Drawing incorporates all manner of dry and wet art materials, and different papers will be suitable depending on what media you are working with.
Cartridge Paper – Best for Dry Media
The paper most commonly associated with drawing is cartridge paper. It is so-called because it was used in the making of paper cartridges in the sixteenth century, holding the ammunition of gunpowder and bullets together for loading into hand-held firearms. Cartridge paper is most commonly made of wood free cellulose and is primarily made for dry drawing media such as graphite and charcoal, however heavier cartridge papers (200 gsm+) will take some watercolour and ink with minimal buckling. It is available in a variety of weights and shades of white. Quality cartridge paper will have a slight texture to it – this is known as grain or tooth, and provides the resistance needed to hold marks in place and increases the depth of range achievable in graphite or charcoal.
Other Papers Suited to Dry Media
Bristol board, marker, and layout pads are all smooth surfaces that are particularly well suited to ink pens of all varieties; the lack of texture is sympathetic to delicate nibs whether they’re made of metal or felt, and lines are kept crisp and sharp.
Bristol board is a wood-free cellulose, multiply drawing paper available with either a completely smooth or vellum surface, offering a slight texture that is better suited to dry media such as coloured pencil, graphite and charcoal.
Marker pad paper is another acid-free wood pulp paper. Some are as light as 70 gsm (these are sometimes called layout paper), while others are heavier, around 220 gsm. Marker pen papers serve two main functions – either a drafting paper for quick sketches and ideas, or for more laboured, layered drawings. The ultra smooth, satin sheen surface accentuates crisp edges and vibrant marks, without bleeding or feathering. It is usually bright white in colour.
Layout paper is even thinner, only 45 – 50 gsm. It is semi-transparent and also designed to minimise bleed-through. It is the white, lightweight paper that is often used in illustration and design sketches.
Tracing paper is made of wood-free cellulose that has been pulped repeatedly to the point where the fibres are made so short and so compressed the internal reflection of light is removed, allowing it to appear clear. When you crease tracing paper you are breaking up the bonded fibres, so the light then starts to reflect between the fibres again, which is why the paper looks white when creased. The shortness of the fibres is the reason why tracing paper is so brittle and only suitable for dry and very quick drying wet media, such as ink and acrylic.
Newsprint is an inexpensive wood pulp paper that contains lignins, so will yellow rapidly if exposed to UV light. It’s only suitable for quick disposable drawings, will buckle when wet media is applied to it, and easily disintegrate under heavy pressure such as excessive erasing.
Paper Well Suited to Taking Wet and Dry Media
If you intend to combine drawing with washes of watercolour or acrylic, watercolour paper will take the wet media better, although the sizing that stops the paper from being too absorbent can cause felt nibs of Indian ink or acrylic marker pens to wear out more quickly – this is even true of the smoothest hot pressed papers. Additionally any texture can sometimes make it difficult to apply thin technical pen lines with precision.
Watercolour paper is made of cotton, acid-free wood pulp, linen, or a mix. Linen and cotton papers are more robust – you can scrub and scratch into the surface without necessarily making a hole, while acid-free wood pulp papers are less forgiving of rough treatment, because the fibres that they are made of are shorter, resulting in a comparatively less resilient paper. Watercolour board is essentially watercolour paper mounted onto a rigid lightweight board, and will not buckle or warp as a result of heavy applications of paint or water. Watercolour boards and watercolour paper are available in three textures – hot press (completely smooth), NOT surface (slight tooth) and rough (heavy tooth).
Yupo is a 100% polypropylene surface that will not buckle, resists tearing and is non absorbent. Painting on this surface is a completely different experience to working on a cotton or wood free cellulose paper. Work in wet or dry media should be given a coat of spray varnish to hold them in place.