Here’s our review of the best paper for colored pencils.
Picking the right paper for colored pencils can be challenging because there are a lot of things to consider like quality, texture, and weight.
If you pick the wrong paper, you can end up being frustrated because you won’t be able to make the art you want.
As an artist, I love high-quality paper but I also understand that budget can be important as well. I’ve spent a few days researching and scouring the web for the best paper so that you don’t have to.
I’ve found that the Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Vellum Pad is the best overall choice for most artists. It’s affordable, versatile, and works well with colored pencils.
That being said, I’ve also included higher-end papers that might better suit your needs.
Let’s dive right in!
Table of Contents
What to consider when choosing paper for colored pencils?
There are quite a lot of factors that you have to think about before picking the right paper for colored pencils. Here are the important factors to consider:
Quality and permanence
Paper comes in a wide range of qualities where some are suitable for sketching while others are meant for finished pieces. The quality you pick also depends on whether you’re a student or a professional. If you’re a student or a beginner at art, it helps to pick cheaper paper at a decent quality so you don’t have to spend a fortune when you’re just trying to learn.
Try to look for acid-free paper because the acid can make your paper fragile and yellow over a long period of time. Colors also fade easier if your paper has acid. All of the papers on this list are acid-free.
Paper that is 100% cotton are generally higher in quality. They are typically acid-free and will last a long time compared to normal paper. Cotton paper is also strong and durable. This means that you can use rough techniques like burnishing and erasing without worrying about harming your paper. The downside with 100% cotton paper is that they’re generally more expensive.
Some types of paper are also archival which means that they last a long time and are meant to be “archived”. You might want to consider these if you plan to hang up your art or sell your art. Paper without the archival label can also last a long time if you avoid things like direct sunlight, humidity, and heat.
Paper comes in three main textures: rough, medium (cold pressed/vellum), and smooth (hot pressed).
Rough paper is generally not a good choice for colored pencils. This is because the rough texture makes it hard to completely cover the surface and a lot of white spots will shine through. They also make blending more difficult as the color digs into the material. Lastly, they wear down your pencils faster because it takes more material to fill the rough surfaces. Unless you’re trying to aim for a specific texture or effect, avoid rough papers.
Medium-textured paper is also commonly referred to as cold pressed paper or vellum. This type of paper gives you a nice balance between rough and smooth paper. They’re great for mixed media pieces and watercolor pencils because the tooth of the paper can grip the materials better than smooth paper. They’re also great for mediums like charcoal and pastels. If you want a slight texture to your piece, go for medium-textured/cold pressed paper.
Smooth paper, also known as hot pressed paper, is a great choice for blending colored pencils. The smoother surface doesn’t grip the materials as much which allows you to easily blend colors. The downside is that they can’t take as many layers so you need to be gentle and layer softly. Smooth paper can also handle watercolor or mixed media as long as they have enough weight. They are also great for pen and ink, but they’re too smooth for mediums like charcoal and pastel.
Most paper companies measure paper by gsm or grams per square meter. Heavyweight paper is great if you use wet media or blend with solvents since they won’t buckle or warp. Heavyweight paper, especially 100% cotton paper, is generally better for rougher techniques like burnishing and erasing.
For most purposes, 300 gsm or higher is a great weight to aim for. However, if you’re strictly using colored pencils, 150 to 200 gsm is quite enough. For sketching and practicing, you can even go to the lower 80 to 100 gsm. Lighter paper is generally more affordable but can buckle if you use wet mediums.
Paper comes in various formats like single sheets, pads, boards, watercolor blocks, and sketchbooks. Generally, tape-bound papers that come in pads often are high quality and are easy to tear off. If you travel a lot, consider getting wire-bound paper or sketchbooks instead.
If you’re planning to combine watercolor with colored pencils, consider getting watercolor blocks. They have glue on all four sides so you don’t have to tape your paper down and can draw directly on them.
There is also toned paper or colored paper if you want to experiment and change the mood of your piece. Toned paper is also great for expanding your values since it can make your highlights seem brighter and your shadows seem darker.
If you’re looking to experiment with different papers, consider getting single sheets of different brands to test out. You can buy single-sheet drawing papers on Blick Art Materials.
Generally, there are various sizes that you can choose from for the certain type of paper you want. If you’re not sure what to get, I recommend getting larger sizes as you can always cut your paper into smaller pieces. Because if you bought paper that’s too small, you can’t resize it and make it bigger. If you’re just sketching and practicing, smaller paper sizes are completely fine.
Number of sheets
Pay close attention to the number of sheets that you get when you’re buying paper. The pricing can be a bit tricky because some might seem cheaper but they come with fewer sheets. If you do a lot of studies and sketches, aim for more sheets so you don’t run out too fast.
If you’re on a budget, stick to paper like the Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Paper which is quite affordable. You can also start with sketchbooks if your budget is tight. Using sketchbooks to practice instead of drawing paper can save you a lot of money in the long run. If budget is not an issue, definitely aim for a paper that is 100% cotton as they’re more durable and higher in quality.
8 Best Paper for Colored Pencils Reviewed
All of the paper included in this list is acid-free and can be used for colored pencils. I’ve included a wide variety of options so you can pick the ones that suit your needs.
1. Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Vellum Pad – Our pick
This Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Vellum Pad is a great choice for most artists. Strathmore makes their paper in the US, and they’re acid-free. The 300 series are quite affordable and are designed for beginner and student artists.
They weigh 270 gsm which is heavy enough to withstand wear and tear from rougher techniques. You won’t have to worry about damaging the paper when you burnish or erase.
These aren’t 100% cotton, but they’re vellum based which is made from cellulose fibers from plants and trees. These are medium-textured which allows you to experiment with other mediums like charcoal, airbrush, or oil pastel. This series of bristol pads also come with a smooth texture variation. They are both very affordable and come in many different sizes.
One drawback with these is that they have a slightly creamy/yellow tint. Another drawback is that they’re not designed for wet mediums like watercolor or acrylic paint. Some have found that it works fine, but others did mention that it can buckle if you apply multiple layers. Despite these drawbacks, they’re still a great and affordable choice for most artists.
|Can withstand rough techniques||Slight yellow tint, not pure white|
|Great for beginners and students||Not designed for wet mediums|
|Can use mediums like charcoal, airbrush, oil pastel|
2. Strathmore Colored Pencil Spiral Paper Pad – Best for colored pencils
If you’re not using wet mediums, Strathmore Colored Pencil Spiral Paper Pad is a great choice. These are designed specifically for colored pencils and also work well with graphite pencils, charcoal, and sketching sticks. They’re acid-free and have a durable surface that can withstand burnishing and erasing.
The paper in this pad only weighs 163 gsm which can feel a bit softer than other papers on this list. This also means that they don’t work well with watercolor and solvents because they can buckle and warp. However, if you’re sticking mostly with colored pencils, this is a great choice.
The papers in this pad are from Strathmore’s 400 Series which are of a higher quality than the 300 Series. They also have a vellum surface (medium-textured), but a smooth look can be achieved with layering and burnishing.
|Specifically designed for colored pencils||Not meant for wet mediums like watercolor|
|Durable for erasing and burnishing||Feels a bit soft|
|Good for practicing|
3. Legion Stonehenge Pad – Best quality
This Legion Stonehenge Pad was originally created for printmakers. But they became popular with artists because they work quite well with colored pencils. These are 100% cotton and acid-free which means that they won’t deteriorate as fast and can last a long time. They can also withstand rough techniques.
The texture of these papers feels smoother which lets you blend your colors more easily. They weigh in at 250 gsm which is a bit lighter than some. But because they’re made with cotton, they’re quite durable despite the slightly lower weight.
If you’re using mostly colored pencils without mixing wet mediums, this is one of the best choices for you.
|One of the best papers for colored pencils||Can withstand water-based mediums, but not specifically designed for them|
|Great for blending||A bit expensive|
|Great for rough techniques and erasing|
4. Strathmore 500 Series Heavyweight Mixed Media Pad – Best for mixed media
The Strathmore 500 Series Heavyweight Mixed Media Pad is one of the best papers for mixed media on the market. It weighs a hefty 570 gsm which makes it able to withstand pretty much any medium, including acrylic.
They’re 100% cotton, acid-free, and archival which means that your artwork will last longer on this paper than on most other papers. They have a vellum, medium-textured surface which allows more flexibility with both dry and wet mediums.
The only real downside with this paper is that it’s expensive. However, I still recommend it if you sell or hang your artwork. If you’re only doing colored pencils, I would stick to Legion’s Stonehenge Pad. But definitely pick this one if you’re considering mixed media.
|Great choice for professional and advanced artists||Expensive|
|Great for mixed media|
|Archival – lasts a long time|
5. Strathmore Toned Mixed Media Paper Toned Tan – Best toned paper
If you’re looking for high-quality toned paper, Strathmore Toned Mixed Media Paper is a great choice. The advantage of toned paper is that it allows you to create a wider range of values. Your highlights will seem brighter and your shadows can seem darker. Toned paper also gives you a different, warmer feel than white paper.
This paper is from Strathmore’s 400 series which is higher in quality and is designed for advanced artists. It also has a vellum surface which is medium-textured. However, some people did mention that the texture is a bit too smooth for them.
This set weighs in at 300 gsm which is heavy enough to withstand water-based mediums if you do decide to experiment with watercolor or acrylic.
Like other Strathmore papers, these are quite durable and acid-free.
|High-quality toned paper||Slightly more expensive|
|Good for mixed media||Too smooth for some people|
|Durable and tough|
This Canson XL Series Watercolor Textured Paper Pad is quite popular amongst artists. Because it’s cold pressed (medium-textured), It’s versatile and can handle a wide range of mediums including colored pencils. Don’t be thrown off by the “watercolor” label as they’re also great for colored pencils.
If you’re looking into more affordable paper for mixed media, this is a great choice. This paper pad weighs in at 300 gsm and is also acid-free.
The main downside with this is that the stock can be quite limited as it’s a popular paper option for a lot of artists. This forces you to pick sizes that might not be ideal for your art piece. They also have durability issues when it comes to rougher watercolor techniques.
|Great for mixed media||Limited stock|
|Great for watercolor pencils||Can’t sustain rough watercolor techniques|
If you love mixing colored pencils with watercolor, you’re going to love Fabriano Artistico Cold Press Watercolor Block. This watercolor block is made in Italy with 100% cotton. It’s one of the best paper on the market if you like the watercolor and colored pencil combo (or watercolor pencils).
Since these papers are made with cotton, they are acid-free and durable. Your art will last a long time and you don’t have to worry when you use rougher techniques.
These weigh 300 gsm which is heavy enough for wet mediums. They also come in a block form with adhesives on the sides which means that you don’t have to tape down your paper before doing watercolor.
The only downside with these is that they’re quite expensive. But they’re worth it if you really love colored pencils with watercolor.
|Great for mixing with watercolor||Quite expensive|
|Great for layering|
|Can withstand rough techniques|
If you’re on a tight budget, you might want to opt for this set of Arteza Sketch Books instead of other types of paper. This set of two comes with 100 sheets each which is plenty for you to practice and draw on. They’re quite affordable and can be a good way for you to hone your colored pencil skills before investing in more expensive paper.
The papers in this sketchbook have a smooth finish which means they’re perfect for colored pencils, graphite pencils, and pen and ink. The smooth surface allows you to blend with ease but layering can be a bit limited.
These weigh in at 100 gsm which can seem quite light when compared with other papers on this list. But they’re considered heavier than a lot of other sketchbooks that typically weigh in at 60 to 90 gsm. Your colors won’t go through the paper and they’re adequate for practice.
The downside with these is that they’re not suitable for markers or watercolor. The colors can bleed and the paper can warp when it’s wet. They’re also not suitable for finished pieces to hang up on the wall but they’re great for practice.
|Great quality sketchbook for the price||Not suitable for markers or watercolor|
|Weighs more than most sketchbooks||Not suitable for finished pieces|
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few frequently asked questions from my experience and research:
Which paper texture should I choose?
It depends on what look you’re trying to achieve.
For most people, smooth paper is the best choice if you’re just sticking to colored pencils. This type of paper allows you to blend extremely well and is great for fine details. Smooth paper is also great for pen and ink because it’s less likely to bleed or rip.
Choose a medium-textured (cold pressed) paper if you want a bit more flexibility. This type of paper has more teeth which also allows you to lay on more layers. You can also achieve a smooth look with techniques like burnishing. They’re also great for mixing other mediums like watercolor, charcoal, and pastels.
Which brand has the best paper for colored pencils?
I find that Strathmore is a great brand that has a wide range of paper types and quality. Their paper is made in the USA, and they have all types of paper for different uses. At the same time, other brands like Canson and Legion also make high-quality paper.
What paper is good for watercolor pencils?
If you want to use watercolor pencils, go for medium-texture or cold pressed papers. These papers are usually designed to hold some water and are perfect for wet mediums. Be sure to check that the weight is enough (around 300 gsm) because thinner papers would buckle or warp when wet.
Can I use watercolor paper for colored pencils?
Yes, you can. Watercolor paper tends to be medium-textured paper and is great if you like slightly rougher surfaces. In fact, we recommend Fabriano Artistico’s watercolor block. These are 100% cotton which makes them very durable for burnishing and erasing. They’re also great for combining watercolor or using watercolor pencils.
Can I use printer paper for colored pencils?
Yes, you can. Printer paper works fine with colored pencils. But, they’re light and can’t withstand a lot of rougher techniques like burnishing. If you can afford it, you’re better off getting one of the paper pads listed in this article. You’ll feel a lot of differences when you compare them side by side. If you’re on a tight budget, consider getting a sketchbook instead. They’ll last you a long time and generally have better quality papers.
Paper for colored pencils should be durable, acid-free, and have a medium or smooth texture. You should pick the type that best suits your needs.
Every artist has their own preferences. If you’re still not sure of what to pick, try to test out a few different ones and see which ones you like the best.
After spending hours searching for the best paper for colored pencils, we found that Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Vellum Pad is a great and affordable choice for most people.
If you’re looking for which colored pencils to get, check out our review for the best colored pencils for artists.