Cathleen Lengyel > Scribbles > Artist Help > Basics > My Paper Has Teeth?

My Paper Has Teeth?

Well, sort of… When talking about paper, many times artists will refer to the “tooth” of the paper.  What they are referring to is the texture of the paper.  All paper has some sort of texture to it, ranging from incredibly small and smooth to heavy texture.  The type of medium you are using will help you to decide the “tooth” of paper you should be using. What we’ll be talking about today is the type of tooth needed for graphite drawing.  

First, let’s talk about graphite.

Graphite is a crystalline form of carbon which occurs in both metamorphic and igneous rocks.  Synthetic graphite can be made by heating carbon based materials. Synthetic graphite has a higher purity (99%) than naturally occurring graphite.  Graphite is also used as a lubricant due to it’s slippery texture.  This is important to note when working in graphite. Fun side note: graphite can also conduct electricity! Because of graphite’s slippery nature, it will not adhere well to a smooth surface.  You’ll have significant trouble trying to create fine detail and layering will be a near impossible challenge.   Working with graphite you need a paper with a little tooth to it.  Copier paper and other similar papers are not recommended as they have little to no tooth. TIP:  NEVER touch your paper with your hands or blend with your fingers!  Why?  The natural oils on your hands will adhere to the paper and when covered with graphite you’ll see your fingerprints, hand-prints, or smudges!  

Now, let’s talk paper.

When it comes to making lasting drawings, paper is not “just paper.”  There are many factors that go into choosing the best paper for your work and for someone new to drawing it can be quite confusing. Some of the things you’ll hear or see and need to know are:
  • Acid Free
  • PH Neutral
  • Archival
  • Weight / pounds
Acid Free:  This means exactly what it says, the paper is free of acid.  The pulp used in the processing of the paper is at least 7.0 (neutral) or higher on the PH scale. PH Neutral:  It is the same as “Acid Free.”  Some companies choose to mark the packaging of their products with both statements. Archival:  Archival papers will stand the test of time. While most acid free papers will last 20 – 50 years with no yellowing or deterioration, archival papers should last 100+ years.  Archival papers very different from other types of papers because they are made from cotton rag, not wood pulp.  Archival papers have strict restrictions on how they are made.  They do not use any type of brighteners to whiten the paper, limit on metallics and no ground wood. Weight/Pounds:  When you see the weight printed on the packaging of papers it is referring to the overall weight of a ream of paper (500 sheets at a predetermined size).  Generally speaking sketch books and sketching paper weigh under 60lbs.  Drawing paper is much heavier, many are over 90lbs. When it comes to how long your drawing will last, weight is an important factor along with PH, .  Also, heavier weight drawing papers will stand up to numerous layers of graphite and also numerous times of erasing.  
What I Use
What I like at the moment are both the Canson and Strathmore brands of drawing paper.  Canson Foundation drawing paper seems to have a bit less tooth than the Strathmore 400 & 500 series drawing papers.  I especially like the Canson Foundation drawing papers for doing human portraits. Larger tooth papers are not recommended for graphite because the rough texture will make it difficult to get details.  It’s also quite difficult to render smooth subjects on rough textured paper.  The larger tooth papers are a better option for working in charcoal.  

Other Terms You May Hear

Lastly there are four other words you’ll come across when looking for the right paper.  They are:
  • Bristol Plate (smooth)
  • Bristol Vellum
  • Hot Press
  • Cold Press
  Bristol refers to heavyweight drawing paper that is a strong, stiff surface.  Bristol Plate (smooth) papers are excellent choices for things like ink, but not good for graphite. Bristol Vellum refers to Bristol paper which has a more tooth than the smooth.  Vellum is a good surface for working with graphite. Hot Press / Cold Press are terms normally associated with watercolor paper and refers again to the “tooth” or texture created during the manufacturing process.

Hot Press papers are created using, just as it sounds, heated rollers pressing the paper as it is produced.  The process flattens and smooths out the paper, creating very little tooth. Cold Press papers are rolled between cold metal rollers which leaves the paper with more tooth/rough texture.

That’s a quick overview of the basics when it comes to papers.   Until next time… Keep Creating!  
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