Guide to Paper

Written by Hannah Clark


No matter what your choice of medium is, the surface you put it on is crucial. I have already written a guide to canvases, so this is a guide to paper.

It takes time to find the right paper for you as there is a massive variety of different brands and surfaces. There is a general guide in that certain papers would be best with certain mediums which I will clarify later on. It's a matter of trial and error that you find what is best for you, though buying pads and sheets can be expensive. The majority of suppliers to give out free sample packs of different papers for you to try and Lovelys can arrange this for you if required. Please get in touch if so.

As a rule, the more expensive the paper, the better quality it is due to the labour and materials that go into creating it. Artists quality paper is usually made from cotton or sometimes called 'rag', that uses long and strong fibres that are acid-free and are therefore long-lasting. This is useful if you're creating artwork that requires a lot of pressure: such as rough brushmarks, nibs and pastels.

Wood pulp paper, such as sugar paper and newsprint is cheap and meant for temporary measures as it degrades and yellows with age.

The best paper is handmade and these are usually 100% cotton made by the very skilled. Next is mould-made, that is produced on a cylinder mould, where the fibres are randomly distributed like the handmade. Both handmade and mould-made paper come with deckled edges that also give the paper character. Machine made papers are the cheapest but with no character: the fibres go in the same direction as the machine and are more likely to buckle under pressure and moisture.

Firstly, watercolour paper: it can be used for not only watercolour but inks, acrylics and so forth. The surface of the paper is vital to get right for the medium you're using. Watercolour paper comes in 3 different types of surface: hot pressed, cold pressed/NOT or rough. Hot pressed is a very smooth, hard surface suitable for detailed work and subjects that are smooth- like skin or petals. Cold pressed, or NOT means not hot pressed- it has a semi-rough surface that suits most artists and subject matter in that it holds washes very well as well as being excellent for detail. Rough paper has more 'tooth' and therefore is good for subject matters that naturally have a lot of texture. When washes are dragged over the paper, some white is still left untouched, creating natural light and sparkle in the work.

Paper comes in a variety of weights, measured in lb or gsm. Typical weights are 90lb, 140lb, 200lb, 300lb and 400lb (or 180gsm/300gsm/410gsm/600gsm and 850gsm respectively), depending on the manufacturer. At Lovelys, we stock Winsor and Newton, Bockingford, Whatman, Arches, Saunders Waterford, Fabriano and many more- or we can special order in if we don't have it in stock!

Most papers are high-white, white or off-white but tinted papers are available too.

Paper is sold in individual sheets, which is the most economic way of buying or pads, either spiral or glue bound. The lightweight papers will buckle with any washes applied and therefore require stretching, which takes time but is cheaper in the long run.Watercolour paper can also come in block form, where all 4 sides are glued and therefore do not need to be stretched. However they are more expensive but do save on time and are reasonably portable.

Watercolour board is also available, which doesn't need to be stretched but does have a grey-tinge finish to it.

 Pastel paper is tinted in a wide variety of colours, with a subtle texture so the pigment catches within the tooth and part of the tinted paper shows through. There are many different brands but the most popular and the ones that Lovelys stock are Canson Mi-Teintes that has a soft surface and comes in many different colours. Ingres is similar but with a hard surface. Velour, or also called flock paper has a velvet like surface that gives pastel drawings a matt finish but it's best not to blend the pastels as the surface will be compromised.

Whatever the brand, the things to consider when choosing pastel paper is the texture- smooth paper allows blending and good for fine detail but will only take a small amount of pastel so it's not suitable for many layers. Rough paper provides natural vigour, with broken colour and can take many layers of pastel.


The colour tint of the paper is key, as areas can then be left untouched to provide either contrast or a harmonious tone to the subject matter. A light tone can bring out the darkness of the colours of pastels and vice versa.

Lastly, drawing paper: cartridge paper can come in a huge variety of sizes and weights. It can come in loose sheets, spiral bound pads, sketchbooks in hard or soft covers, glued pads, concertina sketchbooks... The choice is yours! Lightweight cartridge, especially poor quality tends to not take any type of wash and therefore buckle easily, plus it can yellow with age. Heavyweight cartridge tends to be acid free; therefore lasting longer and much more versatile in its use. It tends to be smooth, though it can vary slightly in texture from manufacturer to manufacturer. It can come in bright white shades or more creamy tones- the one for you is depending on your preference. Bristol board/paper is excellent for those using markers, fineliners and pencils.

There are also a huge range of handmade speciality papers, coming from countries such as India, Nepal and Japan. Well-known brands that we stock are the Khadi and Himilayan papers. They tend to be highly absorbant and textured, making them excellent for watercolours and ink washes.

At Lovelys we stock a wide range of sketchbooks, from the brand Pink Pigs, Seawhite, Winsor and Newton and Daler Rowney. A pocket sized sketchbook, hard or soft cover is a terrific buy as it's portable for instant noting down of ideas and sketches. Larger sketchbooks can be used for more detailed studies.