Sanded Art Paper & Drawing Paper: 5 Differences

Sanded Art Paper & Drawing Paper: 5 Differences

Have you tried sanded art paper with colored pencil yet?

If you haven’t, you may be wondering why you should. After all, isn’t it just like drawing on sand paper from the local hardware store? (And who wants to do that?)

That’s the way I thought before my first experiments with sanded art paper. I almost didn’t try it, because I just couldn’t see how it would work.

But I’m glad I took the plunge! There are a lot of differences between sanded art paper and traditional drawing paper. Some pretty big—and surprising—differences.

5 Differences Between Sanded Art Paper and Traditional Drawing Paper

Now that I’ve created several pieces on sanded art papers, it’s time to share with you what I’ve learned. Both good and bad.

5 Differences Between Sanded Art Paper and Drawing Paper

Popular brands are Ampersand Pastelbord, Art Spectrum Colourfix Coated Pastel PaperCanson Mi-Teintes Touch Sanded Papers and Boards, and UArt Sanded Pastel Paper. More recently, Clairefontaine Pastelmat has entered the market.

In another post, I described 6 basics of drawing paper, including the most commonly used papers for colored pencil. A subsequent article listed 3 non-paper, non-traditional drawing surfaces for colored pencil. One of them was sandpaper.

I’ve used only Uart and Fisher 400. Following are five of the biggest differences I discovered.

Paper Strength

This is a good difference.

Sanded papers are much stronger than most traditional papers. The substrate itself is heavier than most drawing paper. Combined with the coating of grit, it’s nearly impossible to accidentally damage the paper, so you can be as aggressive in applying color as you like.

Many sanded art papers are also available mounted to rigid supports for even better durability.

An additional upside to this is that you do not have to frame sanded art paper under glass if you don’t want to. It’s advisable, but not absolutely necessary, as is the case with traditional art papers.

Detailed Line Drawings

Transferring a detailed line drawing is difficult. You can’t use a light box because the paper is so thick. Transfer papers of any type are also unsatisfactory on some of the coarser surfaces.

I’ve found this difference to be less than ideal. I like detailed line drawings when I do portraits. For a while, that made sanded art papers a no-go for me.

But many artists use the grid method or a projector to transfer their drawings. Both are acceptable alternatives to regular transfer papers, and both give great results.

Another alternative is light sketching right on the paper. I usually start landscapes with just a basic sketch, so most of my drawings on sanded art paper have been landscapes.

5 Differences Between Sanded Art Paper and Traditional Drawing Paper
August Morning in Kansas
Colored Pencil on Sanded Art Paper

August Morning in Kansas (above) is one of the most recent and it’s the best one so far. I’ve started all of them with simple sketches.

Sharp Pencils

You don’t need sharp pencils to work with sanded paper. In fact, sharp pencils can be a detriment. They break easily on the gritty surface, and even if they don’t, you get two or three strokes before they go blunt.

So forget sharpening. Use your pencils more like pastels. It’ll be a lot less frustrating.

Forget preserving your pencils, too. Sanded art paper quite literally “eats them for lunch!”

But that’s not as bad as it sounds, because most of that color is going onto the paper. Yes, pencils wear down more quickly, but you’re building color more quickly, too. The details in the trees in August Morning in Kansas are lighter colors applied over darker colors.

And just in case you’ve heard the rumors about pigment dust when you draw on sanded papers, it’s true. But you probably haven’t heard that you can use a bristle brush to push that dust into the tooth of the paper so it’s not wasted!

Show me another drawing paper you can do that with!

Use brushes like this to dry blend pigment dust into the surface of sanded art paper.

Thick Color Layers

Thick layers of color work better than thin glazes. Even with the smoothest sanded papers, the tooth is such that getting an even color layer is next to impossible without solvent.

And light pressure? Forget it. Medium to medium-heavy pressure is going to be a lot more productive.

The best part? You can absolutely layer light over dark and it will show up. Try that with any traditional drawing paper.

Is this a good difference or a bad one?

I haven’t made up my mind yet. I have a naturally light hand so working on sanded art papers requires a definite adjustment in working methods.

But as I mentioned above, I can add so many layers even with medium pressure or heavier, that working on sanded paper is getting less and less frustrating.

Excellent Tooth

If you’ve ever had trouble getting colored pencil to stick after a certain number of layers, the tooth of sanded art paper is a good difference.

Granted, it will take a lot more layers to get fine detail if that’s what you’re after and you may find the extra layers not to be worth the trouble.

But if you take the time, the tooth will definitely work for you.

This little drawing (3-1/2 by 2-1/2) is the first drawing I did on sanded art paper. I drew it like I always draw and the tooth didn’t help. See all those dots in the sky? Paper holes. I wasn’t able to fill in the tooth at all, and although the result was very painterly, I didn’t like it.

Spring in CP
Spring in Colored Pencil
Colored Pencil on Sanded Paper

It took a long time before I tried colored pencil on sanded paper again, but the results were much more satisfactory. I was already learning how to use sanded art paper.

5 Differences Between Sanded Art Paper and Traditional Drawing Paper
East of Camp Creek
Colored Pencil on Sanded Art Paper


If you give sanded art papers a try, be prepared to do some bad drawings for the first few. It’s a great drawing surface, but there is a very definite learning curve!

Even so, I recommend it to anyone who wants to try something different.

Interested in reading more? I wrote a good mini clinic for EmptyEasel based on that first, small drawing. I think you’ll find it useful. Read Using a Sandpaper Surface for a Colored Pencil Drawing here.


  1. Barb S.

    Hi Carrie
    Thanks for the informative article on sanded paper. My question is, would I be able to get colored pencil fine detail on the 600 or 800 Uart paper? Since it’s so expensive I don’t want to buy and waste it.

    Thanks for your time!

    1. Barb,

      You can get a high degree of detail on sanded papers, but it does take a different method. I’ve found I can use colored pencils almost like oil paints in that I can lay down color and scrub it into the paper with a stiff bristle brush, then put down more color.

      You can also draw light over dark with sanded papers, which is next to impossible with regular papers if you’re not using a solvent or texture fixative.

      I like drawing on sanded art papers, but I have been drawing only landscapes. I’m certain I could draw a horse on it, but have yet to give that a try.

      You might contact the Uart company, and tell them you’re thinking about trying it. They may send you a sample pack. That’s how I got my first pieces. It won’t hurt to ask, at any rate. Contact them through their contact page.

      I hope that helps. If not, contact me by email (just click on the Ask Carrie button in the sidebar or at the bottom of the page.

      Best wishes,


  2. kathy prince

    I’m not sure if this was written before the development of the brush and pencil line but the powder application allows the pigment to float above the tooth in the powder and does not show a grainy texture. Has a soft look. Then after a few fixative layers you can get fine detail on top. You can find examples of some very detailed work on sanded paper.

  3. Mallene

    Carrie, have you ever used 1000 grit sand paper from a hardware store?
    There is an artist on utube that uses it and his drawings are very good. He say you can use Uart, but, what he uses is cheaper and seems to work great! Just wonderimg if you have ever tried it. Thanls!

    1. Mallene,

      The finest grit UART I’ve used is 800. To be honest, I much prefer the 240 grit UART. It holds a lot more pigment.

      You can draw on industrial sand paper such as you get at the hardware store, and it would probably work just as well. However, it is not archival. That kind of sand paper is not meant to last for a long time, so if the paper falls apart, whatever artwork is on the paper also falls apart.

      It would be suitable for practice, I think, but not for anything you hope to sell or enter into art competitions or exhibits.

      Since the main reason to even think about using hardware store sandpaper is the cost of pastel papers (and especially the sanded pastel papers), here are a few other tips.

      1. The most convenient for me are the small pads that are roughly 7×9 inches in size. That’s more than big enough for the majority of my work, which is 6×8. Pastelmat pads are available in single colors and in assortments. My favorites are earth tones and grays.

      2. Buy full sheets and cut them down. This is even more cost effective no matter what type of sanded art paper you buy.

      3. If you’re thinking about trying a sanded art paper, look for free samples. I got free samples from UART and Fisher 400 many years ago. Sometimes you have to ask, but the worst they can do is say “We don’t have sample packs.”

      4. I’m a very firm believer in saving up my pennies, nickels, dimes (and anything else) to buy the tools and supplies that make my art the best it can be. I know what it’s like to not have much money to spend on art supplies, and I also know what it’s like to put hours into a piece of art on cheap paper (or canvas.) The savings in money for cheap supplies is just not worth it.

      5. Use the cheap supplies for practice or if you’re just getting started (though I really urge beginners to do some work on good supplies, too, for comparison.) When you do something for a show, for sale, or for a client, then use the good stuff.

      I hope that helps.

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