Richmond: Strathmore bristol board losing quality

I’ve heard this complaint from other sources too.

Lately I’ve gotten a number of bad batches of Strathmore bristol. The problem with them was they bled. Inking on them with a dip pen resulted in your line getting fuzzy and hairy-looking. Totally unusable. At first MAD sent me some boards that did that, and I couldn’t use them. I wrote it off as an anomaly… maybe somebody at the Strathmore plant spilled their Pepsi into the bleaching vat during that batch or something. Then I ordered a pack of 25 sheets of 4 ply 500 boards from an online art supply house, and all 25 boards did the same thing. Bled all over the place. I managed to use these boards anyway by spraying them with a photo-retouch fixative that is used to spray photographs so that someone can add painted tints and colors to them directly on the photo’s surface. This was an expensive solution, not to mention that aerosol can of fixative was so toxic I had to spray it outside while holding my breath and then run away. I am sure there is a hole in the ozone layer directly above my house.

Just the other day I got a pack of 25 sheets of 500 series from Dick Blick. Fortunately before I spent a lot of time penciling on one of the new boards, I tested it with the ink. It bled like a stuck pig. That’s three batches from three different sources in about 18 months that was bad. That’s not an anomaly, that’s a trend.

102 thoughts on “Richmond: Strathmore bristol board losing quality

  1. I can second this. Dealing with Strathmore bristol can be maddening if you use a dip pen.

    In addition, sometimes the bristol pads from Strathmore aren’t even square. The dimensions are off by as much as a quarter-inch.

  2. “This was an expensive solution, not to mention that aerosol can of fixative was so toxic I had to spray it outside while holding my breath and then run away. I am sure there is a hole in the ozone layer directly above my house.”

    Awesome. That’s a great visual.

  3. I’ve also had problem with the way they glue the sheets together in the pads. It’s like they get to nuts with the glue and the first page or two tear.

  4. Thank God! I am not the only one! I have been having the same trouble with boards sent to me from Marvel Comics as well as the pads I use for Rex Morgan. I have been using differently aged inks to help me get through and a lot of Pitt pens instead of the the dip pens. What a pain in the ass it has been as it slows down your speed considerably trying to deal with and clean up the bleed!

  5. Agreed, and an excellent assessment. We have the same problem out here at Paws from time to time. This same problem also translates to their sketchpads at times, and did REALLY bad about 5 years ago. I contacted them about it and they said since they outsource a lot of their paper, which comes from differing mills, the paper can be inconsistent at times. I’ll assume it’s the same with the bristol, which is disappointing. Canson doesn’t outsource and seems to have pretty consistent quality from what I see, however, I haven’t used Canson’s bristol in a long time. Robert Crumb has also lamented the diminishing quality of sketchbook paper in varied brands as well. Great write up, Tom!

  6. Graham – YES! The PITT artist pens are pigment mostly and the ink seems to “sit” on the paper, which can help with the Strathmore bristol bleeding issue… but we shouldn’t have to do that! Nuthin’ beats a brush/dip pen on a solid bristol, and again, as Witmer said, Canson has really stepped up their game on the quality of their smooth Bristol and consistency which is most important.

  7. That’s “great” to hear right now. I’m not sure who’s paper I’m using, but it’s 4-ply bristol from Dick Blick. I have a batch on the way.
    I’m used to a little bleeding as I use Sharpies a LOT. I guess I’ll find out soon enough. If it bleeds, I’ll just have to learn to deal with it until the next order, which will be about 8 months from now.

  8. I switched to the Canson blue lined comic strip boards a while ago. I use Speedball pens for lettering and borders and Winsor & Newton brushes for everything else. So far the quality has been as good as the Strathmore 400 I used to use, well as I remember it.

  9. i thought i was the only one as well. i bought bristol pads in bulk from dick blick. i bought a dozen. first pad, dip the pen, draw the fuzzy line. get another pad out…same thing. out of the 12 pads, 10 of them bled. i got so fed up that i emailed strathmore to let them know i would no longer be using their paper. they asked me to send them a sample of the offending paper…so i did… not thinking that it would amount to anything.
    about a week later i got an email from them that, after testing the sample i sent, that the paper was in fact defective.
    a week after that i got a box of bristol fresh off their press. so far every sheet they sent me was fine…i’m just worried what will happen once that supply runs out.

  10. Another “Me Too!” agreeing with Tom. I also thought it was just me. I find Canson a little better but still not as good as Strathmore used to be. Very frustrating. I tend to draw larger originals to compensate.

  11. Dang them “hairy” Strathmore bristol boards! In the past I have used brush pens and microns on them… and the quality has certainly dipped! Sadly, I had bought a whole mess of ’em (I hate to run out) … I still have them as I have now gone to the dark side with a Wacom. But… no more hairy boards to worry about.

  12. I’ve had trouble over the years with ALL my traditional art supplies losing quality. I draw with a Gillott 303… but dip pen nibs have become much less reliable and I end up going through them more quickly, and some are tossed after the first strokes. I gave up on using dip pens for lettering because I couldn’t count on the Speedball nibs being consistent in size. I use Microns and Staedler pens for lettering now, and resign myself to throwing them away before all the ink is used because the nibs have worn down or become fuzzy.

    Sure, going digital is one solution. But don’t you love having the artwork? I certainly love the artwork of other cartoonists I’ve traded with… it’s all over my walls. Seems a shame to lose this part of the art form because materials are unreliable. No matter how sophisticated the technology, can’t you just TELL when something is done entirely digital, start to finish?

    Schulz bought out a company’s supply of pen nibs at some point in his career because he heard they were going away. He didn’t want to lose his favorite nib. Guess it’s not a new problem…

  13. @Witmer- I always dread tearing out the first few pages too because they rip or bend. Maybe we should use a heat gun (or blow dryer) to loosen up the glue and tear them all out at once and just get it over with.

    I’m going to check out Canson’s board next.

  14. Ditto.

    I used Strathmore pads for years without any issues, then suddenly every other pad I bought seemed to bleed. Sometimes I even found that random patches on the same sheet would bleed while other parts wouldn’t. The last pad of Strathmore I bought was so bad I gave it to my kids to color on.

    I switched to Canson about a year ago.

  15. I’ve had the same problem. I’ve started letting my ink bottle sit with the cap off for a day or so to thicken up so it doesn’t bleed as bad.

  16. I’m able to tell (even from low res online images) what I’ve drawn on crappy paper and what was made with good paper. The quality of the equipment really makes a difference.

  17. I’m a smooth Strathmore 300 series addict, with a stockpile of 11″ x 14″ pads.

    A few months back, my preferred Winsor & Newton ink was out of stock at all of the local art stores, so I bought one Higgins and one Speedball. Both brands bled like crazy on the Strathmore.

    The W&N ink doesn’t.

  18. The quality of everything seems to have gone down hill these
    days. I use tech pens. My parents bought me a set when I
    was in high school that lasted over 25 years. The ones I buy
    now don’t even last one year. Even the no. 2 pencils are garbage. I’ve gone thru one pencil in a single drawing because
    the lead falls out soon after I sharpen it. Erasers crumble and fall
    apart. The ink erases off ….
    I now use Strathmore and canson bristol board. The old grafix
    illustration board was better than both.

  19. Glad to know I’m not alone… I’ve been complaining about this for a year on my comic site. At first it was the Bainbridge boards that went bad. I called the company and they said the mill was closed and they are now importing the boards. Then Strathmore (which I never really liked) started getting worse. I use large uncut 400 sheets at this point. I have used the Fan Boy canson bluelined pads but they are expensive and the measurements are off by a 16th. I don’t use bristol pads, that’s just off the shelf stuff that’s always going to be bad.

    I add black carbon to my ink to make it thicker and I use Brause and Co. nibs that are consistently very good. However my supplier always manhandles them and inevitably some don’t work well.

    I find that a good nib actually will get ‘tuned’ with time and usage and start performing better after a while. I can do a little under 10 strips with a decent nib. Keep a cotton cloth handy and gently clean them after every use.

  20. I ink with Microns and they do okay with Strathmore Vellum. But I accidentally grabbed Smooth one day and I got a really horrible bleed.

    And while I’m on the subject of Micron pens. Does anyone ink over non photo blue pencils using Microns? Because it seems like ever since I started doing that a few months back, the pens don’t last as long. Sometimes if the ink hits the pencil lines, it just stops inking.

    Just curious if anyone else had this issue.

  21. I switched years ago to Caslon and even they have spotty production. But at least it’s better than the Strathmore..and the prices are better.. I was CRINGING at the high end prices for their “cartoonist’ marketed paper stock.

    Isaiah, I ink microns over blue line, no issue, microns hitting india ink on the boards however, can kill the pen. Microns suck on strathmore too.. another reason I switched. I also found if you go over regular pencil with microns and then erase u erase alot of black I kinda switched to india ink for everything including lettering…

    inks: FW works great on Canson paper.. Higgins is good for ..umm nothing
    i test so many inks and’s so annoying.
    a few weeks back I found an OLD OLD stash of bristol from my art school days… it was KILLER! too bad it had also aged badly, but swell to use.

    Canson recycled Bristol two sided, one smooth, one swell!

  22. I’ve run into the same problem. I tried using Pounce powder on the surface. Its very fine sandlike material and polishes the surface. The applicator is on the can. When you are done dust off the paper and then ink. It takes off all the little fibers that pull the ink.

  23. Depending upon the paper, Microns may take a while to dry. Erasing early after inking might deaden the black, or even smear the micron ink.

  24. Alan, not to beat a dead horse, but the “conversation” above is the sort of thing I’ll miss dearly when you no longer allow comments.

  25. Weird.. I still have my 500 Stratmore bristol and it doesn’t bleed.. I might be sitting on priceless paper… Certain Inks bleed too however. Speedball and Winsor Newton will bleed. FW ink I’ve found to be way better. Copic markers I think are better then microns (they make micron sized markers too)

    I used to kill myself doing fine details with a nib… not worth it. I too found those special Gilliot nibs (they were cool cause they were blue!)
    .. I used to go out on quests to find the most obscure nib .. but the best one was…. a brush.

  26. You have to love geeky discussions about art supplies!

    I ink with a combination of a Gillott 303, a Hunt 102 (for the really fine stuff) and a #2 brush (for the really big stuff) and Pelikan’s “Drawing Ink A”. I pour the ink into an old inkwell and let it thicken up a bit. I used to use Dr. Martin’s “Black Star” for brushwork but find after thickening the Pelikan’s works great with the brush.

    Not only have the Strathmore 500 boards I’ve been getting lately been bleeding, but the 400 boards break unto fiborous clumps under my pen if I get to aggressive with the inks. Ecccch.,

  27. Wow, I haven’t worked on Strathmore since going Wacom years ago. Still have a pack in my flat files. Wow, haven’t used my flat files since going Wacom either. I guess it’s time to sell the light table too. And unused frisket. Ah, a trip down memory lane.

  28. Tom, what do you mean by thickening? Let it evaporate?

    And Alan, perhaps a solution/compromise would be to just open a few discussions a week, like this.

  29. Jesse, some bottled inks (most), if u let em sit open, the pigment withing will start to condense, and thicken, reducimg the feathery bleeding due to the slightly watery consistency of some inks… Windsor & Newton was always my favorite as it has a bit of a laquer (spelling?) Added I to it and it will literally go on like that chocolate that hardenes over ice cream and become plastic almost, lol. However, it clogs the heck out of a fine nib where as Higgins Black Magic, another fave, doesn’t…
    Alan, I’m with Mr. John Read (love your mag, John!) In that THESE conversations full of comments are just fantastic, and will be sorely missed. This is constructive community that is just, aw heck, we love it!

  30. Jesse, some bottled inks (most), if u let em sit open, the pigment within will start to condense, and thicken, reducing the feathery bleeding due to its otherwise slightly watery consistency… Windsor & Newton was always my favorite as it has a bit of a laquer quality (spelling?) added to it and it will literally go on like that chocolate that hardens over ice cream and become plastic almost, lol. However, it clogs the heck out of a fine nib where as Higgins Black Magic, another fave, doesn’t…
    Alan, I’m with Mr. John Read (love your mag, John! When ya’ comin’ back to Paws? ;-)) In that THESE conversations full of comments are just fantastic, and will be sorely missed. This is constructive community that is just, aw heck, we love it!

  31. Btw, gang, on a pencil note, not to go off from paper, but… in my art supply archives I found a few old Blackwing pencils. Anyone remember Blackwings? It’s like drawing with butter! Closest pencil I’ve found to it is the excellent, Japanese-made Tombow 4B, of which I have a fresh box!

  32. Could… Could it be the INKS play the primary role? I’m gonna go buy some Canson to hedge a bet, but I used Strathmore board and Pitt pens to good effect last time… Hmmmm….

  33. @Jesse, watch the cat! I always let my ink sit with the cap off to thicken and I have a huge inkstain running down an old, beloved board. Of course, it wound up being a nice reminder of an equally beloved cat who died of old age back in 1998.

  34. Best comments thread, ever.

    (currently inking on Canson, though batches vary and I am getting some feathering with this and a slightly evaporated bottle of Windsor and Newton. I think this Illustration 250gsm paper comes from France.)

  35. When I started drawing cartoons years ago, I experimented with different inks and papers until I found exactly what worked best for me. For ink, Speedball won hands down. I can ink right over my pencil lines, and when I erase, the ink doesn’t fade like it does with other inks. When it came to paper, I tried Strathmore plate finish, and was unhappy with the fuzziness of my lines. I draw with a fine sable brush, and I like my lines very crisp. This was years ago, so I can only imagine how different the Strathmore stuff is now. My paper of choice is Beinfang heavyweight smooth surface carton bristol. For my daily strips, I buy 11″ x 17″ pads of the stuff, 20 sheets to a pad. I cut the sheets in half, creating 2 daily strips to a page. If you’re looking for an ultra smooth, ultra white sheet, this is the stuff.

  36. Ditto John Hambrock^^

    Try Winsor & Newton Series 7 finest sable brushes. A size 7 will get you a beautiful hairline to a rich thick one in a single stroke. And the ink dries faster. There really is no substitute for good brushwork.

    Strathmore Bristol has been going downhill for twenty years. A good brush works on the cheapest bond paper out there.

    Of course the deterioration of india ink is another story altogehter.

  37. @#26 Before I went completely digital I used Microns over non-photo blue pencil for over 10 years and never noticed a problem. However, there was a few times I would open a new pen and have to return it because it wouldn’t work right out of the package.

  38. @Pat: That’s true (lol) I can brush on copier paper and it looks as good as board! Series 7 forever!

    @Mark Ashworth: I’ve used Blueline products, comic book pages mostly, they had some Strathmore 400 smooth sheets I really like. But I bought them in bulk a while ago so I don’t know if this latest rash of quality has affected them.

    Isaiah: The reason some ink won’t go over blue pencils is because most colored pencils have wax in their base. I found Prismacolor – Col-Erase pencils don’t do this since they are erasible and don’t have wax in them. I use light blue because they are easier to find, but they make non-photo blue as well.

    @Dave Reddick: What are you adding to your ink, laquer, charcaol, what kind? I mostly use Speedball (easy to find) but would like to experiment.

  39. Hi, I found this story via Molly Crabapple’s twitter, and I have to say I agree: I heard so many good things about Strathmore bristol that I ordered a couple of pads from their UK online store, but I was not impressed! a lot of bleeding/fuzzy lines on a lot of pages. I switched back to the (much) more expensive but truly spectacular Schoellershammer Duria drawing paper. it’s 200g/m2, which is kind of thin, although you can also get it as sheets in which case it’s much thicker (it’s called Schoellerhammer 4G then). I don’t know whether it’s available in the USA, but it’s easily my favourite drawing paper ever.

    If you want a heavier paper and don’t mind a bit of a tooth to the paper, I’d recommend Canson’s Montval Grain Fin watercolour paper. Yes, your pen will be able to catch on the paper (something that is almost impossible with the Schoellershammer stuff, even if you move the nib up), but the quality is incredibly high and it can take an enormous amount of ink wash or watercolour with buckling. It was recommended to me by Kerascoet, the team that do the Miss Don’t Touch Me books.

  40. Brush is fine, if that’s the style you want. Pen has its own character. To suggest someone change to brush is asking them to change the character of their work. I can’t imagine Richard Thompson’s drawings done in brush.

    For PITT pen users (I am sometimes; for a while I used them for dailies), if you use up the ink before the nib wears out, I picked up this hint from another artist–I forget whom:

    Take the end cap off the pen. Put a few drops of FW Acrylic Artists Ink in the barrel, and put the end cap back on. You might have to shake the pen just a bit, point down to get the new ink flowing if it’s been sitting too long. I’ve extended many a PITT pen with this pointer.

    If someone could only come up with a pen with a tip that created a line resembling a pencil line, I’d be in hog heaven. No more sharpening! No more buying pencils or leads by the box! And don’t even get me started on the quality control of colored pencils.

    If there was a really good pencil line available in a computer program, I’d probably switch to using a Wacom tablet for drawing, but I haven’t seen a really convincing one yet–even in Corel Painter, which probably has the most advanced mimicking of natural drawing materials.

  41. On the topic of PITT Pens. If you like to use the brush nib and it loses it’s point. Grab the brush nib with your fingers or a set of pliers if you’re a girly man, and pull it out and reverse it. The other end is a brand new tip!

  42. Oh, yeah. I forgot about that. I’ve done that, too, with the brush point PITT pens. I use a pair of tweezers with flat ends–it gives you a good grip with the least contact with the fiber material so you don’t compress it too much. There is another brush point on the other end. I’ve never tried it with the other nibs.

  43. Rick, Sharpie has a new thing out called “liquid pencil,” which I haven’t tried. Supposedly a liquid graphite dispensed via a felt-pen-like tip that’s erasable for a while and then gradually (like over a few days) dries semi-permanent. Like I say, I haven’t tried it but it looks interesting and might be worth the small investment next time you’re in an art supply store.

  44. Cool! I’ll try it.

    This just reminded me of a pencil I have that I haven’t used for years–I totally forgot about it. It’s actually called Stumpy. It’s a squatty lead holder that holds 9mm graphite leads like I use with my Caran d’Ache holder for dailies. Thanks for reminding me…and I’ll definitely try the “stumpy” Photoshop brush!

  45. I sold art supplies for about fifteen years, and I definitely saw exactly what everybody is referring to, a decline in quality in many art supplies, especially anything to do with graphic design and illustration. I only ever dabbled in comic production techniques, but still had my favourite papers, which could change dramatically, usually after one company was bought out by another, larger company, and either produced something themselves, or had it produced for them at a lower price, and closed the original plant.
    When I started having problems with Strathmore, I switched to Canson or Beinfang, and liked their bristols. When I left the industry a few years ago, most stores here in Canada couldn’t justify bringing in certain manufacturers any more (a lot of the European ones), due to price and restocking delays, and the fact that sales were never very good on these products anyway.
    Most of this applies to most categories of art supplies nowadays. it’s a tiny, tiny market, margins can be very slim, and shipping costs keep going up along with the price of oil. very few supplies are currently made in Canada, though there does seem to be a resurgence in manufacturing things locally, often by artists who get pissed off at not being able to find what they want.

    BTW, I have been curious about trying a tablet, but since it’s just for fun, can’t justify the cost 🙂

  46. I dunno.. maybe I live in Bizarro world, but I use Strathmore 2-ply smooth 400 Bristol every day and I haven’t had a problem. I ink with a brush, but I use a crowquill pen, and I haven’t noticed any bleeding. Speaking of discontinued art supplies, many years ago I found a large stock of antique Speedball lettering nibs in an antique shop and bought the whole lot. They’re really cool–they’re hinged so they open out and you can wipe them off, which makes them last longer, though not forever. Someday they’ll run out and I’ll have to figure out something else.
    By the way, I’ve been using Borden and Riley #234 Bleedproof pencil paper a lot as well. It works almost as well as Bristol and it’s way cheaper. And I pencil with Col-Erase Copynot nonphoto blue, because erasing is for suckers.
    I use a Wacom to finish stuff digitally, but you can sell original art. Or burn it to keep warm if nothing else is selling.

  47. Heavy reliance on shortcuts- from felt tip pens to drawing tablets are what’s killing the art of cartooning.

    Could there be a Ronald Searle or Pat Oliphant without pencils, pens brushes and paper? There are no substitutes for the real thing.

    To use a music analogy- you can teach anyone to sound like a convincing musician using electronic equipment, effects add-ons and computer programs.

    But if he can’t read the notes, write a score and play the accoustic version of his instrument he’s just a music simulator who’s barely distinguishable from the guy playing next door.

    It’s all about the lines, folks. Thin, thick, straight, undulating. dense, translucent and layered.

    Same with color. Grab a good brush and some water colors and see what you can do. Save the computer for post – production work.

  48. As to “bleeding” paper- make sure you order “hot press” strahmore paper. It’s a shiny surface with less tooth that absorbs slower- better for wet mediums.

    “Cold press” is toothier (spongier) and better suited for dry mediums.

  49. The thread that wouldn’t die. Nice.

    Rick, thanks for the word on liquid pencil, I won’t bother.

    Pat Crowley, you’re an artist after my own heart. My cartooning semi-career is nothing if not a quest to lay down the perfect line. Brushes for me, now and forever, as God intended. But watercolors? That’s crazy-talk.

    But I’m here today to talk about blue pencil. Erasing is indeed for suckers, but it took me a long time to find a non-photo blue pencil that wasn’t too hard, soft or waxy (some didn’t even take ink) and didn’t require constant sharpening. I’ve been very happy with a mechanical pencil from Pilot with 0.7 non-photo-blue leads. It’s called the “Color ENO” and probably available a lot of places but I order them from Of course if you’ve already got a 0.7 mechanical pencil, you could just order the leads. I am not a paid spokesman or on the take.

  50. @54 Graham What a great tip! No pun intended.
    I never knew that about the Pitt brush nib. I just reversed one and doubled the life of the pen. And no flame wars involved!

  51. I too have had issues with Strathmore and am now a Canson man. I use Rapidograph’s and speedball dip pens with speedball ink. The last time I used a pad of strathmore the lines looked fuzzy on me. And I concur with Mike Witmer about the pages tearing from the glue.

  52. Great thread. I’m amazed nobody is using Brause & Co. I mean Speeball? Might as well be using toothpicks… 🙂 Kidding aside, and just to throw a monkey in the wrench has any anybody felt the Windsor & Newton 7 series have lost the ability to hold a point after a few uses? I’ve been using these brushes for 20 years and it seems the new ones just flair out real fast. They are a lot less expensive than they used to be though… I remember paying $30 for them and now you can get them for $9 at Dick Blick.

  53. hands non-photo blue. Staedtler ! Made in Austria
    erases gently, does NOT get picked up by my scanner.. and is smooth with microns, ink etc…
    The company is currently doing something weird at the factory and I am trying to make the box I bought last until they start shipping them again to stores..
    Best regular pencil- GENERALS Cedar Pointe #333 2hb I buy them by the gazillions… soft enough to flow nice on paper and they erase nice too.

    INK- FW and some weird french ink I use on occasion SENNELIER, it’s a thick shellac ink . heck ALL of my inks are better right when I open the bottle, but as it ages I tend to get cloggy bits on my pen nib and it gunks me up. I have about 12 little bottles of different ink ,half used, being ignored for the next big find.

    Nibs- Gillott Rexel drawing nibs..bought a BIG box of them..close enough to great.. so hard to find GREAT nibs now too..that don’t break the bank. one of these nibs lasts me about 2 to 3 strips….

    Windsor Newton #7- so expensive now, used carefully, and it makes me nervous…lol

    White out- yeah i STILL use that bad boy!

    Bamboo tablet- ONLY for clean ups,fixing a stray line here and there, and coloring the strips…

    how could someone NOT like to dip, splatter ink draw,scratch, line, pencil, CREATE great comics like that?
    I feel SO connected to my stuff when it’s really, physically THERE for me to touch pick up, and share…

    I feel GOOD when I see my ink splattered fingers!!!!

  54. @ Patty,
    I just saw your great strip about “what happned to my funny?” That’s Perfect.
    Now that’s a topic I would like to hear folks here comment on as well. It happens to all of us. For me more often then not. I would love to hear how we all cope when we “don’t got the mojo”.

  55. I just got off the phone with Strathmore. I also got some series 500 board. It was a reorder from a different vender and the quality of the board was enormously different. The board just sucked up the paint. Horrible. Now I have 20 boards I can’t use.
    Frustrating. I am sending them a sample to look at. I sent them a j-peg showing them the difference between this batch and the last. Something is going on with the quality of the board there.

  56. It probably isn?t the paper: it?s most likely the ink.

    I?ve been experiencing the same exact problem with Strathmore Bristol as of late, and was getting very frustrated with the consistent feathering of my ink lines, so it was a relief to read of other folks experiencing this issue – and I’ll second the comments by Cope and Stephens.

    Just finished up a round of testing seven different kinds of paper (Canson, Strathmore 300 and 400 series, smooth and vellum finishes, recycled stock and cold/hot-press watercolor papers) using three different brands of India ink (Higgins ?Black Magic,? Winsor & Newton?s and Sennelier).
    The first tests using Higgins, which I?ve used for many, many years, bled out. Waiting to hear back from an email query to the company, as there might be a bad batch at fault, or trouble with a solvent used (one thing I noticed was the ink actually had a bad smell).
    The feathering problem didn?t happen AT ALL using the other brands if India ink on any of same papers.
    Also tried using different nibs, and tested for opacity, durability with erasing, and experimenting with wash: had almost the same results across the board(s), so for now I?ve switched to a slightly more expensive brand of India ink, but a better quality product.

    (cross-posted @ Tom’s blog)

  57. I recently bought the strathmore semi smoove sequential 500 series because it was advertised as being the same paper Marvel gives to its artists. I was so excited, prior to this i had been using strathmore 500 series in pads which were not very good, then I switched to Fabriano 4 which is excellent for smoove lines but the ink doesnt sit well on the surface, just looks odd, then i switched to Canson fanboy which is the best so far, though the brush doesnt glide across the page as smoovely as strathmore. So I took out the new semi smoove 500 and it looks like those original Marvel pages, I was getting goose bumps, took my brush out and……. it’s rubbish.

    I’ve tried 3 brands of ink and the main problems are hairy lines and fast ink absorbtion which leads to an unwanted dry brush appearance. So I emailed strathmore and their response was that the papers the same but the inks have changed and that they were working to change their paper formulation to suit the inks, I didnt buy that excuse so I tested all the new ink brands on an original Marvel comic art page from the 80’s (drawing on the back and in the gutters on the front!)

    Believe me, the paper has changed.

    We should all get together to set up a campaign for restoring the quality of Comic book art tools/materials, specifically targeting Higgins and strathmore, reason being that they once had the best paper and ink for drawing comics, the original art pages i have from the 80’s look so much more clean and professional, crisp black lines, consistant black spots, looks magnificent.
    Even Joe Sinnot is on record as saying there has been a decline in strathmores quality.

    Come on fellow professionals lets get this started.

  58. I have been using Strathmore Bristol Board in plate finish 5-ply for over 30 years. I work in graphite, HB lead only, sometimes applying an acrylic wash over it for partial color. I thought the Bristol Board was the best surface to work on that any artist could ever hope for. When placing a new order, I found that the 5-ply was no longer made. Oh, well…the problems really began when I began a piece and the paper started fighting with the graphite (only way I can describe it!) The pencil would not blend properly and kept raising little hairs on the board. The thickness of the 4-ply was also a problem as I was afraid it would rip while loosening it from the tape I use to hold it to the board. I decided to write to Strathmore. Their response was quick. They said quality control was very importnat to them and wanted me to send samples of the old board and new and show how the pencil reacted to each. So I send that out right away. I waited several weeks with no word so I wrote again and was told of hold ups on their part and they would get back to me ASAP. Several more weeks passed. I finally got an email from them saying that the board was within their quality control standards and that there was no change in their quality. Very frustrating. I found that switching to a 2B lead made a difference but it’s just not feeling the same as it did. One can’t use a paper for that long and not be aware when it changes. Ifelt doubly disappointed when they insisted all was well.My search for an equal replacement continues…

  59. I have used Strathmore Bristol 500 Series papers for 15 years. Suddenly my dip pen and ink were bleeding into the paper. I got a few bad batches, then found it was all bad.
    I appreciate very much the suggestions for alternative brands. I do very detailed home drawings (individual commissions), so everything has to be perfect and permanent.

  60. I have JUST started inking some work and started using one of the Starthmore 500 series I have shipped over to the UK.

    The bleeding is ridiculous, and I can say it’s definitely the paper not the ink since I practiced on an old scrap of 500 and no bleeding; started on the final and terrible bleeding.

    I have just written a pissy (“are you doing this intentionally?”) email to Strathmore to see what the situation is. Given the expense of shipping the stuff over it hardly seems worth it when I can buy Canson over here, which I used a while ago and might have to start using again.

    Has anybody managed to get any substantive response or explanation from Strathmore? I would be up (and down) for starting a petition, I getting very sick of manufacturers lowing the quality, assuming that nobody will notice!!



  61. Obviously this is a topic of great concern to many cartoonists. The tools we use are being changed because of the cost of making paper. Mills are closing. The paperless revolution is here and for us old schoolers who like to draw on real paper its a wake up call. Of course all the vector artists are just snickering at our nitpicking -fair enough, but nothing matches the feel and look of cartoons on real paper. I have found a good balance by adding carbon black to my Higgins Black Magic ink to thicken it. You do have to keep stirring it tho. And yes, it does smell weird! As far as paper, I use large sheets of 400, which I cut. the thick ink works best, although I find the paper balls up under my nibs easily — have to work fast and loose!

    I have had some success with Crescent hot press boards, they seem to be pretty good.

    Best of luck to all the old schoolers out there, keeping it REAL! 🙂

  62. My complaint with Strathmore is the glue binding on the pads. I tear the sheets to pieces trying to get them out.
    It’s like they’re applying the binding with a paint roller.

  63. Perhaps this will help.
    For years now I have been ordering 8 1/2x 11 sheets of white shipping labels from After penciling in a strip, I cut the label paper to size (roughly 10 3/4 x 4 1/4 for a daily strip and a full sheet and a third for my Sunday strips — yes, I work small) and carefully place it over the finished penciled work, all the while pushing out any air bubbles with a triangle. I then stick the whole shebang on a light box to ink in. Since the label paper has some plastic in it the ink stays on top and never bleeds into the paper — In fact, the ink flows beautifully. The label paper is a crisp white and I have experienced zero yellowing or fading of the ink over the years. I’ve been thinking of contacting the actual maker of the label paper to see if I might be able to buy it in bigger sheets instead of having to piece it together for larger projects; However, I can see a problem with using too large a sheet in that you might need an extra set of hands to help lay it down over your drawing paper as it is extremely sticky and you could end up in a Laural and Hardy moment. Like I said, hope this helps.

  64. With all these problems and complaints on just this site alone, I wonder if Starthmore has noticed a decrease in the sale of their Bristol Board by now. I’d be willing to pay more if they would just bring it back to the way it used to be…well, I can dream, can’t I??!

  65. The most recent reply I’ve gotten from Strathmore:


    Thank you for again taking the time to contact Strathmore Artist Papers. Let me assure you that we take quality issues very seriously. We have not consciously made a change to the fiber make-up, chemistry or manufacturing process of our paper for many years. It is still the same papers, made with the same recipes, on the same machines. However, we have had similar concerns from other artists & consumers and acknowledge the issue and are working to find a resolution. It’s not an easy solution as in addition to the paper being a factor we have been told by ink manufacturers that they have had to make formulation changes, which we have discovered through investigation is also contributing to the ink feathering. (By the way-a temporary solution they have offered is to decant your ink prior to use so some of the surfactants evaporate as this should help reduce/eliminate the feathering.)

    Our paper mill is working in conjunction with one of the major ink manufacturers to solve this problem, as clearly the ink and paper are not reacting as they have in the past. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution as we want to keep all working properties in balance, but we are diligently working to correct this issue.

    Any input from you will be valuable as we are trying to understand what artists are experiencing and what products they are using.”

  66. (By the way-a temporary solution they have offered is to decant your ink prior to use so some of the surfactants evaporate as this should help reduce/eliminate the feathering.)

    Now why didn’t I think of decanting my ink? I love being fancy in any way possible and now I’ve got another fancy art technique to impress my friends with! Now I just have to brace myself for explaining to my wife what happened to her decanter…

  67. Discovering this thread I was amazed to find so many people know what I’m going through. It’s been a number of years since I’ve inked a comic. When I began working on my current job all my tools seemed to behave differently. I thought I had simply lost my touch!

    Back in the day I always used series 400 Strathmore vellum finish. I preferred the vellum because large areas of black looked more “washy” on plate finish paper while on vellum they lay nice and flat The Strathmore I’m fighting with now soaks up ink like a sponge, and while I haven’t had a problem with bleeding lines, my steel nibs constantly pick up fibers from the paper. That never used to happen. It’s maddening! I also get the impression that Series 7 brushes don’t hold a point as well as they used to. I used to keep one alive a couple of years, but the one I’m using now is losing its crispness after only a couple of months.

    I try to avoid “everything was better back then” nostalgia, but so help me when I look at pages I inked on the “same” paper back in the 1980s, both the quality of the surface and the way the ink lays down are completely different.

  68. I was just linked to this thread and, while I doubt people check year-old topics here, I just wanted to add my agreement that this is DEFINITELY the paper, and not “changes in the inks!”

    I just got home from a two-week holiday, during which I didn’t draw a single traditional (inked & colored) strip. I’d ordered a big box of brand-new 14×17 sheets of 400 series vellum surface Strathmore, which was here when I arrived. Just sat down to start my first strip of the year (I shamefully have returned to Microns, FYI, and have been surprisingly pleased with them on that meaty vellum surface)… and when I wrote out the name & date of the strip with a brand-new 08, it looked like I’d written them on white sandpaper!

    The lettering process was grueling; I assumed it was just a feeling I’d forgotten about over the past two weeks. Funny enough, it was just as fun to draw on, but DAMN, lettering with an 05 & 08 felt unnatural! This is the first new batch of Strathmore I’ve ordered from Dick Blick in nearly a year, and I’ve been using the vellum surface for about 6 months (previously I was using the smooth surface, for a good several years, with no noticeable variation).

    What really blows my mind: I spent the past week visiting my partner in Rochester, who I met through his roommate Jason Yungbluth of Deep Fried. Jason had asked me while I was there if I’d noticed any new problems with the Strathmore 400/500 series lately – he inks (beautifully!) with a brush and crowquill – and I said I hadn’t. Who knew I’d find the same trouble first-hand when I got home!

    Anyway, like I said, I doubt anyone reads these – besides frustrated people like me who search the Internet for such threads – but I’d feel left out if I didn’t share everyone’s misery in a public forum. 😉 Tom, thanks for the post!

  69. Just recently gotten into drawing & art again as a hobby. Wanted to do some pen & ink stuff and through my research and seeing all those comic strip artist all used Strathmore paper, I decided if good enough for them it was good enough for me. Much to my horror, I too noticed the ink bleeding/feathering thing on 500 paper. Tried different plys and plate and vellum surface but same thing happens. Sent email to Strathmore to ask what’s up? and here’s what I got. Very similar to what somebody else posted:

    Thank you for taking the time to contact Strathmore Artist Papers. We take quality issues very seriously. We did not change the fiber make-up, chemistry or manufacturing process of our paper for many years. It has been the same paper, made with the same recipes, on the same machines. However, we started to receive similar concerns from other artists & consumers. After thorough investigation we confirmed the issue and began working to find a resolution. It’s was not an easy solution as in addition to the paper being a factor we discovered through our investigation that ink manufacturers have had formulation changes, which was found to also be contributing to the ink feathering. We found older inks didn’t feather, but newer inks did feather.

    We have made some modifications to our formulas to line up with the ink formulations that are currently being offered in the market and initial testing has produced very good results. I would like to send you some samples sheets from our trial run for review. Would you like the Plate or Vellum surface? Please provide your address and I will get these samples out to you.


  70. I have had problems with bristol board for a few years ever since my old supply dried up from a small independent art store with old stock.
    The smooth 400 series is what I usually use for my pencil work and I have had exceptional quality that I felt I was not fighting against all the way when drawing in fine detail. But lately I have tried newer bristol board stock and when I smudge or shade with my finger, fine lines are evident running diagonally across the paper. Since I do extremely realistic drawing that demands perfect shading I just can’t use the paper. I have a deadline for the Toronto art fair and I am not sure what paper to use at this point since I have researched everything else and the 400 series smooth Bristol is what works for me.
    I have contacted Strathmore regarding this problem over the last few years and also mentioned it to the large art store I was buying it from and nothing was done, no one seemed to care that much. But then Strathmore doesn’t produce this paper anyway so I am going to try getting some older stock by contacting Mohawk paper, which are the actual producers of the paper Strathmore uses.
    This problem has made drawing in the style I need to at this point a complete struggle because I have to use the 500 series. It is good paper but too hard with no tactile feeling to it like the 400 series. Yes I am that picky but when working at 1/2 an inch a day or less you notice these things.
    The quality that was there for years is gone.

  71. Wayne, have you gotten The sample sheets Strathmore offered and if so, have you noticed any changes for the better? I am finding the quality of the Strathmore Bristol Board even changes from one supplier to another which just shows how inconsistent the paper has become. Never was something you had to even consider when using their product in the past. I’m still hoping an alternative company is out there making Bristol Board the way it should be…anyone?????

  72. Eon Comic Art Boards has been producing fine quality comic art boards since 1997. We’ve been a nice little secret in the comic art community. I wanted to post on this board and tell everyone who is having trouble with Strathmore… there is an alternative.

    After having used a third party paper stock for over 15 years, Eon is now looking into milling our own brand of bristol board.

    Artists who have tried us, have generally been very pleased…

    I’m an inker myself, but I have industry professionals test every stock before changing papers to make sure Eon maintains our “Inker-Friendly” Guarantee.

    Check out what people are saying about Eon on our facebook page. Sign up for our newsletter to receive updates as we get closer to releasing our new board.

    Brett Thompson
    Eon Comic Art Boards

  73. I’ve been battling with Strathmore for years and have been told everything from “I bought the wrong paper” to “the inks have changed formulas”. They refuse to acknowledge they have a serious bleeding issue with their plate finish papers. They sent me a 10-pack of 23×29 4-ply bristol sheets with plate finish and over half the sheets bled. I had 400 hours of pencil work into a portrait drawn on a sheet from the “factory tested” pack; when I started inking with my Hunt 102 crow quill and Pelikan A ink, guess what happened? Right, the ink bled everywhere on the paper.

    It’s not the ink. It’s not the humidity. It’s not the ozone layer. Strathmore has a serious paper problem that they can’t fix, or don’t care to fix. They blame everything and everybody else for their paper issues.

    The worst part is that parts of one sheet take ink perfectly, then there are areas on the same sheet that soak up the ink like paper towels on a TV commercial.

    I sure hope someone actually reads this other that me.

    I feel your Strathmore pain!

  74. I had a problem with a big batch of 500 series 2-ply vellum bristol board last year. Close to half my order had sheets that were way too rough. The art store had me deal directly with Strathmore. I sent them photos, scans of line work done on it comparing the old vs the new boards I had, sent them samples. It took many months, but they finally replaced my paper. It was an excruciatingly long process, though, with me having to jump through hoops to prove to them that the paper was not up to standards.

    They did tell me that they have a new paper that is a semi-smooth bristol, which I think would be perfect for my Sundays, but it only comes in 11×17. I need it in full 23×29 sheets so it can be cut down to Sunday proportions (my Sunday boards are 23″ wide).

    Then, after all that, Arizona Art Supply, where I’d originally bought the paper, gave me a hard time about cutting the replacement paper for me because I hadn’t bought it there. They were the ones who told me to deal directly with Strathmore for the replacement. I’d already paid them for cutting the boards I couldn’t use, and was willing to pay again to have the new paper cut down. But it’s against their policy to cut paper that wasn’t purchased there.

    Finally after nearly losing it on the phone with them to get them to understand that it was just a replacement for paper I’d purchased there originally, they agreed to accept the cut order. I’ve been a customer of theirs for decades, and they treated me like I was trying to scam them. When I picked up the order, in big red letters it said “ONE TIME EXCEPTION” and that I couldn’t have paper cut there without a purchase receipt from them (I even had provided the paperwork from the original cut order).

    Now that’s a great customer service philosophy: Pawn off your product problem on the manufacturer and then treat your customer like crap after they get satisfaction.

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