Carrie L. Lewis, Artist & Teacher

Helping You Create Art You Can be Proud Of

Drawing Paper Basics: Surface Texture

Drawing paper basics is our subject today.

Kerry Hubick wants to know: What are your thoughts about working on smooth paper?

Kerry isn’t the only one with questions about paper.

The Basics of Drawing Paper

I’m a big fan of smooth papers. I love papers like Rising Stonehenge, Bristol (regular finish), and many of the Strathmore artist papers. Generally, the smoother a paper, the better I like it. The one exception is a paper that has a lot of sizing (a treatment that seals and hardens the surface).

But I have used some medium-tooth and rough papers, so I thought I’d piggyback on Kerry’s question to tell you about the differences in the papers and my thoughts on each of them.

Drawing Paper Basics – Surface Texture

Smooth Papers

Smooth papers are papers that have very little tooth. Some of them may appear to have little or no tooth at all. Popular brands are Rising Stonehenge, Strathmore 400 series papers, and Canson Mi-Teintes.

They’re ideal for fine detail and ease of color application. If you like to create colored pencil drawings that have no paper showing through the finished drawing, smooth papers are going to help you the most.

Many of them are available in colors and some, like Canson Mi-Teintes, have a smooth side and a side with a little more texture. Most come in pads, rolls, or sheets, and are easy to find in most art supply stores or online. If you like buying paper in pads, make sure to compare it to the full sheet versions of the same type of paper. Kerry tells me that Canson Mi-Teintes in the pad seems thinner and less sturdy than full sheets. It may just be a different weight of paper

Landscape Complementary Under Drawing 5Bristol board is also a smooth surface drawing support. It comes in a vellum surface or regular surface. The regular surface has a bit more tooth than the vellum, but both are very versatile. I used Bristol paper with a regular (smooth) surface for this drawing, The Sentinel.

Among these, I’ve had the best success with Bristol paper or boards, Rising Stonehenge, and a recycled art paper colored Strathmore Artagain. Artagain is made from 30% recycled material mixed with black fiber, so no matter what color you buy, there is a pattern in the paper. It’s quite sturdy, but is very smooth. It takes the least amount of layers of the papers I use most often, but it’s great for sketching and for use with multiple layers of color applied with very light pressure.

Medium Papers

Medium tooth papers are drawing papers that are neither smooth nor rough. Most were developed for other types of dry medium such as charcoal and pastel, so they have more tooth than smooth papers. Strathmore 500 series paper is one such paper. Others are Canson Ingres and Daler-Rowney Murano Textured Fine Art Papers. Depending your drawing preferences, some watercolor papers can be considered medium tooth papers for colored pencil use, especially if you use water soluble colored pencil.

These papers have enough tooth to grab and hold onto color quickly and easily. They also can take a lot of layering and most of them can stand a good deal of rough handling and medium to heavy pressure color application.

But they’re still smooth enough to allow you to create high levels of detail if that’s what you want to do.

I don’t use medium tooth papers very often. The paper I’ve used most is Strathmore 500 series. It’s a nice, thick-ish paper (64 lb), so it takes color very well. I’ve only used the bright white, but it comes in several other colors, too.

Beyond that, I can’t make recommendations. Perhaps some of you have used and liked them. If so, I invite you to share your experiences or thoughts in the comment below.

Rough Papers

colored-pencil-drawing-on-sandpaperMany rough, or coarse grained, papers (also known as textured papers) are available are suitable for colored pencil work. Popular brands are Ampersand Pastelbord, Art Spectrum Colourfix Coated Pastel PaperCanson Mi-Teintes Touch Sanded Papers and Boards, and UArt Sanded Pastel Paper. I used UArt sanded pastel paper for this landscape. Note the more painterly appearance.

The beauty of surfaces like this is that you can lay down tons of color and get very painterly drawings quite easily. These papers are hard on pencils—they eat them for lunch!—but if you love the looser look, they’re going to be well worth your effort to try. You can get detail on them, but it requires a good deal of effort.

BONUS! Mount the paper on a rigid support, and frame your colored pencil drawings without glass, just like an oil painting. Some of the papers listed above come in a panel form.

Many of them also come in colors and some in various “grits” or levels of coarseness.

But the rougher the paper, the more difficult to get a high degree of detail.

Rougher papers and supports can be a lot of fun to work with and are well worth trying at least once, whether you continue to work with them or not.

The only paper of this type I’ve used is the UArt. I love it for landscapes, but that’s about the only use I have for it. It makes for fun and fast ACEO drawings (art trading cards), but I have yet to try it with anything larger or more detailed.

That’s my take on papers. I’ve barely skimmed the surface on this complex and broad subject, but my tastes in paper are almost as well-defined as my tastes in mediums and subjects. I know what I like and don’t see much reason to experiment.

What’s your favorite paper? What do you like about it?


How to Draw Realistic Landscape Greens


3 Tips for Drawing Reflective Objects


  1. Vickie C.

    I’ve tried a few kinds of papers, including Strathmore Bristol Vellum, Stonehenge, and Fabriano 140 lb. Hot Press Watercolor paper, all of which I like. I also have some Mi Tientes black pastel paper, 98 lb., and Strathmore Toned Gray, 80 lb. to try out. I so appreciate your reviews.

  2. Cee

    I have just started out with colored pencils and am using Canson Mixed Media paper. I don’t know if this paper is considered rough or medium. It does have some tooth to it so I know it can’t be considered smooth. I’ve noticed that after a few layers, it doesn’t seem to want to take any more color. Any opinion on this inexpensive paper?

    • Cee,

      I can’t speak personally about Canson Mixed Media paper, but in looking at the description of it on Dick Blick, I would conclude that the paper is most likely too smooth to accept very many layers of colored pencil. It also appears to be sized so it’s less absorbent and can be used with wet media. That may also be working against you.

      However, the description also says it has a smooth side and a rougher side. If you’re using the smoother side, try a drawing on the rougher side and see if that helps.

      I’m using Canson Mi-Teintes for some of my work. It’s designed for Pastel, so the front has quite a bit of texture. The back is much smoother, and is great for colored pencil. You might want to give that a try and see how it compares to the mixed media paper.

      I hope that helps.


Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén