How to Choose Your Drawing Paper

An artist’s materials are essential to their craft.  For those that work with drawing mediums – pencil, charcoal, watercolor, ink, pastel – paper is vital to creating of lasting work.

Having trouble finding the right paper for sketch work, tracing, or the final piece of your portfolio?  This post will detail the different properties and features of drawing papers, and which types papers are best for different drawing situations.




Cotton Fiber paper is the most durable type of drawing paper.  Papers made out of cotton fiber are generally of the highest quality and can handle the most erasure.

Bristol is a cotton fiber-based paper known for its durability and versatility.  It comes in two-ply, one-ply (for tracing), and vellum finish.

Cellulose Fiber paper is the most common type of paper, made out of wood pulp.  Papers made out of cellulose fiber are acidic, but the material can handle different marking materials and plenty of erasures.


Unfinished, or rough, paper is not smoothed so that it retains its texture.  Rough paper has a strong tooth and can grab smooth marking materials such as charcoal and pastel.

Cold Press paper is smoothed slightly by a cold finish.  Cold Press paper is less textured and has a slightly weaker tooth than rough paper.  It is truly ‘Goldilocks’’ paper –its tooth and texture sit ‘just right’ with most artists.

Hot Press paper is smoothed completely in a process similar to clothes ironing.  Hot press paper allows for the most detail of the three finishes, and is good for a polished sketch or drafting.  This is the best paper for etching or printmaking.


Drawing paper is sized with a metric scale.  The scale is simple – A5, A4, A3, A3+, A2, A1, and A0 – where A5 is the smallest size and A0 the largest.  A4 is a commonly used size for a drawing: it’s nearly equivalent to a standard 8.5 x 11” printer paper.  Here is a scale of each size in comparison with one another:

How to Choose Your Drawing Paper




When you’re sketching out the beginnings of your next masterpiece, you’ll likely need to make lots of erasures.  Papers with vellum finish have just the right amount of tooth and thickness to handle rough eraser treatment.

Most cellulose fiber papers are prone to fading because of their acidity.  To avoid losing your vault of sketching ideas down the road, be sure to buy paper or pads that are acid-free.

Looking for a new sketchbook? features a wide selection of luxury sketchbooks with acid-free papers.  Browse our sketchbooks here.

Tracing and Transferring

Tracing – the artist can’t live without it.  To transfer your art successfully from rough pad to a smooth hot press sheet, those thin, transparent sheets can be your saving grace.

Most tracing paper is made from cotton fiber.  For the best visibility and detail, buy a tracing paper with a low GSM (Grams per Square Meter) between 25 and 200.  The thinner the paper, the more detail will come through your transfer.


You’ll want to transfer those finished pieces onto a smooth, hot-press sheet of Bristol paper.  Bristol is a multi-ply cotton fiber that represents a standard of excellence in quality in drawing paper.  It comes in one-ply, two-ply and three-ply thicknesses, and can be used for many purposes.

A piece of plate-finished Bristol paper will elegantly hold your final pieces, its smooth surface allowing for the finest of detail.  Bristol is not always acid-free – Archival papers will hold your work in pristine condition for years to come.

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