What paper should I use for drawing with colored pencils?

Reader Question: I love your site and cannot wait to invest in color pencils to reignite my passion for sketching in a whole new way. My only question; what kind of paper or canvas do I use?

Thanks so much for your message! Shopping for good drawing paper for use with colored pencils can be quite difficult because there are so many similar paper products on the market, and it ultimately comes down to personal preference.

Because there are many factors to consider, I created a guide to the Best Paper for Colored Pencils. Check that out for a full discussion about what to look for, or keep reading below for a quick summary.

Firstly, it’s important to get high quality paper that can stand up to rough techniques (like burnishing and erasing) and preserve your artwork for as long as possible. At a minimum, the paper you buy should be acid-free, which helps prevent it from becoming yellow and brittle over time. Labels like archival and permanent are a good sign, but truly archival paper is made from 100% cotton (also called rag paper).

Drawing Paper for Colored Pencils

You also need to consider the right paper texture for your colored pencils. Most people will prefer a smooth texture (also called hot press, plate or fine-grain), which allows for detailed work and easy blending. If you employ lots of layering and enjoy the look of paper pattern or grain, go with a medium texture (also called cold press or vellum).

If you like to use solvents or wet media with your colored pencils (which is common with watercolor pencils), you need consider buying a heavyweight paper. If the paper is lightweight, it will warp and buckle when it absorbs moisture. Look for a heavyweight paper that is at least 300 gsm or 140 lb. Note: it’s best to use gsm over lb because it is comparable across different paper types (e.g. watercolor paper vs. drawing paper).

Finally, you need to consider the form of paper you buy. I recommend you get single sheets because the quality is usually better and you’ll be able to try out some different brands. Tape-bound pads are handy and economical (the paper peels off easily), but less common in large sizes. Sketchbooks are great for travel and practice, but usually contain cheaper paper. Illustration boards are a good choice if you’re into wet media or prefer a rigid surface. Colored or toned paper is also a good way to add a particular mood to your artwork or enhance the luminosity of your colored pencils (if you use a dark surface).

For my full list of paper recommendations see my guide to the Best Paper for Colored Pencils, but here is a small selection of some of my favorites.

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The best choice for beginners is the Strathmore 300 Bristol paper, which you can get in single sheets or in pads of 20. This paper not archival, but it's affordable and acid-free. I especially enjoy the smooth surface to work on, but you can also get it in vellum (medium texture) if you like some more tooth.

For artists, I recommend you use fully archival, 100% cotton paper if you can afford it. The Fabriano Artistico Extra White Watercolor Paper with the hot press texture is a fantastic choice. In general, any hot press watercolor paper works well with colored pencils. Next you have the Legion Stonehenge Paper, whose vellum (medium) texture is very popular with colored pencil artists. Lastly, I recommend the Strathmore 500 Bristol Board, which is perfect if you like a smooth texture. It's the archival version of my beginner recommendation above.

Hope that helps and best of luck with your drawings!!