Top Charcoal and Pastel Paper

Choosing paper for charcoal and pastel drawing is a personal matter, depending on your working method and the hardness of your preferred medium. The key to a good dry-medium paper is tooth. This refers to the rough textured surface that drags the particles from the stick or pencil and holds them to the paper. Some papers have a tooth like a wire bug screen, others have a surface like velvet. It's a matter of personal taste, so try a few different ones if you can. Here's my review of some of the best and most popular brands.

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Canson Ingres

Blick Art Materials

I'm in two minds about this paper - at At 100gsm, Ingres is quite a lightweight paper, and I generally prefer something a little heavier. The laid finish - a subtle horizontal pattern - is embossed into this paper, to mimic the paper used by the old masters, including Ingres himself, of course. This suits an expressive, vigorous technique rather than layered realism.  Canson Ingres is made from 65 percent rag, gelatin sized and acid-free, Available in 21 colors in 19 x 21 inch sheets.

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Fabriano Tiziano Pastel and Charcoal Paper

Fabriano is the oldest paper mill in Europe, and their papers are always beautiful. Tiziano has a pronounced tooth that holds plenty of pastel, with a good bit of texture that isn't too intrusive. It's a good weight for this type of work at a sturdy 160 gsm. It comes in a 20 x26 inch sheet in a range of colors.

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Hahnemühle Velour

'Velours' papers have fibers added to their surface to create tooth. Hahnemuhle's excellent velour paper has a lovely even tooth perfect for soft pastel and charcoal, with excellent medium-holding properties. This type of paper can lack robustness for agressive or heavily layered work - you'll want a primed pastel board for those. But for soft media and a light touch, this paper is a delight. Available in a range of light earth tones, red, yellow, green, white and black. In pad form and boards. Hahnemühle Velour sheets 19" × 27" (48 cm × 69 cm) 260 gsm.

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Strathmore 500 Series Charcoal Papers

This paper is 100% cotton, acid-free with a laid pattern. At only 64 lbs (95 gsm), its a little light for my preference - I also prefer a velours surface to a laid pattern to work on - but many artists prefer the traditional look of the laid surface, and this is a very popular paper. It would be an ideal paper for those with an expressive technique who can take advantage of its texture, especially for figure drawing. It comes in white, black, and a range of subtle neutral colors.

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Art Spectrum Colourfix Paper and Primer

Colorfix papers are crossing the boundary between paper and board, with heavy support paper screen-printed with a lightfast acrylic primer. This paper has a very pronounced tooth for pastel drawing - it'll grip even the hardest medium and supports multiple layers of pastel well. (The manufacturer claims without fixing... personally I like to err on the safe side).  If you like to lay down a lot of color or work with harder pastels and conte, this paper will suit you well. It's reasonably affordable, but being more substantial than light papers, you'll probably want to reserve the Colorfix for planned and finished work rather than sketching. You can also buy the Primer to coat your own paper.

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UArt Sanded Pastel Paper Rolls

I love working on large-scale artworks, but the paper can be hard to find. UArt's Sanded Pastel Paper is one I haven't tried out personally - for work this size I prefer a heavier support - but if you like working large, and you like sanded papers, this one should do the trick. It's not archival, unfortunately, but it's good quality with a neutral PH backing paper, and moderately priced, so ideal for class groups. It also comes in several grades, so you can choose a finer grade for softer media or less layered work.

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Blick All-Purpose Newsprint

Ok, so it isn't archival, its terribly lightweight, cheap and nasty... but where would art students be without newsprint? Great for figure drawing classes and rough sketching (I actually like its surface for charcoal drawing, despite its poor archival qualities). Available in pads and sheets - really large sheets are the best, so you have plenty of room for expressive mark making.

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Pacon Newsprint Roll

Newsprint rolls let you tear off as much as you need, work large or small, and are generally handy to have in the art room for a range of uses. (Make your own gift wrap with the kids!) Sometimes you can get 'end rolls' from the printers of your local newspaper, but if not, Pacon makes 36 inch/91 cm wide newsprint rolls with 100ft / 30 m of paper that come in a dispenser box.