Will you expand on the paper in the basic list? I use Strathmore 400 series Bristol smooth for graphite, but prefer the vellum for cp. Which surface and weight were you thinking of? The Michael’s in my county only carries 300 series, which has inconsistent grain, so I order from Blick. –Jana Botkin
Thank you for your question, Jana. I’d be glad to share my thoughts on drawing paper. There are a lot of choices available so I’m confident many of your fellow readers have the same question.
The truth is, choosing paper for colored pencil work is as much a personal preference as anything else. So many things factor into those decisions. Jana mentioned the surface and weight of the paper and those are two important things to consider.
But they aren’t the only things, so before I get to my recommendations, lets take a look at a few “paper basics”.
There are six things to consider when considering which paper to buy. Fiber, weight, surface texture, sizing, longevity, and color.
Paper is made from plant fibers. The most common plants for paper making are cotton, linen, flax, jute, hemp, bamboo, rice straw or rattan. The size and shape of these fibers determine the type and sturdiness of the paper.
Cotton papers are made from cotton fibers, the longest fibers of all the plant types. It’s generally considered the highest quality paper and is referred to as 100% cotton rag. 100% cotton rag paper can withstand heavy erasing and drawing. The highest quality 100% cotton paper can last over 100 years, but not all cotton papers are the same. The shorter the fibers, the more the paper may tend to get “fuzzy” with use. Check the specifications on cotton paper to know what you’re buying.
Cellulose papers are made from wood pulp. Wood pulp papers are usually less expensive, but they’re also usually less archival (long lasting). That’s because wood pulp contains a natural acid that breaks down the fibers over time. Buffers can be added during the manufacturing process to neutralize the acids. Look for the words “buffer”, “buffered”, or “neutral” when deciding which cellulose paper to buy.
Paper weight is a measurement of the thickness—or heaviness—of paper. Traditionally, it’s been measured by weighing 500 sheets (a ream) at a standard size. The more a ream of paper weighs, the thicker each sheet is.
The thicker a sheet of paper is, the more color it can accept without buckling (if you’re using wet media), tearing, or falling apart.
Tracing paper is a light-weight paper. Strathmore 300 series papers are heavier. Card stock papers are still heavier.
Papers used to always be measured in pounds. 300-pound watercolor paper, for example.
But many art paper manufacturers have converted to a grams per square inch (gsm) measurement. A 50-pound paper is the same as an 81gsm paper. Many art retailers show both forms of measurement.
Surface texture is properly known as “finish” when discussing art papers. How the paper is dried during manufacture determines the finish.
Paper with a rough finish is allowed to air dry without being smoothed or pressed. The resulting finish is very textured and is best suited for water media and pastel.
Cold press paper has been pressed before it dries. Handmade papers and machine made papers are pressed in different ways, but the result is the same. The surface fibers are “pressed down” somewhat. Since the pressing is done without heat, the paper isn’t completely smooth. Cold-press paper is the most popular and versatile and is suitable for most media, depending on its weight.
Hot press paper is made by pressing newly made paper through heated metal rollers or plates. All texture left after manufacture is pressed out of the paper. This paper is excellent for highly-detailed illustrations, printmaking, etching, drafting, sketching, and drawing.
Sizing is added to make paper more water-resistant. The paper doesn’t absorb as much moisture or pigment, so watercolors and inks stay brighter and lines stay crisper. It’s less important for papers used for dry media. Sizing also can affect a paper’s archival qualities.
Internal sizing is added while the paper pulp is still in a liquid state. It becomes part of the paper.
External, Surface or Tub sizing is applied to the surface of the paper after the sheet is formed and dried. Some paper is both internally and surface-sized.
Also known as being archival. Archival papers have a proven history of stability over time. They don’t yellow or fade. They’re also more likely to be acid-free, which means they contain little or no cellulose acid natural to wood pulp papers.
Many sketching papers are wood-pulp based papers and are not archival. They’re perfectly suited for sketching, but if you want your better drawings to last a long, long time, use higher quality papers.
Some drawing papers come in only one color. White.
But many others are available in a range of colors. Working on colored paper can be both fun and frustrating. Paper color does affect the way colored pencil looks, but it can also provide a good foundation for your drawing and reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a colored pencil drawing.
What I Use & Why
I buy the best-quality papers possible for colored pencil work because many of my drawings are portraits. Portraits or not, I want all of my best drawings to look fresh and new for years.
My favorite papers are Stonehenge and Bristol Vellum.
I’ve used Stonehenge for years. It’s a cotton-based paper suitable for watercolor (in limited amounts), drawing, and printmaking. It has enough tooth to take a lot of color, but is smooth enough for drawing details. It’s available in several sheet sizes, in pads, and rolls and comes in white and a selection of light colors and black. It has no sizing (that I’m aware of) so the surface is relatively soft, almost velvety.
It’s my go-to paper for large and small drawings. For smaller drawings, the 90-lb (250 gsm) is very good, but I prefer the heavier 120-lb (320 gsm) paper. It’s also available as a rigid support, which I haven’t yet tried.
The biggest disadvantage to Stonehenge is that it can be difficult to find locally. I order mine from Dick Blick.
It also should be handled with care, since the surface can be easily impressed. Flat storage for sheets is recommended.
Bristol paper is a more economical paper. Usually acid-free and generally heavier than other papers, it’s often referred to as “Bristol board”; usually 100-lb (270 gsm).
It comes in two surfaces. The smooth (or regular) surface is very smooth and somewhat slick.
Vellum finish has a little more tooth and is ideal for drawing. I have a pad of it in my paper drawer and use it for article illustrations, but layering a lot of color can be difficult with use of solvents or workable fixative.
Bristol generally comes only in white and is available from a variety of manufacturers. I currently am using Strathmore Bristol Vellum, but have also used—and liked—Beinfang and other brands.