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Innovations in synthetic paper began in Japan in the 1970s, sprung from an idea at the time that demand for paper would outpace our resources of wood. While synthetic paper did not take the place of wood-pulp paper—with the rise of technology, the demand for paper fell while the cost of petrochemical products rose—it did give rise to unique drawing surfaces like Yupo paper. A range of synthetic drawing papers are available today, most of them marked by a smooth texture and a relatively nonabsorbent surface. They can withstand high levels of water without buckling or being compromised in any other way. While Yupo paper is the most recognizable synthetic drawing surface, there are many other fine waterproof and water-resistant sheets that are excellent for drawing and mixed-media work. Browse our favorite options below.
Yupo is a modern classic for a reason: It is durable and long lasting, and no traditional art substrate can match it. Use Yupo with everything from watercolors and alcohol inks to graphite pencils, acrylic paints, and oil pastels. Created with three layers of polypropylene for strength and opacity, it can even be wiped clean if you use it for practice or don’t like your finished artwork. To make it permanent, you’ll have to spray it with finishing spray.
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Yasutomo Mineral Paper Artist Pad
Yasutomo’s mineral paper is slightly more absorbent than Yupo, making it more like traditional paper but with enhanced strength, resistance to buckling, and erasability. Made with 80 percent calcium carbonate (which is found in rocks, shells, and pearls), mineral paper is a more natural way to get some of the effects of synthetic paper. This 150-GSM paper works well with water-based pens and for fine details with gouache but is made for all water-based wet or dry media. One pad comes with 20 sheets, 9 by 12 inches each.
DuPont Tyvek Sheets
If the name Tyvek seems unplaceable yet familiar, chances are you’ve seen it stamped on houses under construction. Tyvek is the material used in DuPont’s house wrap, which is used to keep insulation dry and safe while letting vapor escape to prevent mold. The durable synthetic material is used for everything from mailing envelopes to protective suits, because it is flexible, lightweight, and nearly impossible to tear. It also makes for a durable drawing and painting surface that is soft but water resistant. It does melt under heat, which can create interesting effects and be used to make things like beads. This set of 20 A4 sheets, 105 GSM, are reasonably priced.
TerraSlate Laser Printer/Copy Paper
These 8.5-by-11-inch papers are fully recyclable and, like other synthetic substrates, made without trees. But recyclable doesn’t mean impermanent: TerraSlate’s 10 mil, 100-pound matte paper is seriously tough (it’s used by the likes of the U.S. Coast Guard and just about every restaurant that wants to wipe its menus clean without disintegrating them). Made to fit in a standard laser printer, these work great as a nonporous, fully washable ground for art as well. Teachers may find useful the bulk option of 1,000 sheets, which can last a very long time considering they can be wiped clean.
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Grafix Dura-Lar Matte
Dura-Lar is a supersmooth translucent plastic that hits a sweet spot between Mylar, a stretched polyester film, and acetate. Like Yupo, one of this material’s most distinctive attributes is that you can lift pigment right off it, effectively erasing anything. It’s only 0.005 inches thick, but because of the composition, it’s incredibly durable and can withstand heat even better than Yupo. Dura-Lar Matte is available to try as a single sheet or in three sizes of 25-sheet pads.