FAQ Answer

What is the difference between Bristol, Bristol Boards, and Illustration Boards?

Bristol & Illustration Board

Bristol and Bristol boards provide a stiff, strong surface to work on without the need for mounting. Strathmore’s Bristol & Illustration Boards are similar to each other but come in variations of weights and finishes.

Bristol generally describes drawing paper that is pasted together to form multi-ply sheets. It derives its name from the early days of European papermaking when mills would send their finest paper to Bristol, England for pasting.


The terms Bristol and Bristol boards generally mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably. Our 300 Series Bristol is a single-ply, board-weight sheet that has the weight and caliper (thickness) of a 2-ply Bristol. It is 100lb (270gsm) and comes in multiple pad sizes, sheets and rolls. Our 400 Series and 500 Series Bristol is available in multiple plies and a variety of pad and sheet sizes. Both 400 and 500 Series Bristol is available in 2-ply, 3-ply and 4-ply. The 2-ply Bristol is 2 sheets of drawing paper pasted together. The 3-ply Bristol is 3 sheets of drawing paper pasted together, and the 4-ply is 4 sheets of drawing paper pasted together. The more plies, the sturdier and thicker the Bristol.


Illustration Boards differ in that they are sheets of drawing paper mounted to both sides of a heavyweight board to provide the stiffest surface yet. Our Illustration boards are 100% cotton fiber drawing papers mounted to archival boards in varying calipers (thicknesses). The thickness of an Illustration Board is usually expressed in thousandths of an inch (mils) using the term points. Our Illustration boards are available in the following thicknesses:

  • 500 Series Illustration Board for Dry Media – Lightweight Vellum - 42 point
  • 500 Series Illustration Board for Dry Media – Heavyweight Vellum - 72 point
  • 500 Series Illustration Board for Dry Media – Heavyweight Plate - 68 point
  • 500 Series Illustration Board for Wet Media – Heavyweight Vellum - 78 point


In addition to understanding the difference between the weights and plies of Bristol papers and boards, it is equally important to understand the difference in their surfaces. Our Bristols are available in vellum, semi-smooth, smooth, and plate surfaces.

Smooth: Also known as hot press, has a very satiny, hard finish. This surface is especially good for pen and ink, marker, mechanical layout and airbrush.

Vellum: Also called regular, medium or kid finish, this surface has a tooth or roughness, making it excellent for use with dry media including pencil, colored pencil, charcoal, pastel and oil pastel.

Semi-Smooth: The perfect in-between surface that isn't as smooth as smooth, and not as rough as vellum. The Slightly textured surface is suited for pen and ink tools, pencil, specialty pens and markers.

Plate: A unique, uniformly smooth finish is created on the surface of the sheet through a special process. Sheets of paper are interleaved with highly polished metal plates to make a stack or "book". The “book” is then pressed repeatedly between steel rollers under great pressure, imparting the smoothness of the metal plates to the paper’s surface. This surface is ideal for pen and ink, marker, mechanical layouts and air-brushing.

Learn more about our Bristol papers and Boards here.

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