Artists have a wealth of tools at their disposal to create amazing and magical art pieces. It’s important to pair these tools with the right art surface for them to really shine. One of our favorite surfaces is the sketchbook because of its portability and convenience–not to mention it keeps all your art in one place. Sketchbooks come in all sorts of sizes, paper weights, bindings, and more. We’re here to help you pick out the best one that suits your needs, so keep reading to see some of our favorites.
From top to bottom: drawing pen, alcohol-based marker, colored pencil, brush pen, pencil, watercolor palette
The tool an artist uses to draw or sketch with is called a medium. A medium can be dry (such as a graphite pencil or colored pencil) or wet (such as a brush pen, marker, drawing pen, or paint). Dry media do well on most papers, while wet media should be used on stronger, heavier paper. Knowing the medium you will use will help determine the appropriate sketchbook for your application.
Weight and Size
Large (left) and small (right) sketchbook
Paper weight is an important consideration–it is often the difference between a wrinkled, crumpled mess or a polished piece. While some brands use pounds (lbs) to delineate paper weight, we prefer using grams per square meter (gsm) because imperial weight (lbs) is more difficult to define and may be inconsistent. The higher the number of gsm, the thicker and sturdier the paper.
Sketchbooks also range in size and number of pages. Small pocket sketchbooks are nice for carrying around with you, while larger sketchbooks give artists a bigger canvas to work and be creative with. Sketchbooks with fewer pages are also easier to carry. There are also artists who prefer having as much paper as possible in their sketchbooks.
Binding and Cover
Hardcover with binding (left) and softcover without binding (right)
How durable a sketchbook is often depends on its binding and cover. Glue binding is a standard style since you can tear pages out cleanly. Another popular style is book-type sketchbooks using thread bindings. Some sketchbooks come in spiral or twin-ring bindings. Artists may prefer these bindings since they lay flat and don’t hinder the drawing process. If you like these binding styles but want to be able to tear pages out easily, look for sketchbooks that have perforated pages.
For artists who keep sketchbooks as part of a portfolio, a hard cover can lengthen the lifespan of a sketchbook. An elastic closure on your sketchbook also helps protect the artwork inside.
Material and Finish
Textured (left) versus smooth (right) paper
Most sketchbooks use paper made of wood pulp, which is processed to produce smooth to rough textures. Some sketchbooks use specialty paper made of cotton–thick cotton paper is ideal for watercolors as it’s more durable, while thin cotton paper makes wonderful tracing paper.
There are a variety of terms that can be used to describe texture, including hot press or plate for smooth papers, and cold press or toothy for rough papers.
Smooth papers are ideal for drawings with sharp edges and fine details. However, they may make drawings look washed out because it is difficult to transfer color to smooth paper. Toothy papers produce textured drawings with vibrant colors, but may leave gaps in the drawing due to the rough surface.
To protect their drawings, artists should look for paper that is acid-free. Drawing on acid-free papers allows the art to keep its true colors for a long time. Paper color also differs across sketchbooks. The most common colors are white, off-white, and ivory. Some specialty sketchbooks may feature dark beige, tan, or even gray paper.
Now that we’ve gone through the different considerations, let’s take a look at our recommendations for various media, pocket sketchbooks, and more.
Artists don’t limit themselves to one medium–using several different media can help create depth and dimension in an art piece. We carry several sketchbooks that are designed to take different media and can handle just about anything. Beginners can also take advantage of these versatile sketchbooks as they figure out what kind of media or paper they prefer.
Top Choice: Canson XL Mix Media Pad
Products Used: Copic Sketch Markers, Uni Arterase Color Pencils, Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors, Holbein Watercolor Tubes, Sakura Decorese White Gel Pen, Uni Signo Sparkling Gel Pens, and Zebra Disposable Brush Pen.
As its name suggests, this all-around, medium-weight sketchbook has a smooth and rough side to be used with many types of media. The perforated pages make it easy to take out pages and the large 9” x 12” size gives artists ample space to work their magic.
Also Consider: Stillman & Birn Zeta Sketchbook
Products Used: Prismacolor Premier Color Pencils and Staedtler Mars Lumograph Graphite Pencils.
Stillman & Birn make a wide array of specialized papers for sketching, and the Zeta sketchbook is our favorite for all-purpose use. With its heavy weight and smooth finish, this sketchbook lends itself well to almost any media. The sketchbook shown has a nice hardcover, but a smaller, softcover version is also available.
Recommendations for Dry Media
Dry media will work on most surfaces, but we recommend choosing a relatively smooth paper with some tooth. If the paper is too smooth, the pencil will streak; if it is too rough, the pencil will skip. Graphite pencils work best on paper with a bit of texture, since they catch the graphite and separate it from the pencil lead. On the other hand, colored pencils generally draw better and have superior color payoff on smoother paper.
Top Choice: Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook
Products Used: Uni Arterase Color Pencils, Prismacolor Premier Color Pencils, and Pentel Pocket Brush Pen.
The Alpha sketchbook is a joy to use with graphite and colored pencils. It has a mild tooth that gives pencils good pigmentation. It’s heavier than most sketchbooks have to be for dry media, but this makes it versatile as you can use it with light washes of ink or watercolor.
Also Consider: Canson XL Recycled Sketch Pad
Products Used: Prismacolor Premier Color Pencils.
This lightweight paper takes pencils exquisitely well. It has some tooth to handle shading and blending without streaking and is smooth enough to give a nice, even finish to your drawing. It has the same size and format as the Canson Mix Media pad, making it easy to lay flat or tear out pages.
Recommendations for Ink
Inking tools include brush pens, drawing pens, and pointed pens. All of these require a medium weight paper to prevent bleeding. Smooth paper allows an artist to create crisp, clean lines, but can also make the ink dry slowly. On the other hand, rough paper may produce sketchy and dry brush effects. We enjoy using bright white paper with inks–it provides a strong contrast to the black ink.
Top Choice: Canson XL Marker Pad
Products Used: Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, J. Herbin India Ink, and Sakura Decorese White Gel Pen.
We recommend the bright white Canson XL Marker Pad to showcase your inks and make them pop. This smooth, coated paper handles ink admirably. Although it’s lightweight, it’s water- and bleed-resistant. This large sketchbook gives you plenty of space to explore your creativity.
Also Consider: Crescent Rendr No Show Thru Lay Flat Sketchbooks
Products Used: Zebra Disposable Brush Pens.
Featuring revolutionary “No Show Thru” paper, the Crescent Rendr is completely resistant to bleedthrough from inks and other wet media. However, because of the special coating on in the No Show Thru paper, inks may take a while to dry. We like the lay-flat design of this sketchbook but a hardcover version is also available.
Recommendations for Alcohol-Based Markers
Alcohol-based markers such as Copics are an artist favorite to draw and color with, but they need to be paired with the right paper in order to shine. With some papers, markers can reveal textures or irregularities in the paper, creating a mottled or spotty appearance, so our first priority is to look for smooth color application, then blendability. For these markers to blend properly, the paper needs to be absorbent; however, this means that they will bleed through to the other side. Be careful of papers that are too absorbent though–they will cause the ink in the markers to dry out faster.
Top Choice: Maruman Soho Series Sketchbooks
Products Used: Copic Sketch Markers.
The Soho is our favorite to use with Copics–the alcohol markers blend like a dream on this paper and their true color shows vibrantly. The acid-free paper is quite absorbent, so be warned: alcohol markers will bleed through. However, the lack of streaking, smooth application, and incredible blendability makes up for the bleeding in our opinion. For a crisper look with your markers, try the marker pads in the Ink Recommendations section above.
Also Consider: Leuchtturm1917 Pocket Sketchbooks
Products Used: Copic Sketch Markers.
The pages of the Leuchtturm sketchbook are a crisp white color, which showcases vibrant color exquisitely. The paper is extremely smooth and takes alcohol markers beautifully, as well as pencil and ink. The small size and convenient elastic closure let you take it with you wherever you go–pull it out whenever inspiration strikes!
While there are medium-weight sketchbooks that can handle light washes of color, we’ve picked out two of the best heavyweight sketchbooks that can take water without pilling or much warping. We especially recommend finding a sketchbook with paper made of cotton as it can hold water better. Cold press finishes are nice for beginners as they provide good color absorption, while hot press finishes may be too smooth for beginners to work with. For more on watercolor techniques, see our guide here.
Top Choice: Global Art Fluid 100 Watercolor Paper Easy-Blocks
Products Used: Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors and Molotow GRAFX Masking Liquid Pump Markers.
This heavyweight 100% cotton paper is designed especially for use with watercolors. It has glued binding on two edges to prevent the paper from buckling when wet, and its textured surface takes color brilliantly. It’s smooth enough that you can blend and reactivate paints well.
Also Consider: Stillman & Birn Delta Sketchbook
Products Used: Kuretake Gansai Tambi Watercolors.
Stillman & Birn Delta features an extra heavyweight paper with a subtle ivory surface that pairs beautifully with soft, dreamy watercolors. The Delta paper is wonderful for blending colors together without bleeding, streaking, or pilling. If you’re interested in a bright white paper, try the Beta series.
If you’re looking for a small, pocket-sized sketchbook to take with you wherever you go, we have a couple of recommendations:
Top Choice: Maruman Pocket Croquis Sketchbooks
Products Used: Prismacolor Premier Color Pencils and Staedtler Wopex Eco Pencil.
The Croquis has a sturdy twin-ring binding and is available in three different weights. The heaviest weight is surprisingly marvelous for markers, though there’s quite a bit of bleedthrough. All three are lovely with dry media as the pages are smooth with just enough texture to give good color payoff.
Also Consider: Art Alternatives Pen & Ink Sketch Books
Products Used: Prismacolor Premier Color Pencils, Copic Sketch Markers, Sakura Pigma Micron Pens and Dr. Ph Martin’s Pen-White Ink.
This book-style sketchbook has an elastic banding that secures and protects it while you carry it around in your bag. Both the heavyweight and medium-weight versions feature thick, smooth paper that’s great for pencils, colored pencils, inks, and even markers.
Here are some specialty sketchbooks that don’t fall in any of the categories above.
Top Choice: Clearprint Vellum Book 1000H
Clearprint Vellum Book 1000H
This transparent, gridded paper is excellent for designers, architects, and engineers to do technical drawings on. Its claim to fame is that it was used in the design of various well-known engineering projects such as the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge and NASA space shuttles. Artists can also use both wet and dry media on this unique paper.
Also Consider: Global Art Kona Drawing Pads
Global Art Kona Drawing Pads
If you’re looking for paper that’s not white or ivory, these Global Art Kona Drawing Pads fit the bill. Featuring gray- or coffee-toned paper, these pads are wonderful to use with a wide variety of light and dark media. The paper is acid-free and made in the USA out of 100% recycled coffee bean bags and post-consumer fibers.
As they say in the wizarding world, the medium chooses the sketchbook. Having the right sketchbook allows artists to work their magic with confidence and finesse. What are your favorite sketchbooks and drawing tools? Let us know in the comments below!
|Product||Size||Paper Weight (gsm)||# of Pages/ Perforated||Binding||Cover||Finish||Best For|
|Canson XL Mix Media Pad||9″ x 12″||160||60 / Yes||Twin ring||Cardboard||Fine tooth||Dry and wet media|
|Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbook||5.5″ x 8.5″||150||62 / No||Thread & glue||Hardcover leatherette||Fine tooth||Dry and wet media|
|Stillman & Birn Zeta Sketchbook||5.5″ x 8.5″||270||26 / No||Thread & glue||Hardcover leatherette||Smooth||Dry media|
|Canson XL Recycled Sketch Pad||9″ x 12″||74||100 / Yes||Twin ring||Cardstock||Smooth||Dry media|
|Canson XL Marker Pad||9″ x 12″||74||100 / No||Glue||Cardstock||Smooth||Ink|
|Crescent Rendr No Show Thru Lay Flat Sketchbooks||8.5″ x 11″||180||32 / No||Thread & glue||Cardstock||Smooth||Ink|
|Maruman Soho Series Sketchbooks||13.9″ x 9.8″||96.4||100 / No||Glue||Cardstock||Medium tooth||Alcohol-based markers|
|Leuchtturm1917 Pocket Sketchbooks||A6||180||96 / No||Thread & glue||Hardcover leatherette||Smooth||Alcohol-based markers|
|Global Art Fluid 100 Watercolor Paper Easy-Blocks||9″ x 12″||640||15 / No||Glue||Cardstock||Medium tooth||Watercolors|
|Stillman & Birn Delta Sketchbook||7″ x 10″||270||50 / No||Twin ring||Hardcover leatherette||Medium tooth||Watercolors|
|Maruman Pocket Croquis Sketchbooks||4.2″ x 6″||60||55 / No||Twin ring||Cardstock||Smooth||Dry media|
|Art Alternatives Pen & Ink Sketch Books||3.5″ x 5.5″||80||96 / No||Thread & glue||Hardcover leatherette||Smooth||Ink|
|Clearprint Vellum Book 1000H||6″ x 8″||60||50 / No||Glue||Cardstock||Smooth||Technical drawings|
|Global Art Kona Drawing Pads||Various||130||72 / Yes||Twin ring||Cardstock||Medium tooth||Toned paper|