As a design student turned freelance artist, I’ve bought many sketchbooks over the years. Some were bought for a specific purpose, others because they were the cheapest thing I can get.
Choosing the right sketchbook can be a surprisingly difficult task. I could tell you my favourite sketchbook (MD Paper with dot grids) but what works for me almost certainly won’t work for you. Choosing the right sketchbook involves figuring out what sort of creative activity you want (or will) be doing and finding a sketchpad which allows you to do that thing.
Today I’m going to share some of the aspects you should consider when buying a new sketchbook. Just remember that the right sketchbook is a very personal thing, what works for one person might not work for another. So while I’ve shared some of the most important points, you’ll know best what you’re looking for.
How To Choose The Perfect Sketchbook
This is probably going to overlap with other aspects I’ll mention later, but one of the first things you should consider is how you’re going to use your sketchbook. For example, is there a specific project or type of art you want to try in your sketchbook? Or are you maybe an art student and have been told to buy a sketchbook for a specific purpose?
While I was at university I bought many, many sketchbooks. These sketchbooks were usually the cheapest I could find, with a hard-wearing binding. These were bought for one specific purpose. I’d work on a single project in each sketchbook and move on to the next. I didn’t exactly like these sketchbooks, and I went through so many you might call it wasteful. But they did the job I needed them to do.
You might not need to buy a sketchbook for education. But it can help to think about how you’re going to use your sketchbook. Is it something which will stay in one location, or is it something you might want to carry around with you so you can draw on the go.
Similar to above, the actual mediums you use in your sketchbook are going to guide what kind of sketchbook you’re going to buy. The most important factor to consider here is the paper and how it will interact with the mediums you’re using. If you work with oils or acrylics, you’re going to want a sketchbook which can handle those heavy mediums. Similarly, if you use a lot of ink or something like Copic markers, you’re going to want a sketchbook which can cope with those mediums without bleeding.
But what if you don’t know what sort of medium you’re going to use in your sketchbook? Or you don’t want to be limited by using one specific medium. Sometimes it can be good to find a sketchbook which works all round. Okay, maybe some mediums won’t work brilliantly, but having a sketchbook which doesn’t limit what you could use in it can help develop your art practice.
When I was in college I had to use an A3 sketchbook. I’m sure there was some good reason why students needed this specific size of sketchbook, but I hated it. It was a hassle to carry around (most rucksacks are not A3 size) and I usually ended up only filling half of each sketchbook. Sketchbooks come in a huge variety of sizes, going from tiny A6 sketchbooks to A3. Not to mention all the weird and wonderful B-size sketchbooks along with the myriad of US-sized sketchbooks.
Choosing the right size of sketchbook might depend on how you plan to use the sketchbook. Smaller sketchbooks are more transportable than my weighty A3 pads. But the size can come down to preference. For personal artwork, I tend to go for something around A5 size, but I have enjoyed using A6 sketchbooks and even have some smaller than that. Smaller sketchbooks work well for how I use them, but just consider how you’re going to use it. If you want to do full paintings in a sketchbook something larger might work better. But I love my tiny sketchbooks for keeping small notes and doodles.
When it comes to binding, there are really only two options available, ring binding or your standard stitch binding. The type you choose can come down to preference. Sketchpads typically come with a ring binding. This can be good because larger sketchbooks can be folded over, but the downside of the ring binding potentially coming apart.
The only real advantage of ring binding (from my personal experience) is that you can disassemble the rings and remove the paper. I did this to all my university sketchbooks once I was done using them and now have a pile of paper to use for other projects.
Sketchbooks with the more traditional stitch binding tend to hold up better with heavy use (though again this can depend on the brand). If you want to work across a double-page spread, a sketchbook with stitch binding will work better.
Everything up till this point has been relatively important when it comes to choosing the perfect sketchbook. But choosing the right paper is probably one of the most important points. Things like the mediums you plan on using, and how you plan to use the sketchbook will guide the type of paper that will work best for you.
Sketchbooks can come with a huge range of different papers. I’ve tried everything from newsprint to heavy watercolour paper. Standard ring-bound sketchbooks tend to have a good mixed media paper. They won’t work the best with acrylic and watercolours, but they will do okay.
There are also brands which sell sketchbooks specifically made for one medium. The Rendr sketchbooks are designed to be used will alcohol inks such as Copic markers. Some brands such as Fabriano sell sketchbooks specifically intended to be used with watercolour. This doesn’t mean you have to choose a sketchbook specifically made for your chosen medium. But depending on how you want to use the sketchbook it can help.
My Favourite Sketchbooks
It can be difficult to know what sketchbook will work best for you. It can take a lot of time and money to test out different sketchbook brands. So I’ve compiled a list of my favourite sketchbooks so you can hopefully find one which will suit your needs.
Kunst & Papier
I love the Kunst & Papier sketchbooks, even though they didn’t work as I wanted. I think they look nice, I’m a fan of their greyboard covers, though black is also available. The binding is well made and overall I think it’s a nice sketchbook. However, the paper is quite thin, think more of a mixed media type paper. And didn’t work particularly well with watercolour or ink. Despite saying that, I love these sketchbooks and if you work with pencils I think the slightly rough paper in this sketchbook could be a great choice.
Kunst & Papier don’t have an official website (that I can find at least). But if you’re in the UK these sketchbooks can be found in Jackson’s, sold as Jackson’s own brand sketchbooks.
I started using my Royal Talens sketchbook just as I finished university and it was such a nice experience being able to use a sketchbook and not have to worry about handing it in to be marked. I loved using this sketchbook, I went for the 13 by 21cm version which is around the equivalent of an A5. I threw so many different types of media at this sketchbook, ink, gouache, acrylic, and watercolour and it coped pretty well with all of them.
I say pretty well because this is an £8 sketchbook so I’m not expecting it to be brilliant. And there were some inks it didn’t cope extremely well with (mostly the Pilot Parallel pen). But for the price, it was a great little sketchbook. My only complaint about this sketchbook was that it didn’t have grid lines in it which I can’t say is a true negative because that was really a me (and my art) problem. But seriously, if you’re looking for a good all-round sketchbook give Royal Talens a try,
I also made a TikTok which shows my completed Royal Talens sketchbook if you’re interested in that.
Seawhite of Brighton
I have bought many, many Seawhite branded sketchbooks over the years. These sketchbooks were specifically bought for my university course and for that specific use, they held up pretty great. You can buy staple-bound Seawhite sketchbooks but I always went for the ring bound option as they had more sheets and the binding tended to hold up a little better.
These sketchbooks took a beating. Between me trying pretty much every media you can think of in them and carrying them to university every day. For just a standard sketchbook they are pretty decent, with nice mixed-media paper. As I’ve already mentioned I disassembled most of my university sketchbooks and still use the Seawhite paper because it works pretty great with calligraphy ink. If you need just a generic sketchbook I’d certainly recommend trying this brand.
I could have mentioned so many more sketchbooks in that last section but I decided to just go with my three favourites. Choosing a sketchbook can be so complicated because you need to find something which works best for you. It can take a lot of trial and error to find something you love. If you’ve come across any other great sketchbook brands I’d love to hear about them. I’m always looking for new sketchbooks to try.