, and under $1.50 each as of this writing, it’s an inexpensive way to try their paper. This is a fun way to experiment with style too, since this small size is not very intimidating.
If you like working at the ATC size, they also have lots of ATC sleeves, envelopes, and frames.
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.
Clayboard (Not a paper but thought I’d mention it anyway.) – Much too smooth. It has almost no tooth at all.