What is a Sketch Pad?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

One kind of sketch pad, or sketchpad, is a bound set of sketch paper for artists. Sketching is a specialized type of drawing, used for preparing preliminary drawings, for capturing fleeting subjects, and as a means of perfecting technique. Sketch paper is drawing paper specially designed for sketching. The term sketch pad is also used analogically for computer software applications that provide users with a place to sketch out ideas, use drawings to communicate, or create visuals to match concepts.

Artists may use compressed charcoal sticks when sketching.
Artists may use compressed charcoal sticks when sketching.

Artists’ Sketch pads. The tooth of sketch paper, along with the weight, determines whether sketch paper is multi-purpose, or designed to fit a specific group of media or a particular artistic medium. Some sketch paper is multi-media, and some is specialized for a particular medium, such as markers. A smooth surface is geared to line drawing, technical drawing, and finished art. A medium surface may be used for all dry media (including pencil, pastel, marker, Conté crayon, and charcoal) plus pen, ink, and light wash. In addition, there are specialty sketch pads: for example, 3M® makes a Post-It® sketch pad that has a self-stick backing for instant hanging.

Sketch pads are used for sketching, or drawing, images.
Sketch pads are used for sketching, or drawing, images.

The weight of paper used for artists’ sketches is described in several ways: by point sizes that measure the thickness of a single sheet in thousandths of an inch, and by basis weight, a measurement in pounds of the weight of 500 sheets of the standard size of the paper, whatever that may be. Because the size of different types of paper is not consistent, comparing basis weights is complicated, but this doesn’t stop stationers from using them to describe sketch paper. To be sure of what you’re getting in a sketch pad, you may find it valuable to look at a different system of measurement. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) paper industry standard is considered the most consistent way to compare paper weights. The ISO measures weight in grams per square meter (gsm).

10–35 gsm tissue paper
35–70 gsm lighter textweight
70–100 gsm medium textweight
100–120 gsm heavy textweight/light cardstock
120-150 gsm regular cardstock
150-200 gsm heavy cardstock
>200 gsm super heavy cardstock

Sketch paper ranges from 65 gsm to 120 gsm, that is, from weights in the lighter textweight paper range all the way through heavy textweight. If you can find the gsm measurement, you may have an easier time finding the paper that will work best for you. Most sketch paper in pads is plain and white or cream-coloured, but there are those who like to sketch on graph paper, and this, too, is available. The style of sketch material that a particular artist uses may have something to do the circumstances in which the sketch pad will be used, and may help determine the size and binding desired.

Typical Sizes of Sketchpads:
8.5 x 11 inches 216 × 279 mm
9 x 12 inches 229 × 305 mm
11 x 14 inches 279 × 356 mm
12 x 18 inches 305 × 457 mm
14 x 17 inches 366 × 432 mm
18 x 24 inches 457 × 610 mm

Artists’ sketch pads are also available in common ISO standard paper sizes such as A1 (594 × 841 mm), A2 (420 x 594 mm), A3 (1297 x 420 mm), A4 (210 x 297 mm), and A5 (148 x 210 mm).

Computer Sketch pads. Specialized computer sketch pads are available in a variety of fields. Bio Sketch Pad, developed at University of Pennsylvania, is a modeling and design program created by biologists. A program called, simply, Sketchpad, is a graphical interface for person-computer interaction that circumvents the need for all information to be rendered verbally. Input is given through a light pen, as well as through buttons, dials, and switches, as well as through the keyboard. It has mathematical and scientific applications, as well as being capable of artistic renderings.

The Geometer’s Sketchpad® is another example of a computer sketch pad, this one geared towards education. It is designed to create mathematical sketches such as 3D plotting, dynamic polyhedra models, and knots. Musical Sketch Pad is a tool for interpreting a drawing as musical sounds. Because the drawing tool is not sophisticated, only a rough sketch is possible, so the name "sketch pad" is fitting.

Whiteboards are a particular subset of computer sketch pads with a broad range of business and educational applications. Many whiteboards have a special focus on multi-user input, whether the users are together in one room and saving a diagram or brainstorming session directly from the whiteboard to their computer, or if they’re spread around the world and interacting over the Internet.

Engineers might use sketch pads to map out different construction projects.
Engineers might use sketch pads to map out different construction projects.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


What is a 3-d sketch board?


"Sketchpad" is a computer program written by Ivan Sutherland in 1963.

Sketchpad change the way people interact with computers. Sketchpad is considered to be the ancestor of modern computer-aided drafting (CAD) programs as well as a major breakthrough in the development of computer graphics. For example the Graphic User Interface was derived from the Sketchpad as well as modern object oriented programming. Ivan Sutherland demonstrated with Sketchpad that computer graphics could be used for both artistic and technical purposes in addition to showing a novel method of human-computer interaction.

"Sketch Pad" is a pad of paper.

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