What Is Bristol Paper

What Is Bristol Paper? – Get to Know This Sturdy Paper Type

The world of paper is such a vast and beautiful one! Many crafters love to collect paper and we can understand why! With so many different types of paper to choose from for every craft or art project imaginable, one can see why it can be so confusing to choose the right paper for your project. Every medium has the correct paper that goes along with it, pastels have special paper, as do oil paints. There is special paper for scrapbooking, and special paper for multimedia. One paper type you might not have heard of is Bristol board paper. But what is Bristol paper? What is Bristol paper used for? Can I use watercolor on Bristol paper? What is Bristol paper texture like? If you have been searching for information on Bristol paper pads, you have come to the right place! Let us delve into the world of what Bristol paper is used for and answer any other questions you may have about Bristol board paper.



What Is Bristol Paper?

Bristol paper is created by pasting many layers of paper. The paper is then put under pressure, meaning it is machine-finished. Bristol paper is also uncoated. When out shopping at your favorite art supply store, you may notice a paper called Bristol board. It is the same thing as Bristol paper, and perhaps a better overall name would be Bristol board paper. These papers are available in a variety of thicknesses, namely two, three, or four-ply. The ply indicates how many layers of paper were used to create the Bristol paper board. Therefore, four-ply Bristol board paper will be sturdier and thicker than two-ply Bristol board paper.

Strathmore Bristol Paper

Where, you may ask, did Bristol paper gain its name? Many say that the paper was named after the town. This is partially true, as the paper was actually named after Frederick Hervey, the Earl of Bristol. Looking at history, there is mention of European mills sending their best paper to Bristol for the pasting process. Bristol paper is quite similar to card stock in that it is heavier, stiffer, and stronger than regular paper. This awesome paper is available in Bristol paper sketchbooks, single sheets, and even in rolls. 

If you are wondering what the best mediums are for Bristol paper, we will discuss this in the section that follows.



What Is Bristol Paper Used For?

Often, Bristol board paper is used in marketing and promotional printing that is found in paperback books. It is also used to print tags and tickets. Thanks to its sturdiness, Bristol board paper is regularly used to make 3D models of buildings and the like.

Bristol Board Paper

The two-ply and three-ply varieties are the most popular for home use, and the thinner variations are usually used for printing, especially in magazines. Fine ink and pen work well on smooth Bristol paper, while mediums such as graphite, charcoal, crayon, and chalk work on the more textured Bristol board paper. A few other ways this versatile paper is used include:

  • Mixed media and design
  • Postcards and Invitations
  • Illustrations and comic book drawings
  • Technical drawings

This fantastic paper works beautifully for all dry media projects, and some of the thicker varieties, especially the more textured types of Bristol paper, can be used with lightly washed watercolor paints. If you plan to use watercolor on your paper, make sure that you are purchasing paper that is archival and of high quality. You will not need to prime Bristol board paper when using acrylic paints, however, if you want to try using oil paints, three layers of acrylic gesso or matte medium are necessary to help create a barrier that prevents the paper from absorbing the paint.

Watercolor on Bristol Paper

Bristol paper’s main advantage when compared to regular drawing paper is its sleek and sturdy surface. The edges of the paper should not warp if you stick to thinner layers of paint. One disadvantage of using watercolor paint or other wet media on Bristol paper is the chance of it bleeding through, especially with the thinner paper options. There are even some artists who prefer the smooth textured Bristol paper for watercolor, should you choose to use smooth paper, it is advised to test your paint on a corner to assess bleeding. The thicker textured variety of Bristol paper will absorb much better than the smooth and sleek type.

 Bristol paper is an awesome choice for many art and craft projects. A Bristol paper pad or Bristol sketchbook is ideal for detailed drawings and sketches, and a fantastic choice for pen drawings, markers, and even ink. This versatile paper is likely the perfect option for you!


Bristol Board Paper: The Two Main Types and Their Uses

Bristol board paper is available in two main types, namely vellum and smooth. Depending on your chosen medium, you may prefer to use the vellum variety or the smooth one. Mixed media and collages are perfect for both types of Bristol board as well. As mentioned before, Bristol board paper is available in many different thicknesses. These range from two-ply to four-ply. You could compare the two-ply to cardstock. The three-ply and four-ply options are a lot more rigid and stiff. 

Bristol Paper Pad


Smooth Bristol Paper

Airbrush markers, pencil artwork, and pen drawings look beautiful on smooth Bristol paper as it has almost no texture at all. This makes it the ideal paper for very detailed artwork and thin, fine lines. The paper’s amazingly smooth and silky texture is achieved thanks to the finishing process in the factory which uses steel rollers and extreme pressure. 

Plate Bristol paper is ideal for air-brushing, markers, and ink.


Vellum Bristol Paper

The textured Bristol paper, known as vellum, is a good choice if you are working with oil, pastels, crayons, pencils, or graphite, and charcoal. Mediums like graphite will adhere well to the texture. When it comes to choosing a brand of Bristol paper, Strathmore Bristol paper comes out at the top.

What Is Bristol Paper Used for


Semi-Smooth Bristol Paper

The semi-smooth Bristol paper options have an in-between texture which is not too smooth and yet not too rough. The texture is very slight, making it perfect if you choose to do your art with markers, pens, ink, or pencils. 

Plate Bristol paper is the much smoother option with a very even finish.


Using Illustration Boards Versus Bristol Board Paper

You may think a Bristol sketchbook or pad is the same thing as an illustration board, but there is a difference, and that difference is in the design. Bristol board can be used on both sides while illustration board is simply mounted paper, usually, this means it is not possible to use both sides.

Bristol Paper Texture

You will be able to purchase an illustration board in a wide variety of sizes and thicknesses, and it is even available in an acid-free paper that is of archival quality. They come in both cold and hot-pressed varieties, which means more options for textures, allowing for a wide variety of mediums to be used, including pen, ink, pencil, and watercolor paint. You likely will not experience any warping or bending thanks to the sturdy surface. Usually, illustration boards are preferred for finished art pieces, which means that they are often more expensive than Bristol paper boards. 

Illustration board is often heavier than Bristol board paper and is usually used for artwork that needs preserving. Bristol paper is lightweight in comparison.

 Bristol Board PaperIllustration Board
CostLower costHigher cost
DesignTwo workable surfacesSingle workable surface
UsesIdeal for fine line work and detailed art. The textured surface is good for graphite, charcoal, pastel, and colored pencilsMedia that requires a rigid surface, such as watercolor, pen, ink, or pencil
Archival qualitiesHigh-quality paper with archival propertiesNeeds to be 100 % cotton. Always check, as not all boards are archival or acid-free


As you can tell, Bristol is such a versatile paper, suitable for quite a few different mediums. Whatever sort of art or craft you dabble in, it is likely that at some point, Bristol board paper will come in handy, one way or another!



Frequently Asked Questions


What Is the Difference Between Vellum Paper and a Bristol Paper Pad?

Regular Bristol paper texture is smooth and most often used for detailed drawings. Bristol vellum is not to be confused with the more translucent drafting paper vellum. Bristol vellum is rougher in texture, somewhat similar to cold-pressed watercolor paper.


Which Brands of Bristol Board Paper Are Available?

Some brands that manufacture Bristol sketchbooks and Bristol board paper include Neenah, Canson, and Koh-I-Noor. One of the most popular and well-known brands of Bristol paper pads is Strathmore Bristol paper. Strathmore Bristol paper sketchbooks come in a variety of sizes, too.


Can I Use Watercolor on Bristol Board Paper?

Watercolor paper is always the best choice for watercolor mediums. That said, vellum Bristol paper texture is quite similar to watercolor paper and many artists successfully paint watercolor on Bristol of this variety.


Can I Use Oil Pastels With My Bristol Sketchbook?

Most definitely! Oil pastels glide over Bristol paper, making it the ideal paper choice for this medium. Smooth Bristol paper is often a good choice for pastels. Bristol paper pads are easy to work with for many mediums.


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