Choosing Quality Artist Paper for drawing and prints

The very first step in any drawing or print is choosing what paper you are going to use. The difference between amateur sketches and professional drawings is the quality of paper used. Professional artists oftentimes don't make that much money and don't want to spend more money on their artwork than is necessary or appropriate, however it is important to use a quality paper that will hold up to the artistic process as well as the passage of time. This hub will guide you through the basic types of paper available for drawing and printmaking, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and how to choose appropriate paper for your drawing or print.

Paper is categorized by the material it is made of, whether or not it is acid free, it's weight, its surface, and to a lesser extent its size. The best way to understand the different categories of paper is to understand a little bit about how paper is made. Paper is generally made from a pulp. The most common pulp derives from wood however other types of pulp are also used. This pulp is spread out in a thin even layer on some type of screen which allows water to drain away. Pressure is applied and the paper is allowed dry forming a sheet. This sheet is then cut into smaller sizes. Handmade paper is commercially available but is generally more expensive than factory made paper.

When paper is made the first factor in deciding it's quality is going to be the type of pulp that is used. When buying paper you want to look for the word "rag." This means that the paper was made with cotton instead of wood pulp. Look for paper that is "100% rag" this paper will be acid free, and won't yellow with the passage of time.

Ever look at an old newspaper? That yellowing is the result of being printed on a non-acid free paper. If you intend to keep your drawing or print you do not want that yellowing, however if you are drawing for practice or testing a print than you do not need to spend the extra money for paper that is acid free. For this purpose "Newsprint" is sold. "Newsprint" is the same paper newspapers are publish on and generally speaking is the cheapest paper available. Its advantage is its cost. Its disadvantage are many. It is thin and won't hold up long to any type of abuse like getting wet, and erasers. It is best used as paper to practice on.

The second factor is determining the quality of paper is its weight. The weight of a paper refers to how many standard sheets of paper must be stacked to equal one pound. The higher the number, the lower the weight will be. Tracing paper for example has a very low weight. Newsprint,and sketch paper also have relatively low weights.Low weight paper is probably not going to be paper that you plan to have framed. Its purpose is more for sketching and practicing, however a low weight does not necessarily mean the paper is no good. It does mean that it won't hold up to as much abuse as a heavier sheet of paper will. It will not be a good choice for any drawing which includes water colors, pen and ink, or that you need to wet for any reason. Depending on whether you want to use it for strictly practice or whether you want to archive your practice determines whether or not you choose a low weight paper that is acid free or now. I generally recommend my students choose an acid free sketch book and acid free sketch paper for archival purposes. Also you never know when a sketch might turn into something you do want to have framed.

The third factor is choosing a paper is going to be its surface. Paper is labeled with all different types of surfaces but generally speaking you can choose between smooth, vellum, rough, and watercolor. I think the surface you prefer has more to do with personal preference than with actual necessity. Basically the thing to keep in mind is that the rougher your surface the more difficult it will be to have a very clean line. As long as the weight is high enough, choose your surface based on what you prefer. Vellum will have a surface most similar to the sketch paper that most beginning artists are used to. It is available in pads and occasionally in individual sheets. It is however machine cut which means it has a very straight precise edge which looks cheap when floated in a frame or pinned to a wall.

The final choice in making when choosing a paper is the size you prefer to work on. The standard size is generally around 18"x24" (sometimes 19"x22," or as large as 36"x48"). As you can easily cut or tear your paper to the size you desire, this choice is more about determining the type of edge you want your paper to have. The better papers are bought by the sheet. Some high quality papers (like Canson) are machine cut, but generally speaking the better quality papers will have a rough edge from the when the paper was pressed that has not been trimmed. These are the types of paper you should be buying when you are creating your drawings or prints to be shown. They are higher in weight than padded paper and can be used for printmaking techniques (like etching) that require the paper be dampened. In this category I generally prefer either Rives or Stonehenge. (a step up would be Arches) These are high quality rag papers that can be neatly torn with a heavy straight edge and hold up easily to quite a bit of abuse with water, erasers and heavy drawing.

Handmade papers are yet another category of paper vary much more than factory produced paper. They are generally more expensive and are useful more for decorative purposes, or as a design element in your artwork. Choose these papers by examining their individual qualities to determine if they fit your purposes or not.

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Comments 2 comments

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ChristinS 4 years ago from Midwest

Excellent overview on paper and how to understand the weights and textures for drawing. I learned a lot by trial and error in my beginning art classes. This is definitely a very useful hub.


CB 3 years ago

Outstanding explanation of the various papers from which one can choose. A tremendous help. Thank you!

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