top of page

Comparing Strathmore Bristol Papers for Coloured Pencils

Soon after I started using colored pencils about 5 years back, I realized that there weren’t many options for paper for this medium (at least in India). Hot pressed watercolor is one option but it is a bit textured and for some drawings, I prefer to use smoother paper like bristol. Bristol paper is essentially a smooth, uncoated, thick drawing paper that can be used with a variety of mediums - pens, pencils, markers etc.

In India, Strathmore is possibly one of the most widely available bristol paper brands. Their papers are differentiated by a series number - 100 to 500. Locally, I have mostly found 300 and 400 series, and occasionally some 500 series.

Strathmore’s Bristol paper also comes in two varieties of paper textures - the Bristol smooth is quite untextured with very little tooth while the vellum has more tooth. I have personally used both and depending on the subject I am drawing, I tend to use both equally.

Until very recently, I had thought that 400 series is simply better quality (acid free, long lasting etc) with no other visible differences. But that is not the case! In this blog, I am comparing the smooth and the vellum papers of the 300 and 400 series on some parameters I think are important for any paper to be used with colored pencils. So let’s dive in.

300 Series Smooth vs 400 Series Smooth

Initial Impressions - The 300 series is a bit more white than the 400 which I personally don’t like. I like the off-white shade of the 400 Bristol Smooth.

Texture - I used a soft Luminance pencil to put down a single layer of color on both papers and found that the 300 Smooth is slightly more textured than the 400 Smooth. It might seem like a subtle difference at this point but it really comes into play when you start adding more layers.

Fine Details - Both papers worked equally well for fine detailed work. Using a sharp pencil, I was able to draw fine, clean lines.

Layers - I could easily get about 10 layers with the 400 series in spite of how smooth it looks and feels! With the 300 series, I managed to put down around the same number of layers but the paper started to feel saturated very quickly and for the last few layers, I had to use a bit of pressure to lay down the colour.

Erasing - To test the papers for how well they withstand erasing, I used both the electric and the mechanical eraser. While neither of the papers looked particularly damaged after erasing, I was able to get close to the white of the paper after erasing with the 400 series. The 300 seemed to get stained a bit with the color which I was not able to erase.

Verdict: All in all, I prefer the more premium feel of the Strathmore 400 Bristol Smooth over the 300 series.

300 Series Vellum vs 400 Series Vellum

Initial Impressions - Both the papers are of a similar white shade and even without using pencils, one can tell that the 400 vellum is a much rougher paper.

Texture - I put down a light layer of the colour and immediately I can tell that the 400 is much rougher than the 300. The texture of the 400 vellum reminded me of the canvases I had used at one time for oil paintings and it really eats up the pencils because of this.

Fine Details - while the 300 is just about fine for the fine details, with the 400, it is hard to get fine lines because of the prominent tooth of the paper. I used 400 for a painting and really struggled with the small detailed parts of the plant.

Layers - As I mentioned earlier, the Bristol vellum paper is more textured so it can hold more layers of colour. To test out the 300 and 400 series vellum papers, I put down about 14 layers of pigment on both. Both papers did very well and even though I stopped after adding so much colour, I believe the 400 series could probably take more colour because of its rougher texture.

Erasing - I expected erasing to be harder with the 400 series because it has so much tooth, but surprisingly, I could get a whiter erased area with this series. As with the Bristol Smooth, the 300 Bristol Vellum was stained with colour which I could not completely erase.

Verdict: I would pick the 300 Series Bristol Vellum simply because I neither like nor need the more textured 400 series. I don’t use too many layers in my drawings so the 300 vellum is good enough for me.

I hope you find this analysis useful. Let me know, I'd love to hear from you!

121 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page