Hello there, welcome!
Ahh, so pretty!
Today I’m going to tackle (or attempt to) one of the questions I get asked about a lot. Which is normally a bit weird for me, because I have to figure out how to answer the question in a few sentences. Well not today. Today is a go get a cup (yeah, maybe you should just get the whole pot) of coffee and sit back and learn way more than you ever wanted to know about my paper obsession.
I’ll start with papers and then very briefly touch on sketch pads. These are in no real order. I tried to group them a bit based on brands and types, but they’re certainly not in order by favorites.
In order to keep this one post able to load at better than a snail pace, I’m just briefing about the paper here giving some basic specs and my opinion.
If you click on any of the pictures of paper it’ll take you to page two. Which is also a separate blog post. That will have examples. Pictures that I’ve drawn using the papers, with close up scans of some areas so you can see what the finished texture looks like. It’s one thing for me to try and describe these, but I think it’s way more helpful to see a finished drawing. In a perfect world you’d also be able to touch them and draw on them yourselves, but hey, it’s not a perfect world.
If you have any questions or want more ramblings about any of these papers, or a different paper please just let me know!
(And the seemingly mandatory disclaimer, all opinions listed here are mine, and you are more than welcome to disagree with me. I’m not being paid by any of these companies or anything like that (well, unless someone from Strathmore happens to read this and wants to help feed my paper addiction! Then I’m happy to bail on all others!) Kidding. Sort of. No. Ok, fine. I’m not actually.)
Before I start, I want to explain paper weight really quickly. The technical definition goes something like: the weight in pounds of 500 sheets of standard size sheet paper for that particular paper. There are 4 (generally) standard different size sheets they use to measure and therefore can be really confusing, so we’ll stop with that. The Jessica definition goes: how thick or flimsy the paper is. Higher weight is thicker and sturdier. Lower weight is flimsy and thinner. Standard printer copy paper is low weight, cardstock is higher. Got it? Moving on.
Strathmore Bristol Smooth 300
A smooth paper sold in pads in 100lb weight. This is a fantastic paper if you are just moving up to finished pieces. It is sturdy and readily available in every chain craft store I’ve been in. It’s a bit hard to get real darks on this paper, and the dreaded graphite shine is certainly an issue. But it’s smooth and does erase nicely.
Strathmore Bristol Smooth 400 (2-4 ply)
A smooth paper sold in pads and sheets in 100lb weight. The sheets are available in 2-4 ply paper. Since the pads are 2 ply that’s what I’m most familiar with. Although I did buy some of the others to give them a test run. This is by far my favorite Bristol paper. I love this stuff. It is perfect for fur and hair in my experience. It erases cleanly and easily which is essential for me. The darks get darker than the 300, but not as dark as some non smooth papers. There is a lot less graphite shine on this one. There is a pretty big difference in my opinion between the 300 and 400 series on both the smooth and vellum. The 400 costs a little more, but is very worth it. The darks go darker with less shine, and I feel like I can get more layers and depth in my fur drawings. Which is kind of a big deal for me. For colored pencil as long as you’re not using a lot of layers it works well. I haven’t tried mineral spirits on this paper though.
Strathmore Bristol Vellum 300
Sold in pads at 100lb weight. This is a fantastic paper if you are just moving up to finished pieces. It is sturdy and readily available in every chain craft store I’ve been in. Works well with both graphite and colored pencil. I have done a number of colored pencil pieces on this paper because when I started getting serious about drawing it was what I used. It’s certainly not a bad paper, but getting smooth large surfaces while using mineral spirits is impossible. Small spaces work nicely though. And it does burnish nicely. You can’t get tens of layers with it, but as long as you know the limitations of the paper it works well.
Strathmore Bristol Vellum 400
Sold in pads and sheets at 100lb weight. The sheets are available in 2-4 ply paper. This paper is a very hard paper. Again I will say that the 300 and 400 are very different papers. The 400 is much more textured than the 300. The 300 is almost smooth compared to the 400. I’ve done a couple of graphite drawings on this paper, and while they turned out fine, they were both furred animals. I wouldn’t use this paper for fur again unless I was really desperate. It’s just too rough. With my technique I need to be able to erase in order to create the depth I want, and it’s just too difficult with this. The darks get fairly dark here though, which is a plus. I liked it for colored pencil. Mineral spirits worked alright and it also burnishes nicely.
Strathmore 400 Series Drawing
This paper is sold in spiral bound pads at 80lb weight. It has a slight cream or natural tint to it. It’s definitely not white white. They claim its a very versatile paper and can be used for a number of different mediums, but I’ve only tried graphite. The only thing I don’t really love is the weight. It’s just really thin for a final piece paper for me, but I’ve used it on a couple of my absolute favorite finished pieces and love the way they look. This paper is interesting when going to make prints though because of it’s color. I’ll go into this more with the example pictures.
Strathmore Colored Pencil
This paper is sold in spiral bound pads and is the flimsiest 100lb paper you will ever feel. There is no possible way that it is actually, truly a 100lb paper. It is thin. I won’t say I hate it though. It did take a few layers of pencil and worked with mineral spirits. I haven’t tried this paper with graphite yet, although I probably will someday just to test it out.
Can be purchased in sheets or pads in a handful of colors at 60lb weight. It is my go to black paper. It is a bit thinner than I would like in a perfect world, but that’s the only thing I can say badly about it. I haven’t tried the other colors yet, because I’m being boring and working in a lot of black and white recently.
Canson Bristol Smooth
A smooth Bristol in 100lb weight. I use this paper for a lot of things. This is my go to paper for mandalas. It works just fine for certain graphite pieces as well. It is hard to get super dark darks and avoiding the shine is an issue. It is an easy paper to find in craft stores around me.
Canson Recycled Bristol XL
A recycled paper with two different textured sides at 96lbs. One vellum, one smooth. This paper is very sturdy for being under 100lbs. It is marketed more to students for some reason, but the only thing wrong with this paper is it’s recycled. Which means it has tiny specks throughout. Which can be ok depending on what you are working on. For colored pencil it burnishes well, but stay away from mineral spirits.
Canson Recycled Drawing XL
To be completely honest I couldn’t find a drawing that I’ve done on this paper. But I own it so I threw in a picture for fun.
This is a paper sold at Dick Blick as a high quality student grade paper. It’s 80 lbs and comes in spiral pads. It is a step up from sketch paper. But it is really flimsy for a finished drawing in my opinion. It is cheap though. It takes colored pencil alright if you’re just doing something quick.
Stonehenge Vellum finish
This paper is rough and hard. It says it’s 90lb weight, but it is sturdy feeling. It’s a good paper though. I don’t like it for fur, but it can really add to a drawing that requires texture. The darks get dark and it really isn’t too bad with graphite shine. It works well with colored pencil as well, and handles mineral spirits nicely.
And then we get to sheets of paper:
Strathmore Bristol Plate 500
I have a drawing outlined and ready to go on this paper. I’ll let you know how it goes when I finally dive in. I’ve heard some people adore this paper so it’ll be an interesting one to test out.
Sold in sheets of a handful of different colors and 90 lbs. I’m not sure how this paper is such a light weight. It certainly is much more sturdy and thick than a 90lb feel. I have a few sheets of this paper, but haven’t drawn on them yet. I have only recently come to learn that this paper in sheets is a very different paper than what is sold in the pads. Even though the company and Dick Blick says its the same thing. It’s completely different. Not even close. After much Google searching I found many others that agree with me, so I finally gave in and decided to buy some. I’ll add my opinion after actually using it.
Arches Hot Pressed Watercolor
Sold in sheets of natural white and three different weights. I go with the 140 lb paper. I really like this paper. This is a soft paper. Soft. It works well for both graphite and colored pencil. Graphite erases fairly well and gets good darks with little shine. Colored pencils can be either used in a few layers, burnished easily, or used with mineral spirits. This paper is soft though and the fibers of the paper can easily be snagged with a sharp pencil point. It’s especially an issue when covering larger areas with dark graphite. It creates a bit of a fuzziness. It’s certainly not noticeable unless you’re right up in it, but it’s still there. The darks get very dark on this and there is not a shine unless you’ve got a strong light at a serious angle. A huge plus. I’m also learning that because of the softness super fine detailed work with graphite is harder to accomplish. Hmm, maybe that’s not the correct phrasing. It just has a softer overall appearance. Which can add to a piece, or take away, depending on your goal. But as I said before, I really like it, it’s one of my favorites. Which may seem a bit weird after you read this paragraph.
Fabriano Artistico Hot Pressed Watercolor
Sold in sheets of natural white or bright white and three different weights. I go with the 140 lb paper. This is a super popular paper from what I have gathered online. Some people swear by this stuff. It’s not a bad paper for graphite, but I really didn’t love it for colored pencils. Rumor has it that the paper has changed recently and used to be better. I’d definitely buy it and use it again if all of my other paper options weren’t available.
I’ve bought mine in sheets, but I’m not sure if they sell pads as well. Available in a gazillion different colors, one side is super rough and one side is considered smooth. It is 98 lb paper. Although I think it seems much more flimsy than that number gives it credit for. I am not a fan of this paper. At all. The smooth side seems super rough and is hard to get details, and it is one of the flimsiest papers. I’ve used the black as well. The range of colors are nice, but if you’ve seen my work, you know that it’s not much benefit to me. Maybe someday I’ll branch out and need to give this paper another shot. For now though, it’s not for me.
And let’s throw in a few more: I’m hoping to add these to my list soon as well.
Strathmore Gray Scale paper is a super rough paper that terrifies me. I think it would be awesome for some loose sketching, but if you know me at all by now, you know I love sketching but can’t figure it out. This paper is like sandpaper though. Rough rough rough.
This is Dura Lar film. I’m super excited and nervous to give this a test. There are some pretty fantastic things that I’ve seen drawn on it. I’ll give you my opinion once I finally give it a go.
These are a few of my tiny, fun papers. Sometimes it’s nice to just play around a bit and not have such a large paper to feel intimidated by. I love the artist tiles.
And here are my sketch book brands. I have about a million of the Canson and the Master’s Touch sketch books. I keep a separate one for every type of sketch. I love them both a lot. The Master’s Touch (red cover) are awesome for ink. The Canson Mix Media (light blue) is super rough for a mixed media paper. The Strathmore Mixed Media (yello) works well with Copics in my experience, which I will admit is a bit limited. The Master’s touch black (top middle) is a decent black paper sketch pad, although it doesn’t take many layers at all. It does work nicely with gel pens though. The Mead Sketchbook (bottom left) is actually the first one I ever owned. It contains a lot of my first drawings.
If I was going to go out and buy a new one today, or if I’m giving a recommendation, I’d go with the Canon Sketchbooks. They are great for sketching as well as for finished drawings on a beginner level with both graphite and colored pencils. For inkwork, go with the Master’s Touch.
So what would I recommend?
What would I tell a new to drawing artist to buy? Of course it depends on your budget, how new you are, what your goals with the pictures are, and probably a bit more as well.
The 300 series Strathmore papers are easy to find. Hobby Lobby, Michaels, some Walmarts all stock them. I’d probably say the 300 vellum would be my lowest cost recommendation. If you’re a bit past beginner then I would go with the 400 series. It’s a bit more expensive, but not by that much if you’re producing decent works. I personally think the difference between the 300 and 400 is huge. But if you’re not going to use it because you think it costs too much, then just go with the 300 vellum.
If you have access to a good art store without having to order online, it’s much easier to test out a few varieties more often. When you have to wait on an order, it can be super intimidating placing a large order for a variety of papers. And can get a bit costly.
So what if you try my recommendations and hate the paper? That is completely OK! Just test a different one, and keep on drawing. Just because I love it, doesn’t mean you have to! We can still be friends, I promise!
Whew! That is a lot of words. A lot. So I’ll leave it here for now. You should probably go for a walk and stretch your legs. Let me know if you have any questions!
Have a great rest of your day!
If your not subscribed to my post card list, and would like me to send you a postcard with my art on it just click this button below!SUBSCRIBE