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How to Choose the Right Paper for Colored Pencil: The Differences Between Watercolor and Vellum Paper

Choosing the right paper for your colored pencil pieces can make the difference between your work looking amateur and spectacular. Watercolor paper and vellum paper are two papers commonly used by colored pencil artists. They both have very distinct feels and qualities and there are many different types of these papers for a colored pencil artist to choose from.

Here is an overview of each type, along with detailed pictures of each.

Cold Press Watercolor Paper

140 lb. cold press watercolor paper is very popular with artists that like a rougher look to their art. It is somewhat smooth, but has a very distinct texture.

Because of the texture, the white areas are harder to cover, but it takes to burnishing very well. Care should be taken with sharper pencils because this paper tends to indent very easily. It is also very hard to erase mistakes from cold press without damaging it.

140 lb. Hot Press Watercolor Paper

Hot press watercolor paper is the smoothest of all watercolor papers. It has very little texture, but can still take many layers of pigment. Hot press doesn’t indent as easily as cold press, and it is much easier to erase mistakes from this type of paper.

Vellum Paper

Traditionally, vellum paper was made with animal skin. Today, modern vellum paper is made from plasticized cotton. It is much more stable and durable than linen or regular paper sheets, which is good for very large colored pencil drawings. Vellum is translucent and very easily wrinkled, though.

With vellum paper, there is very little “white dot” effect because it is so smooth. It is easier to get vivid, solid colors with vellum, too. This is good, because there isn’t much tooth to grab heavier layers of pigment.

Bristol Vellum Paper

Bristol paper is a very stiff, slick, poster board-like paper. Bristol vellum paper a mix of vellum paper and Bristol paper. It is a slightly more texturized paper that grabs pigment better to create brighter colors and easier burnishing. There is only the slightest indentation from sharp pencils on this type of paper, as well.

Vellum Illustration Board

Illustration board is thick, tough, and smooth. When vellum is added to it, the board gets a slight tooth, just like Bristol vellum paper. It takes layer after layer of burnishing without wearing out. It also makes colored pencil look very bright and vivid.

It is good for the artist to experiment with each type of paper to get a feel for how their techniques work with each one. These tips, though, should help the artist choose which paper closely fits their needs.