A high-quality sketch pad is an artist’s best friend when it comes to experimenting with new techniques or materials, making quick studies, planning new work, or just jotting down ideas. Sketch pads come in many sizes and shapes. You can choose from perfect-bound or spiral-bound pads, and from papers in a variety of weights, textures, and colors. Some pads have pockets or ribbon or elastic closures and can double as holders for clippings, notes, and swatches. If you work in dry media such as pencil or pastel, you’ll have more paper options; if you work in pen, marker, or watercolor, a pad made specifically for multimedia use may be best. But whatever kind of paper you go with, protect your work by looking for paper that is acid free. All of the sketchbooks below are a handy 9 by 12 inches; most, however, come in both larger and smaller sizes.
1. Canson Mix Media Pad
We think this is the best all-around sketch pad you can buy. Canson’s versatile mixed-media pad offers heavyweight, sized paper that can accommodate many types of media with ease. With a fine texture that’s perfect for pencil drawings, the pages can also handle colored pencil, charcoal, and pastel beautifully. They will even take very light washes of watercolor or ink without warping and survive vigorous blending or erasing without pilling. Some markers, however, will bleed through if they are heavily applied. The sheets in this spiral-bound pad are micro-perforated and true size, meaning they are a full 9 by 12 inches after removal.
2. Strathmore Sketch Pad
The Strathmore name and thistle logo have been synonymous with high-quality artist papers for more than 120 years. Though not suitable for even small doses of wet media, the lightweight, fine-toothed paper in this sketch pad is perfect for drawing with graphite pencils, colored pencils, chalk pastels, charcoal, or Conté crayons. The sheets’ bit of texture will make your sketches pop without being so rough as to obscure detail, and they hold up well to erasing. A sturdy chipboard back makes this pad easy to work with even when there is no surface to rest it on. As with all our favorite spiral-bound books, this one’s perforated pages tear out easily and are true to size.
3. Arteza Sketch Book
You get a lot of paper for a great price with this two-pack of Arteza sketchbooks, and the acid-free paper inside is nicely substantial—slightly heavier than Strathmore’s 400 series, but not as heavy as Canson’s Mix Media pad. Still, it’s not ideal if you use wet media, and markers may bleed. But you won’t have to worry about running out of paper for a long time, so go crazy. The sheets are perforated and true to size, but you can also leave the pages in; the left-side spiral binding makes it easy to flip through your masterpieces.
4. Stillman & Birn Wirebound Sketchbook
Stillman & Birn’s mighty 180-pound paper, double-treated with sizing for extra strength, stands up to wet media better than our other choices, though it will still buckle if soaked. Bright white with a bit of tooth, it grabs dry media and makes light glazes and washes glow. Though most sketchbooks aren’t suitable for finished art, you won’t be blamed for using this one for all levels of work, and if you do, have no worries—the acid-free paper is archival. A minor drawback is that the pages are not perforated, but this book’s overall quality more than makes up for having to trim the pages after you tear them out.
5. U.S. Art Supply Spiral Bound Sketch Pad
Offered in packs of two, these spiral-bound books are an economical choice for educators. The lightweight (60-pound) paper is fine for sketching with pens, pencils, and crayons if you don’t do too much reworking, but wet media will cause it to pill and buckle, and markers will bleed through. That said, this is a great choice as a gift for young artists or for school-supply closets.