3 Excellent Drawing Paper Alternatives

3 Excellent Drawing Paper Alternatives

In a previous post, I shared my thoughts on drawing papers you can use with colored pencils. Today, let’s look at three drawing paper alternatives.

There are enough paper choices to keep most of us happy forever.

But paper isn’t the only thing you can draw on.

3 Excellent Drawing Paper Alternatives

Lets look at the three drawing paper alternatives I’m most familiar with. They aren’t the only alternatives anymore, but they are easy to find and easy to use.

Mat Board

That’s right. The same material you use to frame your colored pencil drawings can also be drawn on. I drew Portrait of Blizzard Babe, shown here, on gray mat board with a medium texture. The tooth is visible in the upper, left corner.

Colored Pencil Portrait of Blizzard Babe
Portrait of Blizzard Babe
Colored Pencil on Gray Mat Board

That’s one of the things I like about mat board.

Unlike paper, there’s a wide variety of textures available from rough and almost “pebbly” to egg shell smooth.

If you want something truly unique, you can also use suede mat board. Gemma Gylling has been using suede board for years and creates the most phenomenal pet and wildlife artwork.

Mat board comes in a wide variety of colors, so if you like experimenting with colored supports, give mat board a try. I chose a gray mat board for Portrait of Blizzard Babe because the gray provided an excellent basic color for this wonderful light gray filly and because it reduced the amount of time necessary to produce the portrait.

Mat board comes in full sheets and can be purchased online or at any reputable framer. While you can draw on any type of mat board, use archival or museum quality mat board for your best work. Lesser quality mat board often contains acids that can leach into artwork and cause discoloration.

Sanded Papers

Pastel artists have been using sanded papers and supports for years, but what about colored pencil?

Here’s a small work I did on UArt Sanded Pastel paper. Spring in Colored Pencil is my first drawing on sanded art paper. Since then, I’ve also used Fisher 400 Pastel Paper and Pastelmat.

Spring in CP
Spring in Colored Pencil
Colored Pencil on UArt Sanded Paper

Most sanded papers are heavier by nature than standard drawing papers, but many are also available as rigid supports. UArt has a line of sanded pastel panels and Dick Blick has flat panels and cradled panels in a variety of depths. They even have toned panels!

Most sanded drawing surfaces are archival, but not all the substrates are, so shop wisely when you shop for sanded drawing papers.

The biggest advantage for many colored pencil artists is that works can be framed without glass.


That’s right. Basic wood!

When it comes to wood, however, make sure to stick with the types of wood proven by decades of use as oil painting supports. Birches and hardwoods have been popular among oil painters for a long time and they’re also wonderful with colored pencils.

Colored Pencil on Wood
Colored Pencil on Wood

One of the neatest things about wood is that you can find it almost everywhere. Literally. Several years ago, we cut down an old Maple in our front yard. It had been dying for a couple of years, thanks to carpenter ants. After the tree was removed, I collected a few pieces with the intention of drawing on them after they’d cured for a year or two.

But I got a few small pieces from another source and have made a drawing or two on those. The small landscape shown above was drawn on a piece of wood six or seven inches long and roughly two inches tall.

Wood can be drawn on with just a little sanding—which is what I did—or with the more involved preparation of planing and varnishing or painting. You can leave it fairly textured or sand it smooth.

And that little landscape drawing? The piece of wood was thick enough that it stood up on its own! No framing or hanging necessary. It was just right for display on a shelf or a desk.

Two Recommendations when Trying Drawing Paper Alternatives

When trying a new surface, it’s best to experiment a little before you start a major work. The more exotic the surface, the more necessary the experimentation.

The drawings on sanded pastel paper and wood shown above are both very small. The sanded pastel paper is actually an ACEO (3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches). Each piece was large enough to give me a good idea of how color went onto the surface, but not so large that it took days to finish it. I think each of those drawings took no more than an hour and probably a lot less.

Also, whenever you try a new support, it’s a good idea to do a piece you can keep around for a while. Especially with untested supports. You want to get some idea of how permanent the artwork will be on each support and the only way to determine that is to keep a small drawing you can examine. I can’t think of very much that would be worse than selling a lot of drawings on an unproven support and having customers return them when the artwork failed to last.

Beyond that, I encourage you to try supports and have fun.


  1. Dianne Pearce

    I have a couple of pieces of driftwood , been around for quite a while, I was going to paint on them but saw this article about surfaces and wondered if u have ever used this, would be neat if the pencils worked, surfaces r smooth mostly but
    couple of rougher spots
    wonder if I should use some gesso to smooth out, don’t want to sand as bit fragile
    for rubbing I think

    would be interested in your thoughts on this
    just found your site so am excited to see it all thanks

    1. Dianne,

      As a matter of fact, I have drawn on wood with colored pencils. In my case, it was a piece of an old silver Maple that used to be in our front yard. It died, and we took it down ourselves. I kept several pieces to draw on. The long landscape in this article is drawn on a piece of that wood.

      I may have sanded the wood a little bit, but I didn’t paint it, gesso it, or prep it in any other way. The wood grain is part of the drawing, and appears as bare ground at the bottom of the landscape.

      I can’t tell you how archival it is because I gave it as a gift to someone who saw it and liked it.

      So give your driftwood a try!


  2. Hi. i just answered your question of the week in your email, that i use wood, but until i read this article i didn’t realized mat board is an “exotic surface.”
    So, mat board and wood. But i lover matboard.
    And possibly i shouldn’t say raw wood, because, though i have some projects planned on raw, mostly what i’ve done is give a bit of detail / shading to older projects, painted flatly with acrylics.

    1. Valerie,

      Mat board isn’t exactly exotic, but it’s not a surface most people think of first when they think of using colored pencils. It’s what they frame with, not draw on.

      But My early colored pencil pieces were all on mat board because that’s what I had. I was also doing larger pieces and paper just wasn’t thick enough.

      Painting wood with acrylics before you draw is perfectly acceptable. I’ve also heard of artists using a clear gesso to prime the wood, then painting or drawing over that. It all depends on what you want the finished piece to look like.

    1. Liz,

      That’s a great question.

      If the highlights are bright white, then I use the white of the paper.

      If the highlights are not bright white, I still work around them for most of the drawing, then shade them the appropriate color as I draw.

      If I’m using a medium-dark colored paper, then I add highlight early on. If I’m using dark paper, then highlights are often the first thing I do.

  3. Pat Mcnulty

    I did a drawing on Pastelmat, and loved it! The velvetty texture softened the look of the colored pencils and gave almost a pastel pencil look, but not as crumbly. Not sure I’m describing it well, but it was a lovely look, and the pastelmat was nice to work on.

  4. Deborah Prymas

    Dear Carrie,
    Eye opening view point for a black and white pencil artist like myself. For me the finished drawing is the entire endeavor.

    Albrecht Durer and Hans Holbein are my gods!

    What are the newer technologies that are available for pencil drawers (besides the mat board, sanded pastel paper with rigid support and wood that you mentioned)?

    Thank you again for your insight.

    Deborah Prymas

    1. Deborah,

      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.

      If you’re asking about newer technologies as far as surfaces to draw on, drafting film is the first one to come to mind and it’s not really new. It’s been around for decades, but has come into favor among colored pencil artists as a drawing surface in the last few years. Colored pencils work great on it, but I’m not sure how graphite would do (unless you do your black and white work with colored pencils.)

      It is possible to draw on metal and glass, too, but both of those surfaces need some kind of preparation before you work on them. I need to do a little research into both before I can offer more specific information on those.

      Thank you again for your comments and question!

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