Head to Head: Blending Cardstocks- Cryogen versus X-Press It


Nobody rides a bicycle on the beach...

Bikes are great; you can go a lot of places on a bicycle.

But if you're sunning your buns at one end of the beach and the daiquiri bar is way the heck down at the other end... it's highly unlikely that you're going to use peddle power to cross a mile of sugar sand beach.

Bicycles don't work very well in the desert; they're not so great underwater and I'd hate to be left with only a bike during a Michigan January.

Now I'm not beating up on bikes and bicycle enthusiasts. I love my bike.

But only an idiot tries to use a bike in a snowstorm. It simply isn't designed to do what you're asking it to do.


Smart people match the tool to the task

That includes paper.

Especially when you're working with Copics and colored pencil. Trying to blend alcohol markers on a dollar store drawing pad is like trying to peddle your way down Daytona Beach.

You're not using the right tool to facilitate good blending.


for years, I've used x-press it blending card 

Not just faithfully, I've used it exclusively. 

For my style of marker painting, it simply works best.

Ink stays wet on the surface of X-Press It paper slightly longer than with other blending cardstocks. That extra wet-time allows for better blending. I see significant improvement when I move students from their preferred paper to X-Press It.


But X-Press It has one major drawback

I combine marker with colored pencil. The combination of wet and dry gives me more depth, texture, and mark versatility than is possible with just marker alone. 

I love my X-Press It. The problem is that X-PI is everything a colored pencil paper should not be.

X-Press It is super slick with a slightly resistant surface. Way smoother than hot press, it's Bing Crosby driving a Zamboni eating butter kind of smooth.

Meanwhile colored pencil likes things gritty. Artists call it tooth; a good colored pencil paper has tiny jags and crevices which grab hold and collect pencil pigment as you color.

X-Press It cardstock is as toothless as the starting line-up for the 1972 Red Wings. Trying to color with colored pencil on X-PI is like spreading grape jelly onto a greased pig. About 70% of what you lay down ain't gonna stick.

So not to make light of Sophie's Choice, but at the start of every project, I'm usually standing at the train station trying to pick between X-Press It for Markers or Vellum Bristol for colored pencil.


Then I rediscovered cryogen

A student once handed me some sheets of "sparkle paper" in class. I'm always up for trying a new paper, but she presented it as a marker paper, something another Copic instructor had recommended.

It was a nice cardstock, smooth with an interesting pearly flake embedded in the pulp. I made a few test swatches and no angelic chorus descended from the heavens. I decided I liked X-Press It better and filed the Cryogen away in my drawer of assorted paper.

Time passed.

I cleaned out that drawer last month and came across some unmarked sheets of cardstock. As I'm mentally berating the wheel running hamster who lives in my head for not labeling the paper... my fingers... they were feeling the paper. I was actually petting the paper.

Cryogen vs XPress It head to head |

And the hamster started dancing

He danced and sang because we were petting a marker cardstock with a bit of tooth.

Holy Grail anyone?

I've been playing with sparkle paper Cryogen recently. I'm pretty pleased.

I wouldn't say Cryogen White is the answer to ALL my problems but it does get the Nazi off my back. Here's what I've found.


X-Press It- a superior marker blending card

  • Full Name: X-Press It Blending Card

  • Surface: ultra hot-press, feels coated but isn't

  • Color: bright white

  • Weight: about 110 lbs.

  • Tooth: very little

  • Thirst: coats well on first pass, no excessive ink usage

  • Alcohol Ink Blendability: extended wet-time makes for easy and amazing blends

  • Vividness: colors are bold, no visible changes upon drying.

  • Bleed (ink pulled by paper fibers beyond stamp lines): hardly noticeable

  • Leak-through (to back of paper): only after 3 coats

  • Water Damage: exposure to water will damage paper irreparably. Surface will buckle, then separate from core, can peel off.

  • Colored Pencil: accepts a first coat with a sharp pencil. Hard to layer or blend, must press harder than normal to collect color. Color can smear.

"Go Fish" colored on X-Press It Blending Card |

Cryogen-a balanced all purpose cardstock

  • Full Name: Cryogen Curious Metallics

  • Surface: hot-press

  • Color: "white" but is actually a creamy, yellow tinged white

  • Weight: 89 lbs.

  • Tooth: light tooth

  • Thirst: coats well on first pass, draws more ink than X-Press It

  • Alcohol Ink Blendability: moderate, some strokes remain visible after second pass.

  • Vividness: some colors mute slightly as they dry.

  • Bleed (ink pulled by paper fibers beyond stamp lines): light bleed but controlable

  • Leak-through (to back of paper): after 2nd coat

  • Water Damage: a light spray did not affect paper. A good soaking caused buckling and slight swelling. Swelling disappeared when dry but buckle remained. No peeling or bubbling.

  • Colored Pencil: accepts 2-3 coats of colored pencil, waxy pencils blended well. Easy to color softly with no visible stroke lines.

"Go Fish" Colored on Cryogen White |

Here's a side by side:

X-Press it on top, Cryogen on bottom. Creamy color of Cryogen is more noticeable in real life.

Cryogen vs. XPress It cardstocks. Marker vs colored pencil cardstock |

Overall, a move to Cryogen means that I sacrifice some marker blending ability in order to gain pencil blending ability.

  • You can see some unblendable marker strokes in the blue stripes just before the tail on the Cryogen. The B37 was especially stubborn.

  • B99 looks more deep and vibrant on the X-PI but it's only noticeable when side by side.

  • B32 (lightest blue in the stripes) is noticeably lighter and more even on X-Press It.

  • The difference in aqua colors here is solely due to the yellow of Cryogen making all colors look warmer.

  • Blue pencil over yellow marker on X-PI looks muddy. Same on Cryogen looks more subtle and pleasing.

  • Not only does pencil "stick" better to Cryogen, white gel pen adheres more smoothly

so am I a Cryogen Disciple now?

Not really. I'll still teach with X-Press It because I never want to place hurdles in front of my students. Blending is so much easier with X-PI that I can't justify the switch for my beginners and casual colorers.

But for any project (personal or with advanced students) that requires more than 50% colored pencil, I'll be using Cryogen.


Associate Links: (note XPI is a pack of 25 sheets while Cryogen is a pack of 50)


The Great Marker Challenge: Is this the Ideal Copic Starter Set? Coloring Butterflies



It's Friday and it's time for another Great Marker Challenge image! 

This is "Butterflies" by Urban Stamps. And by no coincidence, I'm teaching this project in my beginner level Copic Coloring classes in August.


Great Marker Challenge?


Copic doesn't seem to market themselves very well to new colorers. You hear rumors about these fabulous, mysterious, and beautiful markers but they don't sell a starter set.

What to do?

If you Google "Copic starter set" you get 9,000 recommendations from 4,200 bloggers and none of them agree.

Who do you trust? Who's list isn't full of bunk?

Okay, so I'll admit it, my recommended starter set is the 9,001 to hit the internet.

But here's the thing- I don't tell you what my favorite colors are. I don't wax endlessly about "if you color maple trees you'll need this marker but you don't need it if you only color penguins wearing bikinis..."

Simply put, I don't tell you, I show you.

Yeah, I don't dink around. You want info about what to buy today, not my inner philosophy on the merits of warm gray markers.

You can read about that another day.

Look at the range of images that I can color with my set of 42 markers. If they look like the kinds of stamps you own, the kind of images you want to color, then use my list as a shopping guide.

And hey, if you're in Southeastern Michigan and want to color this image in a class with me, check out the class details here.

Happy Friday, happy coloring!


Friday Art: Threeby color study, "Lotus" in Copic and Luminance Pencil


A Little color study for you today

And by little, I do mean little... at least for me.

I try to do at least one color study per week, it's my way of keeping my drawing skills sharp.

99.999% of my work outside the classroom setting is devoted to developing class curriculum. This means that I spend a ton of time working below my skill level, out of my style, or using a commercial image. I love teaching but it definitely takes a toll on my creative spirit.


Threebys are like yoga for my brain

At only 3 inches square, I can't make the "I don't have time for that" excuse. So even if an image takes me several hours over many days to complete, it's still a fraction of the time a large scale image would take.

The constraint of working small also forces me to focus on only the most important details. Maybe I work on accurately capturing shape or spacing. Sometimes I celebrate color. I try not to much time planning; not planning something to death is a lesson in itself. 

Few of my Threebys are worthy of public viewing- they're exercises, not the main event. You can find them scattered around my studio, in the bottoms of drawers, wedged in-between pots of gesso and GAC. Most hit the circular file after spending a few weeks bouncing around my desktop.


Iā€™m taking my Threebys more seriously

I'll start posting some of them here.

They're a peek into my brain. If you're clever, you may catch new techniques born here. Or product testing. Or new color combinations.

Thanks to Linda Beeson for the Lotus photo!

Affiliate links to products used on "Lotus" Threebie:


Copic Club: Learn to add depth and realism with cast shadows


Shade and Shadows are not the same thing...

Join me for beginner level and casual Copic coloring lessons

Wednesday, August 18 from 1 to 3:30pm

Thursday, August 24 from 6 to 8:30pm


Remember When Scrapbooking in Macomb Township, Michigan.

To increase the realism in your coloring, you need to begin exploring both shade and shadow.

What's the difference? Which is more important? 

Come and learn my stupid-simple method for applying the correct shadow on ANY image.