Good pencils and great technique simply isn’t enough to get a quality colored pencil piece. The type of paper you use is extremely important, as all paper is not created equal. (sorry paper)
I’ve gotten the complaint from fellow colored pencil lovers that the colors can tend to build up and become overloaded and waxy. This has little to do with the pencils and has more to do with the paper. (it also has to do with technique, but let’s get the right paper first.)
Now, before I give my personal recommendations for specific brands etc., let’s talk about what specifically makes a paper qualify for colored pencil. First thing first:
Don’t even think about grabbing that printer paper.
Ohh, my detest for printer paper. I can’t even say it’s good for simply printing. This stuff is very cheap, which is why you’re getting it in bulk. It’s thin, tends to have an overly blue color, and colored pencil goes on it horribly. So, Just. Don’t. ok?
Now that that’s out of the way, here are a few things to look for in paper:
It needs a good tooth
That spongy goodness! (I’m a oddly in love with paper, if that wasn’t clear). Tooth is when the paper has some bumps and is almost like a sponge. Printer paper is completely smooth, which is why it doesn’t work. The colored pencils need some friction created by the tooth so it can grab the color and apply smooth and opaque. The harder you press with the pencil the more this tooth is compressed down and a good bind is created between the colored pencil layer and the paper. So the spongier the better!
It needs a good weight.
Colored pencils are not like regular (graphite) pencils AT ALL. They may hold the same shape, but they couldn’t be more different. Colored pencils contain a core, not a lead. Colored pencil pieces, since they are in color, are actually considered paintings, not drawings (even though I personally like to call them drawings. The rebel in me maybe?). Graphite is a very light medium with little weight. Colored pencil on the other hand contains quite a bit of weight, especially if you choose to do opaque layers.
So, the paper in your sketchbook you use for your graphite sketches isn’t going to cut it. The paper is simply to thin/light to hold the weight of colored pencil. I recommend the paper be no less than 90 lb. I found 98 lb to be the sweet spot, but I don’t mind an even heavier paper as along as the surface has tooth. You can find very heavy papers like card stock to have no tooth and be very smooth, so be careful.
The easiest option is any kind of watercolor paper. These will have a very heavy weight because is needs to be able to hold all the water without curling, so it can definitely hold colored pencil.
Cold press vs. hot press
Both are can be used for colored pencils, it simply depends on what kind of work you are doing. If you’re drawing something that needs to be very blended, cold press is a better idea as it tends to have more tooth/texture which allows the paper to grab that color and provide deeper contrast.
Hot press paper is much smoother because the paper is flattened by hot rollers. This paper can be a good option for very intricately detailed drawings where being able to control exactly where the pencil goes is more important than the vividness of the colors. Because, the more tooth there is, the more time you’ll to need to spend blending to get in the crevasses of the paper which can take away from being able to get very fine details.
You want all the hard work you put into your piece to last. The quality and fiber (material) of the paper will play into that. Cotton of high quality is a great choice as it lasts longer than other fibers.
The type of paper best suited for colored pencils can depend on the pencils themselves as well. To find what works for you can be a process of trial and error, as every artist has their preferences. A few things you should take into consideration is the texture/tooth, weight, press, and fiber.
Taking all of this into account can be a bit of a task, so I’ve complied my personal recommendations. You can find what paper I prefer for my colored pencil drawings along with my other recommended colored pencil materials in my eBook below, it’s totally free and will be emailed right to you! Enjoy.
Before you leave, leave a comment with your favorite paper for colored pencils below, I’d love to hear your recommendations!