Which Pastel Paper Suits Me Best?

written by Sophie | Beginners, Pastel

When it comes to sanded pastel papers there is a lot of choice and variety. Any beginning pastel painters would be forgiven for not knowing where to start. But sanded pastel papers are really the best papers for anyone wanting to creating anything more than a sketch. A heavy-weight paper with a decent amount of tooth (texture) will provide the painter with the possibility to layer, scumble, mix and, in some cases, use wet media as well. Sanded heavy-weight pastel papers can make all the difference in your art.

But which one to choose? You can read my earlier overview of the best pastel papers here. From there you can perhaps already figure out which one is best for you. But although I tried to describe each pastel paper, I don't go into much detail about how they all compare.

So in this article I hope to describe the pastel papers I know and explain what they are good for and what they're not so good for. If you are a bit lost on which papers are best for you, and you can't just buy and try them all (although that would of course be the best way to really find out what suits you best), then I hope to help you out today.

Obviously I can only write about the papers I have used myself. So forgive me if you wanted to find out about a paper that is not mentioned; I simply have not got enough experience with it to include it.

Instead of going through each paper I will go over the various ways we might paint and see if we can find a pastel paper to match.

Expressive painting

If you like to work in an expressive style, with lots of bold marks, full-on colour and like a fairly coarse texture to enhance expressiveness (like an oil painter could choose a coarser canvas weave over a fine weave), then Art Spectrum Colourfix Original will be your best friend. It is strong and can take a beating, it has a wonderful coarse (but not gritty) texture that helps to create expressive marks. Colour remains fresh and bold.

Sennelier LaCarte is also a very textured (like sand) paper that can keep bold and direct marks fresh. Ampersand Pastelbord is probably the roughest of the pastel surfaces that I know. Mark making instantly becomes expressive and interesting. The texture is even coarser than Colourfix. Pastelbord, however, is not a paper, but thin hardwood panel with a primer suitable for pastels. The hardwood makes it easier to frame or take outside for plein-air work.

A small panel of Ampersand Pastelbord on the easel

Painting fur

Many pet portrait artists adore velour paper. It has a soft velvety texture that cannot be found in any other pastel paper. It is not great for blending, but marks hatched side by side visually blend into one another beautifully. The effect is soft and delicate. You will have to make a bit more effort to create sharp and strong marks, but it can definitely be done. Another soft paper that will help create beautiful fur is Pastelmat. This paper is not a velour paper, but it has a very soft and velvety feel to it. Pastel marks slide on like butter and fine detail is easy to create.

Pastelmat, LaCarte and Colourfix Traditional

Painting Hyper Realism and fine detail

If you are into super fine detail you will need a paper a paper with little texture to detract from those painted details. But a pastel paper with a low tooth (like Art Spectrum Colourfix Smooth) will not accept many layers of pastel and so painting over mistakes will be harder to do. Some papers with a fine tooth that can still take some layering are Uart and Pastelmat and so these are particularly well suited for highly realistic pieces with fine detail.

Making mistakes or changing your mind

If you are anything like me, and you do make lots of mistakes, or you change your mind during the painting process, you will need a pastel paper that can take many layers. With a good toothy paper you will be able to simply paint over your mistakes, or re-paint something in a different location. I need a paper that allows me to do this without having to battle with a full tooth. Papers with a high and slightly coarse tooth will allow this. Art Spectrum Colourfix Original for example, has a coarse tooth (suitable for expressive work) but if you keep on layering pastel onto it, the tooth will slowly start filling up, thereby softening the coarseness of the paper. Marks become softer and finer and in top layers you can create beautiful refined marks that are not hampered by the coarse paper deep underneath. Sennelier LaCarte is a similarly toothy paper that allows for almost endless layering.

Layering colour for richness and depth

Layering is not only useful to hide mistakes or changes in design, but also for 'glazing' or 'scumbling' effects. With transparent layers of colour placed on top of each-other you can create endless depth and variety in colour and value. Pastel paintings created this way really show off how pastel can be used for full-blown paintings full of richness and depth. The best papers to layer colours are the papers with a high tooth, such as Colourfix Original and Sennelier LaCarte. Both these papers are fairly coarse, however, so if you want to create more refinement and detail, one has to layer a lot in order to work through the coarse texture and reach a slightly smoother level. Slightly smoother papers such as Pastelmat and Uart offer slightly less layering possibilities, but much finer first layers.

Similar marks on various papers. Velour, LaCarte, Colourfix, Pastelmat

Painting portraits

I am including this because I just know someone would have asked me what the best paper for painting portraits is. Unfortunately, this is really hard to answer. The best paper really depends on how you paint portraits. If you are into expressive portraits, then a coarser paper would suit you best. If you are into more traditional portraits with layered glazes then you could still use a coarse paper and work your way through the layers to reach sufficient depth and richness. If you prefer to work with a finer texture then Pastelmat, Uart or Colourfix Smooth might be your best bet. And if you like to create quick sketches, you won't need a sanded pastel paper at all, but would be better served with a drawing paper like Murano. Of course the same applies to painting landscapes, cityscapes etc. It depends on your style of painting.....

Plein air painting

Plein air painting (painting outside) is quick and direct painting. You won't have time to work on a small detail for hours on end. The weather, the light and perhaps even the subject matter will change fairly quick and you must get your subject matter down within just a couple of hours tops. There is no time for layering and fiddling! So you need a paper that will give you its best in one go. A first mark works. A mistake is easily fixed. A colour put down won't need a second coat to give it more umph. So you will need a fairly coarse texture paper that celebrates every mark. Colourfix Original comes to mind (again - I really rate this paper), or Uart in its coarser variety. A paper to avoid when painting outside is Sennelier LaCarte as that cannot take even a single drop of rain; the textured coating will come off and ruin your painting.

 If you want to keep things really easy then use Ampersand Pastelbord as the rigid hardwood provides you with a drawing board, pastel painting support all in one. With Pastelbord there's no need for tape, clips or a drawing board. The coarse surface will make sure that ever stroke counts.


What is your favourite paper and how does it match your painting style? Let me know in the comments below.

PS: One of the most popular exercises in my online pastel painting course is when we try out different papers. We paint something on drawing paper and we paint the same thing on sanded paper. It really makes you realise the potential and limitations of each paper! More information about the online course can be found here.


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Published: February 18, 2020

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  1. I read this article – as so often with your texts – with great interest and also read it several times. When I was thinking about painting grounds and materials again the other day, it occurred to me that today we think a lot about it and also exchange a lot about how we find the perfect material and the perfect combination for us. We watch videos on Youtube, from which we hope we can deduce what suits us and our painting style, try to figure out from the pictures what is best to buy, etc…. I admit, I do this especially often, because on the one hand I am a beginner in many techniques except oil, on the other hand my budget is extremely limited and I don't want to risk any bad purchases. So articles like this are particularly helpful and valuable for me. And on one such occasion it occurred to me that the 18th and 19th century artists did not have these options. They were not spoilt for choice between pastelmat or pastelcard, between fixatives from the spray can or not. I know that Liotard, for example, applied pastel on vellum, Renoir often on laminated cardboard (although I don't even know exactly what is meant by that). Even though pastels were originally only for sketches, artists made a conscious decision to create longer-lasting works with them and invested a lot of time in their techniques. This consideration triggered two different sets of questions for me:
    1. how did their paintings survive unscathed in such an ephemeral medium to this day? What painting grounds did they discover here that could also remain relevant for us today beyond the specially developed materials? And how did they fix their paintings back then? Did they also struggle with it and are there records (from diaries perhaps, studio notes or similar) about it?
    2. do we perhaps think too much about technical theory nowadays? Do we perhaps lose our spontaneity by trying to get everything right and find the best materials? Are we perhaps unlearning trial and error, experimentation and self-discovery? Are we reading too much instead of just painting? Of course, even the famous painters had teachers and copied this and that. But is their unique recognisability really just their personal interpretation of it, or did they give it much less thought, and did they simply discover much more possibilities for themselves in this way?
    I would be interested in your opinion, since you are exactly at the interface between art history and practising art.

    Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

  2. Ellen Eagle's book gives a great formula, if you will, to create a pastel ground. It's simple, and not too expense. It is just illustration board, gesso, and pumice. I don't use pumice because I had a hard time getting it at one time. I purchase ground marble and that works just as well. For coloring, she has a suggestion for gray

  3. I’m really not a fan of sanded papers. I do love Velour, but I tend to go also with Pastelmat and a finer smoother paper like Colorfix Smoothe. Depending on what effect and subject I am working on also determines the paper. Glad to know that for the pet portraits UArt 500 works well. The 400 people seem to like is far too gritty for my taste and style.

    1. I count Colourfix, Uart and Pastelmat all under ‘sanded papers’ so it sounds like you do love them! My favourite is Colourfix (but I suppose that was clear from the article) but uart is really nice too.

  4. I definitely enjoy Pastelmat, and am growing in my appreciation for Uart. While many pastelists seem to like Uart 400, with my focus on pets and wildlife, I’ve found that the 400 is a bit too gritty and their 600 is a bit too fine. Just like Goldilocks, I’ve found that Uart 500 seems to be just right!

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