Paper

Lets Talk: Always Use the Best Blending Paper for Every Copic Coloring Project

 

"Can you look at my Copic project and tell me how to fix this streaky look?"

Ugh. If I had a nickle for every time I hear this question... we'll, frankly,  I'm not really sure what I'd do with a pile of nickles larger than my house... who thought of that stupid saying anyway?

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I can usually help people fix their blending or streaking problems. Maybe the solution is an alternative stroke technique, sometimes we can switch the blending combination or change the order that colors are applied.

But do you want to know when I fail every time?  When I'm completely powerless to help?

"So uhm, yeah... I was using regular 110 pound office cardstock. I've got better paper but I save it for the good projects."

Okay, word of warning here. Because I hear this so darned often, I'm about to get all rude and preachy on you here:

 

Saving your good paper for later is one of the dumbest things you can do

I'm being deliberately harsh with that statement.

I know. This is a mean and cruel thing to say. But geeze, Louise, I feel like I could tattoo "Always Use Good Blending Paper!" on my forehead and people still wouldn't think I'm serious.

Ask yourself these important questions:

  • Would you ever chew garlic cloves right before your first date with a hot doctor?

  • Would you strap on a pair of cement shoes to go swimming?

  • Would you smear your body with raw ground beef before starting your fist day as an assistant lion tamer?

No, you wouldn't do any of these stupid things.

And yet you regularly set yourself up for failure by grabbing office paper for coloring?

Can we please end this nonsense?

 

You should always use "the good paper" for every coloring project

Coloring is easier when you use good quality paper designed for use with markers | VanillaArts.com

Getting ready to color a stamp for the first time?

Use the good stuff.

Experimenting with brand new markers?

Use the good stuff.

Sitting in front of the television, coloring doodles because you're bored?

Use the freekin' good stuff.

As a matter of fact, I'd remove all office grade paper from your craft room. Go put it someplace else- someplace far far away. So far away that even if you are tempted to grab some, you can't get to it, because it's buried under a stack of boxes and that dead body in the attic.

Okay, I'm going to break it down for you now. Why do I feel so strongly about banning office paper from your stash of coloring supplies?

 

Five reasons to use the good stuff:

And I'm not kidding here. When you really look at it, coloring on crummy paper makes no sense.

1. Office grade paper will never, ever, ever blend as well as marker paper

Now I know, I've seen it. The internet is full of people boasting about the great results they get from Dunder Mifflin Color-Copier Cardstock.

"It works just like marker blending cardstock! I can't tell the difference!"

I'm a marker instructor. There are very few people in the world more motivated than me to find a cheap yet excellent marker paper that's easily available at many local stores.

I teach five different coloring classes every month. For every image, I color at least two experiments and a third as the class sample. If I film the class, I color it a fourth and sometimes a fifth time. In each class, I color the image again for the students to watch. Every live class I teach includes a kit; every student receives one kit and every kit contains two coloring images.

So for just one class, I use upwards of 25 pieces of marker cardstock. And I teach FIVE classes.

I USE A TON OF BLENDING CARDSTOCK. I am highly motivated to find the cheapest source of reliable cardstock!

I've not found an office cardstock that performs the way marker cardstock does.

NEVER.

It's harder to blend on office grade cardstock because it wasn't designed for use with alcohol inks | VanillaArts.com

This shouldn't be shocking.

Office cardstock is designed to be used by printers and copy machines, NOT for Copic coloring.

  • Printers and copiers machines do not use alcohol ink

  • Printers and copiers do not apply ink with a felt tipped brush nib

  • Printers and copiers don't apply 3-4 layers of color

  • Printers and copiers do not use rubbing friction to blend different ink puddles into a new color

  • Printers and copiers never re-hydrate dried ink with fresh ink

Copic blending on office grade paper will always be harder because you're asking it to do the exact opposite of what it was designed to do.

You can dress your dog up in red and blue feathers. You can teach him to sit on a perch and maybe you'll get him to appreciate the taste of bird seed. But your dog will never learn to say "Polly wants a cracker" because no matter how smart your dog is, he is not a parrot.

Never.

Your office cardstock is the same. You're asking it to do something it was never intended to do.

Office paper stinks at blending because it was not designed to be a blending paper.

It's a waste of your time to try.

 

2. You learn what you use

You do yourself a disservice by coloring daily on cheap paper, then switching to good quality blending paper for special projects.

Switching back and forth confuses your brain.

Here's the deal- the human brain is a miracle at overcoming obstacles.

Think back to the last time you smelled skunk. It was pretty potent when you first noticed it, right? Then after a few minutes, you stopped thinking about how the nasty smell and got on with your life.

That's because your brain is constantly making accommodations. It does this without you even realizing it. Your brain knows that if you spend all your time obsessing about the skunk outside your window, you'll never get anything else done.

Coloring on less-than-ideal blending paper is a little like skunk. When you use skunky paper your brain kicks into gear and figures out a way to make the best of a bad situation.

"Okay, so this paper bleeds a little. Maybe I should color a little quicker? Yeah, that helps. And now I'm seeing streaks, so let's press a little harder... okay, that works! But these two colors aren't blending, maybe we'll go over it a few more times... that's better."

When you color on one type of paper day after day, your brain starts working on how to best color on that paper.

You learn how to use what you're using.

So if you save your best paper for only the best projects, you're always going to get mediocre results because you have no experience using good quality paper.

You've spent all your time learning how to make the best out of crappy paper.

Wouldn't that same time be better spent learning how to make pretty art on proper paper?

 
 

3. Are you really saving money?

The best office grade cardstock for marker use (and frankly, I don't think it's all that great) is Hammermill Color Copy Digital Cardstock 80 lbs. A pack of 250 sheets = $11.47 + $3.95 s/h on Amazon today. That's $.06 per sheet

A really nice blending paper is Cryogen White Curious Metallic Cardstock, 89lbs, pack of 250 sheets = $71.00 + $9.50 s/h on Amazon today. That's $.32 per sheet.

My favorite paper is XPress-It Blending Card, 90lbs, pack of 125 = $39.95 with free shipping on Amazon today. That's $.31 per sheet.

So yes, the office grade copy paper is quite a bit cheaper when you look at price per page.

Except there's a hidden cost. 

Marker papers use less ink than office grade paper. That's because marker papers are slightly moisture resistant while office papers are absorbent. To get the true cost of office cardstock, you should add in the cost of Various Ink refills because ink ain't free. 

And how about the cost of starting over? When you make a mistake on blending paper, you can usually fix the error. Not on office grade paper. You'll use more paper on more attempts and more ink with each attempt.

And really, we're talking about paper here. At two projects per sheet of paper, the cost of coloring on premium marker paper is a measly $.16 per project.

16 cents.

You save 12 cents when you use Hammermill.

Wow?

 

4. The cost of frustration

Imagine the following:

What if every time you pull your car out of the garage, a pack of rabid gang-banging squirrels pelts the car with acorns?

And what if... maybe not every single time, but what if maybe once or twice a month at least one squirrel throws a brick?

Let's say that there is no escaping the curse of the rodent gang. What if every time you try to drive your car, your car gets damaged?

I think you'd start taking the bus, right?

Now here's the key to my silly story: 

You are not sitting on the bus because you're a bad driver, right? It's totally not your fault. You're stuck on the bus because of Nutsy McSquirreleson and his furry pack of hooligans.

You've given up driving because the price you pay in frustration is greater than the joy you get from driving.

Frustration has a cost. You can not escape it. You will always pay the price.

If every time you sit down to color something, if the markers don't work the way you want, if the blending doesn't happen, if there are streaks everywhere, if the paper bleeds through to your table, and if it all ends up looking like a kindergartener colored it...

How much longer are you going to keep coloring for fun?

 

5. The Goddess of Fleeting Excellence

Now this is the artist in me talking... An artist with 30 years of experience drawing, painting, and making beautiful messes.

You never know when you sit down to do a project if this is going to be the best thing you've ever done or the worst thing you've ever done.

It's a 50/50 shot.

Sometimes the Goddess of Fleeting Excellence will take notice of you. She will kiss you on the cheek. She will bless the work of your hands.

Magic happens.

And you're plum out of luck if it happens while you're working on cheapo paper.

You don't have to be a professional artist for magic to occur. Every once in a while, you will look down at your half-finished project and think "Hey, that's pretty darned okay! I'm getting better at this! I like how this is turning out!" Even the suckiest of all of us has an occasional good day.

If you're always working on your best paper, you will never have to cry about it later.

I've had the magic happen when working on yellowed newsprint. It's happened on the back of a bank deposit slip. It's happened with florescent yellow crayon on the paper covering the tablecloth at my favorite Italian restaurant.

And no matter how I've rushed home and tried to duplicate my work on better paper, the spontaneity is always missing. The re-do is never quite as nice.

I work on the proper paper as often as possible because 30 years has taught me not to tempt the gods.

When the magic comes, I want to be ready for it.

 

I can't force you to buy quality paper

In my years of teaching, I've met more than one student who will never be as good as they could be because they refuse to invest in the proper supplies.

It's sad when I see it.

You have a love of color, a love of ink, a love of blending...

And you've been gifted with the time and resources to make coloring a hobby.

It's a rare gift to find your bliss. And time to spend on a hobby is a privileged luxury that many people in the world will never have access to.

You cheat yourself and you waste this gift when you fail to take advantage of readily available, relatively inexpensive, proper materials.

Start using your good quality paper today. Please.

Don't waste your precious gift.

Print

Terminology: Pounds- why does paper measure thickness using a term of weight?

 

Art paper is pretty confusing.

My students will often hear me rattle off poundages, especially when we're working on watercolor paper or illustration board.

We're working today on 100 pound Bristol but you can also do this on 140 pound watercolor. Don't buy the 300 pound stuff because that's a waste for this type of project. And hey, remember that X-Press it is maybe about 110 pounds and Gina K is definitely 120...

I'm sure I've said that exact paragraph more than once in class and reading it back, I now totally understand why they sometimes look at me like I just started speaking in ye Olde English.

But paper thickness is pretty important.

Watercolor, pastel, and colored pencil artists care a lot about paper quality. Thickness is one of many considerations they always look at. Cardmakers and digital stamp enthusiasts need to be just as concerned about paper thickness- you want something thin enough to fit through your printer but not so thin that the final card feels chintzy and cheap.

Paper weight matters.

Understanding paper weight becomes especially important when you're ordering off the internet. It's pretty hard to judge your paper by feel when it's not right in front of you.

 

So why in the heck do we talk about pounds (a unit of weight) when we really mean thickness?

Don't blame me, I didn't start this nonsense.

First, let's discuss a ream.

If you work in an office setting or you like to buy paper at Costco or Sam's club, you've most likely heard the term "a ream of paper". Basically, a ream is 500 sheets.

Now take a ream of paper and set it on a scale. Let's say your 500 sheets of paper weighs 100 pounds. That is 100 pound paper.

Great! So a ream of watercolor paper that weighs 300 pounds is called 300 pound paper?

Yes.

And 140 pound pastel paper weighs 140 pounds? And it's about 1/2 as thick as the 300 pound pastel paper?

Yep and yep again. You're doing good.

And 70 pound bond paper is half the thickness of 140 lb. pastel paper?

Nope.

Huh?

 

I'm sorry. Here's where it gets confusing.

Not all reams are created equally.

Some reams of paper are cut to 22 x 30 inches. And some reams are cut to 24 x 36. And some come off a really big giant roll and they kinda guess at what a ream would weigh. And if it's a handmade paper, a ream is whatever dimensions come off their custom apparatus. Reams are different from factory to factory.

And notice it isn't 500 sheets of 11 x 14 paper we're looking at, the ream is only seen at the factory, before they cut it down into their preferred standardized sales size. Good luck finding the information on what size ream your favorite paper company uses.

Yeah, I warned you. You should be scratching your head now.

But let us proceed anyway...

The dimensional size of a ream greatly affects the weight of 500 sheets. It's that whole "I can fit a pound of chocolate-walnut fudge in my purse but it takes a wheelbarrow to carry a pound of feathers" kind of problem.

I don't know if you often have that problem, maybe it's just me...

So anyway, unless you're comparing 2 sheets that were both cut to the same size for the original ream, you're not comparing apples to apples. It's more like comparing apples to gorillas. Paper pound weights are not a like for like comparison.

 
 

So why in the heck don't we have a better measurement system?

Well, we do. But it's not always printed on the label and frankly, most Americans ignore it because it looks all foreign and full of metric magical hoo-ha nonsense that many of us try really hard to avoid...

Look for "grams per square meter", "g/m2" or "gsm".

This means they cut the paper to 1 meter by 1 meter before weighing it. That 1 meter square is always the same physical size whether we're talking about super thick watercolor paper or the thinnest of tracing paper. A thick paper will always have a heavier gram weight measurement than a thinner paper and we're always talking about the same standard dimensions, no matter who made it.

So bond paper that is listed as 60gsm is 1/2 the thickness of a cardstock weighing 120gsm. It's 1/4 the thickness of 240gsm Bristol board.

Let me stress, we're still not talking about somebody picking up a sheet of paper and using a set of micro-calipers to actually measure how thick the paper physically is, but at least we're doing apples to apples minus the weird guy in a gorilla suit.

So if we could just get all paper distributors and all retailers to list the gsm, we'd be really cookin'. As it is now, when the gsm isn't listed on a store's website, I click on the zoom of the product package photo. Sometimes that'll show you the mysterious metric information that's missing from the specs section. You can also check the paper manufacturer, they frequently list full specifications online now.

And truely, gsm listings are way more common now than they were 15 years ago; so it is getting better. Slowly.

 

Do you have an art term that befuddles you? Let me know and we'll try to iron that out in a future blog post.

Now go impress your friends and family with your new-found paper knowledge. You'll be the hit at the next family picnic, I guarantee it!

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