What’s the Best Paper for Colored Pencils?
From weight to surface texture, here’s how to choose the right paper for your next adult coloring page project.
By Jasmine Lim
Choosing the right paper for your adult coloring page is just as important as picking the design, color palette, and tools. It’s not as easy as it sounds, either: There isn’t one universal best paper option—it ultimately comes down to the medium you’re using and your personal preference.
When it comes to choosing the best paper for colored pencils, there are some key paper characteristics to consider. We’ve put together a quick run-down of what these elements are, what they mean, and how you can quickly locate them on paper labels:
5 Things to Consider When Buying Paper for Colored Pencil Art
1. Weight and Grams per Square Meter (GSM)
Weight and GSM are two measurements that determine the weight or density of a piece of paper. These numbers can also hint at a piece of paper’s heft, quality, or durability. Weight (aka “Basis Weight”) is typically used in the United States and tells the user how much one 500-sheet ream of a given paper will weigh in pounds. (For example, one 500-sheet ream of “20lb Copy Paper” will weigh—you guessed it—20 pounds.) Grams per Square Meter is a metric measurement and is almost always displayed alongside Basis Weight on paper labels in the U.S. GSM is the actual weight of one sheet of the paper cut to a 1x1-meter square. Depending on the paper brand, the package either show weight in pounds (lb), GSM (g/m2), or both.
So what weight or GSM is ideal for colored pencils? It all depends! If you’re just coloring for fun, standard 20-pound copy paper will work fine. But, if you’re looking to create a piece of art that will last a while or you want to do a lot of blending or burnishing, look for higher weights like 65-140-pound or 75-300gsm.
Another thing to remember when buying paper: Pretty much all printers will specify the highest GSM it can support (without jamming!). So in order to print out your designs, you’ll need to check your printer’s GSM specification. You can find this number listed in the printer manual or under the product information on the manufacturer’s website. As a good rule of thumb, if your paper’s GSM is higher than what’s listed, it’s safe to assume it’s too heavy for your printer.
The two most common types of paper you’ll encounter are made from either cotton or cellulose. If you’re coloring for fun and aren’t worried about how long your coloring page will last, cellulose paper is a good (and affordable) option. If you want a higher quality paper that will last longer, invest in cotton paper. Most paper packaging will list the material used, but if you can’t find it there check the manufacturer’s website.
3. Surface Texture
When using colored pencils you typically want a paper that has some texture or “toothiness” to it. Papers with too smooth of a finish—for example, paper with gloss coating—won’t allow the paper to grip the colored pencils properly which may end up muting the colors. To find the right type of paper in the store, look for the word “uncoated” on the package. It’s usually best to shop in-store where you can feel and see if the finish of the paper. But, if you’re shopping online, product information about surface texture is usually listed!
Acid-free paper is key if you want your work of art to last because it won’t yellow or fade over time. You can find out whether a brand of paper is acid-free online or it’ll be printed on the package.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important to make sure the color of your paper won’t mess with the colors of your drawings. Off-white paper can cause some colors to look more muted when compared to other bright-white papers. The slightest beige or yellow undertones to a paper can make a huge difference depending on how vivid you want your coloring page to turn out.
4 Colored Pencil-Friendly Papers to Try Today
With this basic paper knowledge, it’ll be easier for you to purchase paper for future coloring. To help get you started, we’ve put together a few recommendations ranging from budget-friendly to high-quality artist paper. Note: Some of these papers are larger than the standard printing size (8.5x11-inches) but you can always trim them to size using a paper trimmer or X-Acto Knife, ruler, and cutting mat.
If you’re willing to invest in high-quality paper, we love Stonehenge paper and have heard rave reviews from other colorists, too. It’s 100% cotton, acid-free, and has a nice toothy texture great for gripping pencils. It’s pure white (bonus!) and the 140-pound weight means it’s likely able to handle versatile coloring techniques—whether it’s layering, blending, or using solvents with your colored pencils. Buy It Now: Stonehenge Cotton Deckle Edge Paper (9x12) 140lb/250gsm — $17.70 for 15 Sheets
This medium-weight paper can be used with any dry media—colored pencils, included! Although it’s a “sketch pad,” the pages are perforated so they can easily be removed and run through a printer. For any amateur colorist who wants to perfect their colored pencil techniques, we think this is a solid (and affordable!) pick. Buy It Now: Strathmore Series 400 Sketch Pads (9x12) 60lb/89gsm — $9.98 for pad of 100 sheets
Another great option is this Vellum Bristol paper by Springhill. It has a nice textured finish and comes in a perfectly printer-friendly size. This paper is a great compromise between standard copy paper and heavier artist-quality paper. With sturdy paper like this, you can use different mediums to blend out or layer your colored pencils without worrying about wearing down your paper. (The only thing we might not suggest using is watercolors or watercolor pencils.) Buy It Now: Springhill Digital Vellum Bristol (8.5x11) 67lb/147gsm — $17.93 for 250 Sheets
Here’s a paper suggestion for all of your casual printing and coloring needs! It’s slightly sturdier and heavier than standard 20-pound copy paper and is ideal for any beginner colorist. This bright white, uncoated paper will work with just about any printer. Did we also mention it’s super affordable? You get 500 sheets for just $9! Buy It Now: Hammermill Paper Premium Inkjet & Laser (8.5x11) 24lb/90gsm — $8.99 for 500 Sheets
If you’re not looking to splurge, budget-friendly printer paper is perfect to start with. Or, if you’re ready to practice different colored pencil techniques, branch out and go for an artist-quality paper option! Whatever you choose, your future colored pencil projects are sure to be stunning.