The best charcoal drawing paper will have a slight texture to it, to allow layers of charcoal to adhere. This texture or tooth will cling on to the loose, dusty charcoal particles and enable artists to create beautiful layered drawings.
Another attribute that makes for a great charcoal paper is thickness. With a thicker paper, artists can carry out gestural drawing techniques. In this review, find the best charcoal drawing paper for your practice. Plus find some great sketchbook recommendations and discover what to look out for when selecting the perfect paper.
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Attributes: 60% cotton, 160gsm, 50 colours, acid-free
Canson Mi-Teintes paper is a pulp dyed paper that has a honeycomb texture. It comes in five different formats, sheets, spiral pads, pads, rolls and boards.
The cotton content makes this paper ultra durable and suitable for mixed media applications, such as washes of gouache or even watercolour.
The texture is more rough than other types of paper on this list, so if you want to create the appearance of ultra fine details, look at getting a sanded paper like Pastelmat. However, the advantage of a non-sanded paper is that it won’t eat up the charcoal as quickly, it’s also cheaper. The texture of the paper will show through in the first few layers but can be covered by blending. By picking up the texture of the paper with the dry charcoal, artists can create the illusion of detail.
Canson Mi-Teintes Touch
Attributes: sanded texture, 350gsm, 11 colours, acid-free
Canson Mi-Teintes Touch has a completely different texture to the Canson Mi-Teintes paper. The texture is sanded and micro abrasive, which allows charcoal to grip to the surface. This sanded texture retains charcoal, so artists can complete multiple layered drawings.
This paper is suitable for use with a range of other dry media, like pastels, pastel pencils and sanguine. It comes in sheet and pad format and 11 different tones and colours.
The paper is acid-free, so the paper has a longevity guarantee, which makes it suitable for professional work.
On sanded papers, artists will be able to achieve finer looking details compared to papers with a more prominent texture, for example Canson Mi-Teintes, Ingres paper or Daler Rowney Murano. So if you enjoy using charcoal pencils for details, either this paper or Pastelmat would be a good option. However, due to the abrasive nature of the paper, charcoal will wear down more quickly than when using non-sanded papers.
Attributes: sanded, 360gsm, 10 colours, acid-free, water resistant
Pastelmat paper is a strong favourite amongst pastel artists, but it is the perfect choice for use with all dry media, including charcoal and pencil. Because the paper is water-resistant, artists can paint on the surface with acrylic or gouache.
Pastelmat is thick, like card so it’s perfect for using with more gestural techniques. The sanded surface allows charcoal to adhere so well that it almost completely reduces the need for fixative. Blend multiple layers on the surface, brush powdered charcoal and create fine details with charcoal pencil, all without worrying about the charcoal becoming too dusty or crumbly.
This paper has a sanded texture, but it feels soft to the touch with a velvet feel to it. This means that it’s gentle on charcoal and other blending tools. It’s important to note that on this paper, details look incredibly sharp and in focus, in this way it resembles the properties of smooth papers.
Attributes: velour texture, 10 colours, 260gsm, acid-free
This paper has a wonderfully velvety feel to it. It’s similar to sanded paper in the way the charcoal adheres to the surface while appearing as if it has minimal texture. The unique property of this paper is that details appear soft and out of focus. Compared to Pastelmat that makes details appear sharp, or Canson Mi-Teintes which is harder to render details onto, velour paper will give the charcoal a distinctive look. It’s a great option for portrait pieces that have soft edges and slightly out of focus details.
Another thing to note about this paper is that it’s difficult to smudge charcoal on the paper, however it holds the charcoal well and produces far less dust than other papers. You can mount sheets, or get the paper in board format to provide extra surface stability when working.
Strathmore Charcoal Drawing Paper
Attributes: laid finish, 8 colours, 95gsm, 100% cotton, acid-free
The Strathmore Charcoal Drawing Paper has a traditional laid finish which is slightly smoother than vellum. Subtle lines crossing the surface brings a unique look to charcoal drawings. The paper is much thinner compared to most others on this list, but it still provides adequate thickness for charcoal drawing techniques.
This paper, while having a slight texture, will still provide artists with excellent shading and value control. Strathmore Charcoal Drawing Paper comes in two different types, 500 and 300. The 300 series comes in a natural white colour and in wirebound pads and rolls, then the 500 series comes in a range of tones and tints and in wirebound pads and sheet formats.
Attributes: 250gsm, cold pressed paper, acid-free
Stonehenge papers are high quality, artist grade, thick paper with a fine even grain. Paper feels smooth to draw onto, but has enough tooth to allow layers to adhere properly.
This is a great option for gestural drawings and expressionist pieces, but you will also be able to create intricate, detailed elements.
This paper is on the expensive side, but if you have the budget for it and if you enjoy trying out different art supplies, it’s worth it to feel the quality of this paper. It’s Ph neutral, acid-free and archival quality. The paper is actually designed for use with watercolour, so if you like using mixed media, or liquid charcoal alongside gouache, watercolour or acrylics, this could be the perfect option.
Strathmore Bristol Board Vellum
Attributes: Vellum texture, 270gsm, acid-free
Strahtmore Bristol Board comes in two different finishes, smooth and vellum. The smooth finish is not suitable for use with charcoal, whereas the vellum variety has adequate texture. Vellum texture consists of tiny peaks and valleys that grips to the charcoal, allowing for more layering and deeper shading.
The vellum paper is available in sheets, rolls and pads. Bristol board paper is thick, so it provides a strong durable surface to use multiple gestural techniques on.
Attributes: Sanded texture, panel format, 4 colours, acid-free, use with wet and dry media
Ampersand Pastelbord panels are museum quality, archival and a brilliant option for artists wanting a durable surface for multilayered, polished looking pieces.
The board format means that artists won’t need to mount paper before starting the drawing. Prop the board up at an easel without the need for extra surface support and use gestural techniques. The board is warp-resistant and won’t tear, compared to thinner ingres papers that are more flimsy.
Pastelbord panels are on the pricey side, but the quality board format adds another dimension to the work. These panels are water resistant, so you can use mixed media techniques, for example using a watercolour wash to tone the board before drawing.
The coating of Pastelbord is made from clay and gesso, with a marble dust finish. This makes for a toothy surface, that holds more layers of charcoal than paper.
Daler Rowney Murano
Attributes: dimpled texture, 45% cotton, 165gsm, 35 colours, acid-free
This paper has a distinctive dimpled texture and comes in a rainbow of 35 bright colours. Choose a neutral shade of brown or grey to create muted portraits, or go for a bright red or blue colour to bring contrast and vibrancy to your work. Although this paper is thinner than some of the others on the list, the cotton fibres make it a durable option.
The best sketchbook for charcoal drawing
Sketchbooks for mixed media and watercolour paper are great for charcoal drawing. Make sure to use a fixative to prevent the charcoal from smudging onto the next page. Stillman and Birn sketchbooks come in a variety of different formats. They come in wire bound, softcover and hardcover books. This brand gives artists the option of paper weight and texture too, however all sketchbooks have incredibly durable pages.
The Beta series has 270gsm cold pressed pages, suitable for watercolour and dry media. The Gamma series is another great choice for charcoal, with ivory coloured pages, a medium grain texture and 150gsm thickness.
What’s the most budget-friendly paper for charcoal drawing?
Sheets of laid, ingres or honeycomb textured uncoated papers are usually cheapest. Get a large sheet and cut it to size yourself. For example, sheets of Canson Mi-Teintes papers usually cost around $2.29 each. Strathmore Charcoal paper is also really cheap at around $1.84 for a 19”x25” sheet. If you buy in bulk from suppliers like Blick, you can get a reduced price per item.
Sanded papers and boards are usually more expensive, so they are suited for final pieces that you plan on keeping or selling rather than practice work. Getting a sketchbook is a great way to track drawing progress and make composition sketches. The Stillman and Birn Gamma series sketchbooks start at around $10.35 and each contain 46 sheets of premium paper.
If you’re new to charcoal drawing and you’re not sure what supplies to get, check out our guides on the best charcoal for artists, the complete list of charcoal art supplies and the difference between charcoal and graphite. For a complete beginner’s charcoal drawing guide, read the blog.
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