What to Look for When Choosing the Best Sketchbook

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Choosing the surface you will be drawing on is just as important as choosing the perfect pen, the perfect model, or getting the perfect idea, and it should not be neglected. Here is a list of best sketchbooks for different types of drawing, as well as tips on what to look for when buying them.

1. Rhodia Landscape Webnotebook – 96 sheets, gsm 90, 210 x 145mm (8¼ x 5½ inch)

This is the perfect drawing notebook. It’s landscape oriented, with 96 sheets of wonderful, high quality paper. The dimensions are about A5. The paper is acid free, and the gsm is high, which makes it really durable and ensures there is no bleed through, so it’s perfect for ink drawing. The surface is smooth and the paper color is a lovely shade of white. It also has a useful inner pocket and a ribbon page marker. This is my favorite because the size is perfect, sheet thickness is perfect, and it also looks amazing. I do most of my drawing with ink pens, and this sketchbook has almost no see-through, which is essential. The biggest con is that it costs four times as much as some other great notebooks. It’s very much worth it though. For more information, customer reviews and prices click here.

Understanding Paper Weight

Paper weight is a term which often causes confusion among people who are just looking to buy the best possible drawing notebook, pad or sketchbook, and don’t want to be bothered with technicalities. The most important thing to remember is that the greater the paper weight, the thicker the paper. Weight is expressed either as basis weight, as caliper, or in gsm (grams per square meter). Basis weight is a fixed weight of 500 sheets of a type of paper measured in pounds (not all paper types have the same sheet size). Caliper is a term which refers to the thickness of a single sheet of paper (in 1/1000 of an inch). Gsm is simply how many grams paper weighs per square meter. So what you should look for when choosing drawing notebooks, or trying to buy the best sketchbook to suit your needs is the caliper number, or the gsm. The higher these numbers are, the thicker the paper. For example, normal office printing paper is 80 gsm, and most newspapers are printed on 40-50 gsm paper. Generally, paper with gsm of 90 or higher is considered high quality, and it will be good enough to use with almost all types of ink, dip or fountain pens.

2. Leuchtturm Hardcover Notebook – 249 pages, gsm 80, 210 x 145mm (8¼ x 5½ inch)

This is my favorite “every day” sketchbook. It’s perfect for doodling and writing down ideas, or creating concepts. Even though the paper is only gsm 80, it’s completely bleed-proof. The paper is high quality and acid free. My favorite thing about this sketchbook is that it’s thread bound, hence it opens flat, which enables you to draw without having to use one hand for holding the notebook down. The cover is washable, which can come in handy if you drag your sketchbooks around with you for months (or years) like I do. They come in a variety of colors, you can get them dotted, plain, lined or squared, and they also have numbered pages, which I love. For more information, customer reviews and prices click here.

Texture (Paper Tooth)

Paper’s texture is important when choosing the best sketchbook because not all media will perform optimally on all types of surfaces. For example, ink pens and markers generally do best on smoother surfaces, while charcoal or pastel prefer rough textures. If you tried using them the other way around, the result wouldn’t be good. There are many different textures, and they range from smooth to rough, with a lot of “in-betweens”. There is really no strict rules, and the best way is to experiment and learn from your mistakes. Try out several different types and you will soon learn to tell which type of surface is best for what.

3. The Classic Moleskine – 192 pages, 3.8 x 5.8 inch (96 x 147 mm), gsm unknown

This sketchbook is an absolute classic. it offers great design, and the two main sizes (pocket and regular) can cover all your doodling needs. The problem is that the paper is not as good as it may seem (or better say it doesn’t keep up the pace with the design and brand popularity). The gsm number is undisclosed by the company, but it’s obvious that it can’t be higher than 75-80. This makes Moleskines my favorites for pencil drawing and sketching, but they are definitely not my first choice when it comes to ink pens or fountain pens. There is no bleed through, but the see through is too much. Still, Moleskines are among the best sketchbooks you can get. For more information, customer reviews and prices click here.

Acid Free or Archival

One of the most important properties of paper is its acidity or pH value (measured on a scale from 0 to 14, 0 being acid, 14 alkaline and 7 neutral). Paper which is considered acidic has a pH value below 7. This is important to know because the life expectancy of paper is highly dependable on its pH. The more acidic the paper, the shorter its life expectancy. Simply put, you wouldn’t want to spend several months drawing on pH 3 paper because the drawing would fade by the time you finished. Most types of paper today are acid free. This means they were made using alkaline paper making technology (the pH of the production materials higher than 7). If you can, always try to get acid free paper when buying sketchbooks, they will last much longer. Archival paper is a naturally acid free paper. In addition to that, it should also meet several other requirements to claim that title. It’s generally considered to be the highest quality paper, it’s especially permanent and durable. Archival paper is often used for very important legal documents etc.

4. Palomino Luxury Notebook – 160 pages, gsm 90, 130 x 210 mm (5 x 8¼ inch)

This is a well rounded, perfect sketchbook with high quality, thick, smooth, acid free paper. The design is amazing, and the hardboard cover is very durable. The biggest downside is the price, but Palominos are still among my favorites. For more information, customer reviews and prices click here.

5. Field Notes – 3 sketchbooks, 48 pages, 3.5 x 5.5 inch (90 x 140 mm), gsm unknown

best sketchbooks

These are cheap and extremely good. What I like most is the satin finish on the paper’s surface which makes them perfect for ink drawing. These are see through though, same as Moleskines, so you will probably be drawing on every other page. Besides that, they are probably best value for money when comparing best sketchbooks (around $3 a piece). For more information, customer reviews and prices click here.

6.Muji Notebook – set of five pocket size (A6 notebooks), 105 x 148 mm (6 x 4.5 inch)(the best cheap sketchbook)

These are made in Japan out of more than 50% recycled paper. They are extremely cheap (around $10 for a pack of five). The paper is of ok quality, and most fountain pens will not bleed through. They are great for carrying around because they are pocket size. All in all, cheap, great design, good paper, handy. For more information, customer reviews and prices click here.

7. Masterclass premium (9 by 12 inch) hardcover

This is the perfect practice sketchbook. It’s not meant to be carried around, but it’s great for working at home. It has a “not too white” white color, and the spiral binding comes in handy too. It comes with 100 sheets of fine 60 pound paper, and the price is extremely reasonable. The surface is acid free and slightly perforated, and it will work wonderfully with all dry media such as pen, pencil or charcoal. A perfect practice pad. For more information, customer reviews and prices click here.


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