It’s common for it to take some experimentation for pastel artists to find a paper that works for their techniques and practice. However, pastel paper is expensive, so if you want to cut out the experimentation process and find the best pastel paper for you straight away, read this review of 11 pastel papers.
If you’re relatively new to pastel painting and you’re not sure what the difference between velour, sanded and ingres is, skip to the bottom of this article first to learn about paper textures and how they can affect your drawing. The different textures of papers give vastly different pastel painting experiences and results.
To get the best results from your pastel artworks, make sure that the paper has some kind of ‘tooth’, or surface texture that allows layers of pastel to adhere. In contrast, if you tried to paint on smooth paper with pastels, it would likely not accept multiple layers of colour.
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Attributes: coated, sanded texture, 360gsm, 14 colours, acid-free, archival, use with dry and wet media
This paper is excellent for layering colour and creating fine details. The sanded texture coating, which is made from cellulose fibres, holds on to pigment, allowing artists to create separate looking colour layers with even the softest pastels with ease. Pastelmat is on the pricey side, but is the go-to for artists who want to create many layers and reduces the need for fixative.
Many realist artists, especially colour pencil artists gravitate towards this paper, due to the unparalleled ability to render sharp, fine details, in comparison to other pastel papers.
This paper is thick like card, but it also comes in a 1.8mm board format, which provides extra surface stability. This can be useful, especially if you work with soft pastels at an easel. Working straight onto a board also means you don’t have to mount the artwork.
The paper feels soft and is gentle on pastel tools, such as sponges. Pastelmat’s coating is water resistant, so artists can paint with wet media.
When working on pastelmat, especially if you are working with extra soft pastels, start with a light touch. This will enable you to maximise the layering potential of the paper. If you shade with heavy pressure from the first layer, you will fill up the tooth of the paper quickly.
Attributes: coated, velour texture, 260gsm, 10 colours, dry media only, archival quality
Velour texture is extra soft, velvety and some artists even describe it as fluffy. When painting with pastel on this paper, marks can appear loose, painterly, and slightly out of focus. It is possible to achieve sharp lines, but they won’t appear as instantly sharp as they would on a sanded paper like Pastelmat. Hahnemühle Velour paper also comes in a board format, which provides extra surface stability.
This paper holds pastel well, better than any other paper on this list. The dust produced from soft pastels is considerably less. This also means that pastels are resistant to smudging on the paper. The fact that pastels smudge less is an attribute liked by some artists and disliked by others, it depends on personal preferences. When using this pastel paper, make sure to start with thin layers of pastel and slowly build pressure.
The paper is thinner in weight than the sanded papers on this list. You will need to mount sheets, especially larger sheets so that they are thick enough to withstand gestural techniques. Hahnemuhle paper is coated with polyester fibres that have been applied with a glue that isn’t water or alcohol resistant. So this paper isn’t suitable to use with wet media.
Canson Mi-Teintes Touch
Attributes: coated, sanded texture, 350gsm, 10 colours, archival
The texture is manufactured by screen printing sanded primer which provides artists with excellent layering ability. Canson Mi-Teintes Touch comes in a range of cool greys, warm greys, blues, brown and black papers for drawing to suit a range of subjects and preferences. The surface is sanded, so the adhesion of pigments is excellent, meaning colours will look bright and pop out of the page. Rendering details is easier than on other types of pastel paper, such as ingres or velour. Choose this paper for fine detail work, colour pencil or dry pastels.
The coating is resistant to small amounts of water and alcohol and it’s not advised to scrub water into the surface. Artists can use mixed media on this paper, but Pastelmat is more suited to working with mixed media. This paper has more tooth than Pastelmat, you don’t need to apply much pressure at all for the colour to be released onto the paper. This means fewer layers are required to build colours and achieve vibrant, rich effects.
Sennelier Pastel Card
Attributes: coated, sanded texture, 360gsm, 14 colours, use with dry media only, archival
This paper is made from Bristol board, with a fine coating of pigment and powdered cork. The surface looks soft, but slightly more gritty than Pastelmat. It will take more layers to cover the texture of the paper compared to Pastelmat. Similar to other sanded papers, the paper shines in its ability to maintain the appearance of fine lines and details.
Sennelier Pastel Card is not water or alcohol resistant, if you accidentally spill water on the surface, make sure not to touch it until it has dried, that way you will avoid damaging the coating.
Despite the toothy grain of the surface, it feels soft to the touch, so you can work pastel in with your fingers without it feeling abrasive. Artists can create wonderfully smooth blends on Sennelier Pastel Card with both fingers and tools. The tooth decreases the need for fixative and the pigment on the coating on the surface has excellent lightfastness.
Art Spectrum Colourfix
Attributes: coated, sanded, 340gsm, 20 colours, use with wet and dry media, archival
Colourfix primer is screenprinted onto 300gsm hot pressed watercolour paper. The primer contains silica, which gives the paper its gritty tooth. Artists can buy the paper in three surface finishes, original which has a medium tooth, smooth and rough.
The texture of the paper feels more gritty than Pastelmat or Mi-Teintes touch. With several layers of application, the texture of the paper will still be visible. It’s more similar in texture to Sennelier Pastel Card. However, this paper is water and alcohol resistant, so you can use it for mixed media applications. Art Spectrum offer a fantastic range of colours, from storm blue to soft umber. So you can get creative working on coloured grounds.
Attributes: non-sanded/ non-coated, honeycomb texture, 160gsm, 50 colours, mixed media
This paper has a completely different texture compared to the Canson Mi-Teintes Touch and it is also available in board format. The Canson Mi-Teintes has a soft vellum texture on one side and a honeycomb or dimpled texture on the other. It is a pulp dyed paper that contains 60% cotton, it can be used with a multitude of different media, such as pastel, pencil, charcoal, gouache, watercolour and sanguine. It is also a popular paper amongst crafters.
Fabriano Tiziano Pastel Paper
Attributes: non-sanded/ non-coated, ingres texture, 160gsm, 5 colours, dry and wet media
This is a heavyweight acid-free ingres paper, containing a high cotton rag content (40%) that has a high archival permanence. Ingres papers are often much cheaper than coated papers, the Fabriano Tiziano pastel paper is an excellent quality option.
The texture is grainy and rough and takes layers of soft pastel, oil pastel, charcoal, gouache and acrylic. This paper is especially good for pigment absorption. It takes more layers to build colour, which requires more time and patience compared to when working on a paper like Pastelmat or Mi-Teintes Touch, but that is to be expected for a non-saneded, cheaper ingres paper.
Attributes: ⅛” hardboardboard, coated, sanded finish, 4 colours, dry and wet media
This surface is an excellent choice for those who want their pastel surface to come mounted, ready for framing. The board is extra sturdy, meaning you can work at an easel, with the board propped upright, without having to undertake the extra step of mounting. This is especially useful for mediums like soft pastel.
The panels are archival, museum quality and coated with gesso and ground marble dust. Pastelbord panels have an excellent tooth to them, which grip on to pastel and pencil better than the ingres and honeycomb textured papers on the list. This board can also be used with mixed media and wet media techniques, it’s suitable for use with acrylic and casein too.
UART Pastel Paper
Attributes: coated, sanded 300gsm, 2 colours, alcohol and water resistant
This is a premium sanded paper that comes in four different grades: 400, 500, 600 and 800. The 800 grade has the finest grit surface and the 400 paper has the coarsest grit. If you want a paper that you can blend easily with your finger, go for the 800 grit, as the others won’t be suitable for this technique.
The coating is water and alcohol resistant, so artists can use both wet and dry media on the paper. Pastel artists may have to mount or tape this paper to a board, as the sheets tend to have a natural curve.
The dark range of UART pastel paper is fantastic deep black, that is acid-free and ph-neutral. UART paper has a durable surface that accepts multiple layers, meaning artists can refine colours and build details. The surface has a consistent finish, which makes artworks appear flawless. The 800 grit surface is especially suited to fine detail work, it will make lines appear crisp and sharp.
Attributes: uncoated, ingres (laid) texture, 100gsm, 9 colours
The ribbed ingres texture of the paper is what gives it its tooth. It’s one of the most lightweight pastel papers. The cellulose fibres are durable and withstand reworking and correcting areas of pastel. Made from a cylinder mould in Germany, the papers come in an assortment of colours and formats. The paper is on the cheaper side, so it’s great for artists on a budget or practice work.
Daler Rowney Murano
Attributes: uncoated, unsanded, dimpled texture, 160gsm, 35 colours, wet and dry media
This paper comes in a rainbow of colours, choose a bright red or bright orange as a base to bring vibrance to a drawing. The paper is made from 45% cotton fibres, which gives it durability, allowing artists to layer and rework sections of pastel. Murano paper is inexpensive, but also acid-free, making it the perfect choice for professional work if you choose. Create wonderful blends with hard pastel, soft pastel, charcoal, pencil and even acrylic or gouache.
What makes a good pastel paper?
The best pastel paper for your art practice should have two things: adequate tooth to allow pastel to adhere and good thickness to provide surface stability. A paper with ‘tooth’ will accept more pastel layers and reduce the need for fixatives.
To ensure that pastel paper will last rather than colours fading, or paper fibres degrading over time, make sure that it is lightfast and acid-free. For example, Hahnemühle Lanacolours pastel paper in black is not acid-free.
Pastel paper surface texture
Ingres paper texture has a subtle uniform grid pattern embossed in the surface. Lots of different brands produce their version of ingres paper, such as Hahnemuhle and Fabriano Tiziano.
Ingres papers are cheaper and thinner than other types of paper. However, it is easy to blend and move pastels around to achieve vivid marks. Use the surface texture with the edge of a pastel or pencil to denote areas of texture in the drawing.
This type of paper, although cheaper, won’t take as many layers of pastel as readily as other textures like sanded surfaces. The ridges in the paper texture will show through after multiple layers, so it’s difficult to achieve a smooth finish with pastels alone. To blend pigment into the texture of the paper, to cover up the ridges and achieve a smoother finish, you will need to use additional blending tools, such as tortillions, sponges or dedicated blending tools like Sofft tools made by PanPastel.
Achieving hard edges and fine detail is tricky with this paper, but if you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive paper that you can create loose painterly styles and you like the idea of having surface texture to work with, this could be a good option.
The paper is great for achieving a soft, blended appearance with pastel, but problems can occur working dark to light, as colours blend into one another rather than sitting in separate layers. When working with ingres paper, try to apply colour directly to the paper as you see it from the reference, rather than working dark to light or light to dark in layers.
One of the most popular pastel papers, Canson Mi-Teintes, has a honeycomb texture. This paper is fairly similar to ingres, in that it has a subtle surface texture that allows colours to adhere. Where ingres has more of a grid pattern, the shapes of the ridges on honeycomb paper are more rounded and pitted. These papers are more expensive than ingres, but they are still more affordable than sanded papers. Just as with ingres paper, blending feels like a dream, but the paper will accept limited colour layers before colours start to blend into one another.
Most ingres and honeycomb papers will have more subtle textures on the reverse side, however the texture is what gives the paper its grip and adhesion. If you want to achieve loose painterly effects, this paper could be a great option.
Sanded surfaces like Pastelmat, Pastelbord, Mi-Teintes Touch have gritty textures, with tooth that acts a little like fine sandpaper, in the way that pencil rubs off onto the surface. However sanded pastel paper is far smoother, less harsh and archival quality compared to decorator’s sandpaper.
Pastel and pencil will essentially grip to the surface of sanded paper. This can make it more difficult to move pastels and pencils around compared to the loose movements artists can achieve on ingres or honeycomb paper. Use the lightest touch when using this variety of paper. It’s recommended to start with ultra light layers of pastel, then slowly increase the pressure to optimise the layering and blending potential of the paper.
Colours look brightest on sanded surfaces compared to other papers. The other benefits are that sanded surfaces allow for more layers of colour that sit separately from one another, which enables artists to create sharper lines and more intense details. It also gives artists the option to work from dark to light if they choose.
Sanded papers are on the expensive side compared to ingres paper. They also eat up pastels and coloured pencils fast, which is why pastel appears so saturated on the surface. So if you work on sanded paper alone, expect pastels to last for fewer drawings than if you were using ingres or honeycomb.
Colours are smudgeable and blending is easy with the right techniques on this paper. If you work in a realistic style, sanded papers are potentially the best option, due to the ability to create details.
Velour papers like Hahnemühle Velour have a soft velvety feel to them. They are the most expensive type of paper. It’s a wonderfully unique paper, that has the softest texture. If you want to create out of focus effects and be suggestive with textures, velour would be a great option. Sanded papers like Pastelmat shine in their ability to accommodate sharp details, but with velour paper, artworks will look soft in appearance.
The fluffy velour texture is made from a coating of fine polyester fibres. Compared to papers like ingres, it’s much harder to smudge pastel across the paper. Pigments pretty much stay put where you draw with them.
Best soft pastel paper
Every soft pastel artist will have their own individual preferences. If you choose dimpled, honeycomb or ingres papers, you will be able to achieve wonderful mixed media artworks and drawings that appear loose and painterly in style with visible texture. Artists can use the texture of the paper to emulate the impression of details. With uncoated and unsanded papers, expect the paper to accept fewer layers and create more dust. However, soft pastels which are delicate and wear down quickly will last longer on unsanded papers like ingres compared to sanded papers which eat up pastel quickly.
Artists that want to achieve fine details, crisp lines, more colour layers should opt for a sanded paper like Canson Mi-Teintes Touch or Pastelmat. Sanded papers will prevent dust from falling off the paper too, as long as it’s pressed in with a sponge tool, or sheet of glassine paper. Velour paper creates the least dust and gives pastels a wonderful soft appearance. Sanded and coated papers are often thick, like card, which makes them more durable when it comes to accepting gestural techniques.
Some artists will prefer buying pastel boards that come mounted, rather than mounting themselves. It feels logical to work with a board propped at an easel with soft pastel, as dust will fall beneath the easel rather than smudge across the drawing.
Best paper for coloured pencils
Coloured pencils are suited to papers with fine tooth, like Pastelmat and Canson Mi-Teintes Touch paper. Artists working with coloured pencils often aim to achieve fine lines and details, which look crisp and sharp on fine tooth sanded papers. Pastelmat feels so smooth, it’s hard to believe it has as much tooth as other pastel papers, but it will hold multiple colour layers beautifully.
Toned pastel paper
Using toned paper for coloured pencil and pastel drawings can bring a few benefits to your practice and make the drawing process more efficient. When working on portraits, the paper can act as a mid tone colour, saving artists time in filling in these areas with pastel themselves. This works especially well when completing monochromatic drawings. Working on a mid tone can also help the artist determine value relationships more easily. All papers on this list come in a variety of tones and colours.
Best pastel paper for mixed media
A water and alcohol resistant paper will work best for mixed media applications. Some coated papers, such as Hahnemuhle Velour are unsuitable for mixed media use, as even the slightest bit of water can ruin the coated texture.
Coated papers that will accept washes of water and alcohol include: Pastelmat, Colourfix, Pastelbord.
Uncoated papers, especially those that contain cotton fibres are well suited for wet and dry media applications. For example, if you wanted to create a watercolour painting, then draw over with washes of soft pastel, a thick, ingres paper would be the perfect choice. The best papers for mixed media pastel art are: Canson Mi-Teintes, Fabriano Tiziano, Daler Rowney Murano.
How to draw on pastel paper
To draw with soft pastel, to avoid dust from collecting on the surface, mount it and then prop it up at an easel with a dust cover beneath. When using soft pastel, especially on sanded or velour paper, make sure to rub or press excess pastel into the paper to avoid pastel dust.
Work lightly at first, with a delicate touch, then gradually build pressure applied to the pastel slightly with consecutive layers. Very little pressure is required to impart pastel onto the paper. If you want to make a more vibrant mark, apply a little more pressure.
Check out our guide on coloured pencil techniques to learn how to create beautiful pastel pencil drawings.
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