There is nothing standard or uniform about art paper. Like the word of art itself, the paper that artists use is richly varied and diverse. That is why world famous paper makers like Fabriano, which dates back to 1264 and had artists like Michelangelo singing its praises, produce so many different products. We can’t discuss every single piece of art paper – that would require a novel. But we can take a look at some of the more common ones on the market today.
- Drawing paper is a heavy, high quality paper especially when compared to sketching paper. This means it is suitable for both sketching and finished work, with graphite, charcoal, dry monochromes, soft pastel, oil pastel, markers and pen and ink being preferred mediums on this surface.
- Sketching paper is a lighter version of drawing paper and is typically used for practice purposes, trialling dry media, and quick studies that will be the basis for finished drawings on heavier, better quality paper in the future. The mediums best suited for sketching paper are coloured pencils, graphite, charcoal drawing chalks, monochrome chalks, and oil pencils. It is widely thought Van Gogh’s drawings on sketch (and drawing) paper were made with graphite and light ink with a reed pen.
- Pastel paper, like this pad from the iconic Fabriano brand, has a pebbled surface on one side, and a much smoother texture on the other. Of course, as the name implies, pastel paper is best suited to pastel but it can also be used with charcoal, drawing chalks, monochromes, and coloured pencil (mostly on the smoother side of the paper). Some artists have even been known to use light washes of watercolour for underpainting.
- Mixed media paper is a relatively new addition to the art paper world. It has been produced to meet demand for a paper that can withstand many media techniques that are commonly used by artists today. The surface is typically produced to have qualities like watercolour, but with a vellum drawing surface. Because of its versatility, this type of paper can be used with an extensive range of mediums: graphite, coloured pencil, markers, pen & ink, charcoal, drawing chalks, acrylic, watercolour, gouache,, monochromes, pastels, fine liners, calligraphy inks are just a few of them.
- Bristol paper is a paper grade generally consisting of a variety of lightweight cardboard stocks, which you most often see being used for covers of reports, pamphlets, and catalogues. The surface is smooth and treated to accept ink readily, and it also has a very high resistance to abrasion so it can handle repeated erasing and scraping.
- Oil painting paper is linen-textured and treated to be able to accept oil as a medium without gesso or any other type of priming material. Sizing keeps oil from seeping out of the paint and onto the back side of the paper. Artists are able to use oil and oil mediums on this paper, as well as graphite and charcoal.
- Acrylic paper is treated during the manufacturing process to be able to accept acrylic and oil without priming, and is thought to be ideal for practicing various painting techniques. As such, many schools use this paper for teaching purposes. Acrylic may be the primary medium for this paper but graphite, coloured pencil, oils, and assorted painting mediums can also be used. Acrylic paper is thicker than drawing paper, with a textured surface designed to improve the adherence of acrylic paint washes and layers.
- Watercolour paper has to make an appearance on our list, as it is one of the most produced art papers in the world. It’s generally heavier than most other art papers as it has a lot of moisture to absorb and hold. There are three main manufacturing processes including hot press, where the texture is even and smooth and offers a good surface for prints and drawings. Cold press has a slightly bumpy texture and is probably the popular texture for watercolourists the world over. The texture lets paint settle into texture pockets or sit on top and skip over the pockets, creating different painting technique options. Finally, there’s rough, which has an even bumpier surface than cold press and is typically used for exaggerated rough texture techniques.
We’d need a lot more paper to cover every other form of art paper available on the market today. Don’t take our word for it. Ask this New Zealand art and crafts retailer – they’ll tell you that art paper comes in many forms. For every art technique and medium, there’s a paper to match and that is why their range is ever-increasing.