The Best Paper and Pencils for Colored Pencil Art

Today’s reader question comes from a reader who wants to know the best paper and pencils for colored pencil art. Here’s the question.

Hi Carrie.

In your opinion, which are the best coloured pencils to use for drawing and which is the ideal substrate to use? I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you for the question. Other than questions about blending and layering, this is probably one of the more often asked questions asked of artists.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Colored Pencil Art

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer beyond my encouragement that you buy the best of both that you can afford.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Colored Pencil Art

There are so many different drawing methods and styles that what works for me may not work for you. The best paper and pencils for you depends on what gives you the results you want, and what fits your budget.

So I’m going to address it from two points of view: Craft art and fine art. I’ll also offer general suggestions on what to look for and a few things to avoid.

The Best Paper for Craft Art

Craft art includes adult coloring books, greeting cards, art trading cards, stamping, and so on. Short-term art that doesn’t need to be archival in order to be useful or marketable.

The best paper and pencils for craft art.
Image by A_Different_Perspective from Pixabay

I also include artwork from which you make reproductions, but which you have no intention of selling as an original.

Adult coloring books are usually printed on inexpensive drawing paper so you have no choice in the paper unless you print the pages yourself. Coloring books printed on better paper are available, but you will pay for the improved quality.

Blank greeting card stock comes in a variety of qualities. Canson and Strathmore are two well-known paper companies that also sell artist-quality blank card stock. Other companies sell less expensive card stock, so you can pick and choose and try different papers until you find one that works well for you.

Strathmore makes a line of drawing papers ranging from newsprint, which isn’t archival, to high-quality drawing paper. Many other paper manufacturers also make different grades of paper.

Beyond that, any pad of good drawing paper will allow you to do what you need or want to do as far as craft art. I don’t do craft art, so recommend you try a few and see which you like best.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

And there’s absolutely nothing other than price keeping you from using high-quality paper for craft purposes. If your budget is flexible, give those pricey papers a try and see what you think.

The Best Pencils for Craft Art

You can use almost any pencil for craft art, from the most expensive to the least. Look for the best combination of price, color selection, and availability in your area.

In the United States, Prismacolor is probably the best combination of those four features. They have a stunning collection of colors and are a good value. Some quality issues exist, but broken leads, split casing, and warped pencils are sporadic, at worst.

Blick Studio Colored Pencils are also a good brand to consider. High quality, low cost, and color selection are their strongest selling points. They are available only through Dick Blick, but can be purchased online as well as in Blick stores.

If you buy a full set online, buy from a respected and trustworthy outlet such as Dick Blick. You can’t beat Dick Blick for customer service and if you end up with a bad purchase, they will make it right.

After that, you can buy open stock (single pencils) and look for things like warped pencils and split casings if you buy in person.

Image by Hartmut Jaster from Pixabay

Other brands to consider are Bruynzeel Design, and Derwent Coloursoft.

I don’t recommend pencils such as Crayola or any other scholastic pencils. You can do craft art with scholastic pencils, but the colors aren’t usually as bright or the pencils as well pigmented. It takes more effort to get the same results you could get with better pencils.

The Best Paper for Fine Art

Fine art includes portraits and other types of commission art, exhibit art, and art you want to sell. Artwork in this category needs to last a long time without fading or otherwise deteriorating, so you need the most archival paper and pencils you can afford.

Look for papers that are high-quality. Usually that means non-acidic.

You should also opt for papers made from cotton fibers, since those fibers are the strongest and longest lasting. Avoid papers made from cellulose fibers.

I prefer papers that are sturdy. 98lb paper is about the lightest I’ll use for fine art applications. Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes are both 98-pound papers and are sturdy enough to stand up under solvents and watercolor pencils in moderate amounts.

Stonehenge Aqua and Canson L’Aquarelle 140lb hot press papers are also excellent papers. Both are made for watercolor painting, but both have a great texture for dry work, too. The biggest drawback is that they come in white only and cost more than regular drawing paper.

I also use Uart Sanded Pastel Paper, Bienfang Bristol Vellum, and Strathmore Artagain recycled paper. All are worth trying if you haven’t yet found a favorite paper.

The Best Pencils for Fine Art

Pencils should be lightfast tested and rated. The best pencils usually have a somewhat limited selection of colors because the companies have opted not to include fugitive (fading) colors in their selection.

Caran d’Ache Luminance and Pablos, for example, are about the best pencils on the market and come in only 76 or 80 colors. They have a good color selection, but lack many of the bright, jewel-tone colors that tend to fade the most.

Other high-quality brands are Faber-Castell Polychromos and Derwent Lightfast.

Image by Thanks for your Like • donations welcome from Pixabay

My Favorite Paper

This is a close call, since I use a variety of papers ranging from very smooth Bristol Vellum to sanded art paper. But the paper I use most often (by a narrow margin) is Canson Mi-Teintes. Why? Mostly the colors. Canson Mi-Teintes comes in a rainbow of colors that are perfect when I want to do a portrait-style drawing with a plain background.

Portrait of a Black Horse is drawn on Steel Gray Canson Mi-Teintes paper. The paper has enough tooth for lots of layering, and the color was the perfect middle value.

Stonehenge and Stonehenge Aqua are the next favorite papers. The 140lb hot press Stonehenge Aqua looks and feels like white Stonehenge regular paper, but handles wet media better. Dry media works extremely well on it, so I can see the day coming when I no longer use regular Stonehenge.

After that, it’s a toss up and I often choose papers based on what I have in stock most of the time when I don’t want to work on either of those listed above.

The papers I currently have in stock are:

My Favorite Pencils

At present, I have only two brands of pencils. A full set of Prismacolor pencils (with all the non-lightfast colors removed) and a full set of Faber-Castell Polychromos.

Wax-based Prismacolor pencils are quite soft. They lay down easily and are capable of a high degree of blending with or without solvent. They can be sharpened well enough to draw a lot of detail, but tend to break if you apply too much pressure.

The best paper and pencils for Afternoon Graze was Prismacolor pencils on Bristol Vellum paper.
Afternoon Graze was drawn entirely with Prismacolor Premier pencils on Bristol vellum 146lb paper. The combination of soft, wax-based pencils and smooth paper helped me draw detail with a minimum of effort.

Oil-based Polychromos are harder, so they resist breaking even when sharpened to a sharper point. They don’t create wax bloom, but they also don’t burnish quite as well as the softer Prismacolor pencils.

I use both brands in most drawings. Usually, I start with Polychromos, then switch to Prismacolor when I need to lay down more color or want to burnish.

But I also mix them if I need a color that’s only available in one brand.

I used Prismacolor and Polychromos for this drawing, also on Bristol Vellum.

Pencils I’d recommend for the serious fine artist (or anyone who wants to become a serious fine artist) include:

I don’t currently use and never used any of these brands, but they come from companies with a good name in the industry and with a proven customer-service track record. I trust them to provide a quality product.

The list includes hard and soft pencils, wax-based and oil-based. Buy a few colors in open stock and try them to find those you like best.

The Best Paper and Pencils for Your Art

Those are my recommendations for the best paper and pencils for colored pencil art.

As mentioned before, it’s difficult to do more than make general recommendations and share my favorites because there are so many ways to make art.

So my best advice is to find an artist creating the type of artwork you want to create and see what paper and pencils they use.

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