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The Best Paper for Ink Drawing

Paper is such a key part of drawing, but it can easily be taken for granted. Especially with pen and ink, there’s a desire to just grab a stray piece of paper and get to work. Ink is simple, right? There’s no need for special paper. Wrong. It’s really important to choose the right type of paper for the medium you’re working with, and ink is no exception.

The best paper for ink drawing is smooth bristol because it has a weaker texture and less tooth than other types of paper, which means that it will be less likely to bleed, pill, or rip. Bristol paper’s smooth surface will give ink drawings a bright, crisp, and clean look.

Before you start on your next ink masterpiece, make sure you’re equipped with the best paper. It would be a shame to work so hard on a piece of art only to find out that your paper was working against you. Let’s dive into some great bristol paper choices for your next ink drawing and why they’re so great.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may earn a commission if you decide to purchase through my links.

For quick reference, here are my top 4 choices:

  1. Strathmore 500 Series Plate Bristol Pad
  2. Strathmore 400 Series Smooth Bristol Pad
  3. Strathmore 300 Series Smooth Bristol Pad
  4. Canson XL Series Smooth Bristol Pad

Best Paper for Ink Drawings

As you’ll notice, Strathmore overwhelms this list of best paper for ink drawings. That’s because Strathmore makes really good paper. They also have a couple of different bristol paper choices depending on what you want and need (source).

Strathmore 500 Series Bristol Plate Pad

Strathmore’s 500 series is their top of the line series of premium paper. This bristol variety is 100% cotton and has a 2-ply plate surface. A ply simply refers to a layer of paper. 2-ply has 2 layers, 3-ply has 3 layers and so on and so forth. This paper is extremely smooth and a great choice for highly detailed pen and ink work. You should take a look at some of the work that Amazon reviewers have done with this paper. The reviews are like a full scale art gallery! 

As you can guess by its “500” label, this series of paper is of a higher quality than Strathmore’s 400 and 300 series. You’ll notice that the price tags match as well. Even though this paper is more expensive, it’s for good reason. This is a very high quality paper that should be saved for your final masterpieces instead of daily doodles. If you’re planning an important pen and ink project, this 500 series bristol paper is a great choice.

Click here to find Strathmore 500 Bristol Paper on Amazon

Strathmore 400 Series Bristol Smooth Pad

The Strathmore 400 series is a great middle ground between the 500 and the 300. It’s a higher quality than the 300, but less pricey than the 500. Remember that the 500 series is considered premium, which means that the 400 is still very high quality. This particular pad comes in 2-ply, but Strathmore has 3-ply and 4-ply as well. With a smooth surface, this 400 series Strathmore pad is perfect for pen and ink drawings that prefer to have no tooth or texture. 

Click here to find Strathmore 400 Bristol Paper on Amazon

Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Smooth Pad

Even though Strathmore’s 300 series bristol paper is lower quality than the 400 and 500 series varieties, it doesn’t mean that it’s low quality by any means. Strathmore makes very good paper, which means that even their “lower quality” paper is pretty darn good. Artists love this paper and rave about how easy it is to work with. If you’re just starting your exploration into pen and ink drawings, this 300 series is a great place to start. It’s high enough quality to let you produce amazing art, but also won’t break the bank. With inexpensive paper, you can have more freedom to experiment and make mistakes without worrying that you’re wasting good paper.

Click here to find Strathmore 300 Bristol Paper on Amazon

Canson XL Series Bristol Smooth Pad

Strathmore is great, obviously, but I’m also a big fan of Canson. It’s high quality paper for an inexpensive price with an XL attitude. If you’re looking to try something outside of the Strathmore family of paper, Canson is a great alternative. Like the Strathmore’s on this list, this bristol paper is smooth and has little to no texture. It’s a thick and smooth paper that’s great for pen and ink drawings.

Click here to find Canson XL Bristol Paper on Amazon

Paper for Mixed Media

If you’re planning to do pure pen and ink drawings, the smooth bristol papers listed above are great choices. Things change a bit though when you add extra mediums to the mix. Maybe you’re looking to do an ink and watercolor piece, or ink and colored pencil. What kind of paper should you choose then?

First, think about which type of medium is going to be the most prominent part of your piece and choose your paper with that in mind. If you’re going to do a lot of precision ink work, you don’t want a paper with a lot of tooth and texture. 

Second, think about which type of medium is really going to struggle with your paper choice. For example, watercolor won’t do well on smooth bristol paper. If you’re doing a bit of ink work, but the majority of your piece is going to be watercolor, you may want to pick a paper that is more watercolor friendly.

In most cases, vellum bristol paper will be a happy, middle-ground paper choice for your mixed media work. Vellum bristol paper is still sturdy, but it has more texture than it’s smooth sister.

Given that it has more tooth, there are more peaks and valleys for other types of mediums to sink into. This can make it a great choice if you want something smooth enough to make pen and ink work, but also textured enough to accommodate colored pencils or light paint. 

Click here to find Strathmore 400 Vellum Paper on Amazon

Things to Keep in Mind with Smooth Bristol

Every type of paper has its pros and its cons. Smooth bristol is amazing for ink drawings and the best paper choice for any art that is purely made from ink. That said, there are things you’ll want to watch out for as you use it.

1. Be careful of smearing the ink. Depending on the pens you’re using, you might have problems with the ink smearing if you aren’t careful. The first time you use smooth bristol paper, take it slowly. You’ll want to see how the smooth surface works differently than the other paper you’re used to. You may end up wanting to adjust your grip a little bit to prevent as much smearing as possible.

2. There’s a learning curve with new types of paper. If it’s your first time using smooth bristol paper, be patient with it and know that it will take some time to get used to.

No matter what type of paper you’re using, you’ll have to learn about how the texture, brightness, and weight impact what you’re working on. Overtime, it’ll be easier to know what types of paper work best for what you’re trying to achieve. It takes time though, so know it’s ok to waste a few pieces of paper as you experiment and learn.

3. You’ll need to know where your piece of art is headed. There are times we set off on an art project without really knowing where it’s going. This can be really fun from an artistic standpoint, but really challenging from a paper standpoint. As we’ve talked about, smooth bristol doesn’t accommodate a ton of different types of mediums.

If you choose a smooth bristol, you probably can’t entertain some mid-project inspiration to add paints, pencils, or other mediums. You’ll have to know that it’s an ink drawing from start to finish.

Ink drawing is a really fun art medium. It’s fairly inexpensive, doesn’t require much setup, and offers endless opportunities. I don’t know about you, but I just love the look of a clean and crisp ink drawing. Whether you’re already in love with ink drawing, or you’re hoping to test it out, grab a pad of smooth bristol paper and see what you can create.

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