Succotash at the Studio

Paper Primer: Which Paper is Best for Which Medium?

We are often asked: "which paper is best for _________?"

Whether you're drawing, writing, or painting, remember that all paper is not the same. While copy paper and regular lined notebook paper are both ubiquitous (and handy), there are specific tasks where the right paper can make huge difference, and create a more enjoyable experience.

Most paper for writing and sketching is uncoated. Most paper is made from wood fibers and there are many different types to choose from. To make it even more confusing, there are different weights of papers which indicate the thickness and density of the fibers. In this discussion we will not be going into that level of detail.

Hot press vs. cold press - cold press in paper-making allows for texture and a bit of personality. Think of drawing tablets and paper for pencils. Hot press creates a much smoother paper. Some paper can almost feel like silk. Think of calligraphy and fountain pens. 

For discussion purposes, here are some of the most common things to think of when working with different mediums:

Fountain Pen and Nib & Ink - these nibs require a smooth surface that does not have fibers to catch in the fine points. Because there is more ink flowing onto the paper, you also want to be concerned with bleed through (when ink shows through to the other side). How does the paper hold the ink? High quality paper will not have much bleed through, if any at all. LIFE Brand and Tomoe River  are a few we like.

fountain pens

Watercolor - watercolor papers are rough and hot or cold press. Rough and cold have more texture, are rigid and are more absorbent. Hot will allow for your paints to be more vivid; with cold they will be a little less due to the absorbance of the paper and the density of the fibers. Here is a high quality watercolor notebook that is handy to take with you everywhere.

Pencil - Sketching and drawing requires more of a rough surface for the lead to feel smooth as it writes. You need a little "tooth" for the lead to adhere. This applies to colored pencils too. Here is a nice sketchbook terrific for quality graphite sketching.


Ballpoint or Ink Pen - Again, smoother paper is going to allow for a better writing experience. You will feel the pen glide across the paper. Your thoughts and words will flow easily. Try some of these notebooks and see what you think.

ballpoint pen

Typing - If you are using a vintage manual typewriter, we suggest onion skin or a paper made for typing such as the exquisite LIFE Brand Typing Paper. This is oh-so-smooth paper and made just for typing, though it also happens to be good for fountain pens and calligraphy (are you seeing a theme here? smooth = awesome!)

Using regular copy paper is OK but over time, you will find that fibers get stuck to your keys and will gunk everything up. These are rare and beautiful machines, treat them accordingly!

smith corona vintage typewriter


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