Choosing the best sketchbooks out of the many available feels like a big task because your choice has 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 vital 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). A spiral-bound sketchbook lies flat while you work, but some hard-bound sketchbooks can be harder to use.
For sketching on-the-go, a smaller hard-cover sketchbook will serve you well, fitting into a bag or pocket and protecting your work, whereas large-format sketchbooks will give you more space and freedom. With all that in mind, here's our pick of the best sketchbooks to make you a better creative – however you work.
The Moleskine Art Collection Sketchbook is ideal for sketching on the move, and wins our vote for best sketchbook overall. This is the larger of the two sizes, giving you plenty of room to work, but it's still convenient for carrying thanks to its elastic closure, which keeps it neat in a bag, and rounded corners that won't become bent. Its ivory-colored 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 will serve you well as you learn and progress, and is inexpensive enough to use for everyday practising, wherever you are. The Leda Art Supply Premium Sketchbook is a little smaller than A4 size, enabling it to fit neatly into most folders and bags. Its cover is waterproof to protect your work on the move, though it's worth noting that it's flexible, so you'll need a hard surface to support it. Despite being thread-bound, it lies just as flat as a spiral-bound notebook, and its cream-colored pages have micro-perforations for easy removal.
Strathmore's specialist papers are made with specific uses in mind, paying careful attention to color, 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, but it comes in a wide range of sizes (all the way up to 18 x 24 inches) if you need more space to work. This top quality general purpose pad is ideal for structural sketches, though the price per sheet means it's probably a little too expensive for practising.
The Bellofly Artist Sketchbook has super-thick, premium paper that's strong and smooth enough for wet media like ink or watercolour, and allows dry media like charcoal and pencil slide over it. The 100-sheet notebook is a joy to use. It's acid-free, which helps reduce blotches and smudges and made of recycled paper – a big tick.
The notebook is spiral bound at the top, meaning it lies flat without the annoyance of the spiral part on either side, which is also a bonus (especially for left-handed artists, who can find the spirals bothersome).
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 made to made to withstand repeated washes. Its thick paper won't ripple of 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 an inch of paper when you tear a page out, as you do with many similar pads. This sketchbook works out quite pricey per page, but so thoughtfully designed, we think it's well worth the extra outlay.
Another excellent wet media sketchbook from Canson, the Canson XL Marker Paper Pad provides 100 pages of thin, slightly translucent paper that's quite unusual, but works well for sketching and tracing. The surface is smooth with little in the way of 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, but there are enough sheets for this not to be an issue.
Toned sketchbooks are ideal for learning to use values, encouraging you to use a whole range and helping you achieve more realistic results. Strathmore also offers a gray toned pad, but we've picked the Strathmore 400 Series Toned Tan Pad as the best sketchbook because its warm colour lends life to portrait sketches. The paper's smooth texture works particularly well 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.
Many sketchbooks are roughly A4-sized, but there's no need to confine your work to such small spaces. This version of the Canson Artist Series Universal Sketch Pad is two feet long, giving you space to draw freely. Its paper doesn't have much tooth, so it's best for use with pencils and charcoal. The spiral binding lets it lie flat as you work, the hard cover provides protection and support, and each page is easy to remove for storage in a portfolio. Keep an eye out for multipacks of Canson sketchbooks, as these are often a good way to stock up.
At the other end of the scale, we have the neat little Pentalic Wire-Bound Sketch Book, which is small enough to fit in a pocket, and tough enough to survive some rough treatment. Its hard cover prevents damage from everyday knocks and bumps, and its double wire spiral bounding resists bending. There are no perforations for tearing out pages, so this is better for exercises and rough work than pieces you want to keep in a portfolio. That's fine by us, though, and its affordable price means we've no reservations about filling it. One of the best sketchbooks for any artist on the move.