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What Is Sketch Paper?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated Feb 01, 2024
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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. Some paper is multi-media, and some is specialized for a particular medium, such as marker sketchbooks. In addition, there are specialty sketchpads: for example, 3M® makes a Post-It® sketch pad with a self-stick backing for instant hanging.

Surface. The tooth of sketch paper, along with the weight, determines whether the paper is multi-purpose or designed to fit a specific group of media or a particular artistic medium. A smooth surface is geared towards 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.

Weight. Paper 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 this method to describe sketch paper. To be sure of what you’re getting, 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). With this measurement system, it is much easier to see what sketch paper means:

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

Sometimes, the division between tissue paper and textweight paper is given as 40 gsm, rather than 35 gsm. This type of paper ranges from 65 gsm to 120 gsm, that is, from weights in the lighter textweight paper range up to the borderline of regular cardstock. If you can find the gsm measurement, you may have an easier time determining which paper that will work best for you.

Types of Sketch Paper. Sketch paper is supplied in several forms, including pads, rolls, sheets, and books.

Pads and Rolls. 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. Paper rolls are available in canary color, which is favored for technical drawing, as well as white, and in a lightweight paper that can double as tracing paper.

Sheets. Large, unbound sheets of paper are often geared more towards finished work than sketching applications. One finds in this group watermarked and colored paper, deckle edges, handmade paper, and other signs of quality and style that may not be best for sketching.

Sketchbooks. The style of paper that a particular artist uses may have something to do with the circumstances in which the paper will be used. For example, there are specially prepared field sketchbooks that are meant to be able to go anywhere, as well as both spiral-bound and book-bound sketchbooks. Sketchbooks are often marketed as multi-purpose books for art, written notes, sketching, and more finished work. Some feature a combination of lined and blank paper, while others have a grid, and a variety of bindings suit them for different milieu.

Typical Sizes of Sketchbooks: Typical Sizes of Sketchpads:
5 x 7 inches127 x 128 mm8.5 x 11 inches216 × 279 mm
6 x 4 inches152 x 102 mm9 x 12 inches229 × 305 mm
6 x 6 inches152 x 152 mm11 x 14 inches279 × 356 mm
7 x 10 inches178 x 254 mm12 x 18 inches305 × 457 mm
9 x 12 inches228 × 305 mm14 x 17 inches366 × 432 mm
11 x 14 inches279 × 366 mm18 x 24 inches457 × 610 mm

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) are also available for the various types of sketch paper.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for WiseGeek, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
Discussion Comments
By anon113698 — On Sep 25, 2010

I have no idea how old these comments are, but it seems to me like a very bad idea to use isometric paper for learning to draw 3D shapes in an art (not engineering) context, because real 3D objects don't actually look like that. Students learning in this way would produce drawings that looked more like technical drawings than the real world, and I can't see how this would lead to anything but frustration. It certainly wouldn't teach them to depict reality.

By Planch — On Sep 09, 2010

I always like to use the black paper sketch books for my drawings -- it just has a better feel to it, and for some reason I always find that the sketch paper texture is better in the ones that have black covers.

Of course, this could be because black paper sketch books are often slightly more expensive, but I'm willing to pony up for the look and the texture.

By lightning88 — On Sep 09, 2010

There's a specialized kind of sketch paper called isometric sketch paper.

It's mostly used for engineering, and it's different from normal sketch paper because it's got almost a honeycomb pattern.

Engineers use it to get a better sense of dimensionality in their work.

Of course, some art classes have students use it too, especially if they are trying to teach them how to draw 3d shapes.

My daughter even had a geometry class that required her to buy isometric sketch paper.

Things have come a long way from when you could just send them off with a pack of notebook filler paper and a few pencils...

By pleats — On Sep 09, 2010

When buying a sketch pad paper for a kid's art class, is it OK to just buy that sketch book filler paper, rather than the fancy kind?

I really hate to shell out ten dollars on a sketch pad for a fifth grader...

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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