What Paper Should I use for my Art?

Walk into any art store in search of paper and you could get lost in a sea of paper types, brands, textures weights, and the list goes on.  Why are there so many types of paper?  How should you choose paper for your project?  Many factors come in play when choosing the correct paper for your work.  Let us help demystify the paper choosing process for you.

First, let us give you some terms that you should always consider when choosing paper for each project. You certainly want your artwork to last many, many years without deteriorating. Make sure you pick a paper that is acid free, as this is a very important factor. Paper that is not acid free can deteriorate, or turn yellow, which would affect the image over time. Paper that is acid free is buffered with calcium carbonate which neutralizes acid that is absorbed from the air, or through natural aging processes. All of our fine art papers with the exception of Newsprint is acid free. Newsprint is a very low cost paper intended only for practicing.

Depending on the project at hand and the medium you will be using, you need to think of several other factors.

Surface texture would come into play, especially if you plan to work in many layers.  Once the surface tooth of the paper is filled, it is hard to layer any other colors on the surface.  Picking a paper with the correct tooth or texture would help with that process.

Another factor to consider is the weight of the paper.  A heavier weight paper can handle more layers, water, and techniques than a lighter weight paper.  The weight of the paper is not determined by the individual sheet but is determined by a ream of 500 sheets weighed together at the factory. 

You should also check that the paper is correctly sized for the medium that you are working in, and find out if it is internally, externally, or internally and externally sized. Paper is sized, canvas and board are prepared with gesso.  Though people do sometimes gesso paper to work in heavier mediums, we generally recommend that the artist works with a paper that is correctly sized for their project.  This means you do not need to gesso it if you use the correct paper labeled for the medium you choose.

To go into further detail about mediums, lets consider the type of paper you would use with each medium.  This is one of the most important factors you should consider when choosing paper.  Manufacturers produce paper to work successfully with different mediums to ensure the longevity of your work.  Choosing paper by their recommendations is always best.  Below you will find a list of paper types that we manufacture, and the mediums we recommend that you can use with them.  We included some artists that you might want to research that used the paper, or mediums with similar paper.


This paper is typically only used as a support for those learning to sketch, or for artists wanting to sketch out their ideas. It is not typically acid free and tends to yellow over time. Mediums that work best on this paper are markers, graphite, charcoal, carbon, drawing chalks, monochrome chalk, and oil pencils.  Monochromes are pencils with the sanguine, sepia and white colors you see in many of the old masters works like Michelangelo, Leonardo DaVinci, and Pontormo.  They of course were using a better and heavier paper.
See our Newsprint Papers


Sketching paper is a lighter version of Drawing paper.  It is typically used for practicing drawing, experimenting with dry media, and quick studies to use for finished drawings on heavier, better quality paper.  Many artists use this type of paper in sketchbooks that they keep for references in future compositions.  Mediums that work best on sketching paper are colored pencils, graphite, charcoal drawing chalks, monochrome chalks, and oil pencils.  It is believed that many of Van Gogh’s drawings were on sketch and drawing paper.  He used graphite and light ink with a reed pen.
See our Sketch Papers


Drawing paper is a heavier, and better-quality paper than sketching paper.  It is commonly used for sketching and finished work.  The ideal mediums used with drawing paper are graphite, charcoal, dry monochromes, soft pastel, oil pastel, markers and pen and ink.  Rembrandt executed many drawings with pen and brown ink that are incredible to study.
See our Drawing Papers


Artwork by Paul Knight on Strathmore 500 Series Charcoal Paper

Strathmore 500 Series Charcoal paper has history going back over 100 years.  It is 100% cotton with a unique laid finish.  It allows the artist to gain precise shading control, and works best with charcoal, drawing chalks, monochromes, pastel, and graphite.  Some artists in the past had even used light washes of ink, watercolor and gouache, though this paper is very light weight and would not accept much water.  Many papers made in the past that were like this laid pape would be called woven paper.  Ingres was well known to do fine drawings on woven paper that reflected this surface texture and grain.   Another well know draftsman from the past that you might want to study would be Giovanni Paolo Panini (nothing to do with the sandwich).  His depictions of old-world architecture from Italy are astounding.
See our Charcoal Papers


Artwork by Susan Lyon on Strathmore 400 Series Pastel Paper

Pastel paper has a unique pebbled surface on one side, with the other side being somewhat smoother.  As indicated by the name, pastel paper is best with pastel, charcoal, drawing chalks, monochromes,  and colored pencil (most colored pencil artists use the smoother side of the paper).  Some artists even use light washes of watercolor for underpainting. Some well know artists that worked on this paper were Mary Cassatt, and her dear friend Edgar Degas.  Mary Cassatt was known to love using a blue toned pastel paper for much of her work.
See our Pastel Papers

Mixed Media

This paper is a relatively new surface in the world of paper.  Manufacturers determined to make a paper that can withstand many media techniques commonly used by artists today.  The surface was produced to have qualities like watercolor, but with a vellum drawing surface.  The ideal mediums are graphite, colored pencil, markers, acrylic, watercolor, gouache, pen & ink, charcoal, drawing chalks, monochromes, pastels, gel pens, fine liners, calligraphy inks, and list goes on.  There are many masters of today that love to use this paper. Check out artist Jordan Rhodes and his unique style using toned mixed media paper with gouache.
See our Mixed Media Papers


Artwork by Justin Maas on Strathmore 400 Series Toned Tan Paper

Strathmore Toned papers come in 3 mid-range shades: Tan, Gray and Blue. Starting your artwork using mid-range colored paper allows for unique sketching & drawing possibilities by providing the middle value that would otherwise need to be rendered by the artist.  A wider range of values from light to dark can be used, and the middle tone makes it easier for the artist to deliberately place shadows and highlights. Keeping the value of the paper as one of the values in the drawing not only saves time, but allows the artist to use graphite or other dark media to push darker values and white pencils or other light media to add highlights, making sketches and drawings pop. Our Toned papers are 100% recycled, contain 30% post-consumer fiber, and also contain kraft and bark fiber inclusions which adds visual interest.
See our Toned Papers


Strathmore 400 Series Marker paper has an ultra smooth surface and is heavyweight for the use with markers.  The surface aids in blending and keeps the markers from feathering and bleeding.  Though this paper is made for markers, one can use graphite to lightly draw the composition on the paper. Some artists also use light strokes of colored pencils as well, but be forewarned, pencil marks do not erase well once drawn over with marker. This is also a relatively new paper that many modern artists have adapted to using.  Much of the comic art industry uses this paper for their work.  Check out an article written by the talented Will Terrell who works in this medium (among many others).
5 Tips for Using Markers

See our Marker Paper


Artwork by @daphnesgallery on Strathmore 400 Series Bristol Smooth Paper

This is a very common and versatile paper used in much of the industry and in colleges.  Brisol refers to papers in which two or more sheets are pasted together to form 2-ply, 3-ply, etc. sheets to achieve stiffness, strength and to form a sheet with two identical usable felt or top sides. There are two different types of surfaces for Bristol paper, smooth (plate), and vellum (has some tooth). Smooth Brisol is ideal for pen and ink, airbrush, and detailed work with colored pencil or graphite. Vellum surface is ideal for graphite, charcoal, airbrush, pastel, crayon, colored pencil, and pen and ink. Check out Jennifer Morrison's Tulips in colored pencil on Bristol.
See our Bristol Papers

Layout Bond

Artwork by Alex Marshall on Strathmore 400 Series Layout Bond Paper

This is a semi opaque paper that is typically used by designers, calligraphers, and many artists in the comic art community.  The paper responds well to graphite, colored pencils, chalk, monochrome pencils, and charcoal.  It is usually used for finished designer compositions, or rough drawings.  Many artists like it as a lightweight drawing paper, and some may use it as a tracing paper.
See our Layout Bond Paper

Oil Painting

Oil painting paper is a linen textured paper that is sized correctly to accept oil as a medium without gesso.  The sizing keeps the oil from seeping to the back side of the paper.  We suggest mounting the finish work to a board before framing.  Artists may use graphite, charcoal, oil and oil mediums on this paper as needed Check out this video where Lena Danya demonstrates a beautiful oil portrait on our 400 Series Oil Painting Paper.
See our Oil Painting Paper


Canvas Paper

Artwork by Patti Mollica on Strathmore 300 Series Black Canvas Paper

This is a canvas textured paper sized correctly to accept acrylic and oil on paper without gesso.  This is a great paper to use while practicing painting techniques.  Many schools use this paper for teaching purposes.  The mediums that can be used on this paper are graphite, colored pencil, oils, acrylic, and painting mediums.
See our Canvas Paper

Acrylic Paper

A heavyweight fine linen textured paper that is sized correctly to accept Acrylic.  Mediums that can be use with this paper are graphite, acrylic and acrylic mediums.
See our Acrylic Paper


One of the largest categories of paper with many different surface textures and weights. Typically, watercolor paper can be found in 90 lb, 140 lb, and 300 lb for weight, with the higher number being stiffer.  It is best to stretch the 90 lb and 140lb papers to another surface to keep the paper from buckling while painting, however the 300 lb paper does not need stretching. Click here to see our article on stretching watercolor paper. This paper also comes in 3 surface textures – Hot Press, Cold Press, and Rough.  Hot Press paper is very smooth, Cold press has some pebbling/surface texture, and Rough has very pronounced pebbling/surface texture.  Mediums recommended are graphite, watercolor, gouache, watercolor pencils, colored pencils, liquid acrylics, drawing chalks, and monochromes.  John Singer Sargent was a very well know artist that painted watercolor on watercolor paper.
See our Watercolor Papers


This heavy weight paper is sized correctly to take a tremendous amount of printing inks.  It is a very versatile paper that artists use in different printing and drawing techniques like relief, aquatint, lithography, woodblock, intaglio, and fine drawing. The mediums that can be used are oil-based inks, water-based inks, printing mediums, watercolor, gouache, graphite, drawing chalks, monochromes, and acrylic.  Albert Durer was a wonderful printmaker in the 16th century.  Google some of his woodblock and engraving pieces if you want to see a great master of the medium.
See our Printmaking Papers

Palette Paper

Photo by Megan Kelley

This is a poly-coated paper to be used as a disposable paint-mixing palette. Typically artists use it for acrylic and oil, however, one could use it for watercolor and gouache.  The idea is that the artist uses this for their session, dispose of the sheet, then use the next sheet in the pad for the next session. It frees the artist from having to clean their palette.
See our Palette Paper


Artwork by Caitlin Geels

A very light weight transparent paper used for tracing images and transferring the image to another paper.  It is good for sketching, preliminary drawing, and overlaying images. It accepts graphite, marker, and ink.
See our Tracing Papers


Artwork by Jane Oliver on Strathmore Natural Translucent Vellum

This is a translucent paper with many different uses for fine art and craft projects.  It can be used to protect artwork, used with cards and letters to add decorative elements, and used as a tracing paper.  It accepts pastels, chalk, colored pencils, graphite, and markers.  Vellum has an interesting history that in the past it was manufactured using calf skin.  Of course it is not manufactured that way anymore.  This was the paper used for the content in The Book of Kells, and Degas was known to draw some of his pastel works on Vellum.
See our Vellum Paper


So, there you have it in a nutshell; many of the papers that we manufacture to date and proper mediums to use with each type.  We hope you found some useful information within, and some fun tips and facts. Have a very creative day!

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