Tips for Graphite Shading - Which Paper to Use

To select the right paper for graphite shading techniques, a few factors need to be taken into consideration:

  • What type of pencil will be used? (Graphite pencils are often marked with a number 9H - 9B: The higher the number, the harder the writing core and the lighter the mark left on the paper will be. The letter “H” indicates a hard pencil that will leave a lighter mark, and the letter “B” designates the blackness of the pencil’s mark, indicating a softer lead).

Graphite Pencils

  • What degree of darkness is desired
  • What shading technique will be used

The key is to select a paper surface (medium or smooth) based upon the effects you’re looking to achieve.

As a general rule, a textured or medium surface will be able to produce a more even, luminescent shade than a smooth surface. These types of surfaces are usually chosen for shading as the tooth of the paper makes shading easier and produces a greater range of tone that can be more evenly applied.

The smoother the paper grain the more difficult it will be to produce an even shade. Although smooth papers can produce good results with graphite, they cannot produce as great a range of tone (shade) as textured surface paper. A smooth surface is very good for pen and ink as well as marker.

Smooth and Medium Comparison

Some of our most loved papers for graphite include:

Strathmore 500 Series Medium Surface Drawing Papers
Our 500 Series Drawing has been a staple drawing paper for over a century, and is made with 100% cotton. It endures repeated erasures and rework.

Strathmore 400 Series Medium Surface Drawing Paper
In a buttery-cream color, the random, medium-textured surface of our 400 Series Drawing produces subtle, rich shades that are expressive with great luminosity and sensitivity.

Strathmore Bristol Vellum:  300 Series400 Series500 Series
Our Bristol papers have a random surface with texture that is slightly more pronounced (peaks and valleys slightly further apart than drawing paper), enabling paper to handle very soft graphite pencils. It produces shades that are extremely expressive, but not as sensitive as Strathmore 400 Series Drawing Medium. 

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