How to Pick Out Paper for Your Fashion Drawings

You may be torn between buying a pad of paper or individual sheets for your fashion drawings. When you’re starting out, buy pads of drawing paper because you get more bang for your buck.

When you have a full pad of paper at your disposal, you’re more likely to flip the page and keep experimenting with figures and colors, which helps you improve your skills. Buy individual sheets only if you want something really special. Individual sheets are more expensive, usually quite large in size (watch out on a windy day!), and harder to store.

If you find a spiral notebook with sketch paper, even better! The sketch book doesn’t need to be expensive with fancy perforated paper; just get one with a simple lightweight sketch paper for doodling.

Here are some choices you need to make when buying paper for your fashion drawings:

  • Size: A sketch pad that’s too small or too big can cause problems. An 11- x 14-inch sketch pad is great for starters. Anything smaller can tighten up your style, and anything larger can overwhelm you with the amount of space you think you need to fill with your drawing. Plus the larger the sketch pad gets, the harder it is to carry and store.

    With an average-sized pad, you can draw one large figure per page or several smaller figures. Wait until you’re comfortable with your drawing style before you move to a bigger or smaller size.

  • Paper weight: Weight, which is related to paper thickness, can make a tremendous difference in your drawings. The weight of paper can run from 20 pounds up to 140 pounds; the higher the weight, the better the quality of the paper.

    That said, you don’t have to run out and buy the heaviest paper for everything you draw. Use lighter paper for practice and preliminary sketches, and use heavier paper, which is pricier, for final drawings and pieces that you plan to put in your portfolio.

Look at the textures you find in paper

The texture of the paper you choose can make all the difference in your drawing style and the look of your drawing. Paper can run from smooth to rough — medium tooth falls somewhere in the middle:

  • Smooth paper: You can create a great detailed drawing on smooth paper. It lends itself to the shading of pencil and fine line strokes, and it provides better control of detail. If you want to illustrate a fashion figure with an outrageous dress that’s poufed with tulle, this type of smooth (and often glossy) paper is for you.

    Markers also work well on smooth paper because the colors blend well and sit on the surface, allowing you to do some really cool things, such as blending and layering colors.

  • Rough paper: Paper with texture is super for softer pencil lead, charcoal pencils and sticks, and black and gray pastels. The textured paper helps absorb your medium of choice. Try using a stick of charcoal on a scrap of smooth paper and then on a scrap on textured paper.

    What a difference! Students are always surprised at the way their softer drawing materials turn to dust on smooth papers but settle in nicely on paper with a tooth. Markers also look super cool on textured paper. The paper tends to absorb the color, creating vibrant illustrations.

Choose types of paper for your toolbox

You can explore many, many fantastic types of paper, but you should start off with the basics and work your way up to the specialty papers. This list shows you the practical and affordable basics you can safely begin with:

  • Bristol board: Bristol board is a smooth, sturdy, and reliable paper favored by many artists. Weighing in at about 90–100 pounds, Bristol board is great for detailed fashion illustrations.

  • Sketch or drawing paper: Sketch or drawing paper is exactly what it says it is: a basic paper to sketch and doodle on.

  • Newsprint: Excellent for super-rough sketches, newsprint is the cheapest of all papers. It is flimsy, crumples easily, and is absolutely the least frightening of the lot. Don’t expect to create a keeper on this paper, however. You simply doodle and sketch on this flimsy stuff.

  • Tracing paper: Tracing paper is the best stuff ever! It’s light (20–25 pounds) and transparent, and you can make adjustments and test drawing techniques without touching your original drawing. Just lay it over your drawing and test away.

The types of papers are endless, and there are no exact rules as to the type you must use for a particular type of drawing. However, you can get suggestions on which papers will work or enhance the type of media you’re using.

For example, pencils, charcoal, and other dry media work well on drawing paper, and marker works well on marker paper, which is smooth and doesn’t bleed. Most pads of paper describe their suggested uses right on the cover sheet. If you’re not sure, ask a salesperson or other artists.

When you see a paper you’re interested in, touch it and see whether you like the texture of the surface, and hold it to see whether you like the weight of a single page. In art supply stores, you often find test paper that’s available for a scribble or two, so take advantage of these scraps before you spend a lot of money on paper.

The store may have a supply of test pencils near the papers, but it’s a good idea to carry a few pencils of your own, too, especially your favorites.

You can be as creative or experimental as you want with paper types. Don’t be afraid to try papers not typically used for sketching, such as the following:

  • Vellum: A smooth translucent paper similar to tracing paper, but it has more body

  • Plike: A soft velvet-like paper

  • Brown recycled paper: Just like a brown paper bag

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