What is the Best Paper for Colored Pencils?

There are a variety of paper types that are well-suited for colored pencils. Below are our top recommendations.

Bristol Paper

Strathmore makes a variety of Bristol papers, all of which work well for colored pencil. Keep in mind, Bristol paper typically comes in two surface types: smooth and vellum. Traditionally a vellum surface would be recommended for colored pencil work because it has a bit more texture and tooth than the smooth surface. The tooth of a vellum surface helps to grab the colored pencil as it is being laid down and allows the artist to achieve greater depth of tone.

However, recently many colored pencil artists have gravitated towards a smooth Bristol surface because of the fine detail that can be achieved without the texture of the paper interfering. Ultimately choosing a smooth or vellum Bristol surface for your colored pencil work will come down to personal preference. 

Best Value Bristol Paper: Strathmore 300 Series Bristol
Strathmore 300 Series Bristol has become a top favorite among colored pencil artists because of its high quality at a reasonable price point. It has a heavy weight at 100lb/270gsm, and will stand up to many layers of colored pencils.

Artwork by @diego.n.art on Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Smooth Paper

Best Professional Grade Bristol Paper: Strathmore 500 Series Bristol, 100% cotton 
If you're looking to take things to the next level and use a professional grade, 100% cotton paper for your art, Strathmore 500 Series Bristol is the go-to choice. Created in 1893, this industry standard is unsurpassed for detailed work that will last for centuries. 

Art by @heather12ooney on Strathmore 500 Series Bristol Plate Paper

Pros of Bristol Paper: 
Best for artists looking to work on a white background. The heavier weight will stand up to multiple layers of colored pencil. Best for dry media work only.

Keep in MInd:  
Bristol is not manufactured for wet media techniques. If you're looking to use watercolor pencils or add other wet media like watercolor to your piece, check out the Mixed Media or Toned Paper sections. 

Toned Paper

Strathmore 400 Series Toned Paper is preferred by many colored pencil artists because of the possibilities that drawing on a midtone background brings. With the paper providing the middle value that would otherwise need to be rendered by the artist, a wider range of values from light to dark can be used, and the middle tone makes it easier for the artist to deliberately place shadows and highlights. 

Strathmore's Toned Paper comes in both Sketch and Mixed Media weights.

400 Series Toned Sketch: 80lb/118gsm
Strathmore Toned Sketch paper comes in both a warm tan and cool gray color. It comes in wirebound sketchbook format and has a fine tooth surface for drawing.

Art by @artbyxander on Strathmore 400 Series Toned Tan Sketch Paper

400 Series Toned Mixed Media: 184lb/300gsm
Strathmore Toned Mixed Media paper comes warm tan, cool gray, and steel blue. It comes in gluebound flipover pads that allow artists to tear sheets out cleanly. 

Art by @daragh.obrien.art on Strathmore 400 Series Toned Blue Mixed Media Paper

Pros of Toned Paper: 
The mid-tone background saves time by preventing the artist from having to render the middle color values themselves. It also allows for unique sketching and drawing possibilities by proving a neutral background that allows artists to place highlights and push darker values, making drawings pop.

Keep in Mind: 
Toned Sketch is best for dry media only. Toned Mixed Media is best for artists who want to use watercolor pencils or add watercolor and other wet media to their piece. 

Colored Pencil Paper

Our 400 Series Colored Pencil paper provides a clean white, toothy surface that is ideal for a variety of colored pencil techniques. Smooth, even coverage can be achieved, and the durable surface stands up to repeated erasures and reworking. The heavy weight combined with the vellum surface allows for the application of multiple layers.

Artwork by Brian Scott

Mixed Media Paper

If you're an artist who likes to add more than just colored pencil to a piece or if you prefer watercolor pencils, Mixed Media Paper is for you.

Strathmore Mixed Media paper is made with a vellum drawing finish that works well for colored pencils and other dry media. It is also manufactured with the same sizing as a watercolor paper, allowing it to hold up to wet media applications. With its strong surface and heavy weight, you can mix your colored pencils with other media to your hearts content.

We make a number of Mixed Media paper types which you can see here. Our top 2 recommendations:

Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media Paper
Heavyweight at 184lb/300gsm, this paper will stand up to layers of colored pencil along with layers of watercolor washes, ink, marker and more.

Art by @chkarron on Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media Paper

Strathmore 500 Series Heavyweight Mixed Media Paper, 100% cotton
The ultimate professional grade heavy-duty surface for the artist looking for the toughest and most versatile sheet of paper. At 350lb/570gsm, this paper has some serious heft and can stand up to layers of watercolor, gouache, acrylic, graphite, pen and ink, colored pencil, marker, pastel, and collage. It is archival and lignin free. 

Art by @grahamsmithart on Strathmore 500 Series Heavyweight Mixed Media Paper

Pros of Mixed Media Paper:
Best for artists who want to use more than just colored pencils on their piece. The surface is suited for dry media, but these papers are heavy weight and made for watercolor washes and other wet media. 

Keep in Mind: 
Strathmore Mixed Media papers only come in vellum surfaces. If you're one who prefers a very smooth surface, Bristol Smooth may be better suited for you. 


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