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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Colored Pencils on Drafting Film: Where to Find Help

Today’s question comes from a reader looking for help using colored pencils on drafting film. Here’s the question:

I need instruction on handling Dura-lar drafting film. Do you know of any books or articles regarding this ground?

Thank you for your question. Drafting film is popular now, so there’s a lot of information available.

Where to Find Help Using Colored Pencils on Drafting Film

While I have yet to try drafting film personally, I am always watching videos and participating in discussions, so I can point you in the right direction! Following are a few of the better sources I’ve discovered.

Where to Find Help Using Colored Pencils on Drafting Film

Since there are so many resources available, let me share a few videos, then a few books and printed material, and finally social media resources. Some of them will deal specifically with Dura-Lar.

Videos about Drafting Film

Lisa Ann Watkins (Animal Art by LAW) uses drafting film for some of her colored pencil work. She has three or four videos about drafting film on her YouTube channel. The best place to start is her Introduction to Drafting Film video.

Bonny Snowdon also uses drafting film for many of her pet portraits. She has a very good real-time video on drafting film, Drawing Dog Eyes on Drafting Film.

Both artists also have Patreon channels. For a small monthly fee, you can get access to all of their videos, not just those about drafting film. You can find Bonny’s Patreon channel here, and Lisa’s Patreon channel here.

Many other artists have also published videos about drafting film and colored pencils. Search for “colored pencils on drafting film” and you’ll get dozens of potentially helpful videos.

Karen Hull’s website includes a full page dedicated to drafting film and how to use it. She explains the differences between drafting film and regular papers, the differences in drafting films, special techniques, and framing finished art.

Drafting Film Books & Tutorials

Ann Kullberg* has two resources that may be of help to you.

One is a drawing tutorial featuring peppers drawn on drafting film. Plenty O’ Peppers* is by Gretchen Evans Parker, and Gretchen walks you step-by-step through her drawing process.

There are also a couple other kits for beginners on drafting film.

All three come in a digital format you can download today, or in print. Plenty O’ Peppers also comes in a bundle that includes the printed tutorial and a few sheets of drafting film.

CP Surfaces: Drafting Film* is a book published by Ann. It contains several projects on drafting film by Gretchen Evans Parker. The book features five full demos ranging from marbles and abstract glass, to a duck on water.

*Affiliate link

Karen Hull also has a wide variety of kits and tutorials available for artists at all levels, including drafting film kits. Subjects include still life and portrait work, as well as a graphite tutorial on drafting film.

Colored Pencil Art Groups

There are several good colored pencil groups on Facebook.

At the time I’m writing this article, I’m a member of Colored Pencil Animal Artists, Colored Pencils for Beginners and Beyond, and Colored Pencil Pushers. All three groups are great places to get questions answered, see how other artists are doing what they do, and get tips on different types of supports.

Participation is free, but you will have to apply to each group and be juried in. Colored Pencil Pushers is a group specifically for experienced and advanced artists, but go ahead and apply. No matter what level you think you may be currently, your work will have to speak for you, and it may be accepted!

Social art groups can be a great place to find help using colored pencils on drafting film

Drafting film is currently a favorite support in all three groups. They’re free to join, though you need to apply, and the beginner’s group is especially helpful if you’re new to colored pencils.

Artworks on Drafting Film is a Facebook group dedicated to drafting film. It covers all media, but is an invaluable group if you want to learn all about drawing on drafting film.

Those are just a few places to find help if you want to use colored pencils on drafting film.

There are a lot more videos, tutorials, and other resources available, but you will find something in this selection to get you started!

I can just about guarantee it!

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The Best Way to Transfer a Drawing to Black Paper

Today Rhonda asks how to transfer a drawing to black paper. Here’s her question:

What is the best way to transfer an image onto black or other dark colored paper?

Thank you for your question, Rhonda.

Most of us prefer not to make a line drawing on the paper on which we want to put our final artwork. It’s easier to develop a line drawing on other, less expensive paper until it’s the way we want it. Then the finished line drawing can be transferred to more expensive paper without worry.

The Best Way to Transfer a Drawing to Black Paper

Using black paper with colored pencils is both fun and frustrating from the very start. What works so well with white or light-colored papers works poorly or not at all with black paper.

Transferring a drawing is one of those things that’s more frustration than fun. But there are ways to transfer line drawings.

4 Ways to Transfer a Line Drawing to Black Paper

I’d like to share four ways to transfer line drawings to black paper, but I need to start by saying I’ve only used two of them. The other two are intriguing ideas suggested by artists who work with colored pencils and pastels. I believe they are reliable, but have no first-hand experience with them.

So let me begin with the two methods I have used.

Personally Proven Transfer Methods

#1: Light-Colored Greaseless Transfer Paper

The best transfer method for almost any paper is greaseless transfer paper.

Transfer paper (in the art-sense) is paper made with a coating on one side that can be moved from the transfer paper to another piece of paper with very little pressure. Saral is probably the most recognizable name in transfer papers, but there are others.

Saral makes four different colors. Basic graphite gray is great for white paper and most light colored papers. Cream is ideal for darker papers. They also make yellow and red. I haven’t found much need for red or yellow transfer paper, but that may be exactly what you need.

To use transfer paper, mount your drawing to the drawing paper, then slip a piece of transfer paper in between. The transferring surface must face down, and be against the paper onto which you want to transfer your drawing.

This is my favorite transfer method because it’s the easiest, fastest, and cleanest. Transfer paper doesn’t usually leave smudges even if you rest your hand on it while transferring your drawing.

It also makes a clear, crisp line that doesn’t smudge, and it’s archival.

Transfer paper can be used several times. It’s also less expensive than a projector, although you will eventually have to buy more paper.

#2: Carboning the Back of the Drawing

Carboning a drawing is shading the back of the drawing with graphite. The name comes from the graphite, which is really a form of carbon ground into powder, then bound together to form lead. Carboning works extremely well with white papers, and most light- and medium-dark papers.

When you want to transfer a drawing to black paper, however, carboning with graphite isn’t quite as useful unless you’re able to see the shine of the graphite against the black of the paper. You will have to be extremely careful in handling the paper after the drawing has been transferred, however, or you risk losing the lines.

But you can still carbon the back of your drawing a light-colored colored pencil, white charcoal or a dry pastel in a light color. You have to be careful with the charcoal and pastel because they do not stick as well as graphite or colored pencil, and may smudge your drawing paper. However, a little mounting putty easily removes most of the smudges.

Image by VISLOQ from Pixabay

I recently read the comments of someone who lightly sprayed their carboned drawing with workable fixative to stabilize the graphite somewhat. That may also work with white charcoal or dry pastel.

Carboning the back of the drawing is one of my go-to transfer methods and I use it whenever I work on a drawing paper that’s too opaque to use on a light box. I always use graphite as the transfer method.

But I have no personal experience using white charcoal or dry pastel with this method, so experiment before using it on a good drawing. Do a test transfer or two and see if it works for you before you carbon the back of your drawing.

I do have limited experience using colored pencils as the transfer medium. The results were adequate, but not such that I’ve used the method a lot. The transferred lines weren’t always very clear, and sometimes the colored pencil with which I shaded the back of the paper left crumbs sticking to the good drawing paper. Being colored pencil, they were often difficult to remove and sometimes difficult to draw over, as well.

The transfer lines won’t smudge, but you won’t be able to remove them, either, so use a color that blends into your drawing as you finish it.

If you choose to use a colored pencil, a soft pencil will be the best transfer medium. Prismacolor Soft Core would be a good choice, but any soft pencil will also work. And once again, it’s important to experiment first. If colored pencil as a transfer medium doesn’t work for you, it’s far better to find that out on scrap paper!

Transfer Methods I Haven’t Used

#3: Projector and a Light Colored Pencil

Projectors are one of the more popular methods of transferring line drawings. The projector projects your line drawing onto paper and all you have to do is trace the drawing. You’ll have to use a light colored pencil for tracing on dark or black papers, and you also have to make absolutely certain the paper and projector are parallel. Otherwise, you could end up with a distorted drawing.

Transfer a Drawing to Black Paper with a projector.
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

I’ve never used a project for this particular task, so cannot offer a personal recommendation. However, several artists whose YouTube channels I follow use projectors, and they swear by the process. Some of them have published videos on the process. If you’re interested, a quick search will produce dozens of results.

If you have a projector, or you have the money to buy one, this might be your best long-term option. But don’t buy the first projector you find. Do a little research to find the best projector for your needs. Personally, I would begin with some of the on-line art supplies like Dick Blick and Jerry’s Artarama. Even if you don’t buy from them, you can get a good idea about the projectors considered to be “art projectors.” Then you can look for those elsewhere.

Perhaps you don’t have the money for a projector though, or you don’t have the time to do the research, wait for delivery, then learn how to use one. You’re looking for quick and not necessarily pretty. Consider this idea.

#4: Impressed Lines

I heard someone somewhere say they transfer their drawings by impressed lines. I wish I could remember where I heard it, but I think the artist was using Clairefontaine Pastelmat.

I’ve never used this method to transfer a drawing, but in a pinch, I think transferring a line drawing by impressing is workable. Here’s how I would do it.

First, put your line drawing on tracing paper, then mount it to the drawing paper and lightly trace it again. Use a sharp pencil or stylus and medium-light pressure or lighter. Lines need to be clear enough to see, but you don’t want them so deep, you can’t fill them in.

Next, I’d go over the drawing again and outline those shapes with a colored pencil. Use a color that fits each part of the drawing whenever possible. That way, you won’t have so much difficulty concealing the impressed lines.

I have a piece of black paper that needs the drawing transferred and I’m giving serious thought to trying this method to see what happens. If it works, I’ll let you know.

Actually, if it doesn’t work, I’ll let you know that too!

There are Four Ways to Transfer a Line Drawing to Black Paper

Two personally proven, two unproven (so far as I’m concerned.)

They aren’t the only ways to transfer a line drawing to black paper, but they will get you started. I hope you find one of them helpful.

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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.

Alternatives to Drawing Paper for Colored Pencil

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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Which Paper is Best for Colored Pencils?

A short time ago, I wrote a post about the best colored pencil papers. Jana Botkin read that post and had a question.

Will you expand on the paper in the basic list? I use Strathmore 400 series Bristol smooth for graphite, but prefer the vellum for cp. Which surface and weight were you thinking of? The Michael’s in my county only carries 300 series, which has inconsistent grain, so I order from Blick. –Jana Botkin

Thank you for your question, Jana. I’d be glad to share my thoughts on drawing paper. There are a lot of choices available so I’m confident many of your fellow readers have the same question.

Best Colored Pencil Papers

Best Papers for Colored Pencils

The truth is, choosing paper for colored pencil work is as much a personal preference as anything else. So many things factor into those decisions. Jana mentioned the surface and weight of the paper and those are two important things to consider.

But they aren’t the only things, so before I get to my recommendations, lets take a look at a few “paper basics”.

Paper Basics

There are six things to consider when considering which paper to buy. Fiber, weight, surface texture, sizing, longevity, and color.


Paper is made from plant fibers. The most common plants for paper making are cotton, linen, flax, jute, hemp, bamboo, rice straw or rattan. The size and shape of these fibers determine the type and sturdiness of the paper.

Cotton papers are made from cotton fibers, the longest fibers of all the plant types. It’s generally considered the highest quality paper and is referred to as 100% cotton rag. 100% cotton rag paper can withstand heavy erasing and drawing. The highest quality 100% cotton paper can last over 100 years, but not all cotton papers are the same. The shorter the fibers, the more the paper may tend to get “fuzzy” with use. Check the specifications on cotton paper to know what you’re buying.

Cellulose papers are made from wood pulp. Wood pulp papers are usually less expensive, but they’re also usually less archival (long lasting). That’s because wood pulp contains a natural acid that breaks down the fibers over time. Buffers can be added during the manufacturing process to neutralize the acids. Look for the words “buffer”, “buffered”, or “neutral” when deciding which cellulose paper to buy.


Paper weight is a measurement of the thickness—or heaviness—of paper. Traditionally, it’s been measured by weighing 500 sheets (a ream) at a standard size. The more a ream of paper weighs, the thicker each sheet is.

The thicker a sheet of paper is, the more color it can accept without buckling (if you’re using wet media), tearing, or falling apart.

Tracing paper is a light-weight paper. Strathmore 300 series papers are heavier. Card stock papers are still heavier.

Papers used to always be measured in pounds. 300-pound watercolor paper, for example.

But many art paper manufacturers have converted to a grams per square inch (gsm) measurement. A 50-pound paper is the same as an 81gsm paper. Many art retailers show both forms of measurement.

Surface Texture

Surface texture is properly known as “finish” when discussing art papers. How the paper is dried during manufacture determines the finish.

Paper with a rough finish is allowed to air dry without being smoothed or pressed. The resulting finish is very textured and is best suited for water media and pastel.

Cold press paper has been pressed before it dries. Handmade papers and machine made papers are pressed in different ways, but the result is the same. The surface fibers are “pressed down” somewhat. Since the pressing is done without heat, the paper isn’t completely smooth. Cold-press paper is the most popular and versatile and is suitable for most media, depending on its weight.

Hot press paper is made by pressing newly made paper through heated metal rollers or plates. All texture left after manufacture is pressed out of the paper. This paper is excellent for highly-detailed illustrations, printmaking, etching, drafting, sketching, and drawing.


Sizing is added to make paper more water-resistant. The paper doesn’t absorb as much moisture or pigment, so watercolors and inks stay brighter and lines stay crisper.  It’s less important for papers used for dry media. Sizing also can affect a paper’s archival qualities.

Internal sizing is added while the paper pulp is still in a liquid state. It becomes part of the paper.

External, Surface or Tub sizing is applied to the surface of the paper after the sheet is formed and dried. Some paper is both internally and surface-sized.


Also known as being archival. Archival papers have a proven history of stability over time. They don’t yellow or fade. They’re also more likely to be acid-free, which means they contain little or no cellulose acid natural to wood pulp papers.

Many sketching papers are wood-pulp based papers and are not archival. They’re perfectly suited for sketching, but if you want your drawings to last a long, long time, use higher quality papers.


Some drawing papers come in only one color. White.

But many others are available in a range of colors. Working on colored paper can be both fun and frustrating. Paper color does affect the way colored pencil looks, but it can also provide a good foundation for your drawing and reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a colored pencil drawing.

What I Use & Why

I buy the best-quality papers possible for colored pencil work because many of my drawings are portraits. Portraits or not, I want all of my best drawings to  look fresh and new for years.

My favorite papers are Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Teintes, and Bristol Vellum pretty much in that order.


I’ve used Stonehenge for years. It’s a cotton-based paper suitable for watercolor (in limited amounts), drawing, and printmaking. It has enough tooth to take a lot of color, but is smooth enough for drawing details. It’s available in several sheet sizes, in pads, and rolls, and comes in white and a selection of light colors and black. It has no sizing (that I’m aware of) so the surface is relatively soft, almost velvety.

It’s my go-to paper for large and small drawings. For smaller drawings, the 90-lb (250 gsm) is very good, but I prefer the heavier 120-lb (320 gsm) paper. It’s also available as a rigid support, which I haven’t yet tried.

The biggest disadvantage to Stonehenge is that it can be difficult to find locally. I order mine from Dick Blick.

It also should be handled with care, since the surface can be easily impressed. Flat storage for sheets is recommended.

Canson Mi-Teintes

Canson makes Mi-Teintes paper for pastel artists, so it has quite a bit of surface texture (tooth) on the front. The texture is also mechanical in nature. Lay a little color over the paper and you see a pattern of hexagon shapes.

But the back is less textured and the texture is less dramatic. It still has more texture than Stonehenge, but it’s great for colored pencil work of all types.

What makes Canson Mi-Teintes one of my favorite papers is that it handles solvent blending and a moderate amount of water media work with ease. Make sure it’s taped securely to a rigid support and you can do several solvent blends in a single drawing.

Bristol Vellum

Bristol paper is a more economical paper. Usually acid-free and generally heavier than other papers, it’s often referred to as “Bristol board”; usually 100-lb (270 gsm).

It comes in two surfaces. The smooth (or regular) surface is very smooth and somewhat slick.

Vellum finish has a little more tooth and is ideal for drawing. I have a pad of it in my paper drawer and use it for article illustrations, but layering a lot of color can be difficult without the use of solvents or workable fixative.

Bristol comes only in white and is available from a variety of manufacturers. I currently am using Beinfang Bristol Vellum because it’s available in 146 pounds.

4 General Colored Pencil Tips

Today, I want to share four general colored pencil tips resulting from reader questions. Topics include tips for drawing water, drawing fur, drawing on colored paper, and a question about color theory.

4 General Colored Pencil Tips

Four General Colored Pencil Tips

1.  What Tips Do You Suggest for Drawing Water?

The best tip I can give for drawing water is to view it like an abstract. Look at the colors, edges, and shapes in the reference, then draw them as best you can.

Water is highly reflective; it picks up colors from the surroundings. So the colors you use to draw water depend entirely on the setting. Draw water in a marina using the colors of boats, bouys, sails, and docks. Draw water in a wooded setting with the colors of trees, rocks, grass, and sky.

There are also sharp edges between colors and values. The sharper the edges, the wetter the water will look.

Finally, observe the shapes that appear in the water. They may not make any sense while you’re drawing them, but if you draw them true to the reference, they will make sense when viewed all together.

4 General Colored Pencil Tips - Drawing Water

Don’t be discouraged if drawing water doesn’t work out the first time. Water is one of the most difficult things to draw accurately. It takes a lot of practice and skill, but you can do it.

Read Tips for Drawing Reflections on Water for more information.

2. What Tips Do You Suggest for Drawing Fur?

With hair and most textures like it (grass, for example), stroke in the direction of hair growth and match your strokes to the type of hair. Short, straight strokes for short, straight hair. Long strokes for long hair.

Don’t worry about drawing every hair, but concentrate on drawing the hair masses that occur naturally.

Mix colors to create color. If you’re drawing black, don’t use just a black pencil. When I draw a black horse, I use everything thing from dark green and dark blue to light violets and other colors.

The same rule of thumb applies to any color of hair. It’s always best to use at least three colors: one light value, one dark value, and one value in between.

4 General Colored Pencil Tips - Drawing Fur

Read Tips for Drawing Hair in Colored Pencil for more suggestions and examples.

3. What Tips Do You Suggest for Drawing on Toned Paper?

The color of the paper directly affects the way colors appear. A color that looks bright on white paper, will look duller on dark paper.

The darker the paper, the darker colors appear. Some of the darker colors will disappear altogether. Dark browns, dark blues, and dark greens will barely make a mark on dark paper.

If you use a medium value paper, you can draw highlights as well as shadows, and that can be a great time saver.

Colored paper sets the mood for the drawing. Yellow paper gives a drawing a bright, sunny feel, and gray paper creates a more subdued mood.

Do a few studies on the color of paper you want to try before starting a piece you hope to finish. Experiment with various color combinations. See what works and what doesn’t work.

4 General Colored Pencil Tips - Drawing Paper

Read Colored Drawing Papers for additional tips and suggestions for making the best use of colored paper.

4. How Does Color Theory Affect My Drawing?

Color theory affects every drawing just like gravity affects all of life. You don’t have to understand it in order for it to work. It just works.

But understanding how color theory works at even the most basic level helps you make better decisions about the colors you choose.

For example, complementary colors create “zing.” Cool colors generally recede into the distance, while warm colors generally move forward.

Adding accents in a warm color emphasizes an object that’s drawn in a setting filled with cool colors and vice versa.

I devoted one month to a discussion of color theory with articles that included the basics of color theory, how color theory affects art (including examples,) and a color theory drawing exercise.

4 General Colored Pencil Tips - Color Wheel

I also recommend a two-part podcast series on color theory for colored pencil by Sharpened Artist. Both episodes are excellent for a brief description of color theory and why it’s important to the artist, no matter the medium.

Listen to Color Theory Part 1, and Listen to Color Theory Part 2.

Tips for Using Sanded Pastel Paper

Lets talk about sanded pastel paper today. You know, that paper that looks and feels like the sandpaper from the local hardware store.

And lets begin with a reader question.

I was interested in the brand of sanded paper you prefer to use. I’ve used Uart 800 before but I find it a little hard to work on. I would appreciate your opinion.

Tips for Using Sanded Pastel Paper

The paper I use most is Uart, but that’s not because it’s better than any other paper out there. It’s because I started wtih Uart. I have also used Fisher 400 and while there isn’t much difference between them if you use 400 grit paper. I prefer the finer grits available through Uart.

How I Got Started Using Sanded Pastel Paper

I got a sample pack from Uart years ago. It contained the four “grits” they had available at the time. If I remember correctly, that was 400, 500, 600, and 800.

I chose to try the 800 grit because I thought it was the closest to regular drawing paper. It isn’t. None of them are like regular drawing paper in the least.

Read how I used sanded pastel paper for this first drawing on EmptyEasel.

My Initial Response to Sanded Pastel Paper

After finishing that first ACEO, I thought sanded pastel paper was interesting, but not something I wanted to use on a regular basis.

Then I received a request for a project on sanded pastel paper. I didn’t want to turn that down, so I looked up those sample sheets and ordered more, then started practicing. The first couple of drawings were satisfactory, but were also definitely learning experiences!

By the third or fourth one, I was beginning to find my stride. You know what? I also realized I liked drawing on sanded pastel papers.

Tips for Using Sanded Pastel Paper

Those “practice drawings” revealed that the right methods, and the right pencils go a long way toward making sanded pastel paper useful and now I almost prefer it to any other type of paper for landscapes.

Following are a few suggestions to consider if you’re thinking about trying this unique drawing surface.

Find the Right Paper

Uart is my preferred sanded paper, but there are others. Fisher 400 is a good paper and comes in sheets, rolls, and in board form. Ampersand pastelbord and Art Spectrum Colourfix sanded papers (and panels) are available in a variety of colors. Canson Mi-Teintes is also now available in a sanded surface. A lot of artists are also using Clairefontaine Patelmat.

Although they are all sanded papers, they’re not all be the same. To find the best fit, try as many as you can afford, or care to try.

Try Different Grits

“Grit” refers to the coarseness of the paper. The lower the number, the coarser the paper. I don’t know about other companies, but Uart has six different grits, ranging from 240 to 800.

I’ve used 400, 500, 600, and 800, and prefer the finer grits, but will also be trying some of the coarser papers. 600 and 800 grit are my favorites.

Try the different grits to find the one that suits your working methods and drawing style best.

Try Different Pencils

So far, I’ve used Prismacolor Soft Core, Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless, and Faber-Castell Polychromos.

Faber-Castell Polychromos work the best (for me.) They blend with a stiff brush with or without solvent. They also produce a powdery residue you can blend with a dry, stiff brush, almost like pastel.

Woodless pencils (I use Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless pencils) are great for laying down a lot of color fast. I haven’t tried dry blending them with a stiff brush, but I don’t think they produce the same amount of powder as the oil-based Polychromos. I’m going to have to do some testing on that to find out for sure.

Woodless colored pencils are ideal for laying down initial color on sanded pastel paper. Not only are they larger than even the largest colored pencil; you can use them like a piece of chalk and draw with the sides.

If you work large, or if there are large expanses of color in your composition, give this a try. The speed with which you can block in colors and shapes is amazing.

Or use your regular pencils like a pastel and draw with the side of the exposed pigment core.

General to Specific

Working on sanded pastel paper is a lot like training a dog (or cat—yes, it is possible.) It’s best to start general and work toward specific.

What do I mean by that? Roughly block in colors, values, and shapes, then develop detail.

Because of the tooth of the paper, you can continue to add details, accents and even highlights late in the drawing process. Even the finest grits take additional color after a dozen or more layers.

You Can Work Light over Dark

It is possible to work light over dark with most colored pencils on sanded pastel paper. It’s not the same as painting light over dark, but you can add lighter or bright highlights if you need to.

It’s still advisable to work around highlights whenever possible, but sanded pastel papers are more forgiving in this area than most traditional drawing papers.


Those are just a few of the things I’ve learned about how drawing with sanded pastel papers differ from drawing on regular papers. The bottom line is that it’s to your benefit to experiment, and that it is worth the effort.

Want to Know More?

I wrote an article on this subject for EmptyEasel. 5 Tips for Drawing on Sanded Pastel Paper with Colored Pencils features additional tips for drawing on sanded pastel paper.

2 Questions About Paper and Pencils

Today I want to answer two questions about paper and pencils. The questions were asked by Linda after she read Which Paper is Best for Colored Pencils? I answered her comment directly, then decided to expand on those answers.

2 Questions About Paper and Pencils

First, I want to thank Linda for taking the time to read that post and to ask her question. I’ve learned over the years that if one student has a question, it’s likely other students do, too, so I’m grateful for everyone who asks questions!

If you have a question, may I encourage you to ask it? It’s easy to do. Just click on the Ask Carrie button at the right or at the bottom of this page, or follow this link. Fill out the form, hit SEND, and that’s it. I will answer you directly, of course, but you may also provide the topic for a more in-depth post!

Now, on to the answer to Linda’s questions!

2 Questions About Paper and Pencils

Is Stonehenge in the pad different from Stonehenge full sheets?

I read somewhere that the Stonehenge pad and Stonehenge single sheets are different. I have been buying the pad, because I have to order from online also and shipping and handling costs become a factor. Are the single sheets of a higher quality opposed to the pad? Does it have more tooth? I also use Saunders Waterford Hot press and Strathmore Bristol Vellum.

Stonehenge full sheets were designed for printmaking, so they’re a soft-ish, absorbent paper. They take a lot of layers, but can also have marks or lines impressed in them quite easily by accident.

The pads have a smoother finish. To me, the surface is a little “harder.” Almost like Bristol.

It seems to me the full sheets have more tooth than the pads. However, the company says the formulation and manufacturing process is exactly the same, so the quality is the same for full sheets and for pads.

Is one better than the other? No. They’re just different. But one will definitely suit certain methods better than the other.

For example, I do a lot of layering and blending by drawing one color over another with light to medium pressure. But, I like deep color and full saturation (no paper color showing through the colored pencil.) For me, the full sheets definitely provide a better surface.

The fact is, that while I used to use Bristol vellum as well, I considered that paper better suited to more direct drawing methods with fewer layers applied with heavier pressure. I drew Afternoon Graze (below) on Bristol Vellum, but if I were to do a similar drawing and wanted a smoother paper, I’d use Stonehenge in the pad.

Questions About Paper and Pencils - Afternoon Graze

If you like Bristol, the Stonehenge pads are probably going to work better for you. They also come in more colors than either Bristol or watercolor paper!


By the way, I took a look at Saunders Waterford watercolor paper. It looks interesting! I might have to get a sheet of hot press and give it a try.

Are Certain Pencils Better for Certain Papers?

I have been using Pablo pencils. Recently I bought a set of [Faber-Castell] Polychromos. They seem to be fine on the Stonehenge paper but not so much on my other paper. I have never heard or read anyone saying a certain pencil works better on one paper or another. Have you experienced a difference? Or is this just me getting used to a different pencil?

Caran d’Ache Pablo pencils are the same basic formulation as Caran d’Ache Luminance, except that the pigment cores are harder. They hold a point longer and are better for fine detail. If you’ve ever used Prismacolor Verithin, that’s what Pablos are like. They’re all wax-based pencils, but the ratio of pigment to wax binder is different. In short, the Pablos have less wax.

Faber-Castell pencils are oil-based pencils. They are harder than Prismacolor Soft Core pencils, but not as hard as the Verithin or Pablo pencils. As with the Pablos, the hardness is due to there being less wax in the Polychromos.

But the oil binder also makes a difference. It responds differently to paper than wax binder does. Some artists refer to the feel of oil-based pencils as “scratchy.”

One of two factors may play a role in the difference you’ve noticed between one paper and another: drawing method and type of paper.

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. By that, I mean you’ll have to do more layers or press a little harder with hard pencils than soft ones.

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

I use Prismacolor Soft Core and Faber-Castell Polychromos together. I do the first several layers with Prismacolor, then finish with the Polychromos. The two brands work very well together that way.

Type of Paper

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 to you. 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.

I have a drawing in progress on Canson Mi-Teintes that I started with Polychromos back when I first got them. It was going to be my review project.

But l didn’t do more than two or three layers before switching to Prismacolor because it took so many layers to make an impact, even with a solvent blend.

You may be experiencing the same thing in your work. Try working with a softer pencil first, then switching to the harder pencils for detail work.


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.

There is also a lot to be said for having to learn how to use a new brand or type of pencil. They do behave differently. I’ve used Prismacolor pencils for years and the Polychromos disappointed me the first time I put them to paper. But they are good pencils once you learn how they behave and feel.

So I recommend you spend time trying similar drawing methods with each pencil on different types of paper. Figure out which pencils work best for what drawing method and on which paper. Yes, it takes time, but you’re far more likely to learn the best way to use those tools with your drawing methods by simply using them.

Stonehenge Aqua 140lb Hot Press Paper Review

Artist’s love new things. New pencils. New equipment. Yes, even new paper. Maybe especially new paper. The latest paper on my list is a watercolor paper from Legion. This is my Stonehenge Aqua 140lb Hot Press Paper review.

Stonehenge Aqua 140lb Hot Press Paper Review

Legion offers trial samples of all their papers, so if you’re thinking about trying something, this is a great opportunity.  I got free samples of Stonehenge Aqua a few weeks ago.  They’re now 99 cents, but that’s still a great price.

I received three 8.5 x 11 inch sheets of paper: one each of 140lb hot press, 140lb cold press, and 300lb cold press. They were packaged in a clear, resealable envelope from Clear Bags, a company I’ve used for packaging artwork. The packaging is ideal for storage, too, so the paper I haven’t yet used will stay crisp and clean.

The samples arrived in a large, cardboard envelope sent by regular mail, so they arrived undamaged. Crisp and clean and unbent.

Stonehenge Aqua 140 Hot Press Paper Review

General Impressions

If drawing paper can be beautiful, this is. The texture is wonderful. The 140lb hot press looks and feels almost identical to traditional Stonehenge. Since I wasn’t sure what to expect, this was a delightful discovery. (The other two sheets were also lovely. I plan to try one with water soluble media and one with solvent blending.)

The hot press also performs much like traditional Stonehenge for dry mediums. I used colored pencils on it without the use of solvents and had good results. I also tried water soluble colored pencils, with equally good results.

The jury is still out on using solvent blending (I haven’t yet put it to the test,) but I believe Stonehenge Aqua 140lb hot press paper would also perform with solvent blending.

Read How to Draw Complex Flowers Part 1.

What I Like about Stonehenge Aqua 140lb Hot Press Paper

Looks and feels like traditional Stonehenge 90lb paper

In fact, I placed a sheet of Stonehenge paper and Stonehenge Aqua 140lb hot press paper side by side. Other than the thickness of the Aqua, it was very difficult to tell them apart just by looking at them.

Pencils behave much the same on each, so if you like the way your pencils feel when you draw on regular Stonehenge, chances are you’ll like the way they feel when you draw on Stonehenge Aqua 140lb hot press.

Works very well with dry media

As already mentioned, drawing on this paper was a delight. Both wax-based and oil-based pencils colored well, with even color down and excellent blending.

My test with wax-based pencils produced solid color faster, but that’s not unexpected. Wax-based pencils are usually softer than oil-based pencils, so they lay down color more easily on almost any kind of paper.

But the oil-based pencils also layered well.

In the following illustration, the large flower was drawn with a combination of Faber-Castell Polychromos (oil-based) and Prismacolor Premier (wax-based.)

Stonehenge Aqua 140lb Hot Press Paper - Dry Media

The smaller flower was drawn only with Prismacolor.

The large flower is finished; the small one is not.

Those two dark shapes are areas where I layered and burnished. Color saturation is so rich and deep, you’d have to use a magnifying glass to find places where the paper shows through after burnishing.

Works very well with wet media

Since Stonehenge Aqua is a watercolor paper, I had to try it with water soluble colored pencils. I used Faber-Castell Art Grip Aquarelle pencils. Not the best water soluble colored pencils available, but useful.

But as you can see here, the results are still good. I applied color dry, then activated it with a damp brush and finished it with dry color. Would the results have been better with an artist grade water soluble pencil? Probably, but I was still quite pleased.

Stonehenge Aqua 140lb Hot Press Paper - Wet Media
This is just a couple of layers of color drawn on dry, then activated with water. I drew one layer on the inner portion of the bottom petals, then pulled wet color into the outer portions.

The shadow represents two or three layers of color activated with water, then drawn over again with dry pencils.

Both sides of this paper are excellent for drawing. It’s also heavy enough that if you mess up one side of the paper, you should be able to start over on the back.

At least for dry drawing. You can use water to activate water soluble colored pencil when you draw on the back, but if you do more than one stroke with a wet brush, you will lift color. That can make for some interesting results, but it also makes for a good deal of frustration! Stay tuned for a tutorial on that drawing.

What I Don’t Like About Stonehenge Aqua 140lb Hot Press Paper

At present, I have nothing negative to say about the paper. I wasn’t happy my first drawing, but that had more to do with color choices and my first time drawing a flower, as I mentioned at the end of the tutorial on drawing complex flowers.

The paper performed to expectation.

I did prefer working on it dry, but that reflects more experience with dry media than with wet. I’m currently working on a small landscape using water soluble colored pencils, and it’s coming along quite well.

The only other thing I have to complain about is that I used up most of the sheet for my experiments!

My Recommendation

Should you try Stonehenge Aqua 140lb hot press paper? Yes. It’s almost always worth your time to try new papers.

It’s my opinion that if you like regular Stonehenge, you’ll like this paper. Not only will it be able to do everything regular Stonehenge can do; it will allow you to do much more.

If all you do is buy the sample set, it will be well worth your time and money.

How to Choose the Right Surface Texture for Your Next Drawing

Last week, I shared tips for choosing the right color of paper for your next drawing project. Color is important, but it’s not the only thing you should consider. It’s just as important to know how to choose the right surface.

The paper you draw on should help you achieve your personal goals for the drawing. Choosing a smooth paper when paper with a medium or even rough surface would be better probably won’t ruin the drawing, but it may make it more difficult to finish.

So this week, I want to share some ideas for knowing what surface is best for your next subject—whatever that subject may be.

How to Choose the Right Surface Texture

Why It’s Important to Choose the Right Surface

Papers come not only in different colors, but different surface textures. The surface texture of a drawing paper depends on how it’s made and what it’s made for. The roughness or smoothness of paper is called its “tooth”. The rougher the paper, the more tooth it has.

I wrote about the basics of drawing paper tooth in a previous post, but the illustration below will give you an idea of the three main types of surface texture and how colored pencil responds to each.

How to Choose the Right Surface Texture for Your Next Drawing - The Differences in Paper Tooth

Each type of paper—rough, medium, and smooth—is made for a specific medium and sometimes for a specific purpose. Illustration boards are made for illustrating mediums such as markers and inks, and are very smooth.

Watercolor papers can be either smooth or rough, but are generally much rougher than drawing papers.

Most drawing papers are somewhere between illustration board and watercolor paper.

You can use any of the papers for any of the mediums, but your choices will affect the amount of time and effort it takes to complete a drawing and the way the finished drawing looks.

How to Choose the Right Surface: When Rough is Better

Rough drawing papers are good for layering. The more tooth a paper has, the more layers of color it can take without buckling or being scuffed. A “toothy” paper is perfect if you like to use solvent blending.

However, it is more difficult to fill in the tooth of a rough paper because the pigment core doesn’t reach down into all the “hills and valleys” of the tooth. Unless you use heavy pressure or solvent blending, you’re more likely to end up with specks of paper color showing through the drawing. These “paper holes” may not bother you. If so, they can lend quite an artsy, painterly look to your colored pencil drawing.

If that’s your goal, a rougher paper is probably the best choice.

This drawing is colored pencil on sanded art paper, which is about the roughest paper available. Sanded art paper not the same as even rough drawing paper (read about the differences here), but you can see how the colored pencil looked on rough paper. I could have filled all the paper holes, but it would have taken a lot of time and effort.

How to Choose the Right Surface Texture - Colored Pencil on Rough Paper

Use Rough Paper If:

  • You like to use solvent to blend colors
  • Want to do a lot of layering and/or use heavy pressure most of the time
  • Prefer a more painterly look for your drawings

How to Choose the Right Surface: When Smooth is Better

Smooth papers still have tooth, but they have much less tooth than rough papers. The little “hills and valleys” are shallower, and are therefore easier to fill in. That’s good if you don’t like paper holes showing in your finished drawing.

Papers that have less tooth are also ideal for drawing detail.

However, the lack of tooth also makes it more difficult to layer color effectively. You can still layer, but you’ll find it gets difficult to make color “stick” after just a few layers of color.

Solvent blending might help, but the smoother the paper, the more likely you are to damage the drawing if you use too much solvent. If the paper you use also is heavily sized (to keep it from absorbing moisture), the more likely it becomes that you could remove the drawing altogether, even with a solvent as mild as rubbing alcohol.

The drawing below is on Bristol paper with a vellum finish. Bristol vellum is a popular drawing paper because it’s very smooth that’s perfect for drawing detail.

However, it doesn’t take very many layers, and layering is key to my drawing method. I was able to complete the umber under drawing, but have had difficulty glazing color over that. Will the drawing ever be finished? I hope so, but I will have to compensate for the loss of tooth before going any further.

How to Choose the Right Surface Texture - Unfinished Drawing on Smooth Paper

Or I could start over with a toothier paper!

Use Smooth Paper If:

  • You don’t usually use many layers
  • You usually apply color heavily from the start
  • Highly detailed drawings are your goal

How to Choose the Right Surface: When Medium Tooth is Better

If your preferred drawing method falls somewhere between those two extremes, then paper with a medium tooth is probably your best bet.

Medium tooth paper has enough tooth to take a lot of layering (like rough paper), but also allows you to draw a high degree of detail (like smooth paper.) There is more paper tooth to fill in than you’d have with smooth papers, but it doesn’t take as much effort or pressure.

These types of papers can also often stand up to limited use of solvents, and may also be capable of accepting judicious use of water media such as water soluble colored pencils or watercolor.

All of those reasons are why my favorite drawing papers are medium tooth papers. The drawing below was drawn on Strathmore Artagain paper.

How to Choose the Right Surface Texture - Medium Tooth Paper

Use Medium Tooth Paper If:

  • Your usual method involves a lot of layers
  • You draw a lot of detail
  • You begin with very light pressure and increase pressure to heavy pressure at the end of the drawing


Two factors play an important role in knowing how to choose the right surface texture: Your method and your artistic vision.

If your method of drawing involves lots of layers, you may want to avoid the smoother drawing papers, even if you do enjoy drawing detail. Find a paper with enough tooth to take a lot of layering, but still smooth enough to allow you to draw detail.

If, on the other hand, you apply color in only a few layers, smooth paper is probably going to work best for you, whether you like drawing detail or prefer a more painterly look.

And if you really want to lay down lots of color fast, and aren’t concerned about details, give rough paper a try (especially those made for pastels.)

Finally, for those of us who like experimenting, try different kinds of papers with different subjects or for different effects. After all, there is no rule that says you have to draw the same way—or on the same paper—all the time!

Additional Reading

Drawing Paper Basics: Surface Texture

4 Frequently Asked Questions About Colored Pencil Papers

Which Paper is Best for Colored Pencils