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How to Choose the Perfect Sketching Paper

Daniel Schwarz March 31, 2021 · 4 min read

Prototyping apps are becoming more sophisticated every day, but many designers, including myself, still opt-in for the classic pen and paper method. It’s usually quicker and it’s almost impossible to be limited by technology and features.

Later on in the workflow, that very technology and those innovative features can certainly enhance a prototype, helping you to explain your concept more clearly. However, in those beginning stages of the design process, paper can help you explore and iterate various ideas at lightening speed.

You can be even faster by using the correct type of paper.

Plain Paper

If you’re an artist or a designer then there’s no doubt in my mind that you’re constantly carrying around a sketchpad of some sort. Plain paper is the default choice since it’s the cheapest to buy, the most common, and you’ve probably been using it to make butterfly blot paintings ever since kiddy-school, but unless you’re using it to create finished work, it’s actually highly impractical.

Isometric Paper

My first experience with a sketching medium (that wasn’t blank or lined) was isometric paper and I first encountered it in a high-school class called “technical drawing”. Isometric paper compiles a series of small equilateral triangles together in an effort to form rows of lines cross-crossing at 60° angles.

Both those diagonal lines and also the vertical ones combined together offers a visual aid to help draw 3D objects with a clearer mental projection of scale, proportion and perspective.

If you’ve ever seen the epic concept behind Monument Valley you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about.

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Paper Mockups

If you’re a user interface designer then you will have definitely encountered the annoying issue of needing to sketch out device outlines before trying to conceptualise interface ideas; thankfully, you can buy paper device mockups. All you need to do is draw inside the pre-printed devices and viola!

Before I discovered printable paper mockups my user interface sketches were mostly badly-drawn squares and scribbles.

Here’s an iPhone 6 example.


Graph Paper

Graph paper can often vary in terms of complexity, where the most basic style consists of simple squares and the more intricate styles have multiple squares of differing sizes – this makes it an excellent budget choice for web and user interface designers who find paper device mockups too inaccessible.

You can buy graph paper almost anywhere, whereas paper device mockups either have to be purchased online or printed out yourself; the downside is that you have to frequently draw out the devices, but at least you have straight lines as a guide!


Ruled Calligraphy Paper

Calligraphy nuts (and I say that out of insane jealousy, because I’m so bad at it!) often choose paper types depending on the applicant and desired result, but regardless, calligraphy is a difficult exercise and a talent that must be nurtured.

For that we have ruled calligraphy paper, where the ascender line, x-height, baseline and descender line have already been defined, allowing the calligrapher to fine-tune their hand-lettering skills. If you need a custom-defined solution, here’s a smashing resource for creating your own ruled calligraphy paper.

Stencil Paper

Stencil paper also comes in many strengths and styles, but they’re always designed to be both pliable and durable, since it’s likely that you’ll be cutting, spraying and applying the stencil onto some kind of surface.

If you’ve ever attempted to create a stencil with normal blank paper you’ll understand just how incredibly frustrating it really is – it will tear when being cut and crinkle when wet!


Conclusion

It can be quite difficult to choose a specialist type of paper in the specific moment that you need it, if you don’t already have it at hand. Otherwise, you’ll simply end up scribbling on a guide-less blank canvas. Prepare yourself in anticipation of your next sketch-able idea, and have the right paper ready.

What types of paper do you use, and why? Are there any specific brands that would recommend to the community?


Daniel is a designer/developer currently travelling the world with his wife, experiencing the best of the nomadic world. He’s also the founder, curator and editor of Airwalk Design, creative director of Airwalk Studios and lover of Sketch App.

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Daniel Schwarz

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