There are really two things that make a good piece of drawn art. The medium (pencil, ink, pastel, etc) and the paper. Paper is often underrated and misunderstood. The quality and type of paper has a huge impact on the final product.
I love paper. There are so many different types and they all lend something unique to a drawing. You can get the hand made stuff, with its odd texture and uneven spots. It might even have flowers or leaves pressed into it. You can get paper that has the texture of canvas, leather, knits. They even have metallic papers. Some of it is very expensive and some not quite so bad. There is a paper for every budget and project.
There are a few basic types of paper that most artists use. Standard copier paper, newsprint, trace paper, and “water color” papers. Let us dig in.
Most copier paper is “bright” as in it reflects a lot of light and appears very white. It is also smooth and fairly light weight (how thick the paper is.) It is fairly inexpensive and can be found in most homes and offices, making it a readily available drawing surface.
Copier paper is not acid free. Acid free paper is important if you are planning on keeping your art for future generations (read more here.) I would not recommend using copier paper for anything that you would like to keep or sell. It will start to deteriorate (discolor and become brittle) after a few years. It works with all sorts of mediums. Personally I find it too smooth for charcoals.
I doodle and do sketches on copier paper. It is great for basic layouts, thought clouds and many other temporary things. I rarely go a day without using a piece of copier paper to doodle on.
Newsprint is the paper that newspapers is made of. It is very cheap and comes in many sizes. It also comes in a variety of colors from bright white to natural, a kind of pale grayish yellow color. (hint: it is also used as a packing material. I got a huge box of it when the movers left a box with our boxes. Check local listings for people who are getting rid of moving boxes, you might hit a mother load.)
Newsprint is even lighter weight than copy paper and not acid free. It is amazingly smooth and useful for sketching with chalks, charcoals and pencils. It is very thin and absorbs liquid quite readily, I would not use inks on this and use soft pencils.
If you like pen and ink or pencil, trace paper and a light table are going to be your best friends. Not only can you see the original image through the tracing paper, you can alter it to suit the final project. You can transfer the image in many ways to whatever final paper you are planning on using. Here is a nice video on tracing and some other methods (if you do not have tracing paper or light table… I don’t have either.)
Tracing paper is very thin. You can get archival quality tracing paper (acid free.) It is meant for inks and pencil art, so I would not recommend using pastels, chalks or charcoals.
This is mostly catch all term for heavy weight, mildly textured paper. It comes in a variety of colors, textures and weights. Yes, watercolor artists use it but it is also commonly used with other types of art, including drawing.
This is a very versatile paper. You can use heavy weight versions with oil paints, acrylics or tempera. Inks and pencils work well with the smoother variants, and charcoals, pastels and chalks work well on all the textures.
This stuff was made for artists and is archival quality, it will last for a very long time. Sadly, it is not always very affordable. Prices vary greatly by color and weight.
Surprise! You can draw on wood! You can also buy boards that a ready to draw on. It is wood and you can treat it to be archival quality, so it will last. Pencils, chalks, and pastels work best on wood.
I love paper. Check out your art store and see if there is a cool paper that you really like. It may not be one that is good for drawing, but you can do amazing things with some paper, like quilling (Check out the art from Yulia Brodskaya.)