Finding the best paper for colored pencils can feel overwhelming, because some of the best suited ones are not labeled as colored pencil paper. There’s not one definitive best paper for colored pencils, as it really comes down to several questions you’ll have to answer.
Before you purchase paper for your colored pencil drawing you need to ask yourself these questions:
- What am I going to be drawing?
- How large will my drawing be?
- How much detail do I want to include?
- What other mediums, if any, will I be using along with colored pencil?
- How archival does the final piece need to be?
I will break down each of these questions below, and then I’ll offer some good paper types for multiple scenarios.
What am I going to be drawing?
Are you drawing a portrait, a piece of cake, or a furry animal? Each of these may require a different type of paper. Portraits tend to call for an even application of blended colors. We usually expect skin to appear smooth, with many colors and tones blended together nicely. A smooth paper with less tooth will help you achieve this look. More tooth in your paper will give a rougher look, which works well for textured drawings like the inside of a cake. The fur of an animal often requires that you work in fine detail, which is easier to achieve with a smoother paper.
How large will my drawing be?
If you plan to do a large scale drawing, you’ll be able to achieve fine detail with even a highly textured paper. But if your drawing will be smaller, you’ll need to use a smooth paper in order to get crisp details. For reference, when I create a piece under 10×10 inches I try to use smooth paper when my goal is a realistic style. This goldfish piece was done at 11×11 inches to allow for more details on a textured paper. It was necessary to use a textured paper so that I could work with watercolor under the pencils.
How much detail do I want to include?
This leads to the next question, how much detail will there be? if you’re going for a more stylized or quick sketched look, then you won’t be too concerned with details. But if you’re going for realism you will need choose paper that will allow you to put in the details.
What other mediums, if any, will I be using along with colored pencil?
Sometimes you’ll want to start with an under-painting or a base layer of marker, then go in after with colored pencils to add your details. You may also want to use a solvent to blend your pencils for a smoother, less grainy look. In these cases you’ll want to use a paper with enough weight and tooth to hold multiple mediums. Paint requires paper that is thick enough to soak it up without ripping or buckling, with remaining tooth leftover to grab onto the colored pencil layers. I knew I’d be doing a base layer of watercolor pencil in this drawing of a sandwich cracker, so a paper with some tooth was needed.
How archival does the final piece need to be?
If your piece is just for you, or will be scanned and used digitally, then you might not need to worry about archival qualities. But if your intent is to sell your piece, you will want to consider the longevity of the paper type (and media) that you choose.
Best colored pencil paper for multiple scenarios
For portraits or drawings where a smooth look is desired, or fine detail is important:
Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Pad
Good for using wet mediums with colored pencils:
Strathmore 400 Series Colored Pencil Pad
A good choice for larger drawings:
Fabriano Artistico Watercolor Paper Roll
Strathmore 500 Series Bristol Pad
I have also used colored pencils on marker paper. This was more of an experimental endeavor, and I would say this is certainly not the very best paper for colored pencils, but it does provide a very smooth surface and gives a unique effect. Here’s a link to my favorite marker paper:
Strathmore 400 Series Marker Pad
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Have you tried any of these colored pencil papers? Which do you like best, or do you prefer others? Leave a comment to share your favorites!