Breaking down artist paper 101
by Art Materials on Sep 14, 2021
The process of creating art, like any discipline or hobby, involves the right tools for your vision to be achieved. Artist paper is a quintessential art material that will showcase your completed project and, as such, needs to be medium appropriate.
No matter what your next artwork may be - charcoal, pastel, watercolour, mixed media etc. - the different brands, types, textures and weights of art paper can become overwhelming when browsing art supplies online.
The following key factors will be a starting point for you in choosing the correct paper for your next art project.
Sizing refers to a natural synthetic solution that is added to paper pulp or the surface of the sheet to regulate the paper’s absorbency. Unsized (untreated) paper is called ‘waterleaf’ paper and is extremely porous which results in inks and watercolours soaking into the paper and bleeding though.
Well-surfaced sized paper is ideal for drawing and watercolours, allowing pencil to be easily and clearly erased and for watercolour lifting techniques and crisp edges.
Paper weight or paper density is yet another factor to consider for an art project. Art paper is weighted in pounds per ream (lb) or grams per square metre (gsm) and the thicker the paper the higher the weight.
- Tracing paper is the lightest (25 lb/ approx 40 gsm)
- Sketching paper or practice paper (50-60 lb / approx 75-90 gsm) is thick enough to work on with pencils, charcoal, or pastels, but is too thin for ink or markers, which may bleed through.
- Heavy-weight drawing paper (90-110 lb / approx 180-260 gsm) is similar to cardstock or light poster board and suitable for multimedia.
- Heavier papers, (up to 140 lb / approx 300 gsm or more) are used for painting rather than drawing.
Artist paper also comes in 3 surface types each with its own textural characteristics:
- Hot pressed (aka Smooth, Satine, Silk or HP) - This is the smoothest option and is popular with illustrators and designers for its flat finish which makes it good for reproduction. It is also used by watercolour artists who paint in fine detail. Heavy weight, hot pressed paper is recommended for painting with acrylics.
- Cold pressed (aka NOT, Fin or CP) - This paper is favoured by beginners for its medium-textured surface, making it ideal for various paint techniques.
- Rough - This is the roughest in texture. Watercolour artists who have a loose painting style generally choose this artist paper; the deep pits in the paper allow you to get the most out of the granulation of watercolour paints.
Professional and durable quality artist paper is made from 100% cotton (aka Rag paper) and provides the best surface as well as offering longevity. These papers are archival and your work will be preserved for generations to come.
Wood pulp paper (aka woodfree paper) is made from chemically treated pulp with lignin removed and is an inexpensive alternative for amateurs and beginners.
Papers that are acid-free or have a neutral pH and are lignin-free are buffered with calcium carbonate which neutralizes acids absorbed from the air and the natural ageing process. This should be your first consideration in choosing any artist paper.
The Art Materials Company
At the Art Materials Company, we have made choosing art paper so easy. From tracing, sketching and pastel pads to watercolour, acrylic and oil papers, pads and blocks, your next art project starts right here.