The Best Drawing Paper For Graphite Pencil

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
Arches Watercolor Yes High Excellent X
Stonehenge Yes Low Excellent X
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
Arches Cover Poor
Bienfang Raritan Poor
Canson Mi-Teintes Poor
Clayboard Poor
Lanaquarelle Poor
Rives BFK Poor

Best Drawing Paper – I think these brands are the best available in the US for graphite pencil drawing.

Graphite on Arches hotpress watercolor paper

Enchanted Tree

Arches Hotpress Watercolor Paper

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.

Graphite pencil drawing on Stonehenge paper.

Walnuts and Amaretto

Stonehenge 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.

Graphite pencil on Strathmore 400 series pastel paper

Peaceful Swans

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.

Good Drawing Paper – The following paper brands work well for pencil drawing in some circumstances.

Graphite pencil on strathmore 400 series drawing paper


Strathmore 400 Series Medium Surface Drawing Paper

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.

Graphite pencil on Canson Classic Cream Drawing Paper

Three Onions

Canson Classic Cream Drawing Paper

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.

Graphite pencil on Strathmore 500 series drawing paper.

Our Neighbor’s Horse

Strathmore 500 Series Drawing Paper

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.)

Strathmore 500 Series Illustration Board (Same review as above.) – This is the Strathmore Drawing paper reviewed above but placed on thick archival board.

Graphite pencil on Strathmore 500 plate finish bristol board.

Dragon and Lamb

Strathmore 500 Series Plate Finish Bristol Board

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.

Graphite pencil on Strathmore 400 series bristol board.

Christmas Cactus

Strathmore 400 Series Smooth Surface Bristol Board

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.

Graphite pencil on Strathmore 300 Bristol board.

Belly Button

Strathmore 300 Series Smooth Bristol Board – ATC Size (Artist’s Trading Card)

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.

Poor Drawing Paper – I don’t suggest using any of these papers 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.

Bienfang Raritan Heavyweight Drawing Paper – I cannot get this paper to accept dark blacks … they just seem to fall off.

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.

Clayboard (Not a paper but thought I’d mention it anyway.) – Much too smooth.  It has almost no tooth at all.

Lanaquarelle Hot Press Watercolor Paper – Another paper with fibers that become noticeable as it’s worked. Somewhat worse than Arches but not as bad as Rives BFK.

Rives BFK – Hundreds of fibers rise as this paper is worked.  Then they break off making a terrible mess.