All we need to draw is a pencil and a piece of drawing paper. That sounds simple enough but how, when you’re standing in front of the art store, do you possibly choose one?
By the end of this article, you’ll have the knowledge you need to make an informed decision, and choose the paper best suited to your drawing.
When choosing a drawing paper, there are three things to consider:
-the material it is made of
-the weight of the paper, and
-the surface quality of the paper.
Paper is Made of
Paper is primarily made of cellulose, which is the main constituent of all plant life. This means that you can make paper out of any kind of plant, and each one will have its own distinct characteristics.
Drawing paper is generally made out of wood cellulose, or cotton cellulose. Probably the most important distinction between the two is that wood cellulose comes from tree fiber, which contains a polymer called lignin.
Lignin is photo reactive. This means that it reacts to light, causing the paper to become acidic and discolor over time. Newsprint paper is a perfect example: it’s made of wood cellulose containing lignin, and yellows very quickly. When lignin is removed from wood cellulose, however, it results in very durable paper
How do you know if your paper contains lignin? Look for acid free drawing paper, or one that has high alpha cellulose content: this means that the lignin has been removed.
Note that “pH neutral” does NOT mean the same thing as “acid free”!
pH neutral means that the paper had a neutral pH (7) at the time that it was made, but may still contain ingredients that can become acidic over time (for example, the size used to seal the paper).
Acid free means that nothing acidic (and nothing that can become acidic) was introduced to the paper at any point in the paper-making process.
The second type of cellulose that drawing paper can be made from is
cotton cellulose, which comes from the cotton bulb.
Cotton cellulose is naturally lignin-free andhas a neutral pH.
Furthermore, it’s extremely strong due to the structure of the cotton fibers.
It’s about 10 times stronger than wood cellulose, and results in the softest and most durable paper.
Look for the phrase “100% cotton rag” when looking for paper made of cotton cellulose.
Drawing paper is weighed in two ways: in pounds (in the US), and in g/m2 (everywhere else).
The resulting total is the weight you see written on your drawing pad, such as “80 lbs”. To figure out the weight in g/m2, the manufacturer weighs one sheet of paper that measures 1m x 1m.
The thickness (or heaviness) of paper depends on its intended
purpose, so each type of paper has a typical weight.
There is a common misconception that the heavier the paper, the better the quality.
However, heaviness is not necessarily an indicator of quality. Instead, paper weight should be used to help determine whether or not the paper and medium you intend to use are a good match. For example:
- Sketch paper is the thinnest, lightest paper, varying from 30 to 60 lbs (80-140 gsm). It isn’t meant be used for finished drawings, as most will discolor and degrade quickly. However, it’s economical, and perfect for short studies, thumbnails, compositional sketches, and working out ideas.
- Watercolor or printmaking paper has to be the thickest, heaviest paper because it must withstand the moisture from the water media applied to it. It usually weighs between 90 and 140 lbs (220-360 GSM). (The smoother, hot press watercolor papers can be great for drawing, also!)
- Graphite or charcoal drawing paper doesn’t need the durability of watercolor or printmaking paper, but is heavier than sketch paper. It usually weighs between 70 and 100 lbs (170-260 GSM). The weight you choose should depend on how you work with your medium. For example:
If you work with charcoal in several layers, or erase often, choose a heavier, more durable paper. For a drawing that you don’t predict will be too stressful on the paper, your choice can be based more on the paper’s surface quality than its weight.
There is no one paper that is perfect for everything, so the paper you choose should depend on the kind of drawing you want to create.
Last but definitely not least, let’s consider what kind of surface texture you want to draw on. Drawing surfaces vary from ultra-smooth, to very coarse.
This is such a matter of personal preference that all I can really do is offer you a starting point for your experimentation by telling you what I prefer (and why), and what else exists out there.
There are two main categories of surface qualities:
Hot-press paper is pressed under heated, high-pressure cylinders, and therefore is smoother and has less texture.
Cold-press paper is made under lower pressure using no heat, and therefore has a coarser, more textured surface.
The rougher or more textured the paper is, the more “tooth” it is said to have. The smoother the paper: the less tooth it has. Why is tooth important to consider?
Think of it this way:
Every line that you draw is really just charcoal dust left by your pencil. This charcoal dust settles into the grooves created by the texture and porous quality of the paper.
Without some degree of texture, the grooves would be too shallow, and unable to hold the charcoal.
(Paper can be smoother for graphite drawing, as graphite dust is much finer than charcoal dust.)
However, if the paper has a very coarse texture, the ridges will interfere with the line you draw (as shown in the photo above).
Deciding on a Drawing Paper
To summarize all of the above information, here is an example of my thought process when choosing a drawing paper. For my finished drawings, I look for paper that:
- acid free
- has a high alpha cellulose content, or
- is made of 100% cotton rag.
If you’ve read all that and you still want to know more , you might have a bit of an obsession developing! We do know a few great places to send you, though, if you want more:
thedrawingsource.com for detail study of type of drawing papers many parts are taken from here