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What Paper Is Best for Drawing? (Full Guide for Graphite Pencils)

What’s the best paper for drawing? Should you even be concerned with the type of paper you are using? Is there that big of difference between drawing, newspaper, sketching, or regular old printer paper?

Listen, when you just get started drawing, really any cheap paper will do.

If you go to any art store or order online don’t be discouraged by all the different types of paper.

For drawings done with a graphite pencil you generally want smoother and somewhat heavier paper.

Quality paper is important for posterity and having your drawings last a long time, but when starting we recommend drawing pads or sketchbooks – specifically, those offered by Strathmore labeled as smooth or drawing/sketching paper.

Best Paper for Drawing – At a Glance

Best for Graphite:Strathmore Medium Drawing PadCheck Price on Amazon
Best for Charcoal (Newsprint):Strathmore 300 SeriesCheck Price on Amazon
Best Toned Paper:Clairefontaine 96004CCheck Price on Amazon
Best for Acrylic Painting:Royal LangnickelCheck Price on Amazon
Best for Watercolor:Winsor & NewtonCheck Price on Amazon
Best for Tracing:BachmoreCheck Price on Amazon

While there are many types of paper out there, all with different purposes and qualities, at the end of the day, if all you really want to do is draw, then any paper will do. Especially if you’re just beginning.

There’s no point in stressing over the best paper to use when you’re still trying to learn anatomy and color theory. As long as the paper isn’t so thin as to tear when you run an eraser through it, any paper will do.

Table of Contents

    What Is the Best Drawing Paper for Beginners?

    As I said before, any paper will do as long as it doesn’t easily tear. But for a more specific answer, we recommend the Strathmore medium surface drawing paper.

    Strathmore is known for making high-quality paper for artists, so really there isn’t a better place to start than with their medium surface drawing paper. This sketchbook comes with 50 sheets, enough to start out. The sketchbook itself is light but the paper is heavy enough to not be torn easily. The quality of the paper is also great, not just for pencils, but for things like watercolors and oil pastels.

    They come in a variety of sizes but the most common one is 9 x 12. They also offer a different number of sheets, all the way up to 100, but if you’re just a beginner, 50 sheets are enough.

    Best Paper for Graphite

    The best paper for graphite pencils is none other than Strathmore. As I said, this paper is good for any medium, but it’s most especially good for graphite pencils.

    Its surface is perfect for the different shades and textures offered by graphite pencils and it’s also sturdy enough for repeated erasures. Of course, it’s a lot pricier than your average dollar-store sketchbook, but its quality can’t be beaten.

    Best Paper for Charcoal

    While Strathmore medium surface drawing paper is certainly good for charcoal as well as any other medium, I would say the best paper for charcoal is Newsprint paper.

    Newsprint papers are typically used to, as the name suggests, print newspapers. However, they can be useful for drawing too. Especially when using medium charcoal.

    These types of paper are lightweight with a rough surface. They’re a lot less thick than your average artist’s paper but they’re not so thin that they tear easily. They mostly come in gray color so if you’re looking for paper where it’s easy to add highlights using white color pencils, Newsprint is perfect.

    Another good thing about Newsprint paper is that it’s a lot cheaper than most artist paper. If you’re on a budget but still need a good paper to practice on, try Newsprint.

    What Are the Different Types of Paper Used In Art

    Smooth Paper

    It’s probably obvious from its name but Smooth Paper is paper that is… well, smooth. It’s clean and there are little to no marks on its surface.

    This is made by repeatedly flattening the paper, making it go through a set of rollers until it reaches a smooth texture. Because this paper has been repeatedly flattened, most of the time, this paper is thin. Which isn’t ideal for when you intend to do a lot of heavy sketching or coloring.

    However, there are some brands that offer thick smooth paper. Some even add gloss to the paper (although this is more so used in photo printing than drawing).

    This paper is good for colored pencils and graphite. But if you plan to use wet mediums like watercolor or markers, I suggest trying out a different type of paper.

    Here’s our top pick for smooth paper:

    Strathmore Bristol Smooth Paper Pad$15.9020 Sheets
    Canson XL Bristol Pad$9.3025 Sheets
    Winsor & Newton Extra Smooth Bristol Board$21.7025 Sheets

    Drawing Paper

    Drawing paper is paper designed specifically for artists to draw on. These types of paper are often thick and sturdy. Unlike smooth paper though, they have a bit of texture and are heavier.

    Drawing paper is often made from wood or cotton cellulose. Paper made from cotton is typically more expensive, however, that’s not to say paper made from wood cellulose is bad. Depending on the brand and how the paper was made, drawing paper can be difficult to tear through, making it perfect for artworks that require a lot of mediums.

    Here’s our top pick for drawing paper:

    Legion Stonehenge Pad$22.0315
    Strathmore 400-8 400 Series Drawing Pad$19.3924
    Canson Artist Series Cream Drawing Pad$7.8260

    Sketchbook Paper

    Sketchbook paper is similar to drawing paper except it’s much lighter and cheaper. Sketchbook paper is more suited for things like compositional sketching or practices than it is for finished artwork, which is what drawing papers are for.

    Similar to drawing paper, sketchbook paper has texture, but it’s also less thick. Sketchbook paper isn’t meant for drawings that use heavy mediums like acrylic or markers. I suggest using graphite pencils or colored pencils with these types of paper.  

    Here’s our top pick for sketchbook paper:

    Strathmore 400 Series Sketch Pad$10.5250
    Bellofy Artist Sketchbook$22.9925
    Pentalic Wire-Bound Sketch Book$14.3980

    Newsprint Paper

    Newsprint paper is paper often used to print newspapers but it can also be utilized by artists. They’re thin but large in size and come in gray or white-washed colors. Unlike smooth paper, they’re a little rougher on the surface, making them great for mediums like charcoal or graphite. They’re also a lot cheaper so if you’re on a tight budget but still need paper for a portrait, newsprint can be a great low-cost option.

    That said, they’re not meant for heavy or wet mediums like acrylic or watercolor as they’ll easily bleed through the paper due to their thin nature. If you want to paint, you’ll have to invest in paper other than newsprint.

    Here are our top picks for newsprint paper:

    Strathmore 300 Series Newsprint Paper$9.5050
    Jack Richeson Newsprint Pad$19.02100
    Canson XL Series Newsprint Paper$7.33100

    Cartridge Paper                                                           

    Cartridge paper is thick and has a lot more grain than your regular drawing or sketch paper. The grain on paper can give your drawings texture and can even make the pencil marks appear darker. Because of that, cartridge paper is good for a variety of mediums like graphite pencils, charcoal, markers, and even watercolor.

    It’s a versatile paper that can be used on anything due to its thick nature. It’s good for things like paper crafts, envelopes, quilling, and even flipbooks for animation!  

     Here’s our top pick for cartridge paper:

    Daler Rowney Heavyweight Cartridge Pad$10.5130
    CANSON 1557 Extra White 120gsm A5 Sketch Paper$5.3540
    Winsor & Newton$15.8625


    Toned paper is simply paper with a different color tone. Unlike the usual white, tone paper may come in black, brown, blue, and gray. Depending on the brand, its weight and thickness vary.

    Toned paper is perfect for portrait and landscape artists. They give your drawings a more realistic feel and offer more contrast than your regular white paper. It’s easier to see white colored pencils on brown or black paper than it is on white paper.

    Many artists, including the famous Michelangelo, utilize toned paper due to how the color of the paper helps the drawings come to life.

    Here’s our top pick for toned paper:

    Clairefontaine 96004C$42.0012
    Strathmore 412-9$14.6750
    CANSON Mi-Teintes$12.2424

    Acrylic Paper (used for acrylic painting)

    Similar to canvas paper, acrylic paper is made to be thicker and sturdier than the average drawing or sketch paper. Its surface also mimics that of a canvas, textured and grainy, made perfectly to absorb paint.

    Since it’s designed specifically for acrylic painting, colors don’t easily bleed through the pages, meaning it can withstand other mediums as well like watercolor or markers.

    However, depending on the weight and brand of the paper, you may see a slight bend when you use too much acrylic or any wet medium on the paper.

    Here are our top picks for acrylic paper:

    Royal Langnickel$9.9922
    Strathmore Acrylic Pad$13.2210
    Arteza Acrylic Pad$29.9916


    This paper is made specifically for watercolor. This paper was designed to absorb water so it doesn’t bend as easily as the other papers when used with a wet medium.

    Watercolor paper has three textures: hot-pressed, cold-pressed, and rough. Hot-pressed watercolor paper was made by being pressed between hot metal rollers. It contains little to not tooth, making it the least absorbent type of watercolor paper.

    Cold-pressed paper is the opposite as it used cold metal rollers. It has a toothier surface than hot-pressed, which means the medium really sticks to the paper. Lastly, we have rough watercolor paper. This is the most textured out of all the watercolor papers.

    This is made by placing the paper between sheets of textured felt and having it pressed during the drying process. The rough surface of the paper makes it perfect for bold and expressive watercolor paintings.

    Here are our top picks for watercolor paper:

    Legion Saunders Waterford$42.5020
    Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolor Paper$42.3820
    Fabriano Studio$11.8912

    Palette Paper

    Palette paper is basically just a disposable palette for you to mix and blend colors. They’re thin pieces of poly-coated material for you to put your paint on or mix your colors. Despite being designed to be a substitute for palettes, palette paper is good to draw and paint on as well.

    If you want to create a thumbnail before you start painting on an actual canvas, you can use one side of a palette paper to paint on. It also serves as a tool of convenience as using a palette paper doesn’t require any heavy cleanup after you’re done painting, you simply take the sheet and throw it away.

    Here are our top picks for palette paper:

    Strathmore Palette Paper Pad$9.0140
    Canson Foundation Disposable Palette Pad$14.0840
    EBIVEN Disposable Palette Pad$7.9940

    Tracing Paper

    Tracing paper is a thin and semitransparent paper made for tracing. Similar to most papers, it’s made out of wood pulp or cotton rags. It’s designed to be see-through so people can trace over photos and references. It’s mostly used by animators, engineers, and architects; however, artists sometimes use tracing paper as well.

    Tracing is widely looked down upon in the artist community and tracing an artwork and passing it off as yours is basically theft. However, if you trace for the sole purpose of studying and practicing, it’s fine. As long as you don’t claim a certain artwork as yours, tracing drawings and photos are generally okay to do.

    Due to the thin nature of tracing paper, it doesn’t do well on anything else other than being traced on. It’s far too thin for heavy mediums like acrylic and markers. Color will easily bleed through the paper and possibly cause a tear. Even graphite can tear through the paper if you apply too much pressure. It’s not meant to draw on but to be traced on.

    Here are our top picks for tracing paper:

    Canson Foundation Tracing Paper$10.9950
    Bachmore Artist’s Tracing Paper$10.99100
    MyArtscape Tracing Paper Pad$14.47100

    What to Look for When Buying Paper for Drawing

    Here are a few things to keep in mind when buying paper for drawing:

    • Acid-Free vs  Archival
    • Material
    • Surface Texture / Tooth
    • Cold Pressed vs Hot Pressed
    • Weight
    • Sizing

    Acid-Free vs Archival

    Acid-free paper and archival paper are often regarded as the same thing, however, there’s a minor difference between the two. Acid-free paper typically means its pH level is above the neutral zone (7) on the scale from acidic to alkaline or acid-free. Paper on or above the neutral zone usually lasts longer.  

    Archival paper is acid-free but not all acid-free paper is considered archival. For a paper to be considered archival, it must be made purely of cotton fibers or alpha-cellulose fibers. With this, the paper will not deteriorate or fade for a really long time and can even last centuries with proper care.


    Different paper is made of different materials. Some are made of wood pulp, some with cotton fibers, and some with just recycled paper. Most papers are made from wood pulp taken from coniferous trees but if you’re looking for high-quality paper that can last you a long time, look for paper made from cotton fibers.

    If you’re wondering how paper is made, have a look at this video:

    How Paper is Made

    Surface Texture / Tooth

    A paper’s tooth refers to the texture or the feeling of the paper’s surface. Smooth paper is generally considered toothless (by generally, I mean me. It sounds funny.) The rougher the paper, the more “tooth” it has.

    While smooth paper is good for drawing in some cases, artists usually prefer paper with more texture as it holds the medium down better. Texture also just looks really cool in a drawing as it adds a more realistic feel.  

    Cold Pressed vs Hot Pressed

    Cold-pressed and hot-pressed are basically about how the paper was pressed during manufacturing. If it’s cold-pressed then it means the paper went through cold metal rollers, giving it a rougher and toothier texture. Hot-pressed, on the other hand, means it went through hot metal rollers to remove texture so that the paper comes out smoother.

    If you’re looking to paint on paper, I suggest going for cold-pressed paper as it’s a lot more absorbent than hot-pressed.   


    Weight is also important when picking out which paper to use. Paper is not weighed individually but more so by reams.

    The heavier the paper, the sturdier it is. Depending on what you’re drawing or what project you’re trying to do, it’s important to know the weight of the paper. Investing in heavy and thick papers for practice sketches sounds wasteful, at the same time, buying lightweight papers for a masterpiece is doing your artwork a disservice.


    The size of your paper also matters depending on what you’re drawing. The most common paper size for artists is 9 x 12 inches but a lot of brands offer smaller or larger sizes to accommodate different projects of different artists.

    Letter size (8.5 x 11 inches) and A4 (8.3 x 11.7 inches) are also popular sizes used by artists. It all boils down to what you want to draw. If you just want to draw a portrait then the average paper size is enough but if you have a larger vision featuring several different faces and many details, you should go for bigger than A4. The largest size for paper is A0 (33.11 x 46.81 inches).

    What Kind of Paper Do Artists Draw On?

    The average artist uses drawing paper to draw on. Drawing paper is manufactured specifically for drawing. It’s thick and textured, making it perfect for graphite pencils and charcoals. In terms of sketching, artists will go for sketchpads or sketching paper, which is still sturdy but less thick than drawing paper.  

    If you’re just starting out, any paper really will do. Don’t invest in expensive and high-quality paper to practice on simply because a famous artist is using it. Choose any paper that is sturdy enough to withstand many erasures and you should be good to go.

    What Kind of Paper is Best for Pencil Drawing?

    Rough paper or paper with a lot of “tooth” and texture is best for pencil drawings. Textured paper tends to hold down graphite more than smooth paper, sometimes it even makes it appear darker. So if you’re looking for a paper that can help make your pencil drawings pop, I suggest drawing paper or cartridge paper as they generally offer a lot of texture and grain.

    Toned paper is also good for pencil drawings as it makes it easier to create highlights and dark shadows.  

    Best Paper for Drawing Portraits?

    Personally, I think the best paper for drawing portraits is drawing or cartridge paper. As I’ve said earlier, these types of paper are toothier than average and are designed for artists to draw on as their rough surface absorbs the medium a lot better than smooth paper. Not only that, but their texture adds a realistic feel to your portraits as well.

    Thanks for reading!

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