The Best Transfer Paper for Detailed Drawings

The Best Transfer Paper for Detailed Drawings

Today’s reader question comes from a reader who wants to know the best transfer paper for detailed drawings. Here’s what she has to say.

What transfer paper works best for getting intricate designs onto art paper?

[I] have tried a generic brand of wax less transfer paper but it transferred a line drawing that was way too dark and I can’t erase it. How can I avoid that in the future if I need a detailed line drawing that won’t smudge while I am working on it, but also won’t be too dark? Is the Saral brand a better choice and is it erasable?


Thank you for your question, Gail.

The Best Transfer Paper for Detailed Drawings

The Best Transfer Paper for Detailed Drawings

I’m not sure there is any such thing as a transfer paper works better for detailed drawings than for less detailed drawings. Artists need to consider two other factors, in addition to the transfer paper itself.

The drawing paper you’re using and the pressure with which you normally draw.

Drawing Paper

Let’s look at the drawing paper you’re transferring to. Some papers take marks more easily than other papers. Stonehenge marks very easily, while a sanded paper is a lot more difficult to leave unwanted marks on.

Other papers, like Bristol and drafting film, are more difficult to leave marks on, so you get very few accidental marks.

That means that you have less likelihood of getting really dark transfer lines or smudges on some papers than others. So I’d experiment a little bit with different drawing papers to see what results you get.

Drawing Pressure

The second thing to consider is the amount of pressure you normally draw with. I have a naturally light hand, so unless I’m extremely careless, I usually end up with very few stray marks after transferring a drawing.

But if you happen to have a naturally heavier hand, then you’re more likely to leave unwanted stray marks during the transfer process. Heavy-handed artists are also quite likely to end up with a transferred line drawing that’s dark.

There are ways to prevent stray marks. The easiest way is to lay a piece of drawing paper between your hand and your line drawing. Your hand rests on the bridge instead of the drawing paper and that protects the drawing paper from too-dark lines and accidental smudges.

Gail’s Specific Questions

So what about Gail’s specific questions?

Saral Transfer Paper

I’ve used Saral transfer paper, but it’s been quite a long while.

I don’t remember that Saral was particularly easy to erase or particularly difficult to erase. I recall no smudging or other problems, either. Overall, it’s a good product and easy to use.

If you use Saral, I recommend Saral Graphite Transfer Paper over the other types. It behaves the most like regular graphite.

My Preferred Transfer Paper for Detailed Drawing

I have used old-fashioned carbon paper, Saral grease-less transfer paper, and home-made paper. I’ve been satisfied with all three.

I now use home-made transfer paper almost exclusively. It’s easy to make, easy to use, and easy to clean up smudges on. I make transfer paper by shading a sheet of ordinary printer paper with graphite using a 2B to 6B pencil.

You get the same affect by shading the back of your line drawing. I have used this method, but not often because it leaves the line drawing messy. Especially if the line drawing is on tracing paper. If that doesn’t bother you, then carboning the back of each drawing is the easiest way to transfer a drawing.

To get lighter transfer lines, use a harder pencil to make the transfer paper—2B or HB for example. 2B pencils are a little bit harder the 4B or 6B, so they leave fewer smudges and are easier to erase.

But most line drawings transferred with graphite are easily cleaned up after you transfer the line drawing.

Most of these transfer papers work equally well for detailed drawings and less detailed drawings.


  1. Gail M Jones

    Thank you Carrie. I am heavy handed and need to try and watch that I will go back to making my own transfer paper I think. I appreciate this article and will add it to my info file.

  2. Patricia Wilson

    Great question and answer. I used to use the graphite paper to transfer a design onto wine bottles for painting or colored pencil coloring. The wine bottles were painted first. I found this interesting and wonder where you can get this graphite paper as used all that was in my stash?

  3. Gary Askren

    Hello Carrie,
    Great comments and suggestions! Has anyone ever tried to make a transfer sheet from actual colored pencil created transfer sheets, maybe a slightly darker flesh tone for portrait projects? I’m thinking it would be easier to not have graphite on the paper. I’m guessing it would have to be very soft core pencils, perhaps Prismacolor? Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

    1. Gary,

      Thank you for reading this article, and for taking the time to leave a comment. Thank you also for your kind words.

      I’ve tried making transfer paper with colored pencils and found it unsatisfactory. I thought that soft pencils like Prismacolor would be perfect for transferring a line drawing, but they didn’t work. In order to transfer the lines, I had to press so hard that I indented the paper. As you might think, that was totally unacceptable!

      I have tried that with any of my other pencils (Polychromos, Blick Studio, etc.) They might work, but I don’t know.

  4. Gail Jones

    Tracing paper is a great tool! Mindy Lighthipe taught several classes on how to take different parts of a copyright free, photo, trace them out, cut them out, rearrange them and then trace over them again for a completely new line drawing for a composition. She uses tracing Vellum though because it is more sturdy than standard tracing paper.

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