6 Best Paper for Colored Pencils – Finding the Right Paper for Every Use Case

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Colored pencils are a really fun and accessible medium for doing art. But what is the best paper for colored pencils?

We take a look at paper that falls into a few different categories. From everyday use, to the serious. In search of paper that will work for you. Hopefully, you will find something that takes your fancy and be a great addition to your toolkit as you progress on your artistic journey. 

In a hurry? Here are our favorites

Everyday Paper

We are calling this category of paper “everyday” because we feel these are the types of paper you can comfortably use on a regular basis without worry. This is the go to for a quick sketch of an idea. A daily journal. Or a first attempt at a new style.

This is paper that is well suited to drawing with colored pencils, but at a price that doesn’t break the bank.

Strathmore 400 Series Colored Pencil Pad

Strathmore 400 Series Colored Pencil Pad - 6

Our pick for the everyday is the Strathmore 400 series colored pencil pad. The pad contains 30 sheets of 163 gsm (100  lb) acid free paper. The paper lends itself to use with colored pencils with its relatively heavy weight and vellum surface. This is a slightly toothy surface that allows for the application of multiple layers of color. 

The paper allows for the easy blending of colors, giving a smooth and even finish.

The reason for this being our paper for everyday  is due to the very reasonable price of this 400 series paper. Made in the USA, this paper works great with colored pencils and if you happen to draw something you really like, the pages are micro-perforated to allow you to remove your work easily. 

This is great paper in general, and a great choice to draw on every day.

Serious Paper

This paper is for more serious work and therefore contains the best paper for colored pencils we could find. This  paper of the highest quality, made with the best materials, and used to create pieces that will last. 

These qualities come with a price, off course, but oftentimes the premium is not as much as you would expect. This is the very best of the best.

Legion Paper Stonehenge Pad

Legion Stonehenge Drawing Paper - 5'' x 7'', White, 15 Sheets

As we said in our “serious” category we are looking at the best of the best. First up is the Legion paper Stonehenge pad (in white, we’ll talk about toned options later). This is 100% cotton paper made in the USA. With a size of 9 x 12 inches, this acid free paper is made with a vellum surface. This gives it the fine tooth and even grain desired by artists who draw with colored pencils.

The paper of weight 250gsm (90 lb) is surprisingly versatile working well with pastel pencils and even watercolor. But it shines in particular when using colored pencils. Allowing for the even application of several layers of color while remaining easy to blend. The paper allows users to easily implement their full range of techniques performing well in situations with both soft and bold effects. 

This paper is just a joy to use in general with a reassuring weight and feel, it can stand up to whatever is thrown at it. The finish of the paper is such that oftentimes it can just be left instead of having to draw an extensive background. This is a choice that can make for very dramatic pieces.

Ask many what they think of the stonehenge pad and they’ll tell you it’s the best paper for colored pencils, period. This is all while remaining quite affordable. 

Strathmore 500 Series Bristol Paper

Strathmore 500 Series Bristol Board - 23'' x 29'', 3-ply, Vellum, Sheet

The 500 series Bristol paper by Strathmore is another paper that can be considered at the professional grade (or just for your serious work if you draw for fun).

Available in both plate and vellum finish. We recommend the vellum which is similar to cold press, and therefore has the textured surface that works well with colored pencils. The weight of the layered plys means that Bristol paper will also work well with wet media such as watercolor or gouache.

The paper is available in various sizes, as well as different thicknesses (number of layers) to fit your needs.  The plys are made with 100% cotton fiber that is acid free.

Unfortunately, there has been a perception of low quality in recent times. This is usually due to missing watermarks on certain sizes of paper. This is however explained by the manufacturer on the sales page. Where they say some sizes of paper are cut from lager sheets, so we don’t think this is really an issue. 

In all, if you are looking for a quality illustration board for work with colored pencils. Then the Strathmore Bristol should be at the top of your list. 

What is Bristol paper?

Bristol paper is a type of drawing paper that provides a stiff and strong surface to work on. Specifically, without mounting. Bristol paper is generally made by pasting together drawing paper to form multi-ply sheets. 

Toned Paper

Toned paper brings a new dimension to drawing that beginners in particular may not have experienced before. This effect is especially prominent for drawing with colored pencils, making toned paper one of the best choices.

This effect is to prevent the artist from having to color some of the middle color values themselves. This allows for a unique style of coloring and sketching. The toned paper also provides a good reference making highlights and shadow values easier to judge. This can sometimes be a challenge on bright white paper.

Lastly, having a neutral background has the effect of making colors look more vibrant and really pop. A great asset to a vibrant piece. 

Strathmore Recycled Toned Sketch Wirebound Journals

Strathmore 400 Series Recycled Toned Sketch Journal - 8-1/2'' x 5-1/2'', 50 Sheets, Cool Gray

Another addition from Strathmore. This time their toned sketch paper (in the form of a wirebound journal). Available in both gray and tan,  the paper itself is 118 gsm (80lb),  and comes in at 5.5 x 8.5 inches. It has that familiar texture that works so well with colored pencils with added kraft and bark inclusions to keep things interesting.

In a win for sustainability the paper is made from 100% recycled material with 30% coming from post-consumer fiber. 

A great little pad for using as a journal or doing interesting experimentation in. The addition of the toned page can add a new dynamic to your work. If you think you’d like to remove your work when you are done, there is a variant with micro-perforated pages available for the easy removal of your work.

This paper is of fantastic value. The toned nature provides a different aspect to an artists drawing. While the price of the sketchbook allows for use in a no worries fashion. Definitely, one of the best paper pads for colored pencils out there.  

Legion Paper Stonehenge Pad multi colored

Legion Stonehenge Multi Pad - 5'' x 7'', 15 Sheets

As promised we are revisiting one of our favorites. This time looking at the Legion Stonehenge Multi Pad. This is an iteration of the fantastic stonehenge paper we talked about earlier but this time in color.

The 15 sheet pad contains 3 sheets of the 5 colors available. These are warm white, natural, cream, fawn, and pearl grey. This is a great range and allows you to trial a range of different neutral tones to back up your colored pencil work.

Beyond the toned pages the paper is essentially the same as the set we talked about previously. And that’s a good thing! With quality paper made from 100% cotton. A weight of  250gsm (90lb) which gives the paper remarkable versatility. And the simple knowledge that you are working with the best there is. 

This all culminates in a toned option for those looking to use some of the best paper for colored pencils out there. The stonehenge multi pad is a real winner. 

Mixed Media Paper

Mixed media paper can often be a great choice as it opens up the world of wet media for you to use to augment your colored pencil drawings. Be it watercolor pencils, ink, markers, or paints – this is paper that has been manufactured to withstand a level of wetting without buckling or warping. All while still being of a high quality and having desired surface texture for use with colored pencils.

Mixed media paper is hugely versatile and can be a great choice for those wanting to use a diverse range of media. You are only bound by your imagination, so go for it.

Canson XL Mixed Media

Canson XL Mix Media Pad - 10'' x 7'', Portrait, 60 Sheets

The Canson XL mixed media pad is somewhat of an icon in the mixed media paper world. It even made it on our round up of the best mixed media sketchbooks. It turns out that it’s paper also works great with colored pencils.

The pad comes in at 7×10 inches. Which allows plenty of space on a single page to draw. It contains 60 pages of acid free paper at a weight of 160 gsm (98 pound). This weight of paper is the main reason why some artists may enjoy this paper. In cases where you want to use more than just colored pencils (maybe incorporating watercolor pencils, or other mediums entirely), the weight of the mixed media paper is great. This extra weight means the paper can stand up to wet mediums in a way that even the best paper for colored pencils only can not.

The Canson XL comes in at a very reasonable price, often marketed to students. It also has micro-perforated pages to allow for easy removal of pieces you may wish to scan or display. Though this is generally a great feature, this perforation can become annoying when ripped unintentionally.

What Makes the Best Paper for Colored Pencils?

Fiber

The material a paper is made from is of course an important factor. Generally paper of a higher quality have a higher cotton content with cheaper paper being made of alpha cellulose and lignin (wood pulp). This has the largest effect on wet media where cotton is much more absorbent and resilient.

Generally the effect felt when using colored pencils is small comparatively. Cotton paper does feel of a higher quality though. And paper of a high enough quality to be considered archival (will stand the test of time without degrading) is almost always made of cotton. 

Hot Press Paper vs Cold Press

In a similar vein to our discussion in our look at watercolor sketchbooks, paper finish is once again a factor to consider. In this use case the descriptors can be vellum (cold-press) and plate ( hot-press). There are some slight differences in this, but we won’t worry about that for simplicity’s sake. 

Cold Press paper – has that slight tooth to it that most artists generally look for when using dry media. Be it drawing pencils, charcoal pencils, or in this case colored pencils. A slightly rough finish allows the paper to hold on to layers of the material you put down. This is important for drawing as many techniques rely on the layers of colors. 

Note: for our purposes cold-press and vellum paper are essentially the same thing

Hot press paper – hot press paper has a smooth finish to it. It works well for media such as ink and markers. Allowing for intricate applications without the hindrance of paper texture. This type of paper is popular with illustrators in particular as the flat finish allows for easy reproduction.

Note: plate is basically the same as hot press.

Paper Weight

Lastly, we have paper weight. For colored pencils the weight of the paper is somewhat of a preference. As long as the page is able to resist some vigorous erasing it should be fine. Anything over ~100gsm should suffice for casual drawing. 

When it comes to more serious pieces you may look to a higher 200+gsm paper or bristol paper as they are generally made of higher quality materials as well as allowing you to draw without having to mount the page.


So there you have it. The best paper colored pencils covered across a couple of categories. As with a lot of these equipment posts I want to reiterate that a lot of the time the best paper is simply paper you have on hand.

So if you have an idea, don’t worry about heading to the printer to steal a sheet or two. The artistic journey is about being creative and improving your art. The equipment is just a tool.

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