Art Paper Surface Types

Deciphering the Jargon of Artist Papers

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

Artists have many different types of art paper to choose from. These include super smooth surfaces and very rough and '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. There are several factors that influence the texture of a paper.

  • The fiber itself is most important. The different types of wood pulp, cellulose, and cotton will behave differently when made into paper.
  • The volume of pulp per sheet will affect the weight and strength of the paper.
  • The production process itself 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 will affect how well it holds water. It also determines how 'toothy' the surface is.

Let's take 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 enjoy working with most.

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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 which is clearly visible in the drawing. Other laid papers have a finer texture. It's important to choose a scale of texture which is 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.

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Textured Pastel, Charcoal, and Craft Papers

Canson Mi Tientes and Strathmore Textured Paper
Strathmore Textured (left), and Canson Mi-Tientes. H South, licensed to About.com, 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 itself 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 the textured paper include Strathmore Pure Tints and Canson Mi-Teintes, which are available in a huge selection of colors.

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Wove Paper

Wove paper is made on a woven wire 'cloth' like a fine sieve, instead of the traditional parallel wires of laid paper. Most of the paper we use has been manufactured in 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).

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Rough Paper

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, and 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.

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Medium Paper

sketch on Lana Dessin
Sketch on Lana Dessin. H South, licensed to About.com, Inc.

A medium paper includes 'Not' (meaning not hot-pressed) cold-pressed watercolor paper, as well as a variety of medium-surfaced drawing papers such as Lana Dessin.

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

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Smooth - Hot Press 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 any noticeable bumps or texture. The amount of manipulation and type of medium depends on the quality of the raw fiber, manufacturing process, and fiber used.