Substrates – Choosing the Right Surface [PAPER EDITION] Part 3

This is Part 3 in our Paper Substrate Series – This edition is all about Painting, Printmaking and Mixed Media papers
Scroll through to learn about various types of papers!

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:

TYPES OF PAPER (for art)

Painting, Printmaking, Mixed Media

Canva-Paper: Medium – Heavyweight [90 – 140lbs] paper, designed to replicate the texture of real canvas. The paper has been primed and sized to accept all forms of oil and acrylic paints on an impermeable, bleed-proof surface. Ideal for practicing painting techniques, this paper is an affordable alternative for any artist. Great for “sketches”, gestures, etc. Can be mounted and framed, with or without glass.

Brands: Canson, Strathmore, Art Alternatives
Available in: Pads


Watercolor: Varied Weights [90 – 300lbs +] Watercolor paper comes in a variety of weights, textures and tones. Typically made of 100% rag paper, featuring deckled edges, this paper is sized to accept and work with light to heavy washes of inks and watercolor, without buckling or bleed through. (Lighter weight papers are recommended to be stretched onto Gator Board prior to art execution)

1) Cold-Pressed – Formed by pressing with cold/tepid water during the paper-making process; this watercolor paper features a medium texture/tooth and is the most popular surface for watercolor artists

2) Hot-Pressed – Much like ironing, hot pressed paper is made by traveling through hot rollers during the paper-making process. This paper has an ultra smooth surface, great for gouache and fine watercolor details.

3) Rough – An ultra textured watercolor paper, this rough surface is made by lightly pressing the paper, leaving high ridges, nooks and crannies for color and pigment to pool.

**) YUPO – a 100% polypropylene paper, Yupo is a different kind of watercolor paper, designed with a different aesthetic in mind. It is waterproof and made from 100% recycled materials. Ultra-smooth texture, bright white or translucent finishes allow for inking precision and watercolor abstraction. Beyond fine art usage, Yupo has become a successful print medium for the commercial/marketing industry. With a multitude of creative solutions, Yupo provides a unique, yet versatile surface.

Brands: Arches, Canson, Yupo, Fabriano, Strathmore, Fluid
Available in: Pads, Blocks, Rolls and Sheets


Mixed Media: Varied Weights [90 – 300lbs +] paper designed for both wet and dry materials, allows for a variety of drawing, painting, and collage techniques. Some brands feature varying texture; one side smooth, the other, toothed. Great for all media; can handle light washes and acrylic layers. Not suitable for oils (unless primed first)

Brands: Canson, Strathmore, BEE
Available in: Pads, Sketchbooks, and Rolls

Paper Palettes: Weight [N/A] Palette paper is designed as a substitute to traditional artist’s palettes. Light weight, disposable, and an ultra-smooth finish, Palette paper allows you to paint on the go, with near effortless clean up. Works well with oils, acrylics, gouache and temperas.

Brands: Jack Richeson, Art Alternatives
Available in: Pads

Transfer Paper: Lightweight (25 – 30lbs) paper, also known as Carbon or Graphite paper; which is used to transfer drawings and designs onto various substrates. Typically, one side is coated with a powder/pigment that is placed treated-side down onto a fresh substrate. Then, by applying pressure (either with a stylus, pen or pencil) the lines are transcribed onto the new surface. This allows artists to expedite the creative process, as well as preserving their original drawing. Transfer paper can be used multiple times before its treated surface loses pigmentation.

Brands: Saral, Sally’s, Bienfang
Available in: Rolls and Sheets

Rag Paper: Various Weights [250 – 300gsm +] Rag Papers are typically made of 100% cotton or other natural fibers; superior to wood-pulp papers in strength and durability. Used in printmaking processes, rag papers provide smooth to textured surfaces, designed for etching, relief and intaglio printing techniques. Also a great paper for work with gouache, inks and a variety of dry media.

Brands: Legion/Stonehenge, Arches, Canson, Rives BFK, Somerset
Available in: Pads, Rolls, and Sheets


Rice paper: Various Weights [20 – 90lbs] Rice papers are made from combinations of rice starch and/or rice flour, with other plant fibers (such as hemp, bamboo, mulberry, wingceltis, gampi, etc.) Originating in ancient China, the papers were known as Xuan paper, specifically used for writing, art and architecture. Despite its fragile appearance, rice papers make for a strong and durable substrate. Suitable for various printmaking techniques, calligraphy, ink washes, and drawings. Not suitable for heavy washes or thick, impasto painting techniques.

Brands: Yasutomo, Paragon, Jack Richeson, Black Ink, etc
Available in: Rolls, Pads, and Sheets

Digital Papers: Various Weight [65lbs – 300lbs +]. With the proliferation of technology, particularly in regards to Digital Art creation and the accessibility of at-home printing, a wide range of Digital Fine Art Papers has infiltrated the market. Though the papers typically replicate traditional fine art and photography papers (such as rag, watercolor, pastel, canvas, etc) these papers have been sized to accept pigment-based digital inkjet and laser inks. This provides the artist will the ability to make Fine Art Reproductions and Art Prints for reasonable at-home editions.

Brands: Canson Infinity, Legion MOAB, Strathmore
Available in: Packs, and Rolls