How to choose the right painting and drawing paper


The comprehensive guide to the right paper for your art

When it comes to creating art, the materials you use are important. Having dedication and talent will allow you to create the vision you have in your head, but having the right tools will help you actually make it happen.

We’ve already written extensively about the best acrylics paints, oil paints, markers, and pencils, but let’s not forget about the painting paper, the base of your art.

A great piece of drawing paper allows you to handle the colors exactly the way you want.

Only in this way can the colors unfold their full potential, and you realize your artistic expressiveness.

A great piece of paper not only sets off your color mediums perfectly but also ensures that your art maintains its quality over time.

The type of coloring paper you use depends on the work you want to create:

  • Drawing with dry media usually requires a serrated, rough sheet texture to allow the paint to rub off and the pigment to adhere.
  • Painting with ordinary wet media adheres better to a smoother surface, so you can apply multiple layers of paint evenly on top of each other without compromising the radiance of the colors.

Weight of the drawing paper

The first thing you notice when choosing to draw paper is the weight. The weight indicates how thick the paper is. Watercolors are best painted with slightly thicker paper so that the paper does not curl immediately.

As with all artist supplies, try several brands and several weights at the beginning to get a feel for which material works best with your artistic style.

Here’s an introduction to what types of paper you can use for your very own painting. Whether you want to paint, draw, print, or do calligraphy, you’ll find the answers to your questions here.

Paper for painting

The different watercolor papers

Watercolor is best painted on three different types of paper. Hotpress paper, cold press paper, or rough paper.

  • Hot press paper has a smooth, relatively hard surface, which makes it ideal for fine finishes. Unfortunately, these characteristics are also the reason why it is very difficult to control and therefore almost unsuitable for beginners.
  • Cold press paper has a medium rough surface, which is suitable for most watercolors. It is the most balanced paper, suitable for both detail painting and washes.
  • Rough paper is particularly rough – as the name suggests – and has a rigid texture. It is the best paper for washes and allows the pigment to dry longer.

No matter what you choose, each of these papers is designed for water-based media. However, depending on your style and preference, the different pressing methods are better suited to your individual tastes.

Relate: Guide to Watercolor Papers for Beginners

Acrylic and oil paints

Although you would typically think that acrylic and oil paint are only for canvases, many artists enjoy working on paper. It’s more affordable and versatile than canvas – especially if you make your own papers.

To paint with acrylic or oil on paper, look for thick paper. The type of paper texture can vary. As long as the paper has enough weight, both smooth and rough materials can offer enough resistance to the paint. However, with heavily textured paper, it needs more pigment to cover the surface – otherwise, you’ll get fine “mountains and valleys” that are wetted with too little or too much paint.

  • You can use the same type of paper with either acrylic or oil paint, but for oil paint, you will also need to prime the painting surface with gesso to prevent the paper from rotting over time.
  • You can do this priming for acrylic paint as well, but the paint doesn’t aggressively attack the paper, so you shouldn’t have any problems if you don’t apply a gesso primer.

Relate: Acrylic paints tips for beginners

Paper for drawing

As with painting, the type of paper you choose for your drawings depends on your materials and your preferences. However, there are many sketch pads with drawing paper that will easily cover most dry media.

In general, you should look for medium-weight papers that have a light texture. The most popular colors are ivory or bright white, but if you’re looking for a fun challenge, you can also draw on dark paper using intense-colored pencils to create contrast.

Paper for pencil

When you draw with a pencil, almost all options are open to you in terms of weight. More important is that the drawing paper has at least a slight texture so that the pencil can rub off evenly. Except for smooth printer paper, almost all types of paper are suitable for pencil drawing.

Colored pencil

Colored pencils, like graphite, can be applied to many types of paper. They look best on paper with a light texture; if you choose a paper that is too smooth, you will have trouble getting an even color.

Charcoal and pastels

Charcoal and dry pastels are dry and dusty, so they are difficult to control. Unless you use a charcoal pencil, you don’t sharpen these materials like you would a pencil or colored pencil. Applying them to a viscous surface will help extract some charcoal or dry pastel onto the paper.

Oil pastels

Oil pastels can be used on rough surfaces just like dry pastels. But because they have oil in them, they work even better on smooth paper. They’re also never completely “dry,” so you can layer and blend colors on the paper. For this reason, stronger paper up to 300 grams is ideal.

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Painting paper for other creative projects

Origami and paper folding

You should use fine paper when folding origami or similar folded artwork. Paper that’s too thick may show awkward crease lines or not fold at all. Fortunately, it’s not hard to find the right paper; square origami sheets are sold in packs and provide you with a variety of colors and patterns to use.


For any type of handwriting or calligraphy, smooth paper is a must. Using textured paper of any kind can break a pen or interrupt the flow of your letter forms. Therefore, try out your writing with translucent tracing paper first. When you’re ready to create finished work, heat press papers provide a suitable surface.


Lino printing is one of the most accessible types of printmaking, whether you’re a beginner or a professional.

You can use a variety of coloring papers for this medium, but if you’re just starting out, try lightly textured paper. This will ensure that the ink is fully absorbed by the surface, but not so coarsely textured that it creates inconsistent impressions in your print.

Can you use normal printer paper for drawing?

You can use some printer paper for quick and rough sketches. However, you should definitely draw beautiful drawings or entire works of art on real drawing paper. We’re not saying this to talk you into expensive paper, but because otherwise you simply won’t be happy with your results. Your paper should have a certain thickness and strength.

This is achieved by the increased volume of the paper and a certain paperweight.

Drawing papers also have special surface treatments so that the pigments of your drawing supplies rub off well and can stick afterward.


Your drawing paper should be stored dry, protected from light, and smooth. Thanks to the sturdy backing board, you can even store most blocks upright. It’s best to keep your sketch pads and books in a closet behind closed doors. Exposure to sunlight can discolor some papers or make them brittle.

Decision criteria before buying drawing paper

In the following paragraph, you’ll find some criteria that will help you make sure your pencil drawings turn out really great.

Drawing paper in a pad, in a sketchbook, or as individual sheets of drawing paper? There are advantages and disadvantages for each application.

When choosing, it all depends on you or the demands of your professors/teachers.

  • A sketchbook has the great advantage of being very stable. It also keeps a continuous record of your progress and in the end, you have a wonderful overview.
  • A pad with detachable sheets is easy to transport. However, the sheets can easily fall out. Of course, this is very convenient if you always take your pad with you, but hand in your drawings at school.
  • Single sheets are good if you’re working really big and might even stretch your paper. They are hard to carry around. But they also don’t have unsightly glue or perforation edges.


Which paper is suitable for hand lettering?

In principle, any paper is suitable for handlettering, as long as you draw your letters with normal pens. Brush pens, on the other hand, should only be used on smooth paper, otherwise, they will fray very quickly.

What kind of paper do I need for brush lettering?

For brush lettering, we recommend using especially smooth, coated paper. The sensitive fibers of the brush pens do not stick to it as much, so they fray much less and therefore last longer.

Is there a hand-lettering paper for every pen?

Unfortunately not. Depending on the purpose and pen, you have to use certain paper. For example, if you want to use watercolor techniques, you will need Mix Media or Watercolor paper.

Can I use normal printer paper?

Normal printer paper is usually much too row. You can work on it with pencils, fine liners, and markers, but you should not use brush pens on printer paper.

All About Drawing Papers – Video

Additional Questions

What drawing paper is best for painting?

The most suitable type of drawing paper for painting is weighted between 120gsm and 850gsm, with some Asian papers being thinner and lighter. Paper with a weight around 130gsm is commonly utilized for drawing. However, Snowdon Cartridge, a heavier 300gsm paper, is a favorite among many artists. This type of paper can better withstand repeated erasing and the application of various artistic mediums.

What kind of paper do painters use?

Artists usually gravitate towards fine art papers, with weights that can range from 120gsm to 850gsm. These types of paper essentially usher high-quality results for various artistic demands. Lighter paper options, such as some traditional Asian papers, are also used, depending largely on the artist’s style and preference. Drawing artists often opt for papers around 130gsm, but many find the heavyweight Snowdon Cartridge 300gsm to be ideal as it is more capable of handling repeated erasing and different types of mark making. From my hands-on experience and extensive understanding of the sector, every artist develops a strong affinity towards a certain paper type based on their specific artistic style and needs.

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