There are many different types of paper depending on how it is manufactured.

Paper is defined as:
1.  material manufactured in thin sheets from the pulp of wood or other fibrous substances used for writing, drawing, printing, or wrapping material.
2.  a piece or sheet of paper with something written or drawn.
1.  apply wallpaper to (a wall or room).


Includes the following.

Paper is quite a versatile kind of material and medium. It can be used for collage, origami, sculpture or book binding.

Raw materials used by the Chinese almost 2,000 year ago to make paper included bast, bark, hemp, rags, and rice grass. Today wood, made into pulp is the primary material.

Choosing Paper

Depending on what is needed, it is a good idea to have some basic knowledge of the following concepts when shopping for paper.

What is Paper Made Of?

Most drawing papers are made from plant fibers, wood, or cotton.  The process and materials of making paper always affect the finished product.  Paper may be made out of a variety of resources, but most are made by turning some type of fiber, usually from either cotton or wood, into a pulp.  Less-quality paper is made of wood.  The pulp is then molded together, pressed flat, and allowed to dry.

How is it Manufactured?

The European Association representing the paper industry (Cepi) is a non-profit-making organization and has produced the following graphic.

CEPI Image of the Paper-Making Process

What is Paper Quality

Higher-quality papers are usually made from cotton or linen and are archival, which will resist chemical breakdown over time.  Less-quality paper is usually made from wood.

When the fibers are ground into a pulpit are highly acidic and will degrade over time.  Medium-quality papers usually fall in between and are made with wood and cotton fibers.  Chemicals are often added to prevent the pH change over time.

Non-archival vs. Acid-Free vs. Archival

Knowing the difference between non-archival, acid-free, and archival is essential if you want your drawings to last through the ages.

What is Non-archival Paper?

It is made from wood (white in color) which consists of cellulose fiber and lignin (brown in color).  Newsprint is usually non-archival.  Due to oxidation, the lignin eventually turns the paper yellow or brown and becomes brittle over time.  If exposed to air, the lignin molecules oxidize and become less stable.

It also absorbs light and then gives off a darker brown color.  If the paper is not exposed to air and kept entirely out of light, it will remain white; however, after only a few hours of exposure to these elements, it will start to turn yellow or brown and deteriorate.

Acid-free paper symbol

What is Acid-Free Paper?

It is made from wood but does not contain lignin.  The wood is also treated with a mild base (usually calcium or magnesium bicarbonate) to neutralize the natural acids.  Papers that have been treated will be labeled as "acid-free" but may be missing the "non-archival" markup; these papers are less expensive than archival paper.  Today, much of the commercially produced paper is acid-free.

What is Archival Paper?

It is a permanent, durable, acid-free paper made from cotton or wood using a different process.  Archival paper is meant for publications of high legal, historical, or significant value.  In the USA, the ANSI standards must also approve such papers.  The international standard for "permanent" paper is ISO 9706, and for "archival" paper, the standard is ISO 11108.

Cotton rag paper is often used for archival purposes, as it is not made from wood-based pulp.  Thus, "archival paper" is sometimes broken down into two categories:

  • Conservation-grade — acid-free, buffered paper made from wood-based pulp.
  • Archival-grade (also Museum-grade) — cotton rag paper made from cotton pulp.

What is Paper Weight?

Drawing papers are designated by weight, giving the user an idea of the thickness or stability of the paper.

It is most commonly dictated according to pounds.  The weight designation is the physical weight of a paper ream of 500 sheets.  For example, heavy watercolor paper will weigh more than sheets of thin tracing paper. 

This is important because if you erase a lot, you probably need heavier paper, or if you are working in wet mediums, the paper will buckle when wet.

A good paper for the drawing will be heavyweight (at least 70 lbs. or 80 lbs.).

What is the Tooth of Paper?

All papers have a surface texture that influences the marks on the paper.  This surface texture is commonly referred to as the 'tooth.'  The tooth of the paper is produced according to the process used to create the paper.  Paper with many 'teeth' is suitable for charcoal or pastels because it will hold more power or pigments.

Paper finishing, the most frequently used processes are:

  • coating
  • impregnating
  • parchmentizing
  • laminating

Watercolor Paper

Finishes include the following:

  • Unfinished or rough, this finish is not smooth and retains a particular texture.  The rough or textured paper has a strong tooth and can grab smooth materials such as charcoal or pastel.
  • The cold press is smooth.  It is less textured and has a slightly weaker tooth than rough paper.
  • Hotpress is utterly smooth because it has been ironed.  This type of finish allows for the most detail or smooth gradations.  Great for polished sketches or finished drawings.  It is also best suited for printmaking.

Finishes Explained

Includes the following.


Is extremely coarse or textured.  When manufactured, cylinders are not used to press the paper flat; they are often not pressed or pressed mechanically, resulting in highly textured and rough surfaces.  These papers can withstand multiple washes, wet mediums and are typically preferred by pastelists to enhance texture.

Hotpress vs. Coldpress

"Hotpress," "Coldpress," or "Rough" are all designations assigned to watercolor paper.  They are different processes for making paper, and each process produces a different tooth or surface texture.


Is extremely smooth.  When it is manufactured, heated cylinders press the paper flat, and this causes the paper to mold and flattens, resulting in a smooth surface.  Hotpress papers are typically preferred by portrait artists, pen & ink artists, detailed watercolor paintings, or anyone looking for control or precision in their mark-making.


Is coarse or textured.  When manufactured, unheated cylinders press the paper flat, resulting in small groves on the surface.  Coldpress papers are typically preferred by landscape artists, watercolor artists, pastelists, or anyone looking to exploit the surface texture.

Types of Paper

Includes the following.

Drawing Papers

Paper is essential to drawing.  Most papers are made from plant fibers, and cotton is the most archival.

Drawing Papers

Types of Drawing Papers

Bristol Board (named for the town in England) is a smooth and heavier paper, much like card stock.  It is known for its durability and versatility.  It is suitable for various media and features two different types of "tooth," both are relatively smooth and come in a two-ply, one-ply (for tracing), and vellum finish, suitable for colored pencils or pens and ink.

Cellulose Fiber Paper is the most common type of paper, made from wood pulp.  Paper made from cellulose fiber is acidic but suitable for many erasures.  It will be yellow after a few years, so it is best for practice only.

Charcoal paper has a slightly textured surface called the "tooth" of the paper, and the amount of texture or "tooth" varies among different brands.  The texture allows the paper holds the tiny particles of the charcoal so that it adheres better to the surface.  Handmade paper is usually delicate and absorbent, best used for collage.  Be sure to test it first before investing in a large quantity.

Cotton Rag Paper is made from cotton and comes in various weights, textures, and hues.  It is the best of severe endeavors, including printmaking, and is excellent for wet drawing media such as ink or watercolor washes.

Sanded Paper for Pastels is made with a coated abrasive.  It has a rough texture and is used for pastel or pastel pencils.  There are many varieties of sandpaper, with variations in the paper or backing, the material used for the grit, grit size, and the bond.  The higher the grit number, the finer the paper.

Handmade Paper is delicate and absorbent but may offer the artist different surfaces with textural qualities.

Newspaper is made from wood pulp, which is acidic, so it is not archival and will turn yellow after a few years, so it's best suited for practice sketches.  Perfect for those 5-minute gesture drawings that will be thrown out eventually.

Vellum is a smooth paper that combines plastic with cotton or wood pulp materials.  The material is translucent, making it suitable for tracing.  This type of vellum paper should not be confused with Bristol paper which has a "vellum" surface.  It is suitable for pen and ink.

Toned Paper

Using Toned Paper

Toned paper comes in various values and temperatures.  It is excellent for starting on a mid-tone and then working to add in the lights or darks.

Where to Find Toned Paper

French Paper Company makes over 100 paper colors and envelopes in many weights and sizes.  French can also make custom papers to match any color, texture, or specification.

Watercolor Papers

Watercolor Papers are selected by the paper finish and by the weight.  Manufacturers generally sell three or more finishes, usually labeled Rough, Cold Press, or Hot Press.  See "Paper Finishes" for a description of each.

"Watercolor blocks" keep the paper from buckling up when the paper gets wet or has been waterlogged.  Once the artwork is completely dry, each paper may be removed using a razor blade or thin object to separate it from the block.

Gouache Papers

Paper used with gouache does not have to be really expensive.  Smaller sizes work well since gouache dries quickly.  Watercolor or mixed media papers may also be used.

  • EITHER Heavyweight sketchbook paper (9x12 or larger)
  • OR Cardstock which is heavyweight office paper that goes into the printer (8.5x11)
  • OR Watercolor paper (9x12 or larger) (either hot or cold press).

Pen & Ink Papers

The best surface for pen & ink would be a firm, smooth or polished texture.  The pen should glide over the paper without any snags or clogging.  The ink should not bleed or bead up when applied.  The line produced should be precise in appearance or crisp.  Bristol board or hot press illustration boards provide a very smooth surface for pen and ink.


If you want your sketchbooks to last for years, look on the label for "archival material."

Sketchbooks may have a choice of either hard or softcover.  Some Sketchbooks have papers that are heavier weight, more so than others, and will not be destroyed by the constant use of an eraser or blender.


Hardcovers are great for an on-the-go drawing board but are also heavier and bulkier.

Wire bound

Wire bound is either bound similarly to a book or maybe bound with a spiral.  This is a great lighter-weight solution if you are traveling.

Wet or Dry Medium?

Know whether you will be using dry, wet, or mixed media. Heavyweight paper is a must for wet mediums such as watercolor or gouache.

Popular Brands

[White Paper] Global Art Materials Travelogue Watercolor Book - Linen, acid-free, soft white sheets, 95lb/200 gsm, durable cover with elastic closure, clear envelope inside back cover, bound in natural linen, made in India (Global Art Materials, Inc.)

[White Paper] Stillman & Birn (Alpha Series) - Available in both hardbound and wire-bound formats, these sketchbooks contain multiple sheets of 100 lb (150 gsm) natural white paper with a vellum surface and a distinctive tooth.  Ideal for dry media and light washes, the paper is both internally sized and surface-sized. (Stillman & Birn)

[Ivory Tinted Paper] Stillman & Birn (Gamma Series) - Available in both hardbound and wire-bound formats, these sketchbooks contain multiple sheets of 100 lb (150 gsm), ivory paper with a vellum surface, and a distinctive tooth.  Ideal for dry media and light washes, the paper is both internally sized and surface-sized.  The vellum surface is also recommended for dry media, light wash, or inks.  The ivory-toned paper also warms up the cooler temperatures that most charcoal drawings seem to have when done on white paper.  The paper also creates a subtle texture from the tooth. (Stillman & Birn)

[White Paper Great for Pen & Ink] Stillman & Birn (Epsilon Series) - Available in both hardbound and wire bound formats, these sketchbooks contain multiple sheets of 100 lb (150 gsm) natural white paper with a vellum surface and a distinctive tooth.  Ideal for dry media and light washes, the paper is both internally sized and surface-sized. (Stillman & Birn)


Protect drawings or pastels from smearing.


Workable Fixatives

Workable Fixatives allow you to continue your work on a piece.  Use workable fixatives between layers, or apply them when you want to protect an unfinished piece and return to work on it later.

SpectraFix is a casein-based fixative that utilizes milk protein and grain alcohol to hold and protect media without dulling or darkening colors.  Ideal for use with a variety of media.  It is non-toxic, workable, and fully archival.

Grumbacher Final Fixative

Non-Workable Fixatives

Permanent fixative protects it from damage and seals it from further alteration, whereas workable fixatives allow you to continue to work without damaging the previous layers of the medium.

Final Fixatives are non-workable and should be used only when the artwork is completed.  Apply the fixative lightly without wetting or soaking the paper.  Once the fixative has been applied, it protects against smudging and ultraviolet light.

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