Tips for Using Sanded Pastel Paper

Tips for Using Sanded Pastel Paper

Lets talk about sanded pastel paper today. You know, that paper that looks and feels like the sandpaper from the local hardware store.

And lets begin with a reader question.

I was interested in the brand of sanded paper you prefer to use. I’ve used Uart 800 before but I find it a little hard to work on. I would appreciate your opinion.

Tips for Using Sanded Pastel Paper

The paper I use most is Uart, but that’s not because it’s better than any other paper out there. It’s because I started wtih Uart. I have also used Fisher 400 and while there isn’t much difference between them if you use 400 grit paper. I prefer the finer grits available through Uart.

How I Got Started Using Sanded Pastel Paper

I got a sample pack from Uart years ago. It contained the four “grits” they had available at the time. If I remember correctly, that was 400, 500, 600, and 800.

I chose to try the 800 grit because I thought it was the closest to regular drawing paper. It isn’t. None of them are like regular drawing paper in the least.

Read how I used sanded pastel paper for this first drawing on EmptyEasel.

My Initial Response to Sanded Pastel Paper

After finishing that first ACEO, I thought sanded pastel paper was interesting, but not something I wanted to use on a regular basis.

Then I received a request for a project on sanded pastel paper. I didn’t want to turn that down, so I looked up those sample sheets and ordered more, then started practicing. The first couple of drawings were satisfactory, but were also definitely learning experiences!

By the third or fourth one, I was beginning to find my stride. You know what? I also realized I liked drawing on sanded pastel papers.

Tips for Using Sanded Pastel Paper

Those “practice drawings” revealed that the right methods, and the right pencils go a long way toward making sanded pastel paper useful and now I almost prefer it to any other type of paper for landscapes.

Following are a few suggestions to consider if you’re thinking about trying this unique drawing surface.

Find the Right Paper

Uart is my preferred sanded paper, but there are others. Fisher 400 is a good paper and comes in sheets, rolls, and in board form. Ampersand pastelbord and Art Spectrum Colourfix sanded papers (and panels) are available in a variety of colors. Canson Mi-Teintes is also now available in a sanded surface. A lot of artists are also using Clairefontaine Patelmat.

Although they are all sanded papers, they’re not all be the same. To find the best fit, try as many as you can afford, or care to try.

Try Different Grits

“Grit” refers to the coarseness of the paper. The lower the number, the coarser the paper. I don’t know about other companies, but Uart has six different grits, ranging from 240 to 800.

I’ve used 400, 500, 600, and 800, and prefer the finer grits, but will also be trying some of the coarser papers. 600 and 800 grit are my favorites.

Try the different grits to find the one that suits your working methods and drawing style best.

Try Different Pencils

So far, I’ve used Prismacolor Soft Core, Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless, and Faber-Castell Polychromos.

Faber-Castell Polychromos work the best (for me.) They blend with a stiff brush with or without solvent. They also produce a powdery residue you can blend with a dry, stiff brush, almost like pastel.

Woodless pencils (I use Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless pencils) are great for laying down a lot of color fast. I haven’t tried dry blending them with a stiff brush, but I don’t think they produce the same amount of powder as the oil-based Polychromos. I’m going to have to do some testing on that to find out for sure.

Woodless colored pencils are ideal for laying down initial color on sanded pastel paper. Not only are they larger than even the largest colored pencil; you can use them like a piece of chalk and draw with the sides.

If you work large, or if there are large expanses of color in your composition, give this a try. The speed with which you can block in colors and shapes is amazing.

Or use your regular pencils like a pastel and draw with the side of the exposed pigment core.

General to Specific

Working on sanded pastel paper is a lot like training a dog (or cat—yes, it is possible.) It’s best to start general and work toward specific.

What do I mean by that? Roughly block in colors, values, and shapes, then develop detail.

Because of the tooth of the paper, you can continue to add details, accents and even highlights late in the drawing process. Even the finest grits take additional color after a dozen or more layers.

You Can Work Light over Dark

It is possible to work light over dark with most colored pencils on sanded pastel paper. It’s not the same as painting light over dark, but you can add lighter or bright highlights if you need to.

It’s still advisable to work around highlights whenever possible, but sanded pastel papers are more forgiving in this area than most traditional drawing papers.


Those are just a few of the things I’ve learned about how drawing with sanded pastel papers differ from drawing on regular papers. The bottom line is that it’s to your benefit to experiment, and that it is worth the effort.

Want to Know More?

I wrote an article on this subject for EmptyEasel. 5 Tips for Drawing on Sanded Pastel Paper with Colored Pencils features additional tips for drawing on sanded pastel paper.

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