How To Choose The Right Paper For Your Art


Welcome to a guide on how to choose the right paper for your art projects! From watercolor to sketching, the type of paper you use can greatly impact the final result of your artwork. By understanding different paper characteristics such as weight, texture, and color, you can make an informed decision that will enhance your creative process. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned artist, selecting the right paper is essential in achieving the desired outcome for your art. Let’s explore the world of paper options and find the perfect fit for your artistic endeavors.

How To Choose The Right Paper For Your Art

Have you ever found yourself feeling overwhelmed by the vast selection of art paper at your local art supply store? Choosing the right paper for your art projects is crucial to achieving the desired results. From watercolor to charcoal, each medium requires a specific type of paper to ensure your artwork looks its best. In this article, I will guide you through the process of selecting the perfect paper for your artistic creations.

Understanding Paper Weight and Thickness

When selecting art paper, one of the most important factors to consider is the weight and thickness of the paper. Paper weight is typically measured in pounds per ream (500 sheets) in the United States, while in other countries it may be measured in grams per square meter (gsm). The higher the weight, the thicker and sturdier the paper will be. Thicker paper is more resilient and can handle multiple layers of paint or other media without buckling.

Choosing paper that is too thin for your medium may result in the paper becoming wrinkled or warping, which can ruin your artwork. On the other hand, using overly thick paper for light media such as pencil drawings may not be necessary and can be a waste of resources. Consider the medium you will be working with and choose a paper weight that is suitable for your specific needs.

Types of Paper Surfaces

Art paper comes in a variety of surfaces, each of which has its own unique characteristics that can affect the outcome of your artwork. The surface of the paper refers to its texture, which can range from smooth to rough. Some common types of paper surfaces include:

  • Hot Pressed: Smooth surface, ideal for detailed work and watercolor painting.
  • Cold Pressed: Slightly textured surface, suitable for a variety of mediums including watercolor, ink, and gouache.
  • Rough: Highly textured surface, best for creating expressive and bold artwork with charcoal or pastels.

Choosing the right paper surface is essential for achieving the desired effects in your art. Experiment with different surfaces to find the one that best complements your artistic style and techniques.

Color Tone of the Paper

The color tone of the paper can have a significant impact on the overall look and feel of your artwork. White is the most common color for art paper, but it is not the only option available. Other popular choices include cream, ivory, and gray. The color of the paper can affect the way colors appear when applied, so it is essential to consider how the paper’s tone will interact with your chosen medium.

For example, white paper may make bright colors appear more vibrant, while cream paper may give a warmer, softer look to your artwork. Experiment with different paper tones to see how they enhance or change the colors in your artwork.

Choosing the Right Paper for Specific Mediums

Different art mediums require different types of paper to achieve the best results. Here are some recommendations for choosing the right paper for specific mediums:


Watercolor paper comes in three main types: hot-pressed, cold-pressed, and rough. The best paper for watercolor painting is typically cold-pressed, as it provides a nice balance between texture and absorbency. Look for watercolor paper that is at least 140lb (300gsm) to prevent buckling and warping when wet.

Acrylic and Oil Painting

For acrylic and oil painting, a heavy-weight paper or canvas pad is recommended. Paper specifically designed for acrylic and oil painting is treated to prevent the paint from seeping through and damaging the surface. Consider using a canvas pad for a textured surface that mimics traditional canvas.

Drawing and Sketching

For drawing and sketching with pencils, charcoal, or ink, choose a paper weight that is heavy enough to withstand erasing and shading. Smooth or medium-textured paper is generally preferred for detailed drawings, while a slightly textured paper can add depth and character to your sketches.

Pastels and Charcoal

When working with pastels or charcoal, opt for a paper surface with some tooth (texture) to grip the medium and hold multiple layers of color. Textured or rough paper is ideal for creating soft, blended effects with pastels, while charcoal can create dramatic contrast on a medium-textured surface.

Paper Sizing and Formats

Art paper comes in a variety of sizes and formats to suit different artistic projects. Here are some common paper sizes and formats to consider:

  • Sheet: Single, individual sheets of paper available in various sizes.
  • Pad: A bound pad of paper with tear-off sheets, convenient for sketching and drawing on the go.
  • Block: A block of paper glued on all sides to prevent warping when wet, ideal for watercolor painting.
  • Roll: Continuous rolls of paper that can be cut to custom sizes for large-scale projects.

Consider the size and format of the paper based on the scale and type of art you will be creating. Larger paper sizes are suitable for detailed work or expressive brush strokes, while smaller sizes are great for quick sketches or studies.

Paper Quality and Archival Properties

When selecting art paper, it is crucial to consider the quality and archival properties of the paper. Archival paper is made from acid-free materials that are durable and resistant to fading, yellowing, and deterioration over time. Choosing archival paper ensures that your artwork will stand the test of time and remain in pristine condition for years to come.

Look for papers labeled as “acid-free,” “archival quality,” or “museum-grade” to ensure the longevity of your artwork. Investing in high-quality paper is worth it for important projects or pieces that you intend to keep or display for an extended period.

Experimenting with Different Papers

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of paper to discover what works best for your art. Each paper surface, weight, and tone can produce unique effects and enhance your artistic vision. Keep a variety of papers in your art supply collection so you can try out different options for different projects.

Try creating test swatches or small studies on different papers before starting a larger piece to see how the paper will interact with your chosen medium. This experimentation can lead to new creative possibilities and help you develop your signature style as an artist.


Choosing the right paper for your art projects is a personal and creative decision that can greatly impact the outcome of your artwork. By understanding the different factors to consider when selecting art paper, such as weight, surface, color tone, and medium compatibility, you can make informed choices that will enhance your artistic process and results.

Next time you visit an art supply store, take the time to explore the variety of paper options available and consider how each type of paper can elevate your art to new heights. Whether you prefer smooth watercolor paper for detailed paintings or textured paper for expressive drawings, there is a perfect paper out there waiting for you to create your next masterpiece. Happy creating!

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