Feather vs. Bleed on Paper (and How to Prevent Both)

I've heard artists talk about both feathering and bleeding on paper - what is the difference between the two? Can I prevent them from happening?

Feathering and bleeding are two different things:

  • Feathering refers to 'spreading' from where the ink was laid down.

  • Bleeding refers to ink or marker seeping through the paper.

Let's talk about both and how you can take measures to prevent either from ruining your art.

The best way to avoid feathering and get the crisp, clean lines you're looking for is to start with quality materials and use the proper surface for your mediums. Bristol, Marker, Drawing and Mixed Media papers are specifically made to accept pen and ink. At Strathmore, we test feather results in the manufacturing process to ensure it doesn't happen on these grades. Other types of papers that are not specifically made for pen and ink applications (Newsprint paper for example) do not undergo the same testing and therefore may or may not produce crisp, clean lines.

A special additive called 'surface sizing' is applied to Bristol, Marker, Drawing and Mixed Media papers to ensure the surface has the right qualities to allow ink to 'sit' on the surface rather than soak in. Non-art papers such as toilet paper and paper towel have no surface sizing and would quickly absorb ink rather than allow it to sit on top.

Check out Eleanor Mill's video demonstrating crisp and detailed pen & ink line work on Strathmore 500 Series Bristol Plate paper. The surface is smooth, allowing the pen to glide easily on the surface. It is also sized properly to allow the ink to sit on the paper.

See more from Eleanor on Instagram

Most marker artists have realistic expectations when it comes to bleeding. Unless the paper is laminated with a special barrier in the middle, the majority of papers will eventually bleed (seep through to the backside or to the next sheet). A few measures can be taken to help manage bleed:

  • Use a marker paper: Papers manufactured specifically for use with markers are typically made with the right properties that will enable the sheet to act as a barrier and allow for more layers before bleeding starts (or at least before the marker seeps to the sheet underneath).

  • Use thicker paper: If you aren’t using a Marker paper, a thicker/heavier paper will be more likely to stand up to more layers of marker without bleeding. Bristol, Heavyweight Drawing, and Mixed Media are substantial enough for markers. Papers that are lighter weight and not made for markers like Sketch (less than 100gsm) are more prone to bleeding.

  • Use a 'barrier' paper: Many experienced marker artists understand that with many layers, eventually the pigment has to go somewhere (through the paper). This is why they use a barrier paper, which is simply a sheet of scratch paper that goes underneath the sheet being worked on to protect the next sheet. Marker artists will keep the same barrier paper right in their pad to continue using it for all their pages. Barrier papers can take on a fun life of their own, exhibiting the journey the artist has been on with their markers.

Artist and Industrial Designer Reid Schlegel uses markers and ink on our Toned Tan paper. Check out his sketchbook tour and notice how you can see the marker on the back side of the pages as he flips through. Reid uses a barrier paper between the sheets as he's working to prevent bleed to the next page.

See more from Reid on Instagram

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