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The Best Art Papers Judged by Medium

Are you trying out watercolor painting, pen-and-ink sketches, or even a new origami fold? Whatever the project, every medium requires a unique paper which meets a specific set of standards and attributes. The best art papers in 2021 listed here will make it easy for you to find what’s best suited for your next creative project, whether it’s a charcoal sketch or a page to add to your beloved scrapbook. Be sure to check out our buyer's guide as well to find out more about the different types of papers available and some key terms every artist should be familiar with.

Here are the best art papers of 2021

Bazzill Basics Art Paper - Best Scrapbook Paper

A smaller, specialty brand, Bazzill Basics Paper offers scrap-bookers a range of vivid colors and striking patterns. The Basics Collection represents just one of the brands’ families and provides a variety of bold, monochromatic color schemes in black, beige, red, and sky blue. Other Bazzill collections include creamier hues, as well as a selection of unique textures and styles such as burlap or dotted swiss. The paper itself comes in both 8.5 x 11 and 12 x 12 sizes and large single-color packs, though there are a few multi-color packs available. And, while the sheets work well by themselves, they are also great for matching with patterns from other brands, making the large packs an ideal purchase for mixing with other sheets.

Arteza Watercolor Paper - Best Watercolor Paper

With this set, Arteza offers a great value pack for artists at all levels. The set provides two 9” x12” (229 cm x 305 cm) pads containing 32 sheets each, so you get 64 sheets in all and can express creativity to the fullest. As a watercolor paper made by, you can trust the Arteza watercolor paper to meet your artistic needs. The paper gives that just right toothy texture that is ideal for fine detail and even huge washes. Your Arteza sheets are thicker and denser ( about140 pounds) than most, so they can stand up to numerous washes without distorting or leaking through. This heavyweight paper is free of acid and comes with sturdy adhesive binding that keeps your pages in place while you work.

Japanese Tant Origami Paper- 100 Colors 6 Inch Square Art Paper - Best Origami Paper

Japanese Tant paper is one of the most common and popular origami papers available today, in addition to being available at a reasonable price. Made of a wood pulp and roughly the thickness of printer paper, this traditional origami paper comes in a standard 15 cm square (just under 6”) and is known as one of the most versatile and common sheets available. This particular pack comes with 100 sheets of individually colored paper, giving origami artists a vivid rainbow of hues to work with, but a slight drawback to anyone who wants more than a single sheet of a particular color. Also, unlike many origami papers, both sides of the sheet have the same color, instead of the typical white back of many origami papers. Overall, it’s a standard among origami experts and works well for a vast range of folds and techniques.

Home Pro Shop Origami Paper - Best Origami Paper

We love origami because it's a specialized crafts that pros and novices can enjoy, alike. If you want to try origami, you'll need paper shaped into a square. This pick from Home Pro Shop includes 250 sheets of 6 x 6 inch origami paper. The pack includes 15 different colors of paper, and the paper is double sided, so you don't have to worry about making sure the colored side shows up. The best part is that your purchase includes online video tutorials! This choice is perfect for adults and families that want to explore their creativity through the art of origami.

Spectra Assorted Color Tissue Pack - Best Tissue Paper

Most brands of art tissue work to prevent color bleeding, but the Pacon Spectra brand offers a special tissue paper with water-soluble colors. This feature allows artists to create spectacular swirls as the colors melt together through the tissue. While the brand offers a range of color choices and package sizes, the basic full-color package comes with 50 or 100 sheets of 12x18 tissue paper. Each package has 25 colors, ranging from vivid primary colors to soft pastels in every color of the rainbow. Other packages include assortments of cool colors, warm colors, while a special Madras tissue comes with 5 combinations of striped or shaded tissue sheets. The paper is also available in bulk packages of individual or assorted colors with up to 480 sheets or smaller packs of 20 colors in 20x30 sheets, making it easy for artists to pick out the right combination of colors and sizes for each project.

Canson Artist Series: Universal Sketch 65lb/96gsm Pad - Best Sketch Paper

While Canson offers high-quality sketch books in multiple series, the Universal Sketch pad provides a number of great features. The pads are available in four sizes from 5.5x8.5 up to 14x17, and each pad has 100 sheets, giving artists plenty of pages to work with. Plus, at 65 pounds, the sheets are a smooth mid-weight paper that holds up well to most dry mediums such as pencils or charcoal. The cardboard back also allows artists to sketch on the go. On the downside the paper front-cover may allow the corners of some pages to be frayed or creased, but the price makes this an ideal practice pad for doodles and trial sketches.

Strathmore Series 400 Sketch Pad - Best Sketch Paper

Strathmore is known for its high-quality art paper, and these sketchbooks offer artists an easy-to-carry drawing pad in a wide variety of sizes from 5.5x8.5 up to 18x24, perhaps the widest range of sizes available in an individual series. Each pad has from 30 to 100 sheets of 60-pound paper, depending on the size of the paper. The sheets are somewhat lighter than other sketch pads, but will still hold up well for pencil sketches as well as other dry mediums including pastels and charcoal. With their heavy cardboard backs, the sketchbooks provide a sturdy working surface, though the lighter-weight front cover might not entirely protect the pages from creases or warping. Plus, the series promises actual-size micro-perforated sheets. This means that any sheets removed from the pad will measure the full size listed on that pad, making it easy to know the size of a finish sketch.

Strathmore 500 Series Bristol Board and Pads - Best Drawing Paper

Bristol paper is well-known as one of the top brands of drawing paper available to artists. Made with 100 percent cotton, a premium material, Strathmore Bristol comes in four tiers of quality ranging from the 200 series up. The 500 series marks the high end, coming in either the ultra-smooth or the vellum finish. The ultra-smooth is exactly what the name says--a super fine surface meant for specialized work with graphite pencils or pen and ink drawings. The vellum finish, besides being fun to work with, allows artists to use a wider range of mediums, including some types of paint. Depending on the source, Strathmore Bristol paper is available in a variety of larger art pads or individual sheets up to 30x40 in size.

Strathmore 500 Series Charcoal Paper Pad - Best Charcoal Paper

The Strathmore 500 Series Charcoal paper provides a premium 100 percent cotton art paper in a range of sizes and colors ideal for large and small charcoal drawings. The 64-pound paper has a laid, or slightly ribbed, surface that catches the charcoal as artists work. This texture produces a rougher surface than completely smooth paper would, but one that complements charcoal drawings well and allows artists to shade and darken the drawings easily. Even better, the paper comes in a wide range of sizes from 9x12 up to 18x24 pads with micro-perforated sheets, as well as individual sheets of 19x25 paper. The pads come in a selection of white or assorted tints, each with 24 sheets, while artists can get individual sheets or 25 sheet packages in a range of twelve colors.

Clairefontaine Pastelmat Pastel Pad - Best Pastel Paper

Clairefontaine Pastelmat provides artists with a particularly heavy cardstock. The surface was created especially for pastel work and is ideal for holding pastel colors. While the brand is fairly expensive compared with other pastel papers, it holds up well and offers one of the thickest, most rigid pastel papers at 170 pounds. The paper also has a unique ability to hold pastels, allowing artists to rework their pictures and blend colors over each other with less need for fixatives between the layers. Each pad comes in either white or one of two color assortments, with twelve sheets ranging from 7x9 to 12x16 in size. All eight colors are also available in individual sheets of 19.5x27.5 paper.

Strathmore 400 Series Artagain Pad - Best Pastel Paper

Strathmore 400 Series Artagain is a fairly light weight paper at 60 pounds, but it is still a quality choice for artists working with pastels. The individual sheets come in a range of eight colors, while pad of either black or assorted colors comes in sizes ranging from 6x9 to 12x18. Each pad has 24 sheets of glue-bound paper for artists to either flip over as they work or remove for easy display. The texture works particularly well for soft pastels, while the black paper provides a dramatic background for either soft or oil pastels. Plus, the paper comes at a good prize relative to similar pads.

Saral Wax Free Transfer Paper - Best Transfer Paper

The paper from Saral is one of the most versatile brands of transfer paper. It comes in five different colors, each with a special purpose. Graphite paper works for almost any surface, white paper for dark surfaces, blue for wood or photographic plates, red for ceramic, yellow for metal or glass. Even better, Saral Transfer Paper works on fabric, unlike some of the other brands. All five types of paper come in rolls of 12" by 12' paper. Overall, the brand typically gets high ratings, though it can be difficult to erase the transfer, and the paper can smudge or transfer fingerprints if artists are not careful using it.

Richeson Transfer Paper - Best Transfer Paper

Richeson Transfer Paper provides one of the largest sheets of graphite paper available to artists. The paper comes in long roll that measures 24" by 24', and its size, particularly the length of the roll, allows artists to transfer either especially large images or to tear off smaller sheets for an individual project or series of projects. Since each section can be reused multiple times, the roll would be a great resource for classes or an almost inexhaustible supply for an individual artist. For the paper's size, it's also about half the cost of similar brands of paper, making it a great bulk purchase.

Stonehenge Paper 22 x 30 Sheets - Best Print Paper

Stonehenge paper is noted for its high quality and its exceptionally smooth finish. This paper was created over 40 years ago, as an inexpensive alternative to the top brands of printmaking paper, but it also works well for other mediums, including watercolors and drawing. Overall, though, Stonehenge offers artists a lightly treated, high-strength material suited for a wide range of print techniques. The individual sheets come in a variety of colors and are most common in a mid-weight 90-pound paper measuring 22x30, but comes in 120-pound sheets or larger sizes, as well a range of pads and even 50-inch rolls. The selection of sizes, together with the paper's price, make it a good choice for classroom or bulk purchases.

Canson Editions 22x30 Paper - Best Print Paper

Canson Editions paper offers artists a variety of great options in one brand, starting with the brand's unique double-sided texture. One side of the paper has a fine grain sided suited for a variety of techniques, the other a smooth surface ideal for printing. With two weights, a lighter version and a medium 90lb version, the paper is comparable in weight to sturdy printer paper, while artists can choose between seven different colors, ranging from black to antique white and bright white. In addition to the standard sheets of 22x30 or 30x44 paper, Canson Editions also produces bulk packs of 100 sheets, ranging from 9x12 to 12x18 in size. Both the sheets and the packs come at a significantly lower price than most other brands, making this a great choice for classroom projects.

Arches Watercolor Block - Best Watercolor Paper

Arches watercolor paper has long been an all-around favorite among artists. Its a highly regarded brand, is made of 100 percent cotton for quality and durability, and comes in a range of sizes from pads to individual sheets to large rolls of paper. The Watercolor Block, though, is a pad with a special tape-binding along all four edges of the block. The blocks are substantially more expensive than standard watercolor paper, but they make it easy for artists to work the top sheet without having paint bleed through to the lower pages. The solid block also makes an ideal surface for traveling or plain air work. After finishing a sheet, artists can peel the page off around the edges for easy display. The blocks come in a variety of sizes, including some smaller or irregular-sized sheets, but the standard sizes run from 9x12 up to 18x24 for cold press or 14x20 for hot press paper. Both the hot press and cold press blocks come in pads with 20 sheets of 140lb-paper, while the cold press also comes in a 300lb version with 10 sheets.

Fabriano Artistico Traditional White Watercolor Paper - Best Watercolor Paper

For artists looking for a high-quality but delicate surface, the Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper offers one of the widest ranges of options for sizes and textures. The cotton paper comes in 140lb sheets, available in all three presses--hot, cold, and rough--as well as a wide variety of sizes, from spiral-bound watercolor pads, to blocks with the edges sealed to protect unused sheets, to large individual sheets of paper in the standard 22x30 size, or even rolls of paper for artists working on exceptionally large projects. The blocks come in the widest selection of sizes from 5x7 up to 18x24, with 10-25 sheets per pad depending on the size of paper. In addition to the traditional white, the paper also comes in a bright surface for artists who prefer a whiter background.

Saunders Waterford Watercolor Paper - Best Watercolor Paper

A 100 percent cotton paper with consistently high ratings, the Saunders Waterford paper offers an excellent mouldmade watercolor paper with a good range of textures and weights. The paper is available in all three surfaces--hot, cold, and rough--as well as a range of weights from the light 90-pound paper that would need stretching to prevent buckling to a heavy-duty 300-pound sheet. The paper also comes in a selection of blocks and rolls of paper, but the individual sheets are typically 22x30. Saunders Waterford runs around average cost for the quality and weight of the paper, while as a unique bonus, it is produced in both a standard white and a high white great for artists looking for a brighter, cleaner background for their work.

best Twinrocker Watercolor Paper

Twinrocker Watercolor Paper - Best Watercolor Paper

A rare handmade paper, Twinrocker Watercolor paper is produced by a 40-year old Indiana company. The watercolor paper is made of cotton and comes in with an unusual selection of sizes, including circles, but in general, the sheets run from 6x8 up to the uniquely large 34x48. The variety gives artists an amazing range of project sizes to work with. Because the paper is hand-made and hot pressed sheets have to be custom ordered, it can be challenging to find a source for this paper, and the sheets are expensive. It also can require fairly gentle care, but it consistently gets high marks from artists for its quality and beautiful surface.

Buyer's Guide

For most artists, paper is a tool which is every bit as important as their pencil, paint brush, marker or collage glue. Depending on your project, you may even use several types of paper, perhaps starting with a sheet of lightweight sketch paper to create a design before using graphite transfer paper to trace the drawing onto a piece of heavy watercolor paper. Or, perhaps you might use tissue paper and a 2D origami design to add flair to your scrapbooking page. Regardless of your intended purpose, the following is some useful information that will help you pick out the best paper for your next creative undertaking.

Weight

Paper is given a weight based on how much 500 standard-sized sheets weigh. This weight generally indicates how thick and sturdy a particular sheet of paper will be. Standard office paper usually weighs about 20 pounds which is great for printers or basic sketching, but won’t hold up well for most projects. Drawing paper averages around 80 pounds, while watercolor paper is often 140 pounds so it can hold up to multiple layers of paint.

Surface/Finish

The terms describe how the paper is processed, but they also tell you what sort of surface to expect. For example, rougher paper catches and holds the paint along its ridges, while a smoother surface lets the color slide across the paper. Other art papers, such as pastel paper, can have more of a toothed, rough surface. Watercolor paper is often labeled as rough, cold-press (semi-rough surface), or hot-press (extra smooth).

Acid-free

Paper with even a light acidity tends to discolor with time, so it’s important to ensure you’re using a quality, acid-free art paper which avoids this pitfall. Acid-free paper isn’t so much a special type of paper as it is a necessity for artists.

Paper Types

Watercolor

This is heavy paper similar in weight to cardstock. Since it needs to hold up to multiple layers of water and paint without warping, this paper is made with very specific finishing techniques allowing enough paint to soak in for the color to hold, but not enough to damage paper fibers.

Drawing Paper

Slightly heavier than printer paper or sketch paper, drawing paper is sturdy enough to hold up to detailed pencil work, but not usually as thick as watercolor paper.

Sketch Paper

This is the scratch paper of the artist’s world. Lighter than drawing paper, this paper type is cheap and easy to draw on as well. While it might be archival quality, sketch paper is meant more for recording an idea or practicing a design than executing a professional drawing.

Transfer Paper

Transfer paper is slightly different than the tracing paper you may have used in middle school. It looks like a normal sheet of paper on one side but the other side is a layer of graphite. This paper acts like carbon paper, allowing you to easily transfer a drawing from one sheet of paper to another.

Pastel Paper

Pastel paper has about the same weight and feel as regular drawing paper, but it has a slight “tooth” or rough surface. While pastels tend to smear awkwardly on smoother paper, this paper’s surface holds the color better and adds a slight texture to the image.

Charcoal Paper

Like pastel paper, charcoal paper is similar to drawing paper, but with a slightly rougher feel. This particular surface is required in order to hold the dry charcoal for a drawing, but too much texture can result in a strange splotchy look.

Printmaking Paper

This paper needs to be extra absorbent to hold large amounts of ink so it’s usually smooth and often made of cotton. Some artists like to use it for other mediums as well such as drawing or watercolor painting.

Origami Paper

Although technically you can fold any piece of paper, origami paper makes folding easier. It’s often sold in squares so you can skip the annoying task of cutting a rectangle down to size. Origami paper is light enough to fold easily, but strong enough to withstand the stress of multiple folds.

Scrapbook Paper

This paper is available in a range of bright colors, pastels, multi-colored patterns, or whimsical designs, often sold in large books or single sheets specially cut to fit standard scrapbook pages. You should always look for archival quality, acid-free paper from a reliable brand to avoid discoloration or fading over time.

Tissue Paper

You may associate soft and delicate tissue paper with gift wrapping instead of art, but it’s great for use with various crafts, collages, and many other creative projects.

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