Choosing Papers for Colored Pencils

Choosing Papers for Colored Pencils

Lets talk about choosing papers for colored pencils. There are a lot of options, and today’s reader wants to know about suitable papers.

Hi Carrie,

Could you please share your knowledge on suitable papers for different projects?

You may like to cover points such as what would be the best papers for portraits, paper with tooth or smoother papers, vellum, & what grades, etc.

It’s just so confusing and there is so much out there.

Thanks so much for your valued help.

Kind regards,


Suzanne, what a great question and great discussion points. Thank you!

Choosing Papers for Colored Pencils

As Suzanne mentioned, there are a lot of papers on the market. Especially if you’re new to colored pencils, making the right choice can be intimidating.

Let me remove some of the pressure. There is no Right Answer to this question. I will tell you what papers I like for portraits, and other projects, but my choices are based on my drawing style. They may not work for you.

It’s perfectly all right to try different types of paper. That’s what I did. But hopefully I’ll give you a place to begin with my recommendations.

Choosing Papers for Colored Pencils

Let me answer the easy question first. Suzanne mentions grades of paper. By that, I’m assuming she means quality. Always, always, always use the best paper you can afford. Unless you’re doodling or sketching, you’re likely to put a lot of time and effort into your work, so it deserves the best paper.

If Suzanne means the weight of the paper rather than the quality, then consider heavier papers. Canson makes two papers that are very similar. Canson Ingres paper and Mi-Teintes paper. They are very similar in surface texture and come in similar colors.

But the Ingres is only 27lb in weight (100gsm) while Mi-Teintes is 98lb in weight. That’s a significant difference. I have used both and was so dissatisfied with the feel of the Ingres that I almost didn’t try the Mi-Teintes.

You may not care for heavier paper, but they will stand up better under lots of layers. Most of them can also stand up under some solvent blending and erasing.

High quality is always best. Heavier weight is usually best.

The Way You Draw Makes a Difference

I have a naturally light hand and my drawings are developed through multiple layers. I don’t keep track of that information but would guess that the average is 20 to 40 layers to finish a drawing. Maybe more.

So I need a paper with enough tooth for all those layers. I like Stonehenge, but prefer Canson Mi-Teintes and I’m growing quite fond of Pastelmat. They all take a lot of color and still allow me to draw realistic pieces.

Someone who uses heavier pressure might prefer a toothy paper, but they could also use a smoother paper, since they wouldn’t need as many layers of color.

Suggestions for Different Types of Projects

Because drawing methods and styles differ so much, I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. But I will tell you how I choose papers for various projects.

Smooth or Reflective Subjects

In general, I use smoother papers like Bristol Vellum or Strathmore Artagain for subjects that need a polished look. Metallic, shiny things, for example. I used Bristol Vellum for this piece.

My preferred Bristol is Bienfang because it’s heavier than most Bristol in pads.


For portraits, I use something that’s not too toothy but that can handle layers. I’ve done portraits on Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Teintes, and Strathmore Artagain. This portrait was on Canson Mi-Teintes.

At present, I’m also doing one portrait on Bristol Vellum and another on Pastelmat.


For landscapes, I prefer Pastelmat, but can also do landscapes on Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes.

I’ve also done some wonderful work on 140lb hot pressed watercolor paper. My favorite is Stonehenge Aqua (which feels just like regular Stonehenge) and Canson L’Aquarelle 140lb hot press. Whatever brand of watercolor paper I use, I choose hot press because it’s smooth. 140lb watercolor paper is the lightest paper I trust.

This is my most recent landscape. I used dark gray Pastelmat.

To Recap Choosing Papers for Colored Pencils

In general, smoother papers are better for drawings that require a high level of detail and/or for artists who prefer drawing with fewer layers. They’re also good for mixed media with watercolor, watercolor pencils, or markers if they’re made to handle moisture.

Toothier papers are good for artists who do a lot of layering, want a more painterly look, or don’t require a lot of detail.

But tastes change.

You’ll probably find that your preferences change as you gain skills or experiment with new papers. That’s okay.

In fact, it’s part of the process of growing as an artist. So don’t be afraid to try new papers. You never know where you may find your next favorite paper!


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