woman sketching fashion designs with pencil

Aren’t drawing and sketching the same thing? Don’t they use the same paper? Well, yes and no. Let’s dive into the differences between sketch pads and drawing paper so you’ll know how to choose the right paper for your project. Whether you're a seasoned artist or just starting your creative journey, understanding the differences between these two types of paper can make a difference in your art. You can even throw some mixed media paper into the mix! So, grab your pencils, and let's get sketching (or drawing).

The Difference Between Drawing and Sketching

First things first, let's clear up any confusion between sketching and drawing. While the terms are often used interchangeably, there are subtle differences that can affect the outcome of your artwork. Sketching can be capturing the essence of your subject with quick, loose strokes, exploring ideas, experimenting with composition, practicing techniques, and letting your creativity flow freely. Because a sketching practice is one of the best ways to improve your art, you’ll need lots of cheap paper so you won’t feel like it’s too precious to “waste” by experimenting freely. Sketch pad paper is typically lighter in weight with more pages at an economical price. Since these usually aren’t considered finished works of art, the paper may or not be acid-free or made from higher quality materials since it isn’t necessary to hold up over time. Consider sketching as practicing.

By contrast, drawing is more refined, finished, and of typically longer duration with greater amounts of drawing media used. Therefore, drawing paper is better quality and designed to last. Drawing paper tends to be heavier weight and acid-free, providing a stable surface for intricate linework, precise rendering, and substantial erasing and other surface manipulation with drawing tools. So, when choosing between sketching and drawing papers, think about the level of finish you want to achieve in your artwork. Consider drawing paper as the substrate on which your final work of art, or more finished studies, will be made. For example, when figure drawing, use sketch paper for the 5 minute figure gesture warm-up exercises but use drawing paper for the more detailed 1 hour pose.

the left shows a drawing of a female face and the right shows a sketch of a landscape
A drawing (left) that will be finished and framed, and a sketch (right) in preparation for a painting.

How Paper Weight Impacts Your Art

Now, let's talk about paper weight and why it matters. Paper weight is measured in pounds (lbs) or grams per square meter (gsm), and it refers to the thickness and density of the paper. When choosing paper weight, consider the media you'll be using and the level of durability you need for your artwork.

For sketching, lighter-weight papers (around 50-70 lbs or 75-100 gsm) are ideal. These papers are thin enough to be easily portable and flexible for quick sketching sessions on the go. They also typically have enough tooth to hold onto graphite and charcoal without smudging excessively. Tooth refers to the amount of texture to the paper’s surface. Super-smooth surfaces are not great at holding dry drawing media, so a slightly rougher or even velvety surface is better. The greater the tooth, the more layers of dry media a paper can hold.

For drawing, heavier-weight papers (around 90-140 lbs or 150-250 gsm) are preferred. These papers provide more stability and durability, making them suitable for drawings that require multiple layers of media. They also minimize the risk of tearing or buckling under the pressure of heavy shading, blending, and erasing.

various drawing paper surfaces stacked on each other

Types of Sketching Paper, Drawing Paper, and Mixed Media Paper

Sketching paper comes in various sizes and formats, ranging from spiral-bound pads to hardbound sketchbooks. They are convenient for artists who love to sketch anywhere, offering a portable canvas for capturing ideas and inspiration wherever they may arise. Look for sketching pads with acid-free paper and a good weight-to-tooth ratio for the optimal sketching experience. Consider the size as well. You may keep a small version for carrying along everyday and a larger sketch pad for use in your home or studio.

When it comes to paper for drawing, artists have a variety of options to choose from. From smooth Bristol board to textured watercolor paper, the choice depends on your preferred drawing style and medium. Consider factors such as surface texture, weight, and durability when selecting paper for your artwork.

For artists who like to experiment with various mediums in a single artwork, mixed media paper or watercolor paper is the way to go. Unlike regular drawing paper, these papers are treated with a sizing that protects the paper fibers when wet, reducing damage to the surface when drawing, layering, and erasing. They are designed to withstand the demands of multiple materials, including watercolor, acrylic, ink, collage, and more. Look for mixed media papers with a versatile surface that can handle wet and dry media without warping or bleeding.

various drawing paper pads, pencils and erasers on a wood table

Popular Brands of Art Paper

Now that we’ve discussed the different types of papers, let's take a closer look at some popular brands of art paper and compare their key differences in manufacturing, cost, and performance.

  • Fabriano Paper
    Renowned for its high-quality watercolor paper, Fabriano also offers a range of drawing papers suitable for various mediums. Their papers are made using traditional techniques and have a high cotton content, resulting in a durable surface that holds up well long term. While Fabriano paper tends to be on the pricier side, many artists swear by its exceptional performance and longevity. Their watercolor papers also make great mixed media drawing paper. They’ve been making paper since 1264 (!) so you can count on them for your best art.

  • Canson Art Supplies
    With a history dating back to the 16th century, Canson is a trusted name in the world of art paper. They offer a diverse selection of papers, including sketching, drawing, and mixed media options. Canson papers are known for their affordability and versatility, making them a popular choice among artists of all skill levels. Canson sketchbooks are backed by their hundreds of years of expertise and know-how earned through their near-legendary reputation. From colored paper to design studio staples, they offer a paper for every creative purpose.

  • Strathmore Artist Papers, Drawing and Sketch Pads
    Another well-known brand, Strathmore offers a wide range of papers tailored to specific artistic needs. From sketch pads to drawing tablets, their products are designed to deliver consistent performance across different mediums. Strathmore papers are known for their reliable surfaces and reasonable price points, making them a favorite among artists on a budget. With so many options available, you can find the perfect paper for your purposes.

  • Cheap Joe's Art Supplies
    Last but not least, we have Cheap Joe's Art Stuff. As an artist-focused retailer, Cheap Joe's its own line of Sketchmaker drawing pads and Kilimanjaro Watercolor paper designed to meet the needs of creative individuals. Our paper selection is carefully curated to provide excellent quality at an affordable price. Plus, with a wide range of sizes and formats available, Cheap Joe's makes it easy to find the perfect paper for your next masterpiece.

Explore Sketching, Drawing, and Mixed Media Papers from Cheap Joe’s

Whether you're sketching up a storm or diving deep into a detailed drawing, choosing the right drawing and sketching sheets can make all the difference in bringing your artistic vision to life. Whether you're sketching your initial concepts, meticulously crafting detailed drawings, or pushing the boundaries with mixed media experimentation, the right paper can elevate your creativity to the next level. So, take some time to explore the options available for drawing and sketching pads and find the perfect surface for your creativity.