It took me a whole year after getting my first set of brush pens to realize that I was ruining them on the wrong paper. Let me help you avoid that mistake!
Learn what paper is best to use with your brush pens in this complete guide.
This post contains affiliate links. Learn more.
Do you need special paper for brush pens?
It’s best to use very smooth paper with your brush pens to keep the tips from fraying. Some paper feels smooth to the touch but is still rough on brush markers. The best paper for brush pens is paper that has a very smooth finish due to additional processing.
Although brush pens will wear out eventually, using smooth paper makes them last as long as possible.
Any rough paper that has a lot of texture or tooth will rip at the fibers of a brush pen tip, and even mildly textured paper will wear on them over time. This results in frayed tips that are frustrating to use.
When a brush pen tip is frayed, you’ll know it. Fraying becomes clearly visible on marker tips, and you’ll also notice it when using the pen. They cause fuzzy lines and stray marks when you write, and you won’t be able to get clean lines.
Some brush pens have reversible tips, but otherwise, there’s not much you can to do to repair frayed marker tips. This is why it’s important to use smooth paper!
There are some brush pens that have tips like a paintbrush, with individual bristles. These kinds of brush pens won’t fray like others, so you don’t have to use smooth paper with them.
For more tips, here’s a full article I wrote about how to keep brush pens from fraying.
Can you use brush pens on regular paper?
You can use brush pens on regular paper if you have to, but it will quickly start to fray the tips of your pens. If you want your brush pens to last as long as possible, avoid using them on regular printer or cardstock paper and instead buy smooth paper that is easier on the tips.
This doesn’t mean that if you use a marker once on rough paper it’s ruined forever, but repeated use will noticeably damage the brush tip. Try not to use brush pens on regular cardstock, notebook, or printer paper.
When I first learned brush calligraphy, I did all my practice on cheap printer paper and notebook paper (it felt pretty smooth to me!).
As a result, my pens frayed very quickly and my lettering didn’t look as neat. I didn’t even realize that the paper was wearing out my brush pens faster until much later.
When you’re just starting to learn calligraphy, you may want to use whatever paper is cheap and on hand. That’s understandable, especially if you’re not sure you’ll even like doing calligraphy.
Keep in mind, though, that you might have to buy more brush pens than necessary because they get worn out.
If you just want to use brush markers for coloring and don’t care about paper, that’s great. But if you want to keep the brush tips nice and pointed, pay attention to the paper you’re using!
The best smooth papers for brush pens
After using different papers over the years and learning a lot, I’ve discovered which kinds of paper work well with brush pens.
Each type of paper works best for a specific purpose, like practice or final pieces, so choose the paper that fits your needs!
In addition to paper smoothness, you’ll want to check that paper is acid-free so your artwork will last a long time. All of the paper I recommend here is acid free.
Here is a list of the best paper for brush markers. (Links will take you to the product on Amazon.)
- Tracing paper – Great for brush calligraphy practice because it’s smooth and transparent, which is perfect for layering over guide sheets. The only downside is that it wrinkles badly if you use it with very wet pens. One of my favorites is Canson tracing paper, but any kind works well as long as it feels smooth.
- Canson XL Marker Paper – A great choice for practice. It’s smooth, thin, and translucent. There will be ghosting on the back of the sheets because of this, so I usually only use one side.
- Rhodia paper – Another smooth, thin paper very similar to Canson marker paper. Rhodia paper can be blank, lined, or have dots/grids, and comes in various types of pads and notebooks. It’s great for practice, but again, there will be ghosting. I’ve also noticed slight bleeding when using juicy pens.
- HP Premium 32 lb Printer Paper – An alternative to regular printer paper, especially when you want to print out practice sheets and use your pens directly on them. I haven’t used this paper myself, but many lettering artists recommend it. Very affordable, but it may not be the easiest on your markers over time.
When it comes to thick paper for brush markers, the options are more limited. You’ll want a sturdy paper that is still as smooth as possible, and if you want to do blending with water-based markers, the paper has to hold up to multiple wet layers.
Here are the best thick papers to use with brush pens that I know of.
- Canson Bristol paper – Sturdy paper that’s great for brush pen blending. It’s my current favorite thick paper to use with brush markers. It does have a mildly rough texture compared to very smooth papers, and has an off-white color unlike the others here.
- Strathmore Bristol paper – Another brand of smooth Bristol paper. Be sure to get one that says “smooth surface” and not “vellum surface” on the cover.
- Strathmore Mixed Media paper – Strathmore’s mixed media paper has a vellum finish that is smoother than others. It’s still not the smoothest paper ever, but it’s a good option for brush pen blending when you need thick paper.
Paper for watercolor brush pens
If you’re using watercolor brush pens for painting and blending, it’s best to use watercolor paper, since it has high absorbency and holds up well to multiple layers.
Watercolor paper is not smooth, so pen tips will fray sooner, but the point of watercolor markers is creating watercolor effects, so I recommend using the best paper for that.
- Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper – This watercolor paper is one of the best for blending with watercolor markers. Visible marker lines can be a problem when painting with watercolor pens and this paper makes it easier to blend them out.
- Canson XL watercolor paper – Student-grade watercolor paper that’s fairly smooth for cold press. Blends and colors won’t be as smooth and vibrant as they are on 100% cotton paper, but it’s still a good option.
- Canson Mixed Media sketchbook – Mixed media has a rough texture similar to watercolor paper and works well for wet pens or blending. If you’re using lots of water with your markers, though, just use watercolor paper.
If you just want to use watercolor brush pens for calligraphy, any of the thick cardstock papers above will work, too.
Related: How To Use Watercolor Brush Pens
Do brush pens bleed through paper?
Most brush pens will not bleed through paper, but it depends on what paper and pen you are using. If you’re using a very wet pen on thin paper, it may bleed through. Repeated layers of intense ink will also be more likely to bleed. It’s important to use the right paper for the brush pen you are using.
Alcohol markers have a tendency to bleed through paper, so if you’re using alcohol brush pens like Copic Sketch markers, they will likely bleed. Use a thick paper that is at least an 80lb weight to help with this.
Some brush pens contain (or can be filled with) more classic black inks such as Sumi or India ink. Because of the intensity of the ink, these kinds of brush pens can also be prone to bleeding through thin paper.
Use whatever paper makes the most sense for the ink type and wetness of a pen. It’s best to use thick paper for alcohol markers and very wet markers (like watercolor markers); 80lb paper or heavier is probably best. Thin paper is fine to use with most brush markers that are water-based.
Most brush pens are water-based and shouldn’t cause problems with bleeding, although ghosting will happen on thin paper. Water-based markers are great for blending, so make sure to use thicker paper if you’re doing a lot of blending or layers.
If you’re having problems with brush markers bleeding through paper, take time to choose the right paper for the pen you’re using. When in doubt, test your brush pens on different papers before starting a project.
Do brush pens work on black paper?
Although most brush pens can only be used on light-colored papers, some brush pens will work on black paper, mostly white or metallic ones. The results will vary though, since some markers that are supposed to work on dark paper don’t show up well.
Karin Decobrush Metallic markers are an example of brush pens that work on black paper. They’re nice and opaque when you apply pressure, but lighter strokes will be less opaque and you’ll have to add another layer to make them show up better. The ink also doesn’t have much sheen, but they are fun pens to use.
If you want to use brush pens on black paper, you may have to use regular cardstock or drawing paper, like Canson XL black drawing paper, since black marker paper isn’t readily available.
It’s easier to find bullet-tip markers than it is to find brush pens that write well on dark paper, so you may have to resort to faux calligraphy if that’s the look you’re going for.
What to do when you can’t use smooth paper
Some projects require using brush pens on non-smooth paper. In cases like this, it’s perfectly okay to use up your pens to get the job done. After all, brush pens are consumable items and they can’t last forever.
I use brush pens in my bullet journal all the time. Even though it’s not the smoothest paper, it’s also not the roughest. It’s far better to have fun with brush pens than let them sit on a shelf because you don’t want to ruin them!
Do your best to prolong the life of your pens by using smooth paper, but don’t let that keep you from using them for special projects when you need or want to.
Here are some tips for when you have to rough up your brush pens for a project:
- Have multiple pens on hand. Make sure you have plenty of back-up pens so that you can switch between them if one isn’t working well.
- Mark pens with tape. When you’ve used a brush pen on a rough surface, mark it with a bit of washi tape around the barrel. That way you can easily keep your pens separated according to use.
- Try “faux” calligraphy. As an alternative to using a brush pen, you can do calligraphy with a regular pen and draw in the downstrokes. If you’re new to this style of lettering, check out this faux calligraphy tutorial on The Postman’s Knock blog.
Don’t use just any paper with your brush pens. You’ll end up saving money in the long run if you take care of your pens so they last longer. I hope these recommendations help you choose the right paper for your project!