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Toned Papers - What's the Difference?

Posted By Central Art


Is plain white sketch paper sapping your creativity with its cold, pale glare? It might be time to tone things up a bit! Did you know that working with toned paper for just about any subject is incredibly useful in pushing your dark and light values? A medium-hued paper gives you a mid tone value that makes shadows and highlights pop!

For this review, I focused on three brands of toned brown/tan paper: Strathmore Toned Tan, Bee Paper's Bogus Recycled Rough, and Handbook Paper's Kona Classic Medium Surface.

My first foray into toned paper was with Bee's Bogus paper. What I loved about this surface, was its toothy texture and surprising receptiveness to fine line ink pens and markers in addition to pastel, charcoal and colored pencil. Possible disadvantages might be that the paper is somewhat "rippled" (making the surface a bit uneven to draw on inside the sketchbook), and there's an overabundance of dark and light flecks (which is frankly the nature of some recycled paper).

Strathmore's Toned Tan has a lovely velvety, much smoother feel, and a lighter tan value which makes for excellent mid tones. Texture-wise it features more of a subtle finish with tiny "fibers" that give it a unique look. It accepts graphite and colored pencil beautifully, but may lack some tooth to get really crazy layering with pastel (the label does say it will accept soft pastel and oil pastel, however).

My top pick for toned paper is Handbook Paper Co.'s Kona Classic Medium Surface. The name comes from the paper's source: a blend of fibers from repurposed coffee bean bags and post consumer fibers. Similar in tone and thickness to Bee's Bogus paper yet having a cleaner "flecked" surface and flat, non-rippled sheets, Kona accepts all dry media (and ink!) extremely well, and gives you that rough look and feel while allowing you to layer up your media.

I would recommend trying all of these out (especially if you're a hopeless sketchbook addict like me!) and seeing what happens! For those more discerning sketchers, I hope I've steered you in a positive direction!