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Information, Choices, Techniques and Advice on all Pencil Matters


Over 150 detailed pages of information for beginners and improvers to help you develop your skills


OCTOBER 2017    


This is the OLD version of the topics web site.

It has been archived here at

as it contains old tutorials and charts no longer included in the new build of the site. This site is no longer updated

SURFACES -   White (and Ivory) Paper, Card and Board

The principal is ‘the rougher the surface, the denser the line’

and the converse also applies ‘The smoother the surface the finer the line’.  

As CP (Coloured Pencil) work is often carried out to produce the most accurate rendering of the image (often called ‘photo realism’),

the choice is one of  balancing a fine line (with low colour density) and the need for denser colour (which loses the accuracy of line).   

   Underpainting  is an option to get deeper colours. Please follow the link for more on this technique.  

Dense colour often requires a large number of layers, so the paper we select needs to be smooth for detail and yet still take a lot of pigment.      

The choice of surface is as important to this as the choice of pencil.  

I suggest you test a range of surfaces to enable you to find the ideal choice of pencil brand and paper for you.  

I can guide you, but only you know the combination of factors that you are looking for, and no one paper is perfect for everyone.

Test out as many individual brands of pencil as you can, and also try them out on different papers.

In adjoining pages within this section, I have carried out a number of tests on papers that are suitable for different types of coloured pencils.  

The best paper for wax type pencils may not always prove the best for watercolour pencils.  The paper we use for pastel pencils may work for wax pencils but probably not for watercolour ones.  Have a look at my tests to narrow down your own choices.  The ultimate decision has to be yours, so at the end of the day it will come down to you trying your own pencils on a selection of papers.

In general, I find the softer surfaced papers work better with the softer pencils. The detail will not be as good as you might get on a harder surfaced paper, but the intensity of colour and tone will be better.

Watercolour papers with a high level of size on the surface tend to have a harder surface and are more suitable for the harder oil and clay based pencils such as Derwent Drawing, Faber Castell Polychromos and Caran d’Ache Pablo.  The softer wax pencils ( Prismacolor, Coloursoft, & Luminance ) all work very well on a soft surfaced paper like Legion Stonehenge

The final factor to consider is the whiteness of the paper. Some papers have a creamy look and are therefore low on artificial whiteners.

The paper colour can have an impact.  Though if you tend to work with strong colours and few areas of intense white in your pictures, It will not matter a great deal.  Remember the strongest white you can get with coloured pencil is often the white of the paper itself.

If you would like a more ‘in depth’ look at paper and how it is constructed, there is more in the first part of the ‘Stretching paper’ section, where we look at how paper reacts to water and why we may need to stretch it on a board before we start to use it

The section below summarises papers available in the UK, and then goes on to look at some papers available in Europe and the United States and Canada.  I have no information at this time ( July 2015 ) of specialist and locally made papers on sale elsewhere in the world which may well be suitable for Coloured Pencil.  If you know of a good ‘local’ paper, please let me have details.


Starting with the thinnest papers suitable for Coloured Pencil, we have cartridge paper which is manufactured in various thicknesses / weights  ranging from around 90gm (thinnest) to upwards of 220gm . The number relates to the weight of a square metre of paper - thicker paper weighs more, thinner paper weighs less for a given number of sheets.  You can work good dry coloured pencil on quite lightweight cartridge paper, but the thinner papers need a layer underneath to ensure a smooth working surface, and also benefit from being anchored to a board.  The heavier papers will respond best to erasing and scratching with a knife. Cartridge paper is not ideal for any wet process (see below for why).

Winsor & Newton (UK) produce a range of pads of Cartridge type paper in different sizes, as do Fabriano ( Italy ), Daler Rowney (UK)  and Strathmore (USA) who have a wide range of papers that fit into this category.  As a guide, they are usually described as ‘suitable for drawing’.. ‘For ink and pencil’ .. Etc   

Cartridge paper has a fine even grain and a hard receptive surface.

Anything less than 150 gm is best secured on a drawing board and if you are using thin paper to work on, have a further sheet of smooth paper underneath to ensure any irregularity in the surface of the board is not transferred to the image you are working on.... Cartridge Paper is fine for coloured Pencils worked entirely DRY.  I recommend a cartridge paper of between 150gsm and 200gsm weight.

The next option among purely DRY drawing surfaces is probably ‘Canford’ and other types of card.

These often have a smoother surface than cartridge paper but are heavier and will take more extreme punishment,  are more responsive to correction and tend to be around 200gm to 300gm weight with a smooth surface.   

Canford has quite a hard smooth surface and will not take a lot of layers.  Nor will it take too kindly to a lot of erasing.

However, take care over strongly coloured Canford card.  Canford is very useful, but test out the colour for erasing before you start your picture to make sure that, should you need to erase, you won’t remove too much of the base colour.  See the note below on Coloured papers regarding the lightfastness of coloured cards and papers

There are a number of print papers available in the UK ( and in the USA and Europe) all manufactured for taking inks from a press.

These are not as easily found, but they tend to be very good for non soluble coloured pencils as they have a softer more absorbent surface than cartridge and watercolour papers

Stonehenge is internationally marketed from the USA by Legion Paper and comes in several pale colours as well as white.  

Canaletto is manufactured in Italy and brought into the UK by the main Fabriano importer.  

Strathmore make a print making paper sold in pad form in the UK.

These papers are not designed for water processes and are not recommended for watercolour pencils.  They are superb for the softer wax pencils and will achieve great detail and many layers of colour.  Stonehenge is a great favourite in the USA.

Somerset Velvet from St Cuthberts Mill in Somerset, is an excellent print paper for Coloured Pencil and comes in a variety of weights.  This is an archival quality paper made expressly for printmaking and drawing and comes in several weights from 250gsm through to 330gsm and different surfaces. The Satin is very good for CP.  The Black Velvet paper is also lightfast.  Somerset papers are expensive, but worth it.

All these print papers will work well with softer (wax) pencils like Prismacolor, Luminance and Coloursoft.  If you reach the point where more layers of colour are impossible with a print paper, leaving it a week will often enable the softer paper to absorb some of the wax and you can find the surface can again be worked.


Smoother than standard card is ‘Bristol Board’ which has a VERY SMOOTH polished surface.  

This takes a very fine line but will only take limited layers of colour, so deep tones are difficult to achieve.

This is a favourite of Botanical painters.  Strathmore is imported to the UK from the USA and makes a range of ‘Bristol’ type surfaces.

Dry Coloured Pencil can also be worked on Watercolour paper - and frequently is…..

FOR AQUARELLE ( WATERCOLOUR ) PENCILS ( and also Non Soluble pencils )

If you are looking for watercolour papers for most pencil techniques, you will probably be looking into Hot Pressed ( HP ) papers.

Cold Pressed papers ( ‘CP’ - or ‘Not’ ) generally have too strong a grain on the surface for detail

If you are intending to use watercolour pencils, stretching the paper on a suitable board is a ‘must’ unless you are restricting the amount of water to a ‘damp brush’, or using a paper with a weight around 400gsm or above . Ideally,  for any wet treatment the paper should be a ‘watercolour’ paper, which is suitably sized to take water and handle wet media.  


Gelatine size, in and on a paper, stops the absorption of the water and pigment into the body of the paper and ensures the colour stays where it is put - on the surface. There is more information on Watercolour Paper below, but I tend to start off with a stretched piece of watercolour paper if there is any possibility that I may need to use a water process to speed up the working of the picture. There is nothing worse than having started a picture, to find that it would be better to use watercolour pencils to work a background.  Using the stretched paper from the start leaves all your options open.

Amongst Watercolour papers :

Fabriano manufactures good smooth papers dedicated to drawing and painting and these come sized and in a range of thicknesses.

Fabriano Classico - now branded as Fabriano 5  or Classico 5 in some catalogues -- is a good all round paper.  

The surface has a satin feel and it is smooth enough for detail whilst taking watercolour processes well.  

I recommend the 300gm weight for all purposes.   

This is available in sheets and in pads.

I have also used Fabriano ‘Artistico’ and the Fabriano cartridge paper ( sold as ‘Accadamia’ in different weights ) is also good for CP, though this is not sized so the heavier weight cartridge papers are more suitable, particularly when used with restricted amounts of water.


I have found that the Daler Rowney HP (Hot Pressed) watercolour pad sold for Botanical and Fine Watercolour in the Langton range is excellent for CP and watercolour pencils.     It has a satin smooth surface but a reasonable tooth ( slightly smoother than Fabriano 5 ) and is also 300gm weight so takes fair (and sometimes unfair)  punishment.

Care though, as the two sides have slightly different surfaces, as I have found to my cost.  In a pad, the top surface is the one with the least pattern in the grain. There is not a lot of difference, but enough to show up when a few layers of colour have been laid down.   Of course, if you want a very slightly rougher surface, the reverse gives a further option at no extra cost !

The advantage of using a watercolour paper is that it will also handle underpainting with either watercolour pencils or traditional watercolour - of which more elsewhere.

The German manufacturer, Hahnemuhle, makes a number of suitable papers, and their Nostalgie paper is a 190 gsm paper, more like a good cartridge.  They also make a Bamboo Mixed Media Paper made from 90% Bamboo fibres and 10% cotton.  This has an excellent surface for both dry and watercolour pencils  -  BUT be warned !    It does not handle graphite pencil well, so graphite should be avoided for drawing out your image.

If you DO use Graphite, any erasing may spread the black far and wide !  

CP can be removed without problems though.  

I have used this paper for several pictures and it works well once you get used to it.  It is on the soft side, but the results can be good.  

The bamboo paper has a creamy appearance.

I have also used a very heavy paper from Hahnemuhle branded as ‘Andalucia’  This is 500gsm - and has a quite soft feel. One side is relatively smooth, the other a more pronounced grain.  I have used this for a watercolour exercise with excellent results ( see Coventry Canal ).

I have also used this paper for classes as students do not need to stretch the paper on a board to be able use it with watercolour pencils as any slight buckling disappears quickly when it dries.

Other watercolour papers, like Arches Hot Pressed, can be used, though some CP artists suggest wiping a damp cloth over the surface of Arches before starting work to remove some of the high level of gelatine size which can make this paper rather slippery for CP.  

The wipe-over also raises the surface texture slightly and that can be a benefit.

Strathmore papers are made in the USA,  a huge market for art materials, and they are now (July 2015) beginning to be seen in the UK and listed by on-line retailers.  There are several ranges of paper from this manufacturer and whilst not all are available in Europe yet, you should be aware that the ranges start with the 200 series ( thinner paper more suitable for sketching ) 300 series ( thicker and containing some re-cycled material ) 400 series, the ones you will probably need to look at - the main artists range, with a high level of cotton content to many papers. The top end premium range is the 500 series which are ‘state of the art’ papers.

Heavier grained watercolour papers

Usually called  Cold Pressed ( CP) or NOT ( Not Hot Pressed ! )

One of the problems of using a paper with a grained surface for Coloured Pencil work is the fact that in working the layers of colour, the pigment can miss the valleys in the grain,  leaving ‘freckles’ of white on the finished surface.  

On some expensive papers heavy working of the pigment can also result in a slight lifting of the paper surface which also leaves white freckles. This can be a pain when a lot of work has been put into a picture and the artist finds that the harder they work, the more the white specks appear.  

I understand that this can be a problem particularly with Arches Hot Pressed paper, and I am told that this is because Arches is manufactured from a long staple cotton.  Long Staple cotton is good for soft furnishings, but the long strands of cotton in paper can also result in the lifting of the staple ends with constant working. If you find you have a problem, try using a short staple cotton paper.  A short staple cotton is used for Fabriano 5  and Artistico, as well as Stonehenge, made in the USA for Legion Paper, and a favourite in the USA with soft wax pencils.  Other solutions might be to use a solvent like Zest-It to settle the colour back into the surface and eliminate the white flecks ( see elsewhere on the site for more information on solvents), or to burnish with a clear wax burnisher, or apply heat and use a burnishing ‘bone’.  

There is a whole section on this site on ‘Working the Surface’ which includes details of techniques.


Paper sold for pastel use is usually fine for Pastel pencils.  It may have a grain or have a soft surface to hold the dry powdery colour in place.

It will not usually have any size included in the formula asmost are not designed for use with water.

Some pastel papers have a smooth, soft, surface which take wax pencils well.

Papers with either a fine grit  content in the surface, or a fine cork surface will also take wax pencil well

These papers have the advantage of being able to take very many layers, and build up strong depth of colour, but bear in mind the cost of the special surface and the extra cost of the additional Pigment you will use !

Clairfontaine make a cork surfaced peper called ‘Pastelmat’  which will take some water treatment as a solvent. This is on a fairly heavy card base.

Hahnemuhle also produce a fine cork surface paper ‘Pastelfix’ - much lighter in weight - which will also take some water.   

Derwent sell a pastel paper in pad form which is light grey in colour and will also respond well to wax type pencils

Some artists like to work on coloured and grained surfaces, and Canson pastel Mi-Teintes paper is a favourite.

Daler Rowney Murano pastel paper makes a reasonable alternative and comes in a range of colours.  


CP can also be worked on Polydraw drafting film but this relatively smooth surface will need gentle handling and a light touch otherwise the pigment will rapidly saturate the surface.  

      More on these special surfaces on the adjoining Other Surfaces page

For more about Stretching paper  see the last page of this section.

A wide Range of papers suitable for Coloured Pencil is available from Tim Fisher at     Tim manufactures the popular Fisher 400 grit paper ( see other surfaces ), as well as marketing Stonehenge which is highly recommended for Coloured Pencil.  

Stonehenge is also available in a range of colours including black.


Beware the pigments used for coloured papers, many are unstable and will fade quickly in strong light.  If the paper is sold for pastel use, it will usually be stable for pencil use, but craft papers should be avoided.  The cheaper papers will  have a high risk of the cheaper, more unstable colouring matter.  Though not many papers give an indication of their lightfastness, price can be a good indicator.  


Heavier weight and softer surfaces offer more ability to indent the surface and manipulate the way the wax is applied and for this, a first choice for dry point pencil is standard mountboard, which has a good surface and is also acid free, so will tend to resist yellowing and not disintegrate with age.  

Bear in mind that white mountboard may still have a relatively modest life in a frame exposed to strong light.  I have high quality white mountboard which is now quite yellowed after 25 years in a frame.

A good,relativel inexpensive mountboard to try is Daler-Rowney Studland (Polar White). It is conservation quality, It is smooth enough for fine detail but has sufficient 'tooth' for CP and pastel.

I find that Mountboard will not take too kindly to a wet process though, as it is not sized, so is not as suitable for watercolour pencils.  Mountboard types have different surfaces so you need to be selective in the one you choose. The more patterned surfaces will suit pastel pencil better and the colour range will offer a wide number of options

Daler Rowney also manufacture a specialist Illustration board surface, similar to mountboard but designed for artwork.   

The board is sold with both Cold Pressed and Hot Pressed surfaces, and I am advised that the cold pressed is the most suitable for CP as the Hot pressed is smooth and too close to Bristol Board.

Illustration Board is often used by professional artists, but can be an expensive alternative for the amateur.

Heavier weight boards include Museum board ( more generally available in the USA ) and also wood fibre boards (MDF) primed with gesso and well sanded smooth.   I see that Ampersand boards are starting to appear in the UK ( October 2014 ). These are smooth clay surfaces bonded to MDF board and are excellent, but very expensive


Through most of Mainland EUROPE and the UK, papers from Winsor & Newton, Daler Rowney, Arches, Clairfontaine, Fabriano, Hahnemuhle, and others familiar to the UK artists will be available.  ‘Great Art’ ( Gerstaecker Group ) - also trading in France as "Géant des Beaux Arts" - offer a wide range of papers in sheets, pads and roll form.  

If you are looking at an unfamiliar brand and surface, look for the magic words ‘ Hot Pressed’,  ‘Satin’  or ‘velvet’.  

Cotton based papers will be more expensive than wood pulp ones, but will withstand aging much better.  

Sized paper is more suitable if you are intending to use any water on the surface.  

Bleaches used in papers can have a long term effect in shortening life so many archival papers have a creamy natural look.

USA manufactured papers like Legion Stonehenge and the Strathmore papers will be available in the UK from Internet based suppliers.

In the USA and CANADA, many of the internationally known papers will be available.  One of the major distributors of high quality papers through the American sub continent is Legion Paper of New York.  They import and market European papers ( including Somerset, Arches and Saunders Waterford listed above) as well as a wide range of other USA papers ( such as their own ‘Rising Stonehenge’ ) and a portfolio of Italian printmaking papers, German speciality papers and some from Japan.  

For more information on the papers Legion distributes, see their website at

Legion used to send out sample boxes of their range of papers for an inclusive cost, but I see they now offer single sheet samples  individually priced

Readers in other parts of the world are invited to add to this list of suitable papers and sources of paper by making contact with me.

Latest revision July 2015



Summer of 2013,     Derwent introduced a new Pastel Paper sold in pad form

The idea of pastel paper may not appeal to most CP artists, but this paper is quite different to many on the market.

It has a smooth satin finish - not unlike the finish of Stonehenge paper.  Weight is 200 gsm ( 95lb) and the material is very firm to handle.

Colour is Neutral grey ( a warm grey ) and the paper is described as ‘acid free’.  No indication is given of the lightfastness of the colouring in the paper, but the tint is a pale one and I would not expect there to be much effect from sunlight.

I tested the paper with Faber Castell Polychromos ,Derwent Coloursoft and Caran d’Ache Pablo

You will see a scan of the test sheet alongside.  The actual overall colour is a light grey and white CP shows up quite well on the surface.  (The scan shown here is not totally accurate to colour but scans for the series of tests on papers will be accurately colour balanced )

Test 1 was a simple series of layers to see how the wax pencil was able to build up colour.   Faber Castell Polychromos was used for this, and the final (seventh) sample was of the six layers with a touch of Zest-It citrus solvent used to blend in the pigment

Test 2 was to check overlapping layers of Coloursoft from Derwent to see how they covered and also took a strong line of colour on top.  A quick test with a power eraser on the wax pencil checked to see how clean an erasure was possible completed test 2.  Wax pencils are not as easy to erase and tend to smear.

Test 3  was to see how the colour from an oil based pencil ( Caran d’Ache Pablo ) overlapped and erased.

I am happy with the way detail can be worked on this paper and I think it may well prove to be an excellent option for CP as well as Pastel.  It  is easily found in art supply retailers in the UK and reasonably priced.  

I guess it will not take water treatment for watercolour pencil too well, but I will test that out separately.

Sold in pads of 24 sheets in several sheet sizes

A full set of tests of different papers in this format ( with the same pencils and colours) will follow shortly

Click on image to download PDF of test

Next Page derwent pastel  test paper 1.pdf

The surface you work on can be almost as important to the end result as the medium you use.

This section includes tests on different papers,

pages on paper and card , How black and coloured papers can fade in bright light,

other types of surfaces, and a page on stretching paper

FIRSTLY, we will have an overall look at why the paper, or any other surface we work on,

is so important to the results we wish to achieve.

On the pages following this,  there are a series of 15 different paper tests which explore how a collection of papers respond to the working of coloured pencils of different types.  The tests follow a standard form and images are shown of the results, which can be downloaded and printed out.  The tests take the form of the sample posted below

THEN, on following pages, we will have an overall look at some tests on a collection of papers from my stock cupboard  and see how they respond to the working of wax, watercolour and pastel pencils

is so important to the results we wish to achieve.

Having fully revised this section and included the Derwent paper as the lead sample, I now learn

( December 2015 ) that Derwent have withdrawn their pastel paper pads.

I have not changed the content here at present as some of these pads may still be available

This section includes several Topics

You can reach them using the links below

A look at the different surfaces we can use and how some are better than others for certain types of work and certain types of pencil

Tests of paper for wax type pencils