Which Paper Is the Best for Graphite Pencil Drawing?

A Sturdy Paper Is Great for Beginners

Graphite pencil and graphene molecular structure


Artists have many choices when it comes to drawing paper, but how do you choose which one to use? It's a common question, especially for those who are new to drawing. Let's explore which types of papers artists prefer for graphite pencil drawings.

What to Look for in Drawing Paper

For detailed, realist graphite pencil drawing, you need a sturdy paper that can cope with repeated erasing and working. It should also have a fine texture that allows you to create the illusion of smooth surfaces such as glass, metal, or skin. Most drawing paper has a coarse texture and that will work against you.

For graphite drawings with a moderate degree of realism, a drawing paper like Strathmore Series 400 is a good place to begin. It will give you good results without breaking the bank. It's off-white, though, so it won't give the snappy highlights you need for really crisp realism.

For tonal drawing, especially those with lots of darks, it's worth paying a little extra for Stonehenge paper. This one has a softer surface so it really doesn't take to lots of reworking and you'll need to erase with care. However, the fine velvety tooth holds the medium very well and it's a pleasure to draw on.

Give Bristol Board a Try

Many professional artists opt for bristol board rather than paper for their realist tonal drawings. The surfaces are strong, tough, and very smooth. A plate finish is good for very fine detail and precise lines, while a velour surface will allow for richer darks still give a slightly visible texture.

It's a good idea to try both to see which suits your drawing style. You can't go wrong with a plate finish Strathmore Series 500 Bristol Board.

Watercolor Paper, Really?

Another popular option that some realist artists prefer is hot-pressed watercolor paper. You do need to be careful, though.

Some watercolor papers have too much size and are slippery, making them less than ideal for grabbing the graphite of your pencils. Yet, a minimally sized watercolor paper will have an excellent tooth and smooth surface, without the slipperiness of Bristol Plate. Try Fabriano Artistico Extra White or Arches Bright White hot press.

Explore Your Options

When you're just starting to draw the choices in paper and pencils can be overwhelming. There really is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing either. What is more important is which paper you enjoy working with for your particular style.

It may take some time to find the right paper for you and it's likely that you'll change your mind repeatedly as you progress. Since it's common for beginners to do a lot of erasing, consider starting out with one of those tougher papers. They're perfect for practicing techniques and very forgiving of any mistakes. 

As you gain the confidence you can add to your paper collection and explore some of the other options. After some time, you'll get a feel for which types of paper you prefer and be able to choose the best for a particular effect you're going for in each drawing.