Choosing the best sketchbooks from the many options available is a big task, and your choice can have a real impact on your work. A sketchbook with heavier, thicker paper is more suitable for artists using watercolours and markers, whereas lighter paper works better for dry media.
It's also important to consider the 'tooth' or texture of the paper. Paper with more bite has pits and grooves to hold pigment from charcoal and pastels, while smooth paper is better suited to pencils and inks (see here for our pick of the best pencils around). You'll also want to think about binding. A spiral-bound sketchbook lies flat while you work, while some hard-bound sketchbooks can be harder to use.
Finally, there's the question of size. For sketching on the move, a smaller hard-cover sketchbook can be handy, fitting into a bag or pocket and protecting your work, whereas large-format sketchbooks will give you more space and freedom. Our pick of the best sketchbooks below cover all these options, offering something for every kind of artist.
The best sketchbooks for artists available now
The Moleskine Art Collection Sketchbook gets our vote for the best sketchbook overall. This is the larger of the two sizes available, giving you plenty of room to work, but it's still great for sketching on the go thanks to its elastic closure, which keeps it neatly close in a bag, and its rounded corners that won't get bent. Its ivory-coloured paper is quite smooth, but with enough tooth for most dry media. With 240 pages, you won't need to worry about filling it up too quickly, but the price is so reasonable that it wouldn't matter if you did.
If you're new to sketching, this superb all-rounder is great option to use for practising as you learn and progress. The Leda Art Supply Premium Sketchbook is a little smaller than A4 size, enabling it to fit neatly into most folders and bags and it's inexpensive enough to use for everyday practice, wherever you are. Its cover is waterproof, protecting your work on the move, though it is also flexible, so you'll need a hard surface to support it. Despite being thread-bound, the sketchbook lies just as flat as a spiral-bound notebook, and its cream-coloured pages have micro-perforations for easy removal.
Strathmore's specialist papers are made with specific purposes in mind, paying careful attention to colour, absorbency, weight and texture. For professional artists, the Strathmore 400 Series Sketch Pad is one of the best sketchbooks around, with a fine-tooth that carries graphite, coloured pencils and pastels well. This is the smallest pad in a series that comes in a wide range of sizes (all the way up to 18 x 24 inches if you need more space to work with). It's a top-quality pad, ideal for structural sketches. The price per sheet means it's probably a little too expensive for regular practising, but it's a delight to use.
The Bellofy Artist Sketchbook boasts super-thick, premium paper that's strong and smooth enough to carry wet media like ink or watercolour and allow dry media like charcoal and pencil to slide over it. The 100-sheet notebook is acid-free, which helps reduce blotches and smudges, and it's made from recycled paper – another big tick. The notebook is spiral bound at the top, meaning it lies flat without the annoyance of the spiral part on either side. This is a particularly welcome bonus for left-handed artists, who can find the spirals an irritation. All in all, it's a pleasure to use.
Mixed-media pads can be useful, but they rarely perform as well as pads designed for specific tasks. The Canson Artist Series Watercolor Pad is specially made to withstand repeated washes. Its thick paper ensures that it won't ripple or deform as it dries, and there'll be no bleeding. Each page is perforated, but Canson has factored that into the size, so you won't lose any paper when you tear a page out –something that happens with many similar pads. It works out a little pricey per page, but this sketchbook has been so thoughtfully designed, we think it's well worth the additional cost.
Another excellent wet media sketchbook from Canson, the Canson XL Marker Paper Pad provides 100 pages of thin, slightly translucent paper. That makes it quite unusual, but the paper works well for sketching and tracing. The surface is smooth with little tooth, so you won't need to worry about your markers snagging, and the ink won't bleed through to the next page. The translucent paper means you'll be able to see your sketches on the reverse, so you won't be able to sketch on both sides, the pad comes with enough sheets for this not to be an issue.
Toned sketchbooks are ideal for learning to use values since they encourage you to use a whole range, helping you achieve more realistic results. Strathmore also offers a grey-toned pad, but the Strathmore 400 Series Toned Tan Pad is our pick since its warm colour lends life to portrait sketches. The paper's smooth texture works particularly strongly with coloured pencils and graphite, though it carries all dry media well. If you've not used toned paper before then you might prefer a less costly pad at first, but Strathmore's paper is a joy to use once you're confident.
The neat little Pentalic Wire-Bound Sketch Book is compact enough to fit in a pocket and tough enough to survive some rough treatment. Its hard cover prevents damage from everyday knocks and scrapes, while its double wire spiral binding is resistant to bending. There are no perforations for tearing out pages, so this is better for exercises and rough work than pieces that you'll want to place in a portfolio. However, its affordable price means we have no reservations about filling it and it's one of the best sketchbooks available for an artist on the go.
Many sketchbooks are close to A4-sized, but there's no need to confine your work to such a small space. The Canson Artist Series Universal Sketch Pad comes in a version that's two feet long, giving you space to draw freely. The spiral binding lets the sketchbook lie flat as you work, while the hard cover provides protection and support. Each page is easy to remove for storage in a portfolio. The paper doesn't have a great deal of tooth, so it's best for use with pencils and charcoal. Look out for multipacks of this and other Canson sketchbooks as these are often a good, economical way to stock up.