I know the term "writing utensil", "writing implement", or "writing instrument" can be used to encompass anything you would write with such as pen, pencil, stylus, etc. but I am looking for it's counterpart that encompasses all things you might write on such as paper, papyrus, notebook, clay tablet, etc.

To clarify, I am looking for a word that encompasses the whole thing you write on or in so "writing surface" does not quite fit. For example, the writing surface of a notebook is just the page you write on, not the whole notebook, and the writing surface of a an iPad is just the screen, not the whole iPad.

  • 3
    Writing surface?
    – nnnnnn
    Dec 15, 2019 at 6:35
  • @nnnnnn Not a bad thought, but I am looking for a word that encompasses the whole thing.
    – Nosajimiki
    Dec 15, 2019 at 6:56
  • 3
    Perhaps medium—a tablet, paper, a chalk board, the wall of a cave, a digital medium
    – Xanne
    Dec 15, 2019 at 7:36
  • 1
    Why exactly do you reject writing surface? Is it just because it sounds inelegant? Given that the need for this hypernym does not arise very often, there may not be anything more elegant.
    – jsw29
    Dec 15, 2019 at 16:40
  • writing instrument and kitchen utensil, please.
    – Lambie
    Feb 25 at 18:55

3 Answers 3


All of the items you describe are writing materials. The Oxford English Dictionary includes a collocation for this under "writing, n.":

d. In sense ‘used or designed for writing upon’, as writing cloth, writing material, writing slate, writing surface. Also writing-book n., writing-paper n. ...

1875 E. H. Knight Pract. Dict. Mech. 2477/2 Table, a tablet..[or] writing-surface.

1888 J. W. Burgon Lives Twelve Good Men II. v. 36 To get out his writing materials, and to scribble.

The hypernym can refer to either surfaces or utensils, depending on context. The OED examples are all from the 19th century, so I looked for a few more recent examples.

  1. Ancient Writing Materials, a University of Michigan website that documents materials used by ancient people for writing: "Ancient writers wrote on a variety of other materials besides papyrus, including pottery, animal hides, wood, and even ancient paper."

  2. A Materials Research Society lesson, "Module 10 Writing Materials," includes this list of examples: "We will identify the properties of different writing materials, including stone, papyrus, parchment, and paper, and discusses the implications of the transition from manual to mechanical and digital printing. "

  3. A National Association for the Education of Young Children guide, "Promoting Preschoolers’ Emergent Writing," gives this advice: "Strategically place writing materials, such as sticky notes, small chalkboards, whiteboards, envelopes, clipboards, journals, stencils, golf pencils, markers, and various types, sizes, and colors of paper throughout the classroom."


medium (Lexico/Oxford)

4 The material or form used by an artist, composer, or writer.

Usage, however, is mostly in the context of art than writing.

Xanne already noted this term in their comment. Writing surface as suggested by nnnnnn works, too, and is more common.

  • As the quoted definition itself makes clear, this sense of medium applies to the material, generally, used by an artist, not specifically the surfaces that pigments are applied to, which is what the OP is asking about. In fact, the word is typically applied only to the most noticeable material, and that is usually not the surface: for example, if an artist paints by applying oil paint to canvass, we are more likely to say that his medium is oil, than that it is canvass.
    – jsw29
    Dec 15, 2019 at 16:36
  • @jsw29 Writer, writing -- note the context -- it's nothing much about art.
    – Kris
    Dec 18, 2019 at 7:55
  • Thanks for the generous down vote, too.
    – Kris
    Dec 18, 2019 at 7:55
  • The OP's question may have been 'nothing much about art', but the answer is, in its own words, about a term that is used 'mostly in the context of art [rather] than writing'. In any event, the answer is about 'materials', generally, while the OP is looking for a specific term for the writing surface, as distinct from the other materials involved (i.e. the materials that are applied to the surface, such as ink).
    – jsw29
    Dec 18, 2019 at 15:47

How about just "surface"? Here are some others that might work:

Canvas (and any of the rest, really) can be used as a metonym for anything one can paint/draw/write on. Take the quote by Thoreau:

"This world is but a canvas to our imagination."

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