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A Review of Art Paper Terms and Types: What are the Best Paper Types for Artists?

Paper surface is affected by a number of different factors. The type of fiber used to make the paper, the moulding or manufacturing process, whether made by machine or by hand, and screens used in finishing the process. Surface texture is referred to as "tooth". Tooth is determined by the texture of the screens used in the process. Let's review some paper terms and uses:
1. Acid-Free---paper made with a neutral PH giving it higher resistance to yellowing and becoming brittle over time.
2. Grammage---the weight of the paper measured in grams per square meter of paper (gsm). The higher the grammage of paper the more it can endure coats of paint or amounts of water.
3. Pounds (lbs.)---the weight of the paper measured in 500 sheets (ream) of a particular size. For example, standard 22"x30" ream of watercolor paper that weights 300 lbs. is a 300 lb. paper. Even if that paper is in larger than standard sheets and weighs much more, because a standard 22"x30" ream weighs 300 lbs., it is still a 300 lb. paper.
4. Hot Press (HP)---paper that has been "ironed" by going through steel rollers. This creates a very smooth surface preferred by artists doing detail work in ink, graphite, or markers, for example. Used by portrait artists.
5. Cold Press (CP)---sometimes referred to as "Not" meaning it has not been pressed by warm rollers. This paper has a light texture and is the paper surface most used by artists. The 140 1b. and 300 lb. weights work well for watercolor and printmaking.
6. Laid---Laid papers have a very subtle line texture created by the manufacturing process. Ideal for softer mediums such as graphite, colored pencils, charcoal, and pastels.
7. Rough---papers that are close to some handmade papers with a heavy textured surface. It produces textural qualities in drawing, pastels, and charcoal valued by some artists.
8. Vellum---very smooth surface found in bristol board and papers and tracing papers. Excellent for highly detailed drawings.
9. Deckle edges---the untrimmed and irregular edges of machine-made papers that are made to look like traditional handmade papers.
Papers made by hand produce unpredictable and uneven textures that are desired by many artists. Fibers and plant materials can be pressed into the paper during its production that creates interesting visual effects and possibilities. The most common handmade paper is made with 100% cotton fibers. These papers have good resilience and can absorb water well making them good for watercolor, acrylics, and ink washes.
Machine-made papers are moulded on rollers and are less expensive than most handmade papers. They also tend to be smoother and depending on certain types of rollers, the papers are quite smooth and less expensive.
The heavier papers like 140lb and 300lb take water well and are good for watercolor and washes as well as printmaking. Some artists also prefer to draw on the smoother surfaced papers in these heavy weights like vellum or smooth finishes. Lighter weight papers like 90lb and under work well for most drawing needs in pencil, charcoal, markers, etc.
Quality papers made by Strathmore, Winsor & Newton, Arches, Canson, and Stonehenge, to name a few, are readily available both in pad and sheet form in better art supply stores.
You can see many of these papers in sheets as well as pads in our store in Hamilton, Ohio.


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