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What is Bristol Paper: Exploring its Features

You probably have heard of Bristol paper. Personally, and for lots of other artists, it’s my go-to drawing paper. But, what is bristol paper?

Bristol paper is a popular type of drawing paper that is thicker than regular paper. The reason it’s thick is because the paper is made out of several multi-ply sheets that were glued and pressed together. The outsides are optimized to be drawn on for mediums that require a smooth surface.

Keep reading everything you need to know about bristol paper: what to use it for, the best brands, and what not to do with it!

What is bristol paper used for?

Bristol paper is used for illustrations, drawings, printmaking, and more. The paper is made to handle a lot of erasing without causing damage. Its smooth surface provides an ideal canvas for intricate detail. Bristol paper is especially favored for producing clean, precise artwork.

what is bristol paper

Here are popular mediums used on bristol paper:

  1. Inked illustrations
    • When inking you need to be super careful. Each surface ”dip” can cause your line to go wonky. That’s why Bristol paper is favored by inkers!
  2. Graphic Design
    • The paper’s sturdiness can withstand frequent erasing and revisions, making it practical for design work.
  3. Printmaking (Etching, lithography)
    • Bristol paper’s heavyweight and smooth texture make it well-suited for various printmaking techniques, such as etching, lithography, and serigraphy. It can hold up to the demands of ink, printing presses, and multiple runs, preserving the integrity of the artwork.
  4. Technical Drawing
    • Engineers, architects, and drafters use Bristol paper for technical drawings and blueprints. Its durability ensures that drawings remain intact and legible, even after extensive use or storage.
  5. Airbrushing
    • The smoothness of the paper comes in handy when working with something as delicate as airbrushing.
  6. Calligraphy
    • Bristol paper allows for clean, controlled strokes and ink flow. It’s a favored choice for practicing and showcasing calligraphic art.
  7. Crafts and Cardmaking
    • Craft enthusiasts and cardmakers utilize Bristol paper for its weight and stability. It is an excellent base for creating handmade cards, scrapbooking, and other paper crafts.
  8. Markers, inks, and fineliners
    • Bristol paper’s ability to resist bleeding and feathering makes it an excellent choice for artists who work with markers, pens, and inks.

Here’s an illustration I made on bristol paper using fineliners:

You might also like: How to draw with colored pencils

Bristol paper vs vellum

So what is the difference between bristol paper and vellum?

Vellum is a type of bristol paper. Bristol paper typically has two types: smooth and vellum. Smooth is great for mediums that require ultra-smooth surfaces such as fineliners and airbrushing. Vellum has a slight texture to it which makes it great for graphite and colored pencils.

Sometimes bristol paper is also called bristol board. It depends on the brand, but they are all basically the same.

Usually bristol paper has a weight between 180-270gsm. To give you an indication of how heavy that is regular printer paper is around 90 gsm.

How to choose bristol paper

When shopping for bristol paper here are the things you need to think about:

  • Vellum or (ultra) smooth
  • Size
    • Do you want A4? A3? A5?
  • Do you prefer a pad or loose sheets? Or perhaps a ring-bound book?
  • Weight
    • 180gsm or rather 270 gsm?

Choosing between Vellum or extra smooth

As we talked about before, vellum is best for graphite and colored pencils. Smooth bristol paper is better for fineliners, markers, and anything that requires super smooth paper.

However, I’ve used bristol smooth with colored pencils before and it works fine. But pencils need a little bit of tooth to grab onto, so vellum would be a tiny bit better.

Size matters when it comes to drawing paper

Bristol paper typically comes in A5-A3 paper. A4 would be printer paper if you live outside the US. A4 is slightly bigger than printer paper used in the US.

But here’s the thing: The bigger your sheets, the cheaper it gets. I always buy A3 sheets and cut them myself. This way the paper ends up being a lot cheaper.

The downside of course is that you’ll have to cut it yourself. Having one of these bestselling paper guillotines makes life 10 times easier though.

Loose sheets or a sketchbook?

Typically you can choose between a (ring-bound) sketchbook, loose sheets, and a pad. All of this is purely preference. If you want to sell your art, go for loose sheets.

As I mentioned before, if you want to cut your own paper you should go for loose sheets which come in a pad. There are also ring-bound sketchbooks that allow you to easily tear of a sheet.

How to choose the weight of your bristol paper

Personally, I find that paper of 180gsm feels kind of light. At around 230 gsm it starts feeling luxurious so I wouldn’t go anywhere below that. I also wouldn’t sell any of my artwork on paper that is any lighter than that.

It feels like heavier paper elevates your art. Although all of this is also preference.

what is bristol paper

You might also like: The best portrait drawing book for artists

Best bristol paper brands

Over the years of buying sketchbooks and trying different kinds of paper, I’ve found the best bristol paper brands:

What is the difference between bristol paper and drawing paper

The biggest difference between bristol paper and regular drawing paper is that bristol paper is sturdy and can handle a lot more than drawing paper. Drawing paper you find in dollar stores tear easily and cannot handle multiple layers.

Bristol paper is sturdy, feels luxurious, and lends itself to be sold after.

What is the difference between bristol paper and watercolor paper

The difference between Bristol paper and watercolor paper is that bristol paper is not designed for water absorption. It’s meant to prevent ink from bleeding and feathering. Watercolor paper is made to absorb and retain watercolor paints.

Watercolor paper can handle large amounts of water without warping or deteriorating.

Is bristol paper good for watercolor?

Bristol paper is not optimized to be used for watercolors. However, if you do not have watercolor paper bristol paper is an okay alternative. It’s better than printer paper as it won’t tear as easily.

So if you only have bristol paper on hand it’ll do. But it sure is nowhere near as good as good quality watercolor paper.

what is bristol paper
Paper texture of bristol paper

Is bristol paper like cardstock?

Bristol is somewhat similar to cardstock. However, cardstock is typically thicker and heavier than Bristol paper. It’s designed to be rigid and sturdy, resembling the thickness of a playing card.

Cardstock is commonly used for crafting projects, making cards, and creating durable documents. Bristol paper is made to be drawn on.

I hope I convinced you to start using bristol paper. It’s my go-to paper every time I draw! Feel free to subscribe to my newsletter or follow me on Instagram.

♡ Laura

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