Are Certain Pencils Better for Certain Papers?

Are Certain Pencils Better for Certain Papers?

Here’s a question for you. Are certain pencils better for certain papers? What factors might influence how a colored pencil works on any type of paper?

A lot of artists who are new to colored pencils ask what brand of colored pencils work best on which drawing papers. There is no way to answer that question with a one-size-fits-all answer because so many things make a difference.

What are they? I’m glad you asked.

Are Certain Pencils Better for Certain Papers?

In general, all colored pencils work to one degree or another on all papers. They wouldn’t have much of a market if they didn’t.

But the material that “binds” the pigment together also makes a difference. All colored pencils are made with a combination of oil, wax and other materials. This binding agent is what turns dry pigment into a usable form.

Pencils that contain more oil than wax and said to be oil-based. Pencils that contain more wax than oil are wax-based.

Oil and wax behaves differently. In general, oil-based pencils are harder and drier than wax-based pencils. Some artists refer to the feel of oil-based pencils as “scratchy.”

Wax-based pencils are generally softer and smoother (more buttery) in feel and use.

These two types of pencils perform differently from one paper to the next. I find that oil-based pencils work best on papers like Canson Mi-Teintes and textured art papers such as Pastelmat. When I use wax-based pencils, I’m more likely to use smoother papers like Stonehenge, Artagain or even Bristol.

Drawing Method

The softer the pencil, the more quickly it puts color on paper. The harder the pencil, the more difficult it is to get the same amount of color on the paper. You need more layers or heavier pressure (as a rule) with hard pencils than soft ones to get the same results.

Hard pencils are better for drawing detail. That’s where they really shine.

I sometimes use Prismacolor Soft Core and Faber-Castell Polychromos together. The two brands work very well together, especially when I do the first work with Polychromos, then use the softer Prismacolor. That process seems to work no matter what type of paper I use.

But the paper does make a difference.

Type of Paper

You might think harder pencils layer better on smoother paper. Bristol vellum and a pencil like Prismacolor Verithin are a great match for a lot of things. They don’t leave as much wax on the paper, so the paper doesn’t get that “slick” feel as quickly.

Oil-based pencils and wax-based pencils with a harder pigment core work on a toothy paper like Canson Mi-Teintes, but they may feel scratchy as you use them. It may also seem like you’re not making much progress until you’re well into the drawing process. That’s because each pencil stroke leaves less pigment on the paper.

Oddly enough, the drier oil-based pencils give me the best results on textured paper like Pastelmat and UART. I can develop color at almost the same speed no matter what type of pencil I use on these papers, but the oil-based pencils leave less wax on the paper. I’ve had such good success with them on Pastelmat that I rarely reach for a Prismacolor pencil anymore. When I do, it’s because I need a certain color.


Other things can also make a difference in how colored pencils perform, but the type of paper and the way you use the pencil are probably the two most important.

The fact of the matter is that you can use almost any pencil on almost any drawing paper, but the results will vary. Some pencils will seem to fight with some papers while gliding onto others. For example, Prismacolor and Stonehenge a perfect match in my opinion. Yes, I do use other pencils on Stonehenge, but Prismacolor pencils are by far the most fun.

And for Pastelmat, I get the best results with Polychromos and Caran d’Ach Pablo.

What does all this mean? There is no pencil-paper combination that works equally well for every artist. If you draw long enough and try enough different things, you will find your perfect match.

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