Have you ever been to an art shop, trying to buy a sketchbook or some paper for your art project, only to get lost in the numerous different types of paper that’s available? I know I have. I used to spend ages in the art store trying to decide which type of paper to get. Cold press paper? Hot press paper? Mixed media paper? Pastel paper? Coloured pencils paper? What’s the difference? In this post, I will be going through some simple difference between all various types of paper and which medium it’s for.
Some basic terms
Before we get into the different types of paper, lets first understand some basic terms that you need to know about the properties of paper. GSM, IBs and paper tooth.
GSM and IB
Knowing the type of medium you’re going to use will help tremendously in deciding what paper to get. You can often see them on the cover of sketchbooks. For example 250 gsm, 75Ib etc. Understanding this will help the paper selection.
GSM – grams per square meter (g/m^2)
Ibs – the weight of 500 sheets of the paper in its standard/base size. The standard/base size of each type of paper is slightly different.
These 2 measurements determine the weight and thickness of the paper. So the higher the number, the heavier and thicker the paper. It affects the durability too.
Beware of the paper that you choose, for some posses razor sharp teeth that can end your life with an all mighty cut. (just kidding)
The tooth of a paper means the roughness of the paper surface. If the paper is very rough, we can also say it has a lot of tooth/texture. different mediums work best on paper of different texture. For example, markers work well on smooth paper and pastels work well on rough paper.
Acid free/ pH neutral/ archival paper
Paper can turn yellow over time from contact with acidic elements in the environment. Acid free/ pH neutral/ archival paper slows down the rate of yellowing/ decay, making your artwork last longer. With proper care and storage, your artwork can last even longer.
There are 3 different types of watercolour paper: cold press, hot press and rough press paper.
Hotpress paper has the smoothest texture, cold press paper is rougher than hot press but less rough than rough press. It has some texture. Rough press paper has the most texture among the three.
Hotpress paper has a smooth surface, it retains less water compared to the other 2, so less water will be needed when watercolouring on hot press paper. cold press retains more water and rough press retains even more water.
The difference in texture and water retention makes them good for different things. Since rough press paper can retain a lot of water, it’s good for painting using the wet on wet technique. Cold press paper is the most commonly used type of paper, especially with beginners. Hot press paper has a smooth texture, so colour pigments in the water can flow smoothly, thus, it’s good for blending colours.
Since watercolour paper needs to retain water, they mostly have heavy weights. Around 300gsm or 140Ibs and above would be ideal.
Mixed media paper
mixed media paper, as the name suggests, is for artworks that use more than 1 type of medium. Mixed media paper is normally suitable for pen, pencil, charcoal, pastel, collage, printmaking, acrylic and watercolour. Its weight is similar to watercolour paper but slightly lighter, therefore, try not to use too much water on the paper. There are heavier ones available where you can use more water. There are also lighter ones available if you’re not planning to use wet mediums.
Mixed media paper also has some texture, but smoother compared to watercolour paper for sketching with other media like coloured pencils or graphite as it’s difficult to do so on rough paper, especially if you’re trying to make a detailed drawing. Due to its properties, mixed media paper can support both dry and wet mediums.
Having texture is very important for pastel paper. Watercolour paper is also good for pastel due to its roughness. Even mixed media paper. Just remember that anything with texture or tooth will work. Pastels need textured surfaces to work, they need the texture to grip onto the paper. The roughness of the paper also determines how many layers of pastel you can add to your artwork. Rougher surfaces can hold more layers while smoother surfaces can only hold a few. The roughness will also affect the end result of your artwork.
Pastel paper also usually comes in different colours and tones. This will affect the mood or atmosphere of your finished artwork. This is because pastels usually don’t cover the whole surface, so some colours from the paper can show through and affect the end result of your artwork.
Coloured pencils paper
Similar to pastel paper, coloured pencils are best when used on paper with some tooth and texture. However, it doesn’t need too much tooth or it’ll be hard to colour evenly and get details in your artwork. Again, similar to pastel paper, the roughness of the paper affects how many layers of coloured pencils you can apply to the paper.
If you use solvents like coloured pencil blender or the Mona Lisa Odorless paint thinner to blend your coloured pencils, then a paper with a bit more weight would be best, like hotpress watercolour paper.
If you try using markers on watercolour or mixed media paper, your marker will be sucked dry very quickly and absorbed into the paper, which is not ideal. They may also destroy the paper surface. You’d want a paper that doesn’t absorb and waste your marker ink and smooth at the same time to glide your marker along. Thus, marker papers are very smooth. There are also coated marker paper to prevent ink bleeding through the paper.
Newsprint paper is very cheap and thin like the paper used for newspapers. They are mainly used for practices, roughing out ideas etc. I do a lot of quick gesture drawings practices which would be a waste of paper if I used good or more expensive paper, so I use newsprint paper for the practices. Newsprint paper can support dry mediums like graphite, charcoal, coloured pencils, pastels etc. Since they’re cheap, they are not acid-free and also non-archival. This means they won’t last a very long time before they start turning yellow and brittle.
Due to its thin property, it can be used to transfer drawings. I have tried tracing a drawing’s outline using newsprint paper and then using graphite paper to transfer the outlines on another surface. I used a lightbox so the newsprint paper was very see through.
Using the wrong medium on the wrong type of paper will not only not bring out your chosen medium’s full potential, but may also damage your art tools. So before you head to your nearest art supply store or go online shopping for sketchbook or art papers, have a clear idea of the medium you will be using and do some research on the different brands of paper so you won’t waste your money buying a sketchbook or paper that doesn’t support your chosen medium.
I hope you’ve found this post useful and have learnt something new from it.
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As an artist, all be it a poor one I found this post on papers really absorbing, it is full of facts and very accurate, would be of great help to any aspiring artist either new or even like me been around a while as a refresher.
Was not aware that Amazon did a range of papers, so found that useful to store away for future reference should I not be able to get any from my usual supplier, once again many thanks for a most useful post.
Thankyou! I buy most of my art materials on Amazon. If I can’t find what I want there I’ll head down to an art shop nearby.
Hello Mary; very interesting post; my daughter when she feels the need to relax, paint. But being her pleasure, I did not really care. I just made a subscription to a specialist magazine. Okay, in childhood he made painting at the art school. But now I find that different sheets are suitable for each painting project. I will share with my daughter what I learned from you. Thanks for posting.
Thankyou! I hope your daughter will find my post useful.
Thanks for your article on types of Drawing papers. For me, it was quite informative. I have never thought in this way that there may be so much of variations in the type of drawing papers.
My daughter is into the multimedia course and the first semester was full of practicals on paper with various art mediums. I remember when she was very upset due to damage to art paper while doing watercolor. Now I can guide on what paper is to be used for which type of colors.
Thanks for all the efforts you put in to make old people like me educate.
Thankyou! Glad you’ve learnt something new from my post. Yes watercolour can easily damage certain types of paper, especially those that can’t hold water well.
My 10 yr old daughter is always into sketching. She would always ask me to buy her sketch pad and specialty paper she can use for art work. I honestly don’t know anything about types of paper until I read your article. I only go for what I think is cute or usable. Now I know mixed media paper is what till work best for her since she’s still exploring her art medium.
Now I know what type of paper to buy. i just have to ask her what her project is. Even in school, I doubt that this is taught. Teachers would often instruct the kids to bring an oslo paper or just the plain typewriting paper. Thanks for this really helpful article.
Thankyou! I’m glad my post has helped. I agree that mixed media paper would be good for your daughter since she’s exploring different mediums. Once she has a feel of the different mediums and chose a favourite one, then you can try getting her more specific paper for her needs.
Wow this is amazing. You have researched on art paper very well for sure. You informations on art paper is so impressive. Good to know about different types of paper and art papers. I just came to know about GSM and IB. Now it will help me to find good papers. Is these are only used for art papers or for other papers also? Then the paper tooth. I really thought that it can cut me to cause death😂😂 Then I came to know that it is just the roughness of the surface😁. Moreover, the various types of paper you described were nice both in names and fames.. Hot press, cold press, pastel papers.. all are amazing… Did not know that paper also retains water and it can be thought for buying a simple paper.
Thanks for sharing all these
Thanks! GSM and IB can also be used for printing paper, flyers, cards etc, not just for drawing paper.
I love the way you describe the sharpness of paper. Ha ha ha!I totally agree with u .If one can maintain the art paper with proper care then one can keep it for a long time preventing the yellowish appear. My personal favorite is hot press paper. I love the smoother texture of it.But my brother favorite is cold press paper who is an artist. But I generally use art pencil paper. I totally agree with you that choosing the wrong medium of paper can damage your art piece as well as art tools. Love ur article
Thanks! Glad you liked my post!