Artists need to use the right substrate for their medium, which means a pencil artist needs to find the best paper for colored pencils plus having the best-colored pencils helps too. I tested six products and found the Strathmore 300 Series Bristol to be the best-colored pencil paper.
I love the look of colored pencil art, so I had a blast trying various papers with my favorite colored pencils. Different papers impact the look of your art, so I’ll cover a lot of good papers that will work for some of the best wax-based or best oil-based colored pencils.
When you use Bristol paper, you’re not limited to a certain type. You can choose between smooth or vellum surfaces, which is just one reason I love this offering from Strathmore. Smooth surfaces allow every tiny detail in your work to shine. Vellum, on the other hand, gives you rich colors.
Depending on the type of art you make, you might prefer a different type of paper. With that in mind, I rated my favorite papers and included them here. I’ll give you tips on what they’re best for so you can’t go wrong.
Whether you’re searching for quality paper for your artwork or want to try something new, read on to discover some of the top papers for drawing with colored pencils.
My Picks for Paper to use With Colored Pencil Drawing
There are so many different options available in art supply stores that you need to know what you’re looking for. I’ve reviewed six unique types of paper and explained why they’re the best-colored pencil paper.
Strathmore 300 Series Bristol – Best Overall
This is the best Strathmore paper for layering colored pencils. Though this paper is high-quality, it’s not too expensive to use for your daily drawing. You can buy it in single sheets, but I prefer to buy a pad of 20 pages. To me, it’s the best sketchbook if you like to sketch in color with a colored pencil.
The heavy-weight paper is 270 GSM, so you can layer your colors for the perfect style. Due to the surface texture, this is the best paper for blending colored pencils. You’ll love using this paper with graphite pencils because it doesn’t absorb the lead.
If you’re having trouble layering your colors on the smooth finish, you can use fixative to add some texture. Since the paper is so thick, it won’t warp with any finishing spray or even gesso which may make it possible to use watercolor pencils but don’t hold me to that as I have not tried them on this paper. Though it’s 2-ply paper, it’s not ideal for wet drawing techniques. If you like to blend your colored pencils with water, you’ll want to try something sturdier.
Derwent Sketching Paper – Best for Sketching
Though Strathmore 300 Series Bristol is affordable enough for daily use, you might prefer a different paper for sketching. Derwent Sketching Paper is a good paper for drawing rough sketches with colored pencils.
The paper itself is 165 GSM, so it’s thinner than the Strathmore Bristol options. Still, it’s heavy enough to handle layers of colored pencils, graphite pencils, and even light wastes.
You can choose from a spiral-bound book or a pad that allows you to remove your finished work easily. Derwent offers different sizes of sketchbooks, so you can choose one that fits in your bag.
Legion Stonehenge Paper – Best Cotton Paper
Colored pencils look amazing on cotton paper. Artists initially used this type of paper for printmaking, but over time they found that it’s excellent for graphite pencils, colored pencils, pastel pencils, and ink.
Since it’s made of cotton, this paper is archival and many colored pencil artists like to use this type of paper. You don’t have to worry about your artwork fading or deteriorating over time. Stonehenge paper is acid-free, so your colors stay true and will not fade for a long time.
Like many of the other papers I reviewed, you can buy Stonehenge paper in single sheets or pads. Choose from 250 GSM paper or 320 GSM. If you shop at a local art supply store, you might even luck out and find it on the roll so you can cut custom sizes.
Fabriano Artistico Watercolor Paper – Best Archival Paper
Fabriano Artistico Extra White Watercolor Paper is an excellent choice for archival paper because it’s available in the hot press or cold press. The hot press is typically a smooth paper, while the cold press has more texture.
If you use watercolor pencils, this is a good paper to try, but I recommend using a more textured surface such as this will hold more layers and help build up your art pieces, making this a good choice for a mixed media paper. Read my review on some of the best watercolor pencils for some helpful insights on this art medium.
Since it’s archival paper, it’s 100% cotton, but you can choose different weights according to your drawing style. You have the option of 300 GSM, 430 GSM, or 640 GSM. I’ve found the 640 GSM option is the best paper for colored pencil portraits—absolutely frame-worthy.
Strathmore Artagain Paper – Best Tinted Paper
Sometimes artists like to mix things up by using colored drawing paper. Strathmore is an outstanding brand, period, but their Artagain paper is the best-toned paper for colored pencils I’ve found. You can buy individual sheets or a pad of assorted colors, including:
- Beach sand Ivory
- Coal Black
- Desert Rose
- Gotham Gray
- Flannel White
- Steel Gray
- Storm Blue
When it comes to black paper, there are plenty of options out there. However, I stick with Strathmore because I think their Coal Black is the best black paper. I am not too sure about this as a good choice for mixed media paper but my best guess would be not for mixed media.
Canson Pure White Drawing Art Board – Best Board
It might come as a surprise that the best Canson paper isn’t actually paper; it’s a board. You can choose from a variety of sizes, like 8” by 10”, 9” by 12”, and 12” by 16”. As you can tell by the sizes and the fact that these are boards, you won’t want to use these for sketching. These are for works of art and will work well as a mixed media paper that is not a paper. 🙂
These sturdy boards can handle erasing and scraping, so you don’t have to worry about messing up. For the size and quality, they’re really affordable. They’re acid-free and extra white, so your colors will stay vibrant.
There’s a lot to consider when you’re looking for good paper for colored pencils. Regardless of your budget, you need to know the differences between cheap paper and quality paper. It’s also helpful to understand paper textures and how they impact your artwork. Finally, toned paper can elevate your drawing from a sketch to a unique piece of art.
Cheap Paper Versus Quality Paper
Paper varies in quality, but factors like longevity and warping aren’t exclusive to the paper itself. You also have to consider the type of pencils you’re using. The paper for Prismacolor pencils, which are waxed-based, might not be the same as the paper for Faber Castell Polychromos which are oil-based.
Paper Weight and GSM
If you get the heavy-weight paper, your art will look great no matter what type of pencil you’re using. Paper with a higher GSM is thicker, so it holds up better throughout your drawing process. It also doesn’t decline in quality over time, the way cheaper paper does.
There are many types of mixed media paper that will allow you to use multiple tools other than just colored pencils such as ink, watercolor pencils, or pastel pencils. Most of these papers will either say mixed media or list out the types of media that can be used.
However, you’re paying for this luxury. Heavier weight paper is more expensive than lighter weights. Paper that goes in your printer, for example, is usually 80 GSM. Card stock is the most popular 199 weight, though anything over 160 GSM is card stock.
The best GSM paper is in the 150 to 300 GSM range because of the layering capability that is possible with a weightier paper.
The size of the paper you work with is a personal choice. Most sketchbooks are 8.5” by 11” or larger, though you can find pocket-sized books as well. It’s harder to draw on small drawing paper because you have less space to work with and have to make your details crystal clear.
It’s usually better to start off with larger paper and sketchbooks. You can still draw smaller pieces on big surfaces and cut them down to size once you’ve finished.
There are other special features you can find in terms of paper that are specific to colored pencils. The acid-free drawing paper holds up over time because the pulp used to make the paper is neutral.
Archival papers are acid-free, but they go beyond that. No groundwood or unbleached pulp is in the paper. With no artificial brighteners on the paper, your colored pencils will stay vibrant.
Lignin-free paper is another type of pure paper. Lignin is organic, but it turns into acid when made into paper. It causes your artwork to become discolored.
Pure cotton paper lasts hundreds of years without fading or deteriorating. It’s not only used for artwork but also for essential documents. This type of paper absorbs pigments, so your colors look vibrant and stay that way.
The general rule is that heavier paper is more expensive, but sometimes you can find good deals buying sheets in bulk. Sketchbooks might be more affordable options until you have a piece of art you want to replicate on professional paper.
Hotpress paper has a smooth surface, so your pencils will blend together effortlessly. Cold press paper has more texture on the surface. Many artists think cold press paper is the best paper to use colored pencils on because of how it holds the pigments.
Mixed texture paper is usually a happy medium between smooth and rough, but not all brands have the same standards.
If you’ve drawn with pastels, you understand the importance of rough surfaces. The pastel stays on rough paper, while the particles easily fly off of smooth finishes. Some artists like using sanded paper with their colored pencils because it holds more of the graphite and color to the paper.
Toned or Colored Paper
As you saw with the Strathmore Artagain color chart, toned paper comes in many shades. Black is a classic color for colored pencil artists, but you might like to experiment with different hues. You can find toned papers in shades of black, gray, brown, tan, and white. Many brands also offer a variety of pastels.
When possible, check out the hues of the paper in person at your local art supply store. Even if the paper is tan, you might find that Strathmore’s tan has a blue tone compared to Canson’s red-toned tan. It’s fun to try different shades, but if you find something you like for a specific project, you’ll want to stick with it for consistency.
Professional Versus Sketch Paper
Some of what I reviewed is professional paper, so you don’t want to use them the same way you’d use sketch paper. Sketch paper is cheaper, so you don’t feel bad drawing, erasing, or crumpling it up in frustration.
Professional paper is usually 100% cotton archival paper. I also use the Canson Drawing Art Boards as professional paper. That means I don’t make a mark on it until I’m sure about what I want to draw. Even though you can erase them, I like to keep them as pristine as possible
You now know six great types of paper for colored pencil art. In case you have any doubts about what to buy, check out these frequently asked questions.
What Is the Best Type of Paper for Colored Pencils?
The smooth paper will give you an excellent colored pencil drawing experience. Your colors will stay vibrant, and you don’t have to worry about any texture showing through.
Do You Need Special Paper for Colored Pencils?
Unlike painters, who need a certain substrate to handle their media, you can draw on any type of paper with colored pencils. Straight-forward coloring is fine on pretty much any paper. However, if you want to blend colors or use wet media, you should buy heavier paper
Can Watercolor Paper Be Used for Colored Pencils?
Yes, any hot press watercolor paper will look great with colored pencil art. The paper is heavy enough to handle wet methods of art, so it will hold up under your pencil sketching, coloring, and erasing. This type of paper could be considered a mixed media paper also.
Is Printer Paper Good for Colored Pencils?
This type of paper is a little too thin and smooth to give you the rich color you want. However, you shouldn’t let a lack of art paper keep you from drawing.
You might have some of this paper in your house right now which can be used with colored pencils. Check the printer for weights of paper and see how your pencils look on them. If nothing else, you can make your own coloring book using printable paper for coloring pages.
The Strathmore 300 Series is the best bristol vellum paper for colored pencils. You’ll love how your art looks on both the vellum and smooth finishes they offer. The brand is well-known, and the sketchbooks are affordable. You can’t go wrong buying this paper for your colored pencils.