Updated: Mar 4
Alcohol markers are my current fav when it comes to colouring my artwork. However at the beginning it was more frustration than fun. Markers, just like every other medium, take some time to learn how to use them, but my main issue during that time was choosing the wrong kind of paper. Here I'm going to write the few things I know about what to look for when choosing paper for alcohol markers.
Markers need to be blended in order to create that smooth transition between shades. At other times they shouldn't, because maybe the idea is to make it look like brushstrokes thats blend in the eye from further away. Then its the problem with ink bleeding out of your lines because of too much blending, which sometimes in inevitable.
In the meantime as I was learning how to do that I was using the wrong paper. Some papers just wont work with markers, same way sketch paper doesn’t really work with watercolours (unless that’s your goal! I mean in the end its art, so if thats what you wanna do go for it!).
So what about "alcohol marker paper"?
There’s paper on the market specifically made for alcohol markers, some even by the alcohol marker brands themselves. Those work, perfectly. So if you are just starting out with this medium, try those. The point is to learn how to use them, so since this paper is made for markers, it's obvious that this is your first choice. I won't elaborate on how to use alcohol markers here, I may do that in the future.
So lets say you already have some experience with markers. Now its time to explore different types of paper. Because why not? I quickly decided I don't like the alcohol marker specifically made paper. There are several reasons for that:
a) Most available paper of this kind, that I am aware of, are way to thin for my taste. I love thick paper of at least 250 g/m². Thats just a personal preference. However the thinner the paper the easier it makes creases (which can drive me crazy…yes I’m one of those). Another issue with thin paper is ink soaking through. However if I find a paper I like and this is the only issue, then I just cover the back when I draw or attach it on a drawing board.
b) I prefer off white, very light creme paper. Usually those papers are bright white.
c) Great blending is not guaranteed just because the paper was made for this purpose. Some I’ve tried blended perfectly but others not so much and the reason was the fact that those papers offer a wetness effect. Thats when you colour with a marker and the ink pools on the paper before going completely dry. It’s supposed to help colours blend perfectly, because you have the time to blend them on each other while still wet. Could be a technique that I’m totally failing at. What I know is this kind of blending is never totally smooth, it creates a layered water colour effect.
d) And last but most importantly, (well for me at least) alcohol marker specific paper doesn't work great with other mediums. Pencils, crayons, charcoal don't really work on it. Embossing and glues may make it wrinkle. Indian ink turns out way to shinny in comparison to the alcohol marker painted parts in the same artwork. So if you are planning to use other mediums aswell, I wouldn’t recommend this paper.
What do I need to look for?
So let’s see what you should be looking for when buying paper in order to use it with alcohol markers.
a) Ink soaking through the paper is something that can happen even to thicker paper. However if you go over 180 g/m² its less likely to happen. That doesn’t mean you wont see the colours on the back of the paper. That being said, the problem this can cause, is in the front, not the back. Usually paper that soaks through, also bleeds out to the sides. Which means the colour will bleed out of your outlines. What I do is I choose paper that comes in single units and not in pads so that I can just try it out without buying the whole thing. Some shops may have samples you can use. The one I get my art supplies from, lets me try out their little sample albums and also explains to me the types of paper and their uses. If you can find someone like that who will spare his time, stick with them and give them a shoutout, they deserve your money and support.
b) You are looking for a smooth surface, not very textured because blending becomes impossible.
c) The colours should come out as bright as possible. Unless you are deliberately going for a more desaturated result.
d) Only choose acid-free paper. Most art papers are acid free now, but you want to make sure, because the acid reacts with the alcohol and fades over time. Well…unless you’re making more of an installation where the artwork is supposed to fade over the years. You can take pictures of the changes and make a new artwork that represents the fading of memory…or pain or whatever...totally up to you! Not judging here! Anyway…no acid….which obviously means no photocopy paper, but who does that...right?
My favourite type of paper
My hands down choice (until I change my mind) is the Bristol paper. It’s a sturdy multi-ply paper that’s great for lot’s of mediums. Most paper brands have one or two Bristol papers in their range. Usually they come in two types, vellum and smooth. Vellum is a great paper for pencil, charcoal and graphite but if you want to blend markers you need to go for the smooth type. Even if the brand you find doesn’t make a distinction between the two, you will immediately be able to tell. The smooth one is soft and smooth to the touch, the vellum type looks more rough and is almost porous.
So heres why I love Bristol paper so much:
a) No weird wetness effect. However thats not standard. If your smooth Bristol isn’t too smooth, its too porous so the colours wont blend nicely. If it’s too smooth, almost shinny you may even see the wetness effect happening. So I go for a paper that is very smooth to the touch, but not shinny and the colours blend beautifully.
b) Bristol, being a multi layered paper is never too thin. The brand I use starts at 310 g/m² and most start at 250g/m². This offers durability, great blending, not much soaking if not at all and most importantly no bleeding outside of your outlines.
c) Colours not only blend perfectly on a durable, acid free paper that will last, but are also vibrant even on the light creme type I’m a huge fan of.
d) I want to be able to add a new idea on the artwork, using different media. This type of paper is great with pencil and most importantly for me, when I choose a heavier type, its great with tempera, gouache and acrylics. I also apply embossed glitter that at first makes the paper bend because of the heat applied by the heating gun, but later it becomes straight again. Lately I put little pearls and crystals with two different types of glue. No wrinkling or soaking and the glue really became one with the paper.
Brands I have tried and worked fine with Alcohol markers (by order of preference):
1) Hahnemühle Bristol Board sheets-They start at 310 g/m² and are in the off white shade I prefer. This is my favourite paper so far and I only use this one now. Its quality and durability, along the perfect blending it offers and that just right smoothness, makes it my first choice.
2) Hahnemühle, Lana Bristol sheets and pad-Same high quality paper as the first one, at 250 g/m² in bright white colour.
3)Fabriano Bristol+ smooth pad- This was a satisfying alternative for a time I was overseas and couldn't find my favourite paper. Also at 250 g/m², a bit too thin and light coloured for my taste but overall a good quality paper.
4)Koh-i-noor Bristol smooth pad- This is a rather cheap pad that comes in various sizes and weighs 270 g/m². Overall as a paper it's nothing special, but colours blend perfectly and the extra 20 grams give it a good feel. If you can't find any of the above surely go for it.
There are countless brands out there. Some are more basic, others more premium of quality. If you know a few paper brands you probably noticed I didn't list any of the most popular ones. This is because I either haven't tried them yet or because I didn't like them. But that's just me. Buy them in single units or smaller pads and experiment. The great thing with Bristol paper is that it ticks off all the boxes in best type of paper for alcohol marker list, while at the same time being an overall great paper for more media, dry and wet alike. It gives me the freedom to do much more than just markers without even thinking of how the paper will react. And in the end it's a beautiful paper. It makes every artwork no matter the medium look good.
So that’s what I like personally, but don't take anything for granted. Whether an artist sais they like a paper, or a company makes specific paper, you should try to get your hands on as many different papers and mediums as you can, according to your budget.