There is no answer to the best paper for YOU
. This question is asked constantly here but the only one who can answer that is you. There are some things that all artists ought to know about paper however.
Paper is generally sold by gsm but also by pound. Here is a general table for that: (there are many variables so this is pretty much just a guide)
20lb copier paper 75 gms
24 lb copier paper 90 gsm
65 lb paper 125 gsm
90lb paper 165 gsm
100lb paper 270 gsm
As a general rule, using less than 90lb paper (or thereabouts) is not a very good idea because the paper will easily crease or wrinkle which can ruin a drawing. Going heavier is, of course, all right but prices also increase based on weight.
is the most important thing here. Tooth is the roughness of the surface which allows the paper to take graphite or charcoal. Tooth is to be guarded carefully because once it is crushed or the fibers of the paper damaged, that area will never behave properly again and can often ruin a drawing altogether. Aggressive erasing can destroy the tooth and pushing too hard with your medium (pencil more than charcoal) can crush the tooth. This can also be a problem with smudging or blending especially if using some other material to push the medium around.
There are several surfaces you will find on papers.
is a surface that shows the grain of the paper regardless of what you do. Some artists like this as it is different from the norm. There are no hard and fast rules about this, but more realistic stylists generally prefer something smoother because details are hard to get on a rough surface. Rough surfaces will take dark values easily but erasing can be difficult due to the deeper tooth.
is a slightly smoother surface. This surface is used by many artists and is particularly useful for older male faces and subjects that require very dark areas. There is a slight grain to the paper but not so much that it cannot be hidden with enough layers. It requires a certain finesse to erase cleanly and the tendency is often to push too hard. However these issues can be dealt with through experience.
is generally preferred by realistic stylists because darks are slightly more difficult than the first two surfaces but not impossible and the details are easily done. The tooth is easy to conceal with layers and no grain is generally visible. Erasing is reasonably easy and the tooth is a bit harder to crush.
is used by some artists for realism but I would not recommend it for new drawers. It is quite hard and nearly impossible to damage with an eraser but there is very little tooth so getting your medium to adhere can be quite difficult – let alone getting areas dark enough. It absolutely requires numerous layers and certain techniques unique to it.
Types of Paper
is a type you will see from different manufacturers. It refers to the way the paper is made (multiple ply sheets glued together) and carries the name of the place where it was first manufactured.
has a checkerboard of fibers that show through everything. At one time laid paper was very popular but is rarely seen now although it is still available.
paper comes in two basic types. Cold pressed which is rather rough. Not so good for drawing. And hot pressed which is much smoother and used by many artists.
Some artists use this paper exclusively.
Some papers are sold in spiral ring notebooks. These can be useful if you are a plein air drawer who draws in public often. They are convenient, however the paper is usually lighter weight and generally not very white. I would not consider it suitable for serious fine art drawing.
Other papers come in pads and can be very good. Remember to get a decent weight and whatever surface you want to try. They are not very expensive so they are an excellent way to try different papers. They also come in different sizes – often up to 11x14 which is really plenty large enough for any artist to start.
Individual sheets are somewhat larger – up to 30” per side although the exact size will vary depending upon the manufacturer. Using these sheets requires a means of cutting them accurately. Many artists use a guillotine cutter.
Paper rolls are also available for those wanting a larger quantity or perhaps a larger size. Once you get to being interested in them you will be a very experienced artist and not in need of anything I say here.
Paper is made from wood pulp or cotton or a combination of both. News papers are 100% wood pulp so they are very cheap and do not last long before turning yellow or brown. Pure cotton papers will last hundreds of years. The drawings we have of the old masters were done on rag which is why they are still in existence. Other papers are a combination of pulp and rag. Strathmore, for instance, lets you know by the series of the paper. 300 is a mix, 400 is a mix but leaning more toward cotton and 500 is 100% rag. You needn’t worry too much about your art lasting due to modern materials and treatments, however being aware of the rag content is worthwhile.
Papers come in a number of colors that can be exciting to try. Most people begin with white paper but even there we find a wide range of “whites”. In general the white of the paper is the whitest value you will have available so the whitest white is usually preferable. If you choose to work on a tinted or colored paper you are going to need something to create the white areas in your drawing. White charcoal or white pastels are the norm for this. It adds a new dimension to your art however it is easier to begin with white, master values and shapes before delving into color.
So what do I do now? In this forum you will see many threads where the artist identifies the paper used. Familiarize yourself with a style you like and what artists use what paper. There is not much point to asking what paper is “best” because the answer is actually all of them. Or none of them. It all depends on you. We all have our own style (or you will develop yours) and every paper behaves differently for every artist based on techniques and touch. I can teach you everything I know about how I draw but you will never be able to draw exactly like me. Nor will I ever draw exactly like you. We are all infinitely unique and that trickles down to the papers we use. So try everything you think may be good and reach your own decision. Be fair and give them a chance – especially if you are new but don’t get hung up on one too quickly. As time goes along you will find some that you really like and some that you probably will dislike – this is entirely normal. But asking the forum what is THE best paper is not going to be very helpful to you. Each artist has their favorite so at best it will give you a list of papers to try. But the end decision is up to you.
I hope I have given you enough information here to get you on the right track to understanding the different papers. From here comes the fun part – trying different ones and reaching your own decision about each of them. Drawing paper is reasonably inexpensive so try what interests you. And enjoy the journey!