Substrates – Choosing the Right Surface [PAPER EDITION] Part 1

Behind (or rather, below) all great works of Art lies the Substrate. No matter what medium you may choose to fuel your creativity, there must be a surface on which to apply the paints, inks, and/or drawing materials. With such a wide variety of creative media/materials, there is an equally vast breadth of substrates to support your masterpiece.

So, what is a substrate anyways?

The primary or underlying foundation on which art materials/mediums (i.e. ink, paint, charcoal, pastel, etc.) are added is known as the Substrate. Canvas, wood panel and paper comprise the most popular and readily available surfaces; however certain artistic processes may require fabrics such as silk or synthetics, glass and even metal to act as a substrate. In the world of Digital Art, printing your creations include a variety of substrates all their own, with surfaces specially treated to accept the digital pigments and dyes.

Prior to application of art materials, a substrate must be prepared,  “primed” or “sized” to properly accept and fuse with the medium. The following is a breakdown of various types of substrates and their preparations:


Paper is quite possible the most varied, versatile and common substrate utilized. Dating back to 2nd Century China, the pulp paper-making process is attributed to Han Court eunuch, Cai Lun, effectively replacing silk as a primary substrate. Paper spread from China through the Middle East, finally reaching medieval Europe in the 13th century, where water-powered paper mills began sprouting up throughout the developing world. By the 19th century, paper production became an essential product of industrial manufacturing, lowering costs and providing the integral substrate for the Industrial Revolution. Paper was and continues to be (despite the technological advances of the past 2 decades) the conduit on which information is generated and distributed to the masses, fueling cultural shifts and technological developments.

TYPES OF PAPER (for art)

Drawing & Illustration Substrates

Newsprint: Lightweight [30-35lbs] paper, good for rough sketches, figure/gesture drawings and studies and proofing test prints (printmaking). Low cost, non-archival. Newsprint is a great paper for beginners and professionals looking to work out ideas and compositional experimentation. NOT suitable for final works of art.

Brands: Canson, Strathmore
Available: Pads (50-100 sheet), Rolls

Sketch:  Lightweight [50 – 60lbs] papers designed for preliminary drawings, doodles, sketches, quick studies, and technique practice. Sketch papers are perfect for the exploration of drawing materials. Designed as a brainstorming paper, (not necessarily suitable for finished pieces). Good for dry mediums (graphite, charcoal, pastels, colored pencils) but not suitable for wet media.

Brands: Canson, Strathmore, BEE, Art Alternatives, Handbook
Available in: Pads, Rolls, Sheets, and Sketchbooks/Journals


Drawing: Medium weight [70 – 80lbs] papers design for final works of art. Drawing papers can come in a variety of colors, however the most typical being Bright White, Off-White, and Cream. Drawing papers are typically suitable for most dry media such as graphite, colored pencil, charcoal, pastels, and some inks (not necessarily recommended for wet media).

 Brands: Canson, Strathmore, BEE, Legion/Stonehenge
Available in: Pads, Rolls, Sheets, and Sketchbooks/Journals


Bogus/Kraft:  Medium – Heavyweight [70lbs +] Made from recycled and unsorted waste paper, both Bogus and Kraft are usually gray or brown in color, but can be bleached. Bogus/Kraft paper is used in the making of paper bags, corrugated cardboards and chipboards because of its strength.  Due to its rough, irregular texture, Bogus/Kraft is great for sketches, gestures, and figure drawings; used frequently in the fashion industry for clothing/model sketches. Great with charcoal and pastels, however certain brands may not be archival quality.

Brands: Pacon, C&T, BEE, Strathmore, 3M
Available in: Pads and Rolls


Bristol: Heavy weight [90-110lbs] Great for multi-media works of art. Bristol can withstand all dry media (i.e. graphite, charcoal, pastel, colored pencil, etc) as well as inks (technical pens, markers, light washes, etc) comes in two textures or “tooth”: Smooth/Plate or Vellum (slight tooth)

Brands: Canson, Strathmore
Available: Pads, Sheets, and Rolls


Pastel/Charcoal: Medium – Heavyweight [65 – 100lbs] papers with heavy texture and sizing made to cradle and preserve the loose charcoal and pigments. Pastel and charcoal papers come in a variety of colors, as well as specialty textures like “Sanded Pastel Papers”. Suitable for other dry media, such as colored pencil and graphite.

Brands: Canson, Strathmore, BEE, Wallis
Available in: Pads, Rolls and sheets


Marker: Lightweight [13 – 25lbs] paper, semi-transparent and smooth; bleed-proof and sized to accept alcohol and solvent based marker inks, as well as felt tip pens. A great paper for layouts, drafting and rendering projects.

Brands: Strathmore, Canson
Available in: Pads and Sheets


Cardstock: Medium – Heavyweight [65 – 100lbs] paper; also known as “cover stock” or “paste stock”. Often used in the printing industry, Card stock is a heavier weight bond paper, typically used for business cards, playing cards, catalog covers, scrapbooking, etc. Similar to Bristol, though typically sized to accept inkjet over traditional mediums, this paper is decent quality for dry media projects, as well as collage.

Brands: Canford (Daler-Rowney)
Available in: Sheets


Bond: Lightweight [20 – 30lbs] paper, typically used in the printing industry, as copy paper for letterheads, envelopes, etc. Bond paper provides a suitable sketching surface, for semi-permanent/finished works of art. Its lightweight and smooth texture lends itself well to dry media such as graphite and colored pencil. Not suitable for any wet media, or heavy marker usage.

Brands: Strathmore, Canford
Available in: Rolls and reams


Parchment/Calligraphy: Light – Mediumweight [20 – 60lbs] papers, traditionally made from animal hides (similar to traditional vellum) parchment was a predecessor to industrialized papers. Used as manuscript scrolls, Parchment was reserved for the highest quality writings and books. Now made of plant-based pulps, infused with tone/color to replicate the aesthetic of parchment, it is sold as Calligraphy papers. Great for inks; marker, pen and brush, as well as sketching.

Brands: Bienfang, Borden-Riley, Canson, Strathmore
Available in: Pads and sheets


Stay tuned for our 2nd installment – ALL ABOUT PAPERS

The Art Supply Store
Written By: Laura Spencer