The 5 Best Sketchbooks for Painting with Watercolor, Acrylic Paint, and More

Our top pick is the Canson XL Mix Media Paper Pad

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When choosing a sketchbook for painting, an artist should keep several things in mind, like finish, sizing, binding, and firmness of the cover. With these factors in mind, we researched top-performing painting sketchbooks from brands beloved by everyday and professional artists.

Our top pick was the Canson XL Mix Media Paper Pad because it's compatible with a variety of media, like acrylics, watercolor, pencil—whether they're wet or dry. Plus, the heavyweight pages and fine texture surface are ideal for blending.

Here, the best sketchbooks for painting.

Our Top Picks
01
of 05

Best Overall: Canson XL Mixed Media Paper Pad

Canson XL Mixed Media Paper Pad

Amazon

What We Like
  • Acid-free

  • Paint won’t seep through

  • Available in multiple sizes

What We Don't Like
  • Some wished pages were thicker

  • Marker ink may seep through

One of the few mixed media pads that actually works for both dry and wet media, this sketchpad is good for acrylics, watercolor, ink, pencil, pastel, and more. The pages are micro-perforated for easy separating, and the spiral binding and covers are both durable. A popular sketchbook with a cult following, it comes with heavyweight pages and a fine texture surface for easy blending and layering. 

The sketchbook is a decent size for a variety of sketches and paintings, and the binding can be opened to remove pages when desired, then replaced. The binding also allows each page to lie flat for optimal sketching or painting. It generally works well for an art journal or beginner art classes.

Dimensions: 7 x 10 inches | Sheet Count: 60 | Paper Finish: Fine textured

02
of 05

Best for Acrylic: Strathmore 300 Series Canvas Pad

Strathmore 300 Series Canvas Pad

Michaels

What We Like
  • Flip-over cover allows easy in-pad work

  • Nice for small portfolio use

  • Great for art class projects

What We Don't Like
  • Only ten sheets per pad

Rawan Ita-Diaz, fine artist and co-founder of The Art Spread, prefers this sketchpad when she uses acrylic paints. “The paper is as textured as canvas and thick enough to support acrylic paint without warping,” she says. It's also excellent for oil painting, and is heavyweight, acid-free, and made in the USA. Available in several sizes, this sketchpad is ideal because although it mimics canvas, it’s much lighter and takes up far less space than a larger canvas.

Dimensions: 9 x 12 inches| Sheet Count: 10 | Paper Finish: Textured

03
of 05

Best Budget: Strathmore 300 Series Mixed Media Pad

Strathmore 300 Series Mixed Media Pad

Blick Art Supplies

What We Like
  • Works for watercolor, acrylic, gouache, and more

  • Available in several sizes

  • Made in the USA

  • Thick pages with a smooth surface

What We Don't Like
  • Perforations may lead to page tearing

  • Marker ink may bleed through pages

The Strathmore Mixed Media sketchpad offers a smooth vellum paper surface ideal for a variety of dry and wet media at an affordable price. Available in several sizes and easily accessible on Amazon or your local craft store, this wire-bound sketchbook offers 40 sheets.

Ideal for practicing paint techniques prior to work on a canvas, this sketchbook is also acid-free and made in the USA. The medium weight paper provided and the sizes available both ensure the sketchbook is easy to use and transport when desired. A superb go-to for nearly every type of medium, beginners and pros alike will appreciate its great value.

Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5 inches | Sheet Count: 40 | Paper Finish: Vellum

04
of 05

Best for Oil : Arches Oil Painting Pad

Arches Oil Painting Pad

Blick Art Supplies

What We Like
  • Conveniently transportable

  • Strong oil barrier

  • Easy to frame

  • Deckled edges give a rustic, handmade look

What We Don't Like
  • Some felt it was too absorbent

Offering an excellent surface for oil paints, this sketchbook has a unique texture that allows paint to remain on the surface for optimal color impact and quick drying. You won’t need to prepare this pad with gesso or otherwise, as it’s sold conveniently ready to use. And while it’s designed for oil painting purposes, it can also be used for acrylics and watercolor. 

The pad’s fold-over cover allows pages to be easily removed for framing or other display, and the deckled edges give a homemade, rugged look to the paper. Available in various sizes, this pad has excellent portability. Great for practicing oil painting techniques or stashing away 12 small masterpieces for safe-keeping, this pad is also 100 percent cotton and acid-free.

Dimensions: 12 x 16 inches | Sheet Count: 12 | Paper Finish: Cold-pressed, cotton

05
of 05

Best for Watercolor: Arches Cold-Pressed Watercolor Pad

Arches Cold-Pressed Watercolor Pad

Michaels

What We Like
  • Made of 100 percent pure cotton

  • Available in several sizes

  • Great for easy blending

  • High quality and ideal for watercolor work

What We Don't Like
  • Some reported the paper buckles when wet

"This French-made sketchpad is of the highest quality, with outstanding absorbency and a light grain texture, superb for watercolor," says Ita-Diaz. Also, since the cover is glued on only one edge, you’ll be able to easily remove pages for display as you wish. 

Uniquely treated with natural gelatin, these sketchbooks are optimally resilient. Considered a professional grade paper, this pad is adequate for small and medium projects of various types.

Dimensions: 9 x 12 inches | Sheet Count: 12 | Paper Finish: Cold-pressed watercolor

Final Verdict

Our top overall pick is the Canson XL Mixed Media Paper Pad, a true mixed media paper that works with both acrylics and watercolor as well as a range of other media, both dry and wet. If you’re seeking a more economical option, the Strathmore 300 Series Media Pad is remarkably affordable and accessible, comes available in three sizes, and offers paper suitable for a mixture of both  wet and dry media.

What to Look for in Sketchbooks for Painting

Paper Finish

For mediums like watercolor and acrylic, there are two major options of press finish. "A cold press is a rougher, textured type finish while a hot press is a smoother finish," Ita-Diaz explains. "My favorite is the cold press finish because it shows off the natural texture of the fibers and creates a page that feels like velvet.”

For oil painting, the paper must be properly prepared, meaning it needs to either be coated with gesso, or primed (aka sealed) to prevent oil from being absorbed into the paper. 

Sizing Options

Ita-Diaz advises to keep in mind the standard framing sizes when choosing the paper, plus where the artwork will be placed on the paper. "Choosing standard frame-sized paper allows the artwork to be displayed in a more economic and accessible frame," she says.

Binding and Cover Style

Choose from spiral-bound sketchbooks that allow the artist to lay them perfectly flat while working, and perfect bound options where your sketchbook resembles a typical reading book. Cover firmness is a preference, too. While hardbound sketchbooks are sturdier and more protective, soft sketchbook covers are lightweight and travel more easily.

Why Trust The Spruce?

This roundup was created by KJ Callihan, a writer for The Spruce. KJ has also written numerous shopping, gift, and activity guides for sites like AAA Northeast magazine, CNET, Oh My Veggies and more.