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The Best Surfaces for Colored Pencils

The Best Surfaces for Colored Pencils

The reader who asked today’s question wants to know about the best surfaces for colored pencils.

I am fairly new to colored pencil work and I … would greatly appreciate some guidance as to the best papers or surfaces to use for colored pencil work.

Thank you for your consideration to this request.

Sincerely, Marie

Thank you for your question, Marie. You’re not the only new artist who has asked about the best paper for colored pencils.

Unfortunately, I can’t give you one paper that works best for every artist, every style of drawing, and every method of drawing. There are just too many variables.

There are so many different drawing methods and styles the paper that works for me may not work for you. The best paper for you is the paper that gives you the results you want, and 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 Surfaces for Colored Pencils

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 to be useful or marketable. I also include art you make for your own enjoyment in this category.

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 the improved quality costs more.

The best surfaces for colored pencils may not be what adult coloring books are printed on.
Unless you get individual pages you can download and print, you’re limited to whatever paper the publisher chose for their adult coloring books. Check the information about a book you want to buy, and see if it tells what type of paper the book is printed on. If you like that paper, you may be able to purchase it from an art supply store.

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 different papers and see what you like best. Buy small pads for the best buys and least expense.

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 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, Canson, Strathmore and others all make papers that are sturdy and archival. Some of them also come in a variety of colors so you don’t have to always work on white.

Portrait of a Blue Roan, Colored Pencil. I painted this portrait with colored pencils on Clairefontaine Pastelmat. Pastelmat is a sturdy, highly textured paper that works with with dry colored pencils, dry blending, and solvent blending.

What to Look for in Drawing Surfaces for Colored Pencils

Surface Texture

The first thing most of us think of when we consider drawing paper is the surface texture. Most drawing papers are quite smooth. Stonehenge has a velvety feel if you buy full sheets. Canson Mi-Teintes is more textured. But there are also sanded art papers that might fit your drawing style and preferences better than regular drawing papers.

For example, I’ve used Stonehenge and Canson Mi-Teintes for years, but my most recent work has been on sanded art paper of one type or another and I’m moving away from previous favorites.

Weight

The weight of a paper refers to its thickness. A 98lb paper is thinner than a 120lb paper.

Thicker papers can usually handle more abuse. They take more layers of color, and can often be more easily erased. So if you do a lot of layering, look for papers that are sturdy enough to stand up under lots of layers.

Heavier papers are also helpful if you draw with a naturally heavy hand, or if you like to use heavy pressure with just a few layers of color.

Ability to Handle Dampness

Some papers buckle or tear when they get wet. If you want to use solvents to blend, stay away from these types of paper.

Most good drawing papers stand up well if you use small amounts of solvent to blend. I know Stonehenge can be wetted a little and will dry flat if it’s taped to a rigid support before you start drawing.

Other papers don’t perform well with even small amounts of solvent.

Drawing Surfaces to Avoid

Avoid drawing surfaces that are too thin. Newsprint is good for sketching, but not suitable for long-term colored pencil work. It yellows with age and often gets brittle.

If you want to do fine art as defined above, avoid papers made with cellulose fibers. Yes, cellulose-based papers are less expensive, but they not as archival as cotton fiber-based paper. These papers are great for craft art.

How to Find the Best Surfaces for Colored Pencils

You have essentially two options for finding the best surfaces for your colored pencil work.

The first is to ask other artists who are doing work similar to what you want to do. Most of them will be happy to help you, and some will already have produced articles or videos talking about their favorite papers.

The second option (and the best in my opinion) is to try as many papers as you can afford. It won’t take long to discover which paper gives you the best results. For more tips on this subject, read Getting Started with Colored Pencils.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Click here to ask Carrie!

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