Art Paper Surface Types

These 6 paper varieties have different characteristics

Paper Craft Mountains and Sea Landscape
Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images

Artists have many different types of art paper to choose from, ranging from super-smooth surfaces to very rough, "toothy" papers. Some papers are best with soft pencils, pastels, and charcoal, while others are better suited for watercolors. You will find no shortage of paper to work with. The hardest part is deciding which to use.

The texture of the surface is the primary concern for art papers. Several factors influence the texture of a paper:

  • The fiber is most important. Different types of wood pulp, cellulose, and cotton behave differently when made into paper.
  • The volume of pulp per sheet affects the weight and strength of the paper.
  • The production process is also important. Papers are made with mold, machine, or hand processes. The amount of heat and pressure in the drying process changes the paper as well.
  • Surface textures can be created by the mesh mold that paper sheets are made on or applied by a roller to machine-made paper.
  • The amount of "size"—the binding glue, not the dimensions—in the paper and on the surface affect how well it holds water. It also determines how "toothy" the surface is, or how much texture it has.

Here's a look at some of the descriptions to give you a better understanding of the papers you'll run across. Every artist is different, so it's best to explore your options. Give some of these a try to see which you most enjoy working with.

  • 01 of 06

    Laid Paper

    Caldecott/Evans (CC) via Wikimedia

    Laid paper has a pattern of parallel lines created by the wires from the mold used in its production.

    Some papers, such as Ingres, have a broad, pronounced surface texture clearly visible in the drawing. Other laid papers have a finer texture. It's important to choose a scale of texture appropriate to your style of drawing. For instance, a finer-scale texture will often work best for smaller work.

    This type of paper is suitable for sketching with pastel, charcoal, and soft pencil. Brands include Canson Ingres, Hahnemühle Ingres, Hahnemühle Bugra Pastel Paper, and Strathmore 500 Series Charcoal Paper.

  • 02 of 06

    Textured Pastel, Charcoal, and Craft Papers

    Canson Mi Tientes and Strathmore Textured Paper
    H South, licensed to, Inc.

    Textured surfaces typically have a fine, irregular texture pressed into the surface during manufacture. It often mimics the natural irregularities of mold-made paper.

    The tooth and hardness of the paper vary according to the manufacturer, though most have a hard vellum surface with moderate sizing. This allows them to be used with harder media and a certain amount of layering. However, they are usually not suitable for heavy layering.

    Textured paper is good for pastel and charcoal, as well as expressive larger scale pencil sketching.

    Brands of textured paper include Strathmore Pure Tints and Canson Mi-Teintes, which are available in a huge selection of colors.

  • 03 of 06

    Wove Paper

    White envelope on dark grey background.

    Rosmarie Wirz/Getty Images 

    Wove paper is made on a woven wire "cloth" like a fine sieve instead of the traditional parallel wires of laid paper. Most paper that we use was manufactured this way.

    The tightly woven mesh creates a fine, smooth surface. Ideally, there is no texture at all, although some papers may have texture added. A heavier weave may also give some paper a slight texture.

    The smooth surface of untextured wove paper is particularly well suited to ink drawing and realism pencil drawing.

    One of the best known and most enjoyed by artists is Arches Text Wove, also known as Velin d'Arches.

  • 04 of 06

    Rough Paper

    Pastel Crayons

     W. Cody/Getty Images

    A rough-grained paper has a noticeably bumpy surface. In making rough paper, the pulp is pressed without additional heat, so there is a natural variation in the surface.

    When shading with chalk or flat pencil, the pits in the paper create an irregular pattern of white spots throughout the area. A mold-made watercolor paper is a typical example of a rough paper surface.

    The coarse surface makes it difficult to control tone and lends itself to simple, broad, expressive gestures in pastel, charcoal, or soft pencil.

    Rough paper is a traditional favorite of watercolorists because the tiny pits allow paint to pool in a heavy wash. At the same time, it leaves dots of light with a dry brush, so the texture can be used to great effect.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Medium Paper

    sketch on Lana Dessin
    H South, licensed to, Inc.

    Medium papers include "Not" (meaning not hot-pressed) cold-pressed watercolor paper, as well as a variety of medium-surface drawing papers such as Lana Dessin.

    Medium paper has a fine grain, which can look subtle when shading with a sharpened pencil. It may also be accentuated by shading with a blunt pencil or charcoal.

  • 06 of 06

    Hot-Pressed Paper

    A​ hot-pressed or smooth paper has been, as the name suggests, hot rolled or "ironed" during production to create a very smooth, flat surface.

    Hot-pressed paper allows you to draw very fine detail without noticeable bumps or texture. The amount of manipulation and type of medium depend on the quality of the fiber and manufacturing process used.