Charcoal paper is used with drawing materials that do not fix to surfaces well, particularly charcoal. Made with regular striped indentations on its surface, charcoal paper fixes color (such as charcoal) effectively, enabling a rich range of drawing expression.
Charcoal paper allows for subtle marks, shading, and so on due to its particular softness and texture. Thus, it is important to draw without damaging the paper. In order to dampen the force of drawing strokes, make sure to have a cushion of around four or five sheets of charcoal paper under the sheet you are using. When making multiple charcoal marks on top of each other, first gently smudge the marks with a cloth or the pads of your fingers (as if you were pushing it into the indentations on the paper) and then make your marks to accentuate the darkness. Use bread or a soft cloth to erase lines in your drawings, as rubbing with a kneading eraser or a finger can damage the uneven surface of the paper.
There are several types of charcoal paper available. The most widely used, MBM charcoal paper, is made by the French company Canson. Canson makes MBM Three Star, a special product for the Japanese market, which is charcoal paper of the highest quality and, as the name suggests, has a three star watermark. MBM Three Star is a neutral paper made from cotton (75%) and cellulose, which preserves well. Several choices in sizes and thickness are available for this paper: 500-mm x 600-mm “charcoal paper size” paper with a thickness of either 105 g or 130g (weight for one sheet of one meter square) and a 650-mm x 1000-mm size that only comes in 130 g.
Canson Charcoal Paper, also made by Canson, is a neutral paper made from cotton (60%) and cellulose. The color is close to pure white, a color achieved through colorings (the white version of the 12 colored paper series called Ingres Vidalon, made by the same company). Canson Charcoal Paper comes in a size of 500 mm x 650 mm and a choice of two thicknesses: 100g and 125g. Canson Charcoal Paper is also available in versions such as the low-cost Ingres Ecoles variety.
Atelier is made by Japanese paper maker Muse. A neutral paper made from wood pulp (100%), it comes in a pale cream color and one size: 500 mm x 650 mm (107 g).
Before beginning drawing, make sure to check both sides of the paper. The front side is the side where the indentations are most pronounced. You can also check with the alignment of the watermark (the letters “MBM” or “ATELIER” should be right side up if you are looking at the front of the paper). As charcoal drawings are easily smudged, also make sure to use a fixative after you have finished.
Charcoal paper is available for purchase at art supply stores.
*The illustrations (photos) are test samples designed to illustrate the characteristics of the paper and provide an example of how artists might use the product for expressive purposes. They are not intended to recommend specific drawing materials for certain purposes (the illustrations may even use some drawing materials considered unsuitable for given applications in order to exhibit their traits).
- Charcoal paper (close-up)
- Examples of strokes on MBM Charcoal Paper (heavyweight)
- Examples of strokes using charcoal (on MBM Charcoal Paper [heavyweight])