Art Paper Terms and Uses

Art paperBy Alina Bradford

Learn How to Find the Right Paper for Your Art

Art paper uses and terms defined. Learn the difference between cold and hot press, what lbs. and archival means, and how to pick the right paper for you.

Do you still have art from your childhood? Chances are, the art you made so proudly back then is now faded, crackled, and/or torn. The right paper affects how long your art will last and how nice it looks at conception. It is important to understand how the choice of your paper effects your art so that you can choose the best one for your medium. Here are some terms and definitions to set you on the right course.

The first term deals with a paper’s permanence:

Archival: This means that your paper is acid free or has an even PH balance.

Remember the childhood art I mentioned before? The reason it probably looks the way it does is because the paper was not archival. Papers that are usually not archival are student art paper, construction paper, and newsprint. The acid in these papers will, over time, make it brittle, yellow, or fade.

To find out if your paper is archival, simply take a look at the packaging. Most papers these days tout the fact that they are archival. If your paper still doesn’t, Google the company that makes it and read up about the paper at their website.

The next terms deal with a paper’s durability and usefulness to a particular medium.

Colored Pencil on cold pressed paperLbs.: Lbs. = pounds. This is a term that defines how thick and durable a paper is. For example, a 300 lb. paper is much more durable than a 100 lb. paper. The higher the number the more absorbent the paper.

How did this term come about? Art paper is usually sold in pound weights that correspond to how much a ream, which is about 500 sheets, weighs. For example, a 300 lb. ream of paper would weigh around 300 pounds.

Papers usually come in these levels of weight: 90, 140, 200, 300, and 400 pounds.

300 lb. paper is usually a good choice for water mediums and pastels. It is very durable and is very absorbent. Many artist choose a lower weight for drawing media or if they desire their paint to stay more on the topside of the paper so that is more workable or for purely visual reasons. Paper less than  300 lbs. should be stretched by stapling, taping, or pinning it to a sturdy surface before painting on it because it may warp when wet.

Drawing on hot pressed paper.
Drawing on hot pressed paper.

Hot Pressed: This is just like it sounds. The paper is pressed with heat to make it very smooth. Hot pressed paper lends itself to drawing mediums or watercolor where detail is needed.

Cold Pressed: Cold pressed paper, on the other hand, is quite rough. This paper is good for mediums that require “tooth” or roughness to grab the pigment, such as pastel. Watercolorists also use cold pressed sheets when they want a more uneven, grainy look to their paintings.

Sanded Paper: This paper looks a lot like sandpaper that is used to smooth wood. It has a definite grit that is usually made by the manufacturer adding vegetable grain to give the paper some tooth. Using vegetable grain is a good way to keep the paper archival.

Many artists also try their hand at making their own sanded paper by covering hot pressed watercolor paper with archival adhesive and gluing fine, clean sand to the surface.

Sanded paper is used exclusively by pastel artist. The very pronounced tooth allows thick layers of pastel without having to use fixative. The more tooth the paper has the more pastel layers can be put down.

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