The 2 Meanings of Vellum

The term vellum as it relates to paper can be somewhat confusing because it can refer to two distinct aspects:

1. Vellum as a Paper
2. Vellum as a Finish

Vellum as a Paper
Traditional vellum, like parchment, was an early writing surface. In ancient times, it was made from the skin of calves, goats and lambs. The vellum was prepared by exposing it to a lengthy lime bath, then the skins were scraped down with a rounded knife and rubbed smooth with a pumice stone. The term vellum is derived from the French word “veau” which translates to veal and referred to a parchment made from calf skin. It was known as a better quality of parchment with grain and hair marks producing a somewhat irregular and desirable surface.

Over time, vellum was used to describe a high rag paper, usually with a creamy white color and smooth surface that imitated traditional vellum. Printing diplomas and certificates became a popular use of vellum paper. Today the term vellum is often used to describe a very translucent, smooth paper surface.

Vellum as a Finish
Vellum finish is used to describe a somewhat toothy surface on drawing or Bristol paper. Over time, several like terms have been established to describe this toothy finish: vellum, medium, regular and kid. Strathmore makes a number of popular products with a vellum surface: 300 Series Bristol, 400 Series Bristol, and 500 Series Bristol.

A vellum finish is most desirable for graphite, colored pencil, charcoal, pastel, and crayon. The surface has peaks and valleys, which grab the dry media, helping the artist achieve more layers and deeper tones.

300 Series Bristol

Our 300 Series Bristol paper is a popular choice among many artists because it contains quality paper at a very reasonable price. It comes in a number of pad sizes, loose sheets, and large rolls. It has a 'bristol weight' at 100lb. (270gsm), and is perfect for finished art. Look for it in smooth and vellum surfaces. 

Smooth is a very good choice for mechanical drawing, marker, airbrush along with pen & ink.

Vellum is best suited for working with graphite pencil, colored pencil, charcoal, sketching stick, mixed media, airbrush and oil pastel.

400 Series Bristol

Our 400 Series Bristol paper is a high quality sheet that comes in 2-ply, 3-ply and 4-ply weights. It is available in pads and loose sheets, and comes in 2 surfaces:

Smooth Finish is excellent for fine line drawings using pen & ink or marker.

Vellum finish is excellent for pencil, charcoal, and pastel, as well as airbrush and light washes. Not recommended for traditional watercolor techniques.

500 Series Bristol

Our 500 Series Bristol is a 100% cotton paper that was created in 1893 and has become an industry standard. It is the ultimate high quality surface for professional artists and illustrators. It is available in three surfaces:

Plate: An ultra-smooth surface that is great for technical pen, pen & ink, marker, and airbrush

Vellum (Medium): Toothy finish that is great for graphite pencil, colored pencil, charcoal, sketching stick, pen & ink, marker, soft pastel, mixed media, oil pastel, light wash and collage

Semi-Smooth: Slightly textured surface for use with pen and ink, pencil, specialty pens and markers

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