Artist’s Sketch Books

by Aug 11, 2020Art Supplies

It’s all about the paper surface

Jane sheds some light on the different paper surfaces available in artists sketch books. Some artists will stick with one type of sketch book (one paper weight and surface) for all of their work – others will have a variety to hand and use the one they feel most appropriate for the current project.

There are no right or wrong paper types for any particular medium. Some papers perform better than others in some circumstances, for example they work better when water is used. But, depending on the effect the artist wants to achieve, that may not be a problem.

The manufacturers try to help…

On most brands of artists sketch book the manufacturers try to give as much information as possible about the paper type used. They provide an indication of what they believe it is most suitable for and list the characteristics of the paper.

Because they don’t all use the same scheme for describing the characteristics of it isn’t always easy to compare using the symbols and descriptions they provide.

Jane recommends feeling the paper in a sketch book before buying. Some artists like to experiment with different paper types to see the impact on the finished work.

The paper in sketch books

Sketch books use cartridge paper or even watercolour paper. These are usually white but can come in toned, slightly coloured, paper and are also available with black, grey and brown cartridge paper.

Cartridge paper is a high quality paper ideal for illustration and drawing. They differ by weight and can be smooth or mildly textured also known as medium grain.

(This is the type of sketch book which Jane used for her Old & New Project. It has 150gsm cartridge paper with a slight tooth meaning not completely smooth.)

Jane's sketch book

Cachet by Daler Rowney

This cachet sketch book (Daler Rowney) is fantastic for any mixed media work, the paper is 160gsm and has the slightly textured surface I like to work with. It will also hold any medium you choose.

The symbols across the top show you that the paper is suitable for pencil, paint, ink and it is acid free .

Cachet by Daler Rowney

Other Daler Rowney Sketch Books

Other books are available from Daler-Rowney and come in a variety of sizes and weights of paper.

Daler Rowney sketch books

Ebony sketch books

The ebony sketch books have a premium quality crisp white cartridge paper. Weight of paper available in the sketch book is 150gsm-180gsm. Paper surface is smooth – suitable for dry techniques as well as holding water.

Ebony sketch books

Hardback sketch book

This hardback sketch book has a 90gsm high quality Ivory cartridge paper with perforated pages for easy removal. The lightweight paper is ideal for sketching, charcoal and pastel work this paper has a smooth surface.

Ivory hardback sketch book

Paper surfaces

There are so many choices when looking for a sketch book, I always like to feel the surface of the paper and the weight to suit my needs.

A smooth surface is really good for detail work and botanical work, the smoother the surface the better. 

Watercolour paper

There are 3 surface textures to watercolour paper:

HP is for ‘hot pressed’ and this surface is the smoothest paper and is suitable for high detail work.

CP is for ‘cold pressed’ also known as NOT, this has a textured surface.

Rough is what it the name refers to as this paper has a heavily textured surface.

paper surfaces comparison

Hot pressed paper

Hot pressed or HP watercolour has a fine grained, smooth surface, with almost no tooth. You will find your watercolour paint tends to dry very quickly on the surface.

This picture has a range of watercolour pads available in HP and NOT surfaces.


hot pressed paper

Cold pressed paper

CP or NOT paper has a textured surface with small indentations. Watercolour artists often prefer cold pressed paper because of its texture. The pits and bumps of the surface traps water and colour which allows for better control.

cold pressed paper

Rough – heavily textured paper

Rough, as suggested by the name, is the most textured watercolour paper available.

The deep pits in the surface of this paper are brilliant if you want to get the most out of the granulation of your watercolour paints. This heavily textured paper is suited to those with a loose painting style.

rough - heavily textured paper

Fabriano watercolour paper

Fabriano watercolour paper is cotton based and this botanical pad is 50% cotton and is ultra smooth.

Fabriano Artistico watercolour paper is mould made and produced with 100% cotton, chlorine and acid free, guaranteeing long conservation.

Fabriano 5 is a 50% cotton paper with a very white surface designed for watercolour painting and lithography printing, but can also be used for charcoal, graphite, wax, pastel and calligraphy. A great all round versatile paper.

fabriano watercolour paper


Watercolour blocks are a practical and convenient, blocks are pre stretched paper for you to work on without having to stretch your paper and the having to wait for it to dry.

The block is glued together on all four sides with a small area to slip in a pallet knife to lift off the sheet when you have finished.

bockingford block
langton block

Buying your next sketch pad

I hope this has given you a insight in to the different paper surfaces that are available, there are so many more papers available – far too many to cover in an article such as this.

It’s up to you to find the right one that will do all you want it to. But pop into the shop and we will be happy to offer advice.

If we don’t have what you are looking for in stock always feel free to ask whether we can get it for you.

Gadsby’s sell all of the art materials and supplies mentioned above.

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