Your Guide to Choosing an Artist Pad

By Nicole Tinkham

Your Guide to Choosing an Artist Pad

Whether drawing, painting, sketching, doodling, or collaging, one of the essential supplies needed to begin is paper. When purchasing artist paper pads, you will notice many different options available including bristol, pastel, mixed media, newsprint, watercolor, and more. The difference between these paper pads is a common confusion, which is why we put together this guide to help you choose the perfect paper for your next project.

Drawing & Illustration

Type Description Application
Tracing Smooth, transparent parchment paper. Use pencils, markers, and ink to trace images, sketch, and create overlays.
Newsprint Natural-toned, light weight paper in both smooth and rough forms. Best used for quick practice sketches. Use graphite and colored pencils with smooth paper. Charcoal and sketching sticks can also be used with rough.
Sketch Light weight, fine tooth paper. Ideal for practicing new techniques with pencils, charcoal, sketching sticks and pastels.
Drawing Smooth to medium surface with many series available for any artist level (beginner to professional). Use for either sketching or finished pieces. Charcoal, soft pastel, graphite, colored pencils, sketching sticks, and markers may be used with this paper.
Bristol Provides a stiff surface (heavier than drawing paper). Basically, bristol paper consists of many sheets of drawing paper together, forming multi-ply sheets. Smooth surface: Use marker, airbrush, pen, etc.Vellum surface: Use graphite and colored pencils, mixed media, charcoal, and oil pastels.
Pastel A textured paper that comes in many shades. Provides the ideal background for pastels. Graphite and colored pencils, charcoal, and sketching sticks can also be used.
Charcoal Paper with a toothy surface (perfect for applying layers). Ideal for the use of charcoal but soft pastels, graphite, colored pencils, and sketching sticks may also be used.
Mixed Media A combination of both watercolor and drawing paper characteristics. Use the media of your choice. Great for watercolor, pastel, collages, marker, acrylic, etc.



Type Description Application
Watercolor Cold pressed watercolor sheets in both 90lb and 140lb. Use for watercolor painting. Great for both practicing techniques and finished pieces.
Acrylic Heavy weight (246lb) paper. The heavy weight of the paper is ideal for acrylic painting.
Mixed Media A combination of both watercolor and drawing paper characteristics.  (also listed under drawing paper) Use the media of your choice. Great for watercolor, pastel, collages, marker, acrylic, etc.
Canvas Paper Paper with a canvas texture. Use for practicing oil and acrylic techniques.
Palette Paper Poly-coated paper. Used as a disposable palette for mixing paint.

This list may look lengthy but it is by no means your only paper options. This list was compiled based on Strathmore artist pads. Each type of pad above comes in different sizes and series. Series are different qualities of paper that range from the beginner level up to the expert level. Aside from artist pads, there are also sheets of colored paper, decorative paper, rice paper, Yupo paper, and much more. And don’t forget about canvases! Use this guide to get a basic understanding on how to use each paper type. For more information on the other artist papers available, give us a call (941-747-2995) or stop in and talk to one of our art experts. Feel free to leave comments in the box below or on our Facebook and Twitter pages!

7 thoughts on “Your Guide to Choosing an Artist Pad

  1. Thank you for the artist paper breakdown. I’ve been drawing for years and not on the right paper! Now I shall see a big (quality) difference in / of my graphite pencil drawings.

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