Before we get into the best sketching paper we should discuss one subject and that is the difference between sketching paper and drawing paper. Many people use them interchangeably and if you were going to do that, I would go with drawing paper. The reason is that sketching paper is made more for unfinished works, whereas drawing paper is more for a finished product (or something that eventually will be a finished piece for sale or display).
What this means is that sketching paper is usually lighter weight and slightly lower quality, but also less expensive. You certainly can find more expensive high end sketching paper as opposed to cheaper drawing paper, but that isn’t apples to apples. Generally speaking, sketching paper should only be used for practice whereas drawing paper can be used as either. The good news is, you are the artist so you can do whatever makes you happy.
I should also mention I am sticking with something in the 9″ x 12″ish size as this is the most common size I see people carrying around and using. Not to mention if we started with everything from pocket sketchbooks to huge tablets, this list would never end. So with no further disclaimers or warnings, I present my personal list of the best sketching paper.
At the very top of the best sketching paper list is Strathmore 400 Series Sketch Pad 9″ x 12″ 1 This is Strathmore’s top of the line in sketch paper, and probably one of the best from any manufacturer. 100 sheets of 60lb high-quality acid-free paper with just the perfect amount of tooth. The spiral binding keeps everything working great from the first page to the last, and the heavy chipboard backing gives a solid surface no matter what it is sitting on.
No other paper I have ever used compares to this for sketching. OK, I have never used Strathmore 500 for sketching, but why would you?
Each page is just perfect. Charcoal, pencil, even watercolor pencil works marvelously on this stuff. If you want the best, this is it, quit reading and get a pad.
For full disclosure, I rarely use Strathmore 400 as I find their 300 more than adequate for my limited capabilities although I do love working with this material. I think I might have actually purchased a Strathmore 400 pad once in my life although I have used a couple I acquired.
This Strathmore 350-9 300 Series Sketch Pad is my personal favorite albeit in the 11″ x 14″ size. This is basically the same as the 400 paper above at a lighter weight, 50lbs instead of the 60lbs, and with a slightly less consistent tooth.
What I mean by less consistent tooth is that it seems to me I find slight variations in the tooth of the paper not only from sheet to sheet but sometimes in different areas of the sheet.
I should say that I don’t notice this when sketching at all, only when lightly drawing fine details. In fact, most people I talk to don’t notice it at all so maybe it is just me. I should also mention that this is a very small difference.
I first noticed this when using an extra fine fountain pen to ink in some details on a sketch. To be honest, this isn’t really great paper for fountain pens but I was trying something new. Extra fine nibs on fountain pens can read the tooth on paper like a blind person reads brail so any inconsistency at all shows up like an earthquake.
So why is this my favorite with this issue? Because I do this technique so infrequently that it doesn’t matter and other than this one little nitpick I really do love this paper. Not only is the 300 series a little cheaper, but also lighter and honestly I like the yellow cover too, sue me.
Another excellent paper is the Canson XL Mixed Media Spiral Sketch Pad 3and since this is a heavier paper (98lb) it tends to be more suited for when I want to add embellishments to my sketches with washes, ink or paint. Some people also just prefer heavier paper which is great although for daily sketching this is a little heavy for my taste.
I do very much like the smooth texture of the paper, it seems to deal with fountain pens better than either of the Strathmore papers and of course, being heavier weight means even using a broad nib won’t bleed through. While this isn’t really a sketch paper per se, I put it on my list of best sketching paper because so many people I know like to do washes and embellishments to their sketches I thought I would at least include one paper that excelled at taking those in addition to being some of the best sketching paper.
Since we are talking Canson, the Canson Universal Sketch Pad, Side Wire Bound, 9″ x 12″ is another amazing product from them and deserves a place on the best sketching paper list. While the Strathmore 300 is my go-to paper, the Canson sketch has almost a cult following with some people I talk to.
Some people love the fact that the paper seems so much heavier even though it is only 65lbs as compared to the Strathmore 400 at 60lbs. You wouldn’t think that 5lbs of difference in papers would make a difference but when I use it I can see what they are talking about. Maybe the fibers of the paper are just a little stiffer in addition to the extra weight?
I also notice that the surface seems a little harder than any of the other papers in this list and that the paper seems a tad brighter white. My stiffer fiber theory would also explain a harder surface.
Even with a harder surface and possible stiffer fibers, it takes ink well with no pooling or bleeding and is almost as good at taking washes and broad nibs as the Canson XL above. Of all the paper on here, this is probably the most recommended best sketching paper I have seen.
The last item on my best sketching paper list is a little small and a little different. The Leda Art Supply 160 Pages Softbound Cover Sketchbook for Artists 7 x 10 inch is am amazing little book to carry around when you don’t really want to look like the artist but need some nice paper to sketch on. Yes, they make a larger size, but to me, that kinda defeats the point. This is all about fitting inside a smaller bag, purse, or being carried as a book.
You know what I am talking about, that look you get when you walk into a museum or exhibit carrying your Strathmore tablet and pencil case. This solves that issue and allows you to carry a nicely bound book of excellent paper.
Speaking of the paper, it is 160 pages of 81lb cream-colored paper that is very smooth with just a very light tooth, enough to grab your graphite or charcoal with ease.
In addition, in the back of the book is a small pocket that can hold a few pencils or pens.
Basically this is a plain-looking sketchbook that blends well and doesn’t scream artist, while still providing top-quality paper for your sketching. It truly is some of the best sketching paper you can get.