Just How Great Is Colored Pencil Paper?

If you’re checking your calendars in confusion, don’t worry; today is indeed Thursday. Yesterday, I made a journey out to see my summer art venue, which meant no time to visit the Blogosphere. But yesterday was the third Wednesday of the month and, according to my new schedule, it’s time for an art supply review!

A Look at Strathmore’s Colored Pencil Paper

Since, as you know, I work primarily in colored pencils, when I first heard Strathmore was releasing a paper specifically for colored pencil work, I thought, “Oooh, this is going to be a huge dollop of awesome sauce!” I’ve used Strathmore’s papers (drawing, watercolor, acrylic) for years and thought this would be another great product. So, I ordered a pad and eagerly awaited it’s arrival.

Now, keep in mind this review is only my opinion. Everyone has a different style of working. From the reviews on the website I ordered from, most people LOVE this paper and really do think it is a huge dollop of awesome sauce.

But not me.


My first impression of the paper was that it had a rough surface, whereas the retailer’s described the paper as smooth for detailed pencil work and colored pencil techniques. Maybe I have a different definition of smooth. I mean this isn’t as rough as homemade paper, but to describe it as “smooth” is a complete fiction. (I have noticed, however, that the manufacturer’s website describes it as toothy, so I blame the retailer for the incorrect wording.)

What does this surface texture mean? Working on this paper requires plenty of effort and plenty of pencil. In the one piece I completed on the paper, it took over fifteen layers of pencil just to fill in the dark areas. This isn’t unusual. Getting a deep, rich dark with colored pencils usually requires at least ten layers (for me anyway), but normally the layers can be placed lightly to gradually build up and cover the paper’s surface.

The one and only piece I completed on the CP paper.

The one and only piece I completed on the CP paper.

With this paper, after seeing my light layers weren’t still leaving little white patches, I gave up on my light touch and used heavy pressure to fully cover the surface. The good point of this paper is that it does take lots and lots of layers, but I just never felt the layers looked very vibrant until I exerted more pressure, which wears away pencils like crazy (and tires out your shoulder).

As far as detail work, I didn’t feel I could do much of that either. The paper has a “soft” feel to it which makes it difficult to create a crisp, smooth line. This softness also meant I couldn’t erase much. Even using light pressure, my effort to remove a misplaced leaf wore away the paper. (The manufacturer describes this paper as able to “stand up to repeated erasures and reworking.” Um, no.)

I could see this paper being good for work that has an overall light tone to it or for work  that you don’t mind looking a bit rough, but because it doesn’t allow me to achieve rich, bright colors or to do detail work, I’m pretty much just setting this pad aside for playtime.

So What Do I Prefer?

As I said, many people LOVE the Strathmore Colored Pencil Paper. However, I prefer smooth surfaces to work on, which is probably why I ended up hating the CP paper.

Most of my work is done on Smooth Bristol (I’ll also whip out the Vellum Bristol on occasion) from either Strathmore or Blick (both seem equally good). If you’ve never worked on bristol, it’s a little like poster or illustration board but with a drawing-paper like surface. The stuff I use is 100# (270 gsm) weight and I love it.

My go-to surface for colored pencil work!

My go-to surface for colored pencil work!

Some colored pencil folks find bristol too smooth, but since it’s what I first started out on, I don’t have any trouble with it and it’s usually my first choice when selecting a surface for a new work.

Despite being smooth, bristol can take loads of layers (at least a dozen), allows for crisp lines, doesn’t gobble up pencils, and can withstand a bit of erasing. The smooth surface also provides a nice sheen to the finished work, but if you prefer a matte look, try the vellum surface instead.

My latest work on bristol. Each petal has about ten layers of pencil.

My latest work on bristol. Each petal has about a dozen layers of color


My other favorites include Dura-Lar Graphic Film (which I’ve written about before), Claybord by Ampersand, and regular old drawing paper (better for light work unless you purchase high-quality drawing paper like Arches that can withstand a bit of abuse).

For me, the smoother, the better!

For me, the smoother, the better!

My most recent work on Dura-Lar. A tricky surface, but it yields lovely results.

My most recent work on Dura-Lar. A tricky surface, but it yields lovely results.

I haven’t tried it yet (it’s on my to-do list), but hot-pressed watercolor paper is another option for smooth-surface lovers like me (plus, you can save time and pencils by painting a watercolor under layer before jumping in with your pencil work).

So, whether you use colored pencil or love to doodle with a plain old pencil, what do you prefer to work on? Do you like smooth surfaces or rough ones? Any unique surfaces you’ve tried out and fallen in love with?

As promised, I’ll be back Saturday with a book review…well, actually SIX book reviews! See you then. In the meantime, enjoy this travel pic from Rome’s Palatine Hill…




22 thoughts on “Just How Great Is Colored Pencil Paper?

  1. lisablissrush says:

    I prefer a rough surface. I really like Canson Mi Tientes Touch paper. It has a sandy feel. It eats through pencils quickly, but I love the look I get from it. I also prefer to work on black paper. Thanks for this review. If they come out with a black version of this paper I’ll have to give it a try.

    • painterwrite says:

      You’ve given my smooth-surface loving self shivers of horror with talk of the Mi Teintes paper! 😜 Have you tried the Artagain black by Strathmore? It’s not quite as toothy as the CP paper, but worth a try if you like black paper.

  2. Jackie says:

    Add me as another who prefers Bristol and it really can take abuse, I’ve even scratched stuff off with a razor blade/x-acto knife & the paper holds up. I usually use the vellum surface though, but it’s not rough at all.
    For Prismacolor, I will use colored pastel paper sometimes, but like the smoothest side. I don’t like working on rough surfaces for any medium.

    • painterwrite says:

      I don’t know why I’ve never really taken to the vellum bristol. It’s like I’m a junkie for the super smooth surfaces. But since I do have a big pad of the vellum, I really should force myself to use it. I imagine being such a soft pencil, the Prismacolor needs a lot of sharpening on any rough-ish surface.

  3. BarbSotiArt says:

    It’s funny, most artist reviews I have seen for this paper have been negative. Like you, I was excited when I heard it was coming out so I purchased a pad of 11×14. I’ve done some tests in it with coloured pencil but for the most part, I just use it as a sketchbook now. I am also a big fan or Bristol vellum with Prismacolor specifically. I use a hot press watercolor paper with my Polychomos pencils though. I really love Strathmore, it’s too bad they kind of missed the mark in my opinion on this one.

    • painterwrite says:

      I’m left scratching my head trying to figure out who the people are who raved about the paper in the reviews, or what their style is that makes this paper so great for their work. I think I might be able to work around the texture, but add in the strange “softness” the paper has and it’s just a big NOPE for me. Glad to hear I”m not the only one…I was beginning to wonder if there was something odd about me. 😜😜😜

      • BarbSotiArt says:

        You’re definitely not alone. I suppose depending on what techniques you are using, you could use it. I prefer a heavier weighted paper myself, as do many other artists I know who work in colored pencil. It makes me wonder how they even decided this paper was appropriate for CP artists. Like who did they do their research with?

      • painterwrite says:

        Must have been artists who are so skilled they never need to erase and who have enough in their budget to replace the pencils the paper gobbles up. 😋😉

  4. crawcraftsbeasties says:

    Weird… It really does sound like they missed the mark when they designed this paper! I’m hardly an expert though… I’ve rarely strayed far from the standard Daler-Rowney sketchbook paper that’s available everywhere over here. However, I should probably sing the praises of my paper of choice – not too rough, not too smooth, stands up to my near constant erasing and redrawing of lines, and so resilient that I’ve been using a mini sketchbook to jot down recipes since I was a teenager!

    • painterwrite says:

      Missed the “mark!” 😂😂😂 you found the perfect pun for this imperfect paper. I’m going to have to check out the DR paper. I have a pad of their watercolor paper and really like it (whether I like my watercolor paintings, well, that’s another matter).

      • crawcraftsbeasties says:

        Oh my word, can you BELIEVE that I didn’t notice that pun as I typed it? I am disgusted at myself. Oh well, at least one of us was awake 😆 Is DR stuff available on your side of the pond? I’ve never tried their watercolour paper, but then I’ve barely tried watercolour painting… Paint and I just don’t get on!

      • painterwrite says:

        Yes, DR paper can be found here as well as many other European brands that I generally prefer over many of the American alternatives, especially when it comes to pencils and paints. The quality and the business/environmental standards are usually better for European products.

      • crawcraftsbeasties says:

        Oh yay, go us! Conversely, I don’t think we import a whole lot of stuff the other way… I hadn’t heard of Strathmore until I joined that online sketchbook class you recommended last year.

  5. Yvonne Ryves says:

    I have a whole pad of this that someone gave me. I have yet to try it out but must do so even if it’s to decide not to use it. My favourite is Mi Teintes tinted. I love their blue paper 🙂 I also like Frisk Bristol Board and Polydraw drafting film. I have used hot pressed watercolour when using a watercolour pencil base. Its ok. Living in Ireland I sometimes have to use whatever I can get my hands on.

    • painterwrite says:

      I’ve never been brave enough to try any tinted paper, but since I struggle with getting my backgrounds “just right” it is really something I should look into…or trying out the watercolor base technique. It’s interesting to me that you like the rough texture of the Mi Teintes as well as the smooth texture of Bristol – you are quite the artistic chameleon!

      • Yvonne Ryves says:

        I think I just like experimenting, oh and having a challenge 🙂 I actually don’t find the Mi Tents rough at all but then I do use the smoother side. I don’t like Derwent heavy drawing paper at all and gave up with Pastlemat but other than that am game for most things. I hate backgrounds too. I have done them with watercolours, watercolour pencils and coloured pencils and am hardly ever happy but think we all feel like this. Tinted paper is a nice way out but the first time it did take a while to get used to the fact it threw out my eye for the colour a bit. That wore off though and its ok now 🙂

      • painterwrite says:

        I find drawing paper doesn’t work well for colored pencil unless you are going for a lightly toned composition. I think it would take me a bit to get used to the tinted paper, but glad to hear the color confusion can be overcome! I have some black paper that I’ve just played with sketching on, but I keep promising one of these days I’m going to actually buckle down and make myself do a “real” piece on it. Glad to hear I’m not the only one who hates backgrounds.

Comments are closed.