My favorite sketchbooks come in a wide variety of papers, colors, sizes and prices. Let’s take a closer look! Jump to the bottom of this page to watch the full video, or read on for the links and some thoughts.
Oh and FYI – I’m not sponsored by these companies. All of these thoughts are my own and based on years of experience.
Full List of Favorites
(prices may vary from what is listed below based on date and location of purchase, this price is from Jan 2023)
This list may contain affiliate links. Using an affiliate link to purchase your items gives me a small commission at no extra cost to you. New Jacksons customers receive 10% discount on their first order.
|Brand/Item||Price||Paper Type (size in inches)||Page Count||Cost Per Page||Link to my video|
|Hahnemühle Watercolour Book 100% Cotton||£29.20||8×8, Hardcover, 250gsm, Acid Free, Fine Grain (cold pressed), 100% Cotton||60||£0.48||Painting|
|Stillman & Birn Nova Beige||£22.00||8×10 Softcover, Beige, 150gsm, Fine Grain (somewhat smooth), cellulose||92||£0.24||Painting|
|Stillman & Birn Nova Beige||£15.60||6×8 Spiral bound, Beige, 150gsm, Fine Grain (somewhat smooth), cellulose||100||£0.15||N/A|
|Stillman & Birn Beta||£8.60||3.5×5.5 Softcover, Bright White, 270gsm, Cold Pressed, cellulose||52||£0.16||Mini Sketch Kit|
|Strathmore Watercolor Travel Journal||Was £17.00, |
but discontinued 🙁
|7×10, Softcover, 300gsm, Acid Free, Cold Pressed, 100% Cotton||20||£0.85||Sketchbook Tour #8, #9, #12, #13, Painting|
|Etchr Perfect Sketchbook (grey cover)||£44.00||A4 size, Hardcover, 300gsm, Acid Free, Cold Pressed, 100% Cotton||44||£1.00||Sketchbook Tour #11|
|Etchr Everyday Sketchbook (white cover)||£23.50||A5 size, Hardcover, 230gsm, Acid Free, Hot Pressed, 100% Cotton||54||£0.43||Sketchbook Tour #10, Painting,|
|Brand||Price||Paper Type||Page Count||Cost Per Page||Link to my video|
|Paul Rubens Watercolour Paper Journal||£10.99||A5 size, Hardcover, 300gsm, Acid Free, Hot Pressed, 100% Cotton||20||£0.54||Review, Painting|
|Hahnemuhle Toned Watercolour Book||£10.56||A6 size, Hardcover, Grey, 250gsm, Hot Pressed, 100% Cotton||60||£0.17||Sketchbook Tour|
My Criteria for the ‘Best’ Sketchbooks
As a mixed media artist I have two main criteria in choosing a sketchbook:
- 100% cotton paper
- Thick paper (150gsm or more)
The sketchbook doesn’t have to be both, but at least one of those things. I prefer 100% cotton so that I can use watercolor. Cellulose paper limits how much water I can use, but it’s not the end of the world as long as the paper is thick.
The rest is all about feeling.
Etchr Sketchbook Review – Super high quality
I have three Etchr sketchbooks, each is slightly different, but all of them are wonderful to work in.
The Signature series uses off-white 300 gsm 100% cotton Fabriano Artistico paper, which is a dream to paint on. Unfortunately it’s limited addition and they still haven’t released a new version of this.
The Perfect Sketchbook uses white 300 gsm but rumours say it’s no longer Fabriano. Some thing it’s Baohong, but I haven’t confirmed. I enjoy it, so I don’t really care what kind of paper it is.
The Everyday Sketchbook is slightly thinner at 230 gsm but it’s still a joy to paint on. I use both sketchbooks interchangeably and never notice the difference.
I find that they both accept several layers of watercolor just fine. They also withstand a fair bit of scrubbing and lifting. The cold pressed finish has a deep texture, but the pattern isn’t annoying like some other brands (Saunders Waterford Rough – yuck!). If you like texture, you will love their cold pressed sketchbooks.
Of course being 100% cotton paper means they come with a higher price tag. Paying over £40 per sketchbook hurts a little at first, but after a few pages I forget that and just enjoy the experience.
Painting on super high quality paper makes the experience so much more enjoyable. It means I’m never fighting my materials. I’m able to do anything I can imagine, within my skill set. Have you ever painted on cheap paper that buckles or won’t let you layer (Moleskine)? If so you know the pain! Painting is hard enough as it is – don’t torture yourself with bad paper.
On a side note, I’m not a huge fan of the hard covers. I find them a bit too bulky for my taste, then again I am a softcover fan in general.
Etchr sketchbooks are an investment in yourself and pleasure to paint in.
Strathmore Watercolor Journal Review – My Favorites, but Discontinued
Edit: I heard back from Strathmore and they confirmed these have been discontinued.
These are probably my favorite sketchbook all around. I know it’s just a few sheets of paper sewn together but dayum that’s some nice paper.
The paper quality is superb, the whole thing weighs almost nothing, and I really like the sizes – a unique 7×10 inch portrait. The texture is not quite as intense as the Etchr, but still offers tons of character. I think it is just right.
I use these almost exclusively outside because of their portability and quality. Being able to capture my surroundings on the trail is one of my favorite hobbies, and using really nice paper makes it that much more enjoyable. Since they are so light, I barely feel it in my bag.
I was truly devastated when I went to restock these sketchbooks and couldn’t find a single one for sale, outside of an overpriced Etsy shop in the USA. I have emailed Strathmore twice with no response, wondering when they will re-enter the supply chain. I’ve had friends from across the world send me one when they randomly find it online. It’s a bummer. If you find them for a decent price, just buy it!
This dilemma has made me consider learning how to bind my own…maybe someday!
A Surprising Sketchbook from Hahnemühle
This is the 100% cotton sketchbook by Hahnemühle. I bought this on a whim and was pleasantly surprised. For the price, it performs well. It’s not as good as the higher quality brands, but I have really enjoyed it for my outdoor painting adventures. The paper holds up to almost everything I throw at it, except I haven’t tried markers in it.
I really enjoy how lightweight this sketchbook is, even though it’s hardcover. The paper is slightly thinner than the Strathmore but it still holds a fair bit of water. Overall I consider it to be a good “lower tier” 100% cotton sketchbook. Not GREAT but gets the job done.
Stillman & Birn Sketchbook Review – Great for every day use
Affordable and sturdy as heck! I take these outside a lot and they withstand a fair bit of abuse (sorry, sketchbooks). These sketchbooks are not 100% cotton, but the paper is thick so they handle whatever I throw at them. I use pencil, ink, watercolor, gouache and markers in these. I kind of consider them my ‘catch all’ sketchbooks. I keep on in the car, by the door, on the couch and in my studio.
When using paint, I do have to use less water than usual. It takes a little longer for watercolor to ‘sink in’ to the paper. Once it does, I can work with it a little easier. It took some getting used to, so this may not be ideal for total beginners, who might already struggle with technique.
But gouache is great on this paper. I don’t use a ton of water with gouache so that paper matters less. The smoothness of the paper allows for easy application, especially great if you need a large flat color because the paper texture won’t interfere. Even the cold pressed version (Beta) isn’t that textured.
The Stillman & Birn website has a breakdown of all the options. From what I can tell, they name them based on color/thickness of paper.
So just choose which paper weight you prefer, then the color. that will help you decide which series you need.
- 270 gsm slightly textured paper: Beta (white), Delta (ivory)
- 270 gsm smooth paper: Zeta (white)
- 150 gsm slightly textured paper: Alpha (white), Gamma (ivory)
- 150 gsm smooth paper: Epsilon (white)
- 150 gsm Toned (grey, beige, or black): Nova
In addition, you can choose from hardcover, softcover, and spiral bound. I love the softcover. It feels so good in the hand, it’s lighter overall, and sometimes being able to fold the paper back is helpful (like when I’m sketching outside in the wind). They are sewn really well and hold up to a lot of folding!
My Favorites are the Beta and Nova Beige.
I first discovered Stillman & Birn by watching Brenda Swenson’s review on YouTube. I was blown away by her gorgeous paintings and the ‘freshness’ of her sketches. It inspired me to try them, and I’m so glad for that.
Watch the video about my favorite sketchbooks: