Alternatives to Drawing Paper for Colored Pencil

Alternatives to Drawing Paper for Colored Pencil

Are there alternatives to drawing paper for use with colored pencil?

The short answer is yes. There are times when choosing the best support for your next drawing involves choosing something other than drawing paper.

Why You Might Want Alternatives to Drawing Paper

First, lets take a look at a couple of reasons why you might be looking for drawing paper alternatives. (There are more than you might expect.)

You Need to Frame Without Glass

It is possible to frame colored pencil art without glass, but you need to make preparation from the beginning. Since the primary reason for framing colored pencil drawings under glass is to protect the drawing paper, the only way to safely frame without glass is to draw on a rigid support—something that cannot be easily torn or punctured.

Some drawing papers are available with rigid backing, but not all. So if you need (or want) a rigid support, you need an alternative to traditional paper.

You Want Your Colored Pencil Drawings to Look More Like Paintings

There is a perception that artwork on paper is less valuable than artwork on supports such as canvas, canvas panel, or hardwood. The bias isn’t usually accurate—most mediums suitable for paper are just as archival as other mediums if used and displayed correctly—but the bias does exist.

Colored pencils can be used on all of the rigid supports above and many others. I’ve tried it on canvas and have drawn on wood supports and liked the results.

You Want Your Colored Pencil Drawings to be More “Approachable”

A lot of colored pencil artists perceive glass to be an obstacle between their work and the audience. To avoid that, they frame colored pencil art without glass.

You and Traditional Drawing Paper Just Don’t Get Along

It may be that traditional drawing papers just don’t work with your method of drawing. That’s perfectly all right! Nothing works all of the time for everyone. Even those of us who like drawing paper often have several favorites. I know I do.

But sometimes, an artist needs something totally different. Watercolor paper for watercolor pencils or mixed media. Sanded paper for lots of layering. The list is endless.

That’s when you need a alternative to drawing paper.

You Want to Experiment

Lets face it, some of us just like to try new things! There’s nothing wrong with that! Alternatives to drawing paper are only one way to experiment, but they are often the least expensive way to experiment.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to draw on something besides paper, what are your choices?

4 Alternatives to Drawing Paper

In a previous article, I described some of the non-paper supports I’ve drawn on. You can read about mat board, sanded art papers, and wood in 3 Excellent Drawing Paper Alternatives, so I won’t do more than just mention them here. Instead, let’s take a look at some of the other types of drawing paper alternatives.

Let’s begin with something I mentioned earlier: drawing paper boards.

Bristol Paper Boards

These papers are all mounted on rigid supports that are archival and acid-free. Most of them can withstand heavy use, and some are even capable of holding up under light washes of water soluble color.

There only two disadvantages:

First, they are probably not the type of support you’d want to frame without glass. They are more durable than drawing paper, but because they are drawing paper mounted to a rigid support, they are still susceptible to damage.

Second, they are available in only two surfaces: Vellum and plate. Plate is very smooth and are therefore not reliable for drawing methods that require lots of layering. Vellum is better for layering, but may still be too smooth. As I mentioned in our discussion of paper tooth, neither may be suitable if you do a lot of layering.

I’ve included Rising Museum Board in the list below, but it is actually not intended as a drawing surface. It’s not a surface I’ve drawn on before, but I do like Rising Stonehenge paper, so wouldn’t be afraid to give this a try. I’ve also used mat board effectively, so wouldn’t be afraid to try this.

The links below are to the Dick Blick website, where more information is available on each support.

Suede Board

Gemma Gylling has been using suede board for years and creates the most phenomenal pet and wildlife artwork.

I’ll be honest. I was biased against suede mat board because of past experiences with velvet paint-by-numbers. I tried one or two of those and absolutely, positively did not like them. So whenever someone asked if I’d tried colored pencil on suede board, I said I hadn’t. I didn’t intend to, either.

But colored pencil works much more nicely on suede mat board than oil paints work on velvet. All I had to do was draw one eye from imagination on a sample of blue suede board to decide I wanted to try it for a larger drawing (stay tuned for a work-in-progress demonstration on that).

Although its surface is best described as “plushy”, it can take a lot of color. You can also render a lot of detail on it. You will have to adjust color application methods somewhat and you’ll need to build up three or four layers before the colors begin to pop, at least on the darker color I was using.

But it produces a type of drawing that I’ve not been able to duplicate on any other paper. It’s definitely worth a try.

Pastel Boards

Pastel boards are designed to be drawn on with pastels. They generally have more tooth because pastels require more tooth to stick to the drawing surface. Some are actually sanded art papers, while others are just a toothier form of drawing paper. There are so many that I can list only a few here.

But you may recognize many of the brand names: Names like UArt, Art Spectrum, Canson Mi-Teintes.

Most of these surfaces are listed as “multi-media”. I’ve seen the most luscious oil paintings on Ampersand Pastelbord, for example.

Some of these supports are on my wish list. All of them sound intriguing. If one of your primary reasons for wanting to draw on something other than drawing paper is framing without glass, give one of these a try.


The last surface I’ll look at today is canvas. Plain and simple oil or acrylic painting canvas. Granted, this is not a support I’ve ever considered, though John Ursillo’s work on canvas does make the prospect more inviting. Canvas is so toothy that about the only way to use it successfully with colored pencil is to use solvents to melt the color down into the weave.

Master that method, though, and you can produce any level of detail you desire AND have a surface that never needs glass in the framing process.


These are just a few of the more common alternatives to drawing paper. There are many others, so if you really want to experiment, you have lots of options.

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      1. Bev: Thanks for asking such an insightful question and your kind words about what I do.

        Short answer: not as much as one would expect.

        Long answer: I apply CP to canvas in two ways that fit my subject, the desired texture to be simulated, the canvas weave. etc. – “dry” ( no solvent just blender/burnisher) or “wet” (with Gamsol, Turpenoid, Isopropanol or water).

        The dry canvas application of pigment followed by use of a colorless blender or stylus takes a bit more of a toll on the pencil but not that much more than using, for example, a sanded paper or board. Of course, this depends a lot on the weave of the canvas and the tooth of the gesso ground the manufacturer applied to his product.

        By contrast the wet application is actually much more kind to my pencils. This is because the core of the pencil dissolves in the solvent, laying down a very thin, very saturated layer of color that covers a lot more area than even a good paper. Sort of like a highly burnished application only with a lot less waxiness, or wear and tear on the pencil or the paper.

        I’ve been using canvas as my primary support for over 10 years – both as canvas board and stretched. I typically work large (my biggest CP piece so far is 30×40″) and the economy of using solvent in terms of time and pencil “consumption” makes this possible.

        There’s a page on my website devoted to the “how” of using CP on canvas. I also have a study guide that digs into how to use this very economical (low cost, no glass), forgiving (allows lots of color removal to fix “oopsies!”), resilient (no pun) support. Do give it a try! If you want a copy of the study guide just drop me an email.

        1. Jatinder Peters

          John that’s wonderful insights into using coloured pencils on canvas. I would love to receive a copy of the study guide for my explorations in this field….

          1. Good morning, Jatinder! I would be delighted to share the styudy guides regarding use of colored pencils on canvas with you. The electornic files are rather large since they were originally intended as handouts at workshops – so if you would sendme your snailmail address as well as your email, I will get them to you.

            For my latest pieces on canvas I would refer you to my website: Thdere you will a,so find a page devoted to a step by step walk-through of the process for using canvas as a support by way of solvents.

            Looking forward to hearing from you,

            John Ursillo, cpsa

        2. Jana Gail Hummel

          I’m a full blown oil painter, wet on wet technique, but one day I saw the master of ,”one stroke painting.” I was so impressed, I ordered her starter set, but I didn’t realize it was acrylic paint. I wasn’t paying attention to all that information. It has taken me over 10 years to venture away from my beloved oil paints, but I’m finally trying colored pencils and acrylic’s. Of course, once I began, I only had supplies for oil. So, I dug around in my bathroom and found, Mineral Oil. Wow, that stuff make’s col. pencil’s flow like crazy plus it will erase some things if you use too much! Baby oil works pretty good also. I think I’m gonna try oil painting on my suede board next. Might be a mess but I’ve got to try, I’m too curious.

  1. Kathy Gaines

    Have worked in CP for several years after many years in various other media…like CP best as I seem to have better control with the pencils.
    Found your website recently & like your work very much. I’ll check out your classes, etc. & see about taking a class or two.

  2. Patricia Wilson

    I love this article. In reading your posts regarding the colored pencils, I have become more of an expert and thank you so much for getting me to that place. Keep up the good work.

  3. Gail Jones

    Hi Carrie, thank you for sharing about John U. and his work. Love his art! I too requested any articles from him that he is willing to share on working with solvents and CP. Happy drawing everyone.

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