UPDATED for 2020
Finding the right sketchbook for you can be especially confusing when you’re a beginner and are just being introduced to the vast world of art. It can be even more confusing when you don’t understand all the terminology, specs, and different types for different uses.
In this article, we’ve simplified things. We break down the most important things you should consider before choosing the sketchbook you need.
We’ve made it even simpler for those who want to get straight to the gist with our pick below:
But first, few tips:
Before buying your first sketchbook, you should do your research. This article tells you most of what you need to know before going off and finding your sketchbook, however, as you progress and run through a few sketchbooks, you will find that you are growing a specific preference to certain types of paper, texture, and sketchbook sizes. You may even like sketchbooks that look more like journals with hardcovers instead of the usually coiled sketchbooks.
So keep in mind that you might not enjoy your first sketchbook as much as you’d expect because even with the thorough research, some things you will only learn about your preference through trial and error. That being said, this is not always the case, in fact, your very first sketchbook could very well exceed all your expectations.
So without further ado, here are some things you may want to consider before buying your first sketchbook.
Simply put, the right-sized sketchbook is one that is convenient for you. Now, from one person to another, that may vary greatly – which is exactly the point.
Some artists prefer really small sketchbooks that they can stow away in their back pockets and have them around whenever they please. This helps them create without interruption if inspiration comes on a whim.
Pocket-sized sketchbooks are perfect for rough sketches, quick on-the-go sketches, and impromptu sketches. You may even find it suitable for you if you like to make small sketches rather than big ones.
Others may prefer larger sizes, especially if they don’t intend on taking their sketches with them wherever they go. This also means that they get to make larger sketches and they will have more paper space per sheet for their imagination to run wild and for their pencils or brushes to follow.
If you’re not sure which size is for you, you can opt for a medium-sized sketchbook that both, gives you a large space to sketch while being manageable in a backpack.
When selecting the binding of your sketchbook, it’s going to mostly be a matter of preference. If you intend to journal-sketch, we recommend hardbound as spirals might get in the way.
Some prefers spiralbound sketchbooks, as they tend to lay flatter and they usually come with micro-perforations which makes tearing out the pages easier.
On the other hand, hardbound sketchbooks are typically safer, more durable, and you don’t risk the wire snagging on anything if you’re carrying it in a bag or a backpack.
The majority of sketchbooks come in either portrait or landscape orientation, but you can occasionally find that some come in a square format.
It is a personal choice, but with purchasing a landscape format, you can sketch or paint horizontal sceneries without needing to go across the gutter.
To know what paper weight you need, you need to understand how paperweight affects your art. the heavier the paper, the denser it is, so this means that it’s thicker and more durable.
Thicker paper is usually cold-pressed and that would give it a slight texture, while thinner and lighter paper usually has a smoother surface. Some artists prefer a granulated feel to their sketches while others enjoy a smooth finish to theirs; paperweight affects that respectively.
While the weight affects the finish, it also affects the medium you are using – or rather, is affected by the medium you are using. Lighter weight paper is less likely to take wet mediums without bleeding through to the next pages or at least the other side of the sheet.
In addition to this, lighter weights cannot be used for watercolor drawings as it will warp when used with water or other solvents. Although you can work with lighter paper just fine, the standard weight or watercolor paper is 300 gsm. GSM stands for gram per square meter. Buying heavier weight paper allows for more versatility with your media.
However, some artists will opt for lighter paper for several reasons; one of which is the fact that they don’t intend to use solvents. Another reason would be because they pre-stretch their sheets before using watercolors so they don’t really need to have the standard weight paper for watercolors.
Lighter paper is also easier to carry around, which may not seem like a big deal until you’re lugging around a 150-sheet sketchbook that is starting to feel like a rock.
Speaking of paper, we have an in-depth article on choosing the right paper for your sketchbook (specifically for watercolor use but the similar principals apply to other medium too).
Canson has always led the market when it comes to providing beginner and intermediate artists with suitable sketchbooks for their creations. The XL Watercolor Series does not fall short.
The Canson sketchbook features an innovative cover that folds over in a way that keeps the sketchbook sheets intact, without any bends or dents. It contains 30 cold-pressed textured sheets made out of recycled materials in a sustainable manner that maintains the environment while providing excellent quality. The whole sketchbook is free of acid, chlorine, and lignin.
The textured side of the sheets is ideal for wet mediums while the back side features a smooth surface ideal for dry mediums; like graphite and colored pencils.
The paperweight for the Canson XL is the watercolor standard at 300 gsm. The thick nature of these sheets allows the artist to use a variety of techniques while sketching; the sheets will withstand several washes, meaning that you can layer up both wet and dry mediums.
This sketchbook from Strathmore features one of the best paper qualities on the list. This sketch pad includes 100 sheets finely perforated at the side to be easily torn out without any damage to your sketches. The sheets are also true to their size, meaning that the perforated part is not included in the size description and when you tear a page out, it will be the same size mentioned on the sketchbook’s cover regardless of the torn part.
The sketchbook has double spiral binding at the side to ensure durability as well as add to the aesthetic of the sketchbook. And to make things easier for you, the artist, Strathmore added a heavy-duty chipboard backing to the sketchbook to be used as a firm surface to draw on wherever you go.
The acid-free paper preserves your work for a longer time, while the fine tooth surface of these papers allows you to work with several dry mediums. The 400 series Sketch Pad is perfect for graphite or colored pencils, sketching sticks, charcoal, soft pastels, and more. It takes ink pretty well and pens will rarely bleed through to the other side of the sheets, however, markers do bleed through, sometimes several pages due to the light paperweight of 89 gsm.
The Pentalic hardbound sketchbook features a black beautifully-embossed hardcover with a leatherette texture to protect the sheets inside. When you open the sketchbook, the cover provides a firm surface while the spine allows you to lay the sheets completely flat for optimum convenience when sketching, drawing, or writing.
The sketchbook includes 110 sheets that can be used on either side and are excellent for dry media, making it perfect for more than just sketching. You can use several different mediums on these sheets without worrying about paper damage; however, the sheets will warp if you use them with wet mediums.
So the sketchbook will sustain graphite and colored pencils, pastels, charcoal, and more dry mediums due to the fact that the paperweight is heavy in nature; weighing 114 gsm.
The binding on this sketchbook is sturdy enough to keep the sheets from moving around while drawing so you won’t have to worry about smudges or smearing due to the sheets moving under your hand. The sheets themselves are also sturdy enough to minimize pencil marks and impressions on the next page.
Like the previous Strathmore 400 series, this sketch pad has double-loop binding at the side that adds to the binding’s durability without making it bulky. On the binging side, the sheets have a perforated line that makes it very easy to tear out clean pages without having to worry about tears from the binding loops.
In the sketchbook is included 75 high-quality sheets, all with a finely textured tooth surface so that your sketches can have a beautiful, smooth, and non-reflective finish. And like most sketchbooks on this list, this one’s pages are also completely acid-free so that your art can last longer without fading away.
This sketchbook also has a durable board backing at the end of it to make drawing convenient at any place or time. And again due to the light paper weight of the sheets in this sketchbook, at only 90 gsm, this sketchbook is suitable for dry media but can barely take on any solvents or wet media.
The nature of these sheets makes them usable, however, as more than just a sketchbook. You will find it convenient to journal, write, or test colors in this sketchbook.
This Learning Series sketchbook provides more than just a surface to draw and paint on; it teaches you how! In this sketch pad, you will find no less than 12 step-by-step instructed lessons to help you start watercoloring. This is especially helpful for beginners as it takes you through step by step to achieve the style, glaze, and colors you want.
In addition to that, in the sketchbook, you will find a page dedicated to teaching you how to mix colors to get the shades you want as well as links to online videos that will educate you further on how to approach watercolors. It’s basically a step-by-step guide for complete beginners.
Other than the several tips scattered all over this sketch pad, it includes 12 cold-presses watercolor-grade sheets that are made for wet media. The paperweight is 300 gsm which means you will not have to worry about the sheets warping when they’re wet. For added flatness, however, the sketchbook includes instructions on how to stretch your sheets using water and adhesive tape to make sure it does not budge while you color away.
The sketchbook is bound at the side with double-loops again for a simple and aesthetic look.
This student sketch pad is the perfect combination for both wet and dry media. The paperweight is 190 gms, heavy enough to take on some watercolors, while still light enough to not interfere with the textures of colored pencils. Using watercolor pencils with this sketch pad produces the most beautiful results.
Another great use would be for brush lettering, where the water will not spread or wrinkle the page for the most precise results.
It includes 15 cold-pressed sheets that have a slight texture that compliments your art. At an adequate size, the Strathmore 25-111 has a size of 9 x 12 inches that is both spacious yet handy and is easily packable so that you can have your sketchbook on you wherever you go.
This sketchbook was designed with student needs in mind where, in addition to having a suitable size, it can be used with several media, including watercolor, acrylic, gouache, ink, colored or graphite pencils, and many more. This makes it one of the most versatile sketchbooks on this list with a wide range of uses.
This handy little sketchbook comes in a PU leather cover that is flexible enough to be versatile but strong enough to provide all-weather proofing to your art creations. The sketchbook also has an elastic band that can secure your sketchbook in a closed position or can hold down the pages in an open position. This, in addition to the fact that this sketchbook can lay completely flat when it’s open, makes it the most convenient to use amongst artists.
The Leda includes 160 smooth pages that work well with dry mediums, fine-tip markers, as well as light watercolor washes. If you intend to use large tip markers, however, you should know that they may bleed to the other side of your sheet. Other than that, you will find that the pages in this sketchbook rarely ever bleed, even with ink.
The thread-bound pages in this sketchbook are cream-colored, giving your sketchbook and authentic feel while accentuating your art’s colors and shades. The Leda also weighs a lot less than more bulky sketchbooks due to the light and flexible cover as well as the 130 gsm of paperweight.
Like all Strathmore sketchbooks, the 400 Series sketchbook made for colored pencils is of exquisite quality. The 30 crisp-white sheets in the sketchbook have a fine-tooth surface for a beautifully added texture for your drawings. On the other side of each sheet is a smoother white surface so that the sketchbook can suit your style preference whichever way.
The sheets are perfectly suitable for dry mediums, but especially colored pencils since it’s made for that. The sketchbook has a paperweight of 163 gsm making it extra thick for dry mediums. This means that you don’t have to worry about the durability of these sheets; they can withstand multiple erasures and layers.
The sketchbook is wire-bound at the side, making it really convenient to turn the pages all the way around to tuck it back under the sketchbook providing an extra firm surface to draw, sketch, and color on. The wire also makes it super easy to tear out the pages without having to worry about uneven tears.
This sketchbook is also true to its size when torn out; the wire perforations are not included in the size description.
Another Strathmore sketchbook with impeccable quality, this sketchbook has a paperweight of 74 gsm making it perfect for quick pencil sketches. The sketchbook has fine tooth, lightly textured sheets that make for more pronounced sketches.
The whole sketchbook is very lightweight despite the fact that it carries 100 bright white sheets inside. In addition to that, you can buy a wire-bound sketchbook or opt for the glue-bound one. Either way, the papers are easily torn out – whether through the finely perforated lines at the top of the wire-bound version or by simply peeling the sheet straight out of the glue-bound version.
In both versions, the sheets are true to their size, so tearing a page out will not take away from its dimensions.
Due to the fact that the sheets are lightweight and durable at the same time, this sketchbook can be used for several arts in addition to drawing or sketching. You can simply tear pages out and create 3D paper art out of the sheets.
And like the previous versions, this sketchbook also has a heavy clipboard backing that makes drawing and sketching convenient anywhere you go. The sheets are also acid-free so this sketchbook preserves your drawing too.
Essentially, the sketchbook you choose has more to do with your preferences than with the hype around each sketchbook. First and foremost, you should consider what medium you will be using in your sketchbook. And from there, consider the size, paperweight, and aesthetics of each compatible sketchbook.
You should also keep in mind the drawbacks of each sketchbook and contemplate whether or not it would inconvenience you while creating your art. Your comfort during use will determine much of the quality of the sketches you produce; if a sketchbook is uncomfortable or if it bothers you during use, it would take away from your ability to create beautiful art.