Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Paper? Well, it's Personal.

I have had many students ask me about what paper to use in what instance.  What works well for tangling, or colored pencils or water media or mixing it up?  There are so many papers out there, how do you choose?  So here is a boiled down version of what I have gleaned from my own years of experience and with the help of other CZT's who have graciously shared their knowledge.

What is this weight thing, anyway?

If you've looked at art papers closely you may see a reference to poundage, as in 90 lb paper.  Here is a good explanation from Print Outlet.US:

Paper is measured in pounds per 500 sheets (one Ream of paper) of a standard size of sheet based on the group or category of papers the grade. The different types of grades are Bond, Book, Text, Cover etc. Each group of the grade of paper is assigned a standard size that all weights are referred to. The basics of this standard are as follows:
Bond has a standard size of 17 x 22" and this is the size that is measured for 500 sheets. If 500 sheets of this size weigh 20lbs., then the paper is classified as a 20lb. bond. Heavier and lighter stocks will obviously be thicker or thinner than the 20lb. Therefore 16lb. Bond or 24lb. Bond will be the variations on this.
Now the confusion... the weight of 500 sheets of the standard sheet size (also known as the basis size) is commonly known as the paper's basis weight and is always noted as a weight in lbs.
Seeing that the above only offers a vague indication to the thickness or the weight of the actual size, further confusion awaits !
A sheet size different than the above is calculated as a fraction or multiple of the basis weight and is normally noted for 1,000 sheets rather than 500. The weight thus calculated of the acutal sheet size is always noted in weight per thousand (M in roman numerals) and therefore said to be 19 X 25" - 100M meaning that 1,000 sheets of 19 x 25" will weigh 100 lbs.
Generally, I find that the lower the number of lbs say 90 lb is a thinner paper than a 140 lb paper.  I say generally, because there is always an exception.
So, how does this effect my artwork?  If I am going to just use "dry" mediums, like ink from a pen, or colored pencil or pastels, I can choose a thinner paper.  Adding water to these surfaces usually causes it to buckle as they are not thick enough nor do they have the surface to stand up to water. Try spraying water or bond paper and see what happens.  But....there is always a but.....I have with success sprayed on dylusions ink lightly onto Strathmore 400 paper (80 lb) and it dried flat!  So it could take a bit of H2O but not much!  See result in the photo below:

When it comes to applying wet medium for larger formats than the Zentangle tiles, like watercolor, inktense, thin acrylics I choose a thicker paper, 140 lb or higher which when wet, buckles less. My favorite paper surface for water media and tangling is Arches Hot Press 140# paper because it has a smooth surface and can take some abuse.  Usually when I combine tangling with water media, I use the water media with less water and sparingly.  If I am planning to soak that baby, I will stretch the paper first (unless it's 300 lb, which requires no stretching)  so that it will dry flat.  Here's a link on how to stretch watercolor paper.  I prefer the staple method, no accidental tearing from tape with resulting salty tears.


Why Use the Official Zentangle Tiles?

It's like the age old question, why not use the good china?  The founders of Zentangle took great care in choosing the right paper to tangle on.  It is a Fabriano printing paper and is smooth with a tiny bit of tooth which holds the ink.  I has a cushioned surface which allows the pen to make a groove into the topside of the paper and then the ink flows into that groove.  Because of this, after a very few seconds the ink does not smear.  Also, it takes wet media well, so it's well worth the money.   I've tried other paper tiles and none compare to the quality of the official Zentangle tiles which come in tan, buff and black and now in different sizes too, from the bitty Bijou to the 10.5 inch square Opus.


What about card stock?

Let's talk about feeling the paper.  Yep, get your hands in there. The most considerate way to feel paper is with the back of your clean hand, the palms and finger tips leave oils on the paper, not so nice for the person who comes after you and picks up the paper to buy.  What you are looking for in a tangling paper is something that is smooth, no bumps, like cold or rough press paper, but not slick like card stock.  Preferably you want a paper which a little cushion on top like the Fabriano printing paper used for the official Zentangle tiles.  This is how good papers work with pen ink:  If they have a cushioned top layer the pen nib goes into the paper a bit and that creates a tiny trench into which the ink can flow.  Card stock will work, but it usually  as a hard top layer and so there is no penetration of the ink and unless you are careful not to touch the ink until it is well dry, you get the dreaded....SMEAR!

My Sketchbooks and Why I Love Them
If, heaven forbid, we ever had a house fire, I would be hard pressed deciding which to save first, the photos or my sketchbooks.  The sketchbooks and pads I own, and I have a few, are where I work things out, art things, spiritual things, and just plain old confusing things and, like shoes, I have to have lots of them!  Some are large like my big old faithful Aquabee 80lb ( so buckles some under water), where I work on silly new ideas and  who stays in the studio.

My other sketchbooks that stay home are the Strathmore 400 series drawing paper, which I have in various sizes, smooth, but not slick, and bit of cushion.  This is my get to work paper in a lot of instances.  Plus, the stare of the model for this cover graphic looks like serious business to me!

They also have a heavy weight drawing paper at 100 lbs. It has the same surface texture as the 400 series, just a bit heavier.
Then, there are smaller sketchbooks and pads which I can work on here or take out for walks.  When I took the training to become a CZT, we were given a Global Art Materials Hand Book.  The cover was hand drawn by Maria Thomas and I save it for very good, like that little black dress.  It's paper is smooth, a bit spongy and a bit hairy to it takes ink very well.  I also has a pocket in the back for more stuff.  It only goes out on sunny days as I don't think it likes rain much.

I splurged one day and bought a Stillman & Birn smooth 180 lb. sketchbook.  Sort of like the Ford pickup of papers as at that weight, you can pretty much put anything in it's payload and come out smiling.  I've glued stuff, painted stuff and spilled stuff and the paper stays down!  Well worth the price.

Strathmore Mixed Media Visual Journal, a good economical choice with smooth-ish 90 lb paper.  It takes ink and watermedia well, but there can be some bleed through so let your paper dry well before closing the book on it.

Currently I am test driving the Strathmore paper for Colored Pencils.  It has a slightly pebbly texture, so on my first pass it did a really great job at wearing down the felt tip on my Sakura micron....another note to self there.  So then I switched to a Sensei Sakura pen with a hard nib and problem solved!  It takes the Prisma colored pencils like a dream, worth the loss of my micron. 

When I was thinking about this article, I posted it on the CZT communication page and many said they like using the Canson 90# cold press water color papers for tangling and adding wet media sparingly, but if using more water a 140# paper is better.  I have not tangled on this paper myself, but will give it a try. I have preferred to use the smooth surface of Arches Hot Press paper when combining tangling with water media, but am not adverse to another trip for art supplies! 
Another economical option is the soft Stonehenge Print making paper, commonly used in book binding too.  I have not tested it, but the website says it can be used for watercolor as well.
I invite you to try my suggestions but also experiment with any papers that speak to you.  Plan an experiment, make notes about what papers work best for which mediums.  Make a night of it; invite friends, drink wine!  Tangle around the wine stains!  Have fun, because in the end, it's only paper!
My many thanks to the Certified Zentangle Teachers who contributed to this article....You all Rock!!
Here they are with more websites for you to check out:


  1. Loretta... What a wonderfully written paper resource you've created!! It is extremely thorough! I would love to link to your post! Thank you for including a link to my blog!

  2. Thanks Holly. Yes feel free to share this post anywhere you care to. Cheers! Loretta

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