Pastel papers are textured so that they can hold layers of pastel pigment. The wide variety of textures cater for every kind of approach to the medium. They are either coated or have an imprint of texture. The paper you choose to work on will greatly affect the marks you are able to make and the final look of your painting. They tend to be available in a wider range of colours than paper made for other media, as the paper is often visible between marks. This article, taken from our Paper Guide, explains everything you need to know.
Above image, from top: Canson Mi-Teintes Touch, Clairefontaine Pastelmat, Art Spectrum, Colourfix, Fisher 400
Coated papers that are coarse to the touch do not necessarily hold more colour than a surface that feels softer; while the feel of a conventional sandpaper is very similar to some sanded pastel papers, it is not guaranteed to have the same pastel holding qualities, and would not be archival. Sanded pastel papers aren’t usually made with any sand – the name refers to the feel of the surface and refers to pastel paper that grabs colour as you apply strokes of pastel to it.
The texture of coated papers can range from coarse grit to the softness of tiny polyester fibres (known as velour). Coatings, when not screen-printed, are applied electrostatically over a layer of glue to ensure an even coverage. Some of the glues used will be rewetted with alcohol or water, and when this happens the coating can become loose from the paper, however this is not true of all the coated papers, so it is worth checking each product if you intend to use liquids with your soft pastel. Coated papers will allow a thick layer of pastel to be built up, giving a bolder, stronger colour, with very little or no texture from the paper showing through. Non-coated papers may be imprinted during the production process, with regular lines or a grid, or a honeycomb texture. Which is best suited to how you work will depend on considerations such as whether you wish to build up many layers, apply subtle blending techniques or combine pastel with other media.
Canson Mi-Teintes Touch – 350gsm, 10 colours
Touch has a ‘micro-abrasive’ texture of screen-printed sanded primer, but with a less regular pattern on its surface than Colourfix. The coating is only resistant to very small amounts of water or alcohol, providing you do not scrub its surface. It’s also suited to chalk and neat acrylic paint, sanguine and charcoal, and great for layering colour.
Clairefontaine Pastelmat – 360gsm, 14 colours
The sanded texture is compacted and more velvety than the others. Made from a fine coating of cellulose fibers that holds pastel like other sanded papers while remaining soft on your fingers. The paper also comes laminated to 1.8mm board. Will hold many layers of even the softest pastels, and its coating is also resistant to water and alcohol.
Art Spectrum Colourfix – 340gsm, 20 colours
Coloured, gritty Colourfix Primer containing silica particles is screen-printed onto 300gsm hot pressed European watercolour paper, and is available in three grades: Original (medium grit), Smooth (fine) and Rough (formerly known as Supertooth). The additional weight of the coating gives a total weight of 340gsm for this paper. The texture appears as a regular pattern which is visible through layers of pastel – which sets it apart from Pastelmat or Mi-Teintes Touch, where heavy layers of pastel appear completely smooth. It is both alcohol and water resistant. The softer tooth of Colourfix Smooth will still hold multiple layers of pastel. Pots of the textured ground they apply to this paper are available in the same range of tooth and colours (plus a clear version), so that you can prime your own surfaces.
Fisher 400 – 360gsm, light buff colour
Similar to UART, this paper is excellent for grabbing colours. It allows for crisp, fine, bright marks of pastel pencil, so is good for detail. Additionally it is resistant to both water and alcohol, therefore blending with liquids is possible (although a brush may wear quickly on its surface). It is also well suited to watercolour or acrylic, should you wish to prepare the paper with a coloured ground/tint. Blending is best done with a paper stump or colour shaper, rather than your fingers.
Sennelier Pastel Card – 360gsm, 14 colours
A fine grit of acid-free pigment and powdered cork adhered to Bristol board. Sennelier say that it is this natural composition which gives it its soft appearance, which is not comparable to the appearance of sanded papers. The coating is the least water and alcohol-resistant of all the coated papers. However if you allow any droplets to dry without wiping, the surface will remain intact. Allows crisp, fine, bright marks of pastel pencil, so is good for detail. Holds a good amount of pastel and is not hard on fingers when blending.
UART – 300gsm + coating, black and beige colour
This surface is excellent for holding colour in place and is available in 4 grades – 400, 500, 600 and 800. 400 is the coarsest and allows you to build up the most layers. 800 is the finest and is the only one that you could blend colour with your finger; it’s also suited to crisp, fine, bright marks of pastel pencil, and is great for detail. It is resistant to water and alcohol. This paper has a natural curve and may need to be taped down flat to work on it.
Hahnemühle Velour – 260gsm, sheets available in 8 colours, pads contain 10 colours
The coating of soft fine polyester fibres is applied with glue that is not water or alcohol-resistant, but it is possible to apply neat gesso to its surface with a light touch. It holds pastel well – the harder the pastel the more colour it will hold – and very little dust is produced. It is difficult to erase marks from its surface and it is easily creased so should be handled with care. The contrast between the soft fur-like surface of velour with the chalkiness of pastel allows pastel marks to really ‘pop’.
LuxArchival – 300gsm + coating, white colour
The fine, slightly gritty texture is invisible, and pastel lays down smoothly, without trace of any texture from the paper. Its resistance to alcohol and water makes it possible to tint the paper before working, combining pastel with watercolour or acrylic, and using blending liquids. Dries quickly after using solvent. Erasures and corrections are easy to perform by lifting applied medium with mounting putty, kneaded eraser or magic tape. Blending on LuxArchival Sanded Paper can be performed with short bristle brushes or sponges. A finger cot is recommended when blending with fingers.
Global Pastel Premier – 310gsm, 5 colours
Made by double priming the 100% cotton base paper, then coating with an aluminum oxide abrasive. It has good ability to rework areas, and can take water and alcohol, although heavy applications of alcohol can lift the coating; the manufacturers say it is best used with Turpenoid. Available in medium, fine and extra-fine textures, and five earth hues.
Named after the French painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), this type of paper is produced on a cylinder mould, and its faint grid texture (‘laid’, the lengthwise, closer lines, and ‘chain’, the less frequent lines running across its width) is an impression of the screen of the mould. It is usually lighter weight than other pastel paper and has a more subtle tooth. Ingres paper will only hold a few thin layers of colour so is suited to work with a lighter touch and quick sketches. It will take light applications of wet media such as blending liquids or watercolour. The paper’s texture will show through your marks as either faint lines or dots. It is soft enough for finger-blending and sponge tools, and it is easy to erase marks.
These two papers are heavier weight Ingres papers, and so feel marginally more substantial than the others. Daler Rowney Ingres is available in 9 colours; three shades of white and six natural tones, while Fabriano Ingres is available in five light neutral tones: Ice, cream, Off-white, sand and warm grey.
Sennelier pastel paper is available only in a warm grey shade while Clairefontaine Ingres comes in twenty colours across the whole spectrum, and is the only Ingres paper that is 100% cotton. Cotton is naturally acid-free, which means it has more longevity than wood or other cellulose pulp as it has the fewest impurities. The long fibres of cotton are also stronger so the paper can take more rubbing when you erase or blend, and it is also less likely to discolour over time.
Lighter weight Ingres papers
At 95gsm, Strathmore 300 Charcoal paper offers a lightweight, natural white surface that is equally suited to charcoal or pastel. Hahnemühle Ingres is available in twelve neutral shades of varying tones, from black to bright white.
Other uncoated pastel papers
All the other non-coated papers are 160gsm, and so are heavier than most of the Ingres papers. Winsor and Newton Pastel pads, Fabriano Tiziano and Hahnemühle Lanacolour all have a similar texture which consists of naturally irregular lines going along and across the sheet, with Tiziano having the most subtle texture. Daler Rowney Murano has a more dimpled texture, while Canson Mi-Teintes (not to be confused with Canson Mi-Teintes Touch) has a regular and distinctive honeycomb texture on one side, and a fine grain on the other. They are all described as being suited to other media such as pencil, charcoal and craft work, and Fabriano Tiziano, Hahnemuhle Lanacolour, Daler Rowney Murano and Canson Mi-Teintes will also support watercolour and gouache. Unlike most of the Ingres papers, they each contain a percentage of cotton fibres which lends strength (allowing for a greater degree of erasing and reworking without damage to the paper) and longevity (preventing the paper from discolouration when kept in dry and constant conditions). They are smooth enough to allow for blending with your fingers.
Can I use other papers for pastel?
Any paper with a little tooth can be used for pastels. Each will give a different look depending on how much pastel it will hold. A rough watercolour paper is ideal if you wish to start with a watercolour underpainting, and heavier weight cotton papers are best if you wish to combine pastel with liquid media to avoid the paper buckling; otherwise you can tape any textured paper to a board to keep it flat, and remove it from the board when it is fully dry. You can also prepare any paper with a coarse ground to improve its pastel holding capacity.
Preparing your own sanded papers
The following pastel primers allow you to prepare your own sanded substrate for pastel work. These coatings work well applied to watercolour paper (300gsm or heavier) but can be applied to any surface that can take some water, including mountboard or wooden panels. You can apply ground with a brush, sponge or palette knife, and tint with acrylic or watercolour.
- Colourfix primer
- Golden Acrylic Ground for Pastels
- Golden pastes, gels and gritty paints such as fine or coarse pumice gel and micaceous iron oxide
- Sinopia Absorbent Chalk Gesso and Silverpoint Ground
- Acrylic gesso mixed with one of the Derivan Matisse dry powders which include a variety of sands, crushed stones and powders or with marble dust
- Clear gesso, tinted with watercolour or applied over a watercolour wash
Oil pastels are wax based and can be used on either smooth or textured paper, including papers for soft pastel. Sennelier oil pastel card is the only purpose made oil pastel card, however it is not suitable if you intend to blend the oil pastels with solvents on it as its surface has a tendency to swell and blister when it makes contact with solvent. Heavy applications of oil pastel on soft sized papers may result in any oil content seeping into the paper fibres.
Fixative can help to keep your applied marks of pastel looking fresh, crisp and increase their smudge-resistance, however fixatives also have a tendency to darken colours, and whites tend to become transparent. Work on coated papers will require fixing less than those on uncoated papers as their texture is more able to hold colour in place. However if you wish to further secure your marks onto the surface without using fixative you can ‘pressure fix’ your work: Lay a sheet of glassine over the artwork and press it gently and evenly without moving the glassine. This will push the particles more firmly into the paper texture.
Protecting work with glassine
Glassine paper is a super-smooth, heavily compressed, thin, translucent paper made with very refined pulp that can be used to protect the surface of dry media artworks from smudging during storage, shipping or in books. It is found interleaved between sheets in Daler Rowney Ingres, Sennelier Pastel paper and Clairefontaine Ingres spiral pads, where work is likely to be kept indefinitely, and so benefits from the protection glassine offers. It is not usually found in glued pads, where sheets are most likely to be removed once work is finished (although the Sennelier card pad is an exception). Resistant to grease, air and water, it is acid-free to ensure archival protection. Although newsprint may seem smooth enough to do the same job, it is not archival, so not a good alternative for long-term storage and both newsprint and tissue paper attract pastel particles more readily than glassine.
The importance of framing pastel works
Pastel is one of the more stable of the painting mediums, not changing as it ages – it does not contain any binders that are susceptible to yellowing and the surface will not crack as it dries. However, it can have a fragile surface, so it is important to protect it behind glass in order to keep the surface from being disturbed and shield it from dust. Mounting pastel paper to a board using acid free double sided tape can make it easier to keep the work flat. A mount will prevent the glass from touching the surface of the painting, which can stop condensation or temperature changes causing the paper to wrinkle, or stick to the glass.
Pastel Paper Comparison Table
Our table compares the content, texture, sizing, colour and holding ability of artist pastel papers. Click the image below to enlarge, or download our PDF version here to print.