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Review of Strathmore’s Vision Watercolor Paper

June 28, 2017
Taped pad of Vision Watercolor Paper with the advertising cover in place, showing the blue cardstock cover below that, peeking out.

One thing you have to remember when testing paper is that less expensive papers aren’t going to do all the things that you want them to do. It’s a matter of trade offs. Is it essential that your favorite pen work on a paper, or that you can add watercolor washes, or use color pencil?

When testing an inexpensive paper keep your needs in mind. Of course we all want everything in a paper, but that’s not realistic.

Recently Strathmore sent me a 6 x 9 inch pad of their new Vision Watercolor paper. It was an add-on because they were sending me some of their new toned 400 series Mixed Media Paper (I will review that in another post).

I had heard nothing about it. Their website simply describes it as an economical heavyweight (120 lb.) watercolor paper with a cold-press surface.

Note that it is part of a new series of Vision products which include Mixed Media, Drawing, and Sketch options. I have not tested any of the other options. My comments are based on tests made to the WATERCOLOR option only.

My contact at Strathmore supplied a bit more information to me. The Vision Watercolor paper is an acid-free wood-pulp sheet. It is meant to fall in the 250 Series range, i.e., it’s a bit better than the 200 series and not quite as good as the 300 series level. They are aiming for a good value product, with decent quality, lots of sheets; a paper that people can practice and experiment with.

The top of my taped pad didn’t hold together. As I removed one of my sheets (third one from the top) the front part of the pad came apart.

It comes in a taped pad and in a wire bound option. Both versions have a steel blue overstock paper that is also aside free wood pulp and falls within their 400 series range. The blue sheet is meant for people who want to illustrate a cover for their pad or wire bound sketchbook.

I don’t understand the point of putting such a feature in a taped pad of paper. You most likely will pull sheets out of the taped pad. That’s where I ran into trouble. You’ll see in the image of the pad that the blue decorative cover came off when the “disposable” advertising cover came off. (See image at the right.)

I also found that it was difficult to remove later sheets from the taped pad, while some simply fell right out.

For me that’s not really much of a problem because I don’t think you buy a taped pad thinking you’re going to keep it all together—that’s why you buy wire bound pads. But I mention it because Strathmore mentions the cardstock cover that you can decorate. You can decorate it of course, but it probably won’t be on your pad long. (In fact I would love it if they would release a full pad of this heavyweight blue paper. It’s a perfect color for painting with gouache!)

Removal of sheets in the taped pad isn’t uniform. See bending at the attachment point.

If you are going to purchase the wire bound versions in this series your blue cover will stay with your sketchbook. Just be aware of this issue with the taped pad.

Also be aware that the taped pad is not uniformly bound together. As you see in the next image some pages not yet torn our kink when pushed out of the way to remove other sheets.

Note: in the final image in this opening section you can also see the texture of the paper. One of the nice features of this inexpensive paper is that the texture is uniform in a good way—for working aspects; but visually the texture is not mechanically repetitive, i.e., it has more of an organic, natural look that more expensive papers have instead of a clunky, noticeable pattern that draws the eye away from the artwork.

How Did the Sheet Perform?

I always want a paper that can work with mixed media because I almost always work with mixed media. I NEED a paper that can work well with pen and ink and watercolor washes at the very least.

I found that some pens and inks worked well on this paper, and others didn’t. I found that I have to change my approach to working with gouache so much on this paper that it isn’t worth working on this paper if I’m going to work in gouache.

Here’s the thing. You learn what you practice. It’s a hard lesson to accept. If you want to learn watercolor or gouache you really need to work on paper that will accommodate your best working practices, not on paper that requires you alter your approach so much that there is no longer the necessary feedback coming to you so that you can improve your technique.

I look at this paper, because of my experience with it, as “scratch” paper. that means it’s a paper I will use only for jotting quick ideas and notes. If I were to purchase large pads of it I might take it to life drawing, but frankly I have other fairly inexpensive papers that allow me a larger, freer range of play so I doubt I’ll ever buy any of this paper.

Two papers I would recommend are:

Fabriano Ecological Drawing Paper and

Canson Illustration paper.

Again, no inexpensive paper is going to give you all the items on your wish list so experiment with a couple and find out which inexpensive papers fill your needs for practice and experimentation.

Because I did a lot of different tests on this paper I’ve put them in the following gallery and you can click on the image to see an enlargement. Each caption tells you a little bit about what I was working with. (Because the gallery feature still isn’t working smoothly you have to click back to the original post in order to select the next image—I am working on fixing this, but for now this is the only way I can bring you multiple images in a post to illustrate a point.)

Gallery of Experiments

I also tested the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and the Pentel brush pen with pigment ink (and the squeezy barrel). Both gave interesting lines because of the texture of the paper, but given that they are my favorite tools I can say I didn’t have a lot of fun working with them on this paper, there was too much drag. I also tested the Staedtler Pigment Liner  and Tombow Dual Brush Markers. None were remarkable or especially fun for me on this paper. They are all pens I typically enjoy using.

I also enjoy using the Pentel Color Brush pens filled with dye-based, water-soluble inks on a range of papers. I did not enjoy working with them on this paper. The ink tended to sink into the paper and didn’t give me the opportunity to move the ink around.

“Fun Factor,” if you read my blog, is a huge deal for me. I want to use paper and materials that really sing together, or at least hum along. For me this wasn’t one of those papers. But the heavy weight of this paper may have possibilities for you in your drawing practice.

What Does It Cost?

A 30-sheet tape bound watercolor pad that’s 9 x 12 inches costs $10.69 list (Blick sells it for $5.49). Wire bound 30-sheet pads in the 11 x 15 inch and 18 x 24 inch sizes cost $16.39 to $39.49 list ($8.45-$20.35 respectively at discount).

With the discount that’s a lot of paper that you might feel you can easily burn through at life drawing or work out preliminary ideas for larger projects.

Final Thoughts

I can’t say this enough, if you are looking for an economical paper this one might do what you need, but be moderate in your expectations. 

Remember that you get better by practicing with quality materials and that includes papers that support the techniques you are attempting to master.

I am always talking to my students about their most valuable resource—their time. Using a higher quality paper and quality pigments and brushes will move you along towards your watercolor goals and use less of your very limited time in the process. Keep that in mind when making practice paper choices.

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    • Susan
    • June 28, 2017
    Reply

    Thanks for the thorough review. I’m looking forward to reading your review of the 400 Series Mixed Media.

    1. Reply

      It will probably be a couple weeks. The short version is that I’m really enjoying the 400 Series Toned Mixed Media paper.

    • Tina Koyama
    • June 28, 2017
    Reply

    “Remember that you get better by practicing with quality materials and that includes papers that support the techniques you are attempting to master.” Sage advice, indeed. I always see people use the cheap stuff while they practice and save the “good” stuff for when they get good, but I think that it’s so much harder to learn on the cheap stuff, and you can never tell if you are getting bad results because you still don’t know what you’re doing or because the paper will never be able to give you good results, ever.

    Thank you for this review — it doesn’t sound worth trying. For the media I like to use, I’ve been really happy with Canson XL 140 lb. watercolor paper. It’s in the same price range as this Strathmore Vision, and it has held up to everything I’ve thrown at it and is very pleasant to use with almost everything.

    – Tina

    1. Reply

      Yep, we get skilled at what we practice so I’m always pushing people to practice with “the good stuff.” I haven’t tried Canson’s XL 140 lb. watercolor paper. I tried their XL Mixed Media and didn’t like it at all, but I’ll look out for the watercolor version.

    • Elaine
    • October 26, 2017
    Reply

    It sounds like strathmore need to improve the sizing on this paper. Do you think so? Have you asked them?

    1. Reply

      It’s an inexpensive paper that is being marketed to appeal to someone looking for an inexpensive paper, so I don’t hope for much from it. I’ve tested it and it’s just a paper I won’t be using any more—I didn’t feel the need to ask them. Happily I have many other papers I enjoy working on, including Strathmore’s 500 Series Mixed Media paper which is 100 percent cotton and a dream to work on.

    • gardengem
    • November 16, 2017
    Reply

    “It is meant to fall in the 250 Series range, i.e., it’s a bit better than the 200 series and not quite as good as the 300 series level.”

    gosh I wish I looked at this review before buying this (the two larger sizes actually!) i only ever use strathmore 400 watercolor paper if i’m not using the more expensive cotton paper. I feel like this paper is on par with canson xl wc paper (my least favorite paper).

    1. Reply

      I don’t think it was the best roll out of one of their products. A lot of people were confused. I really don’t care for the Canson XL wc paper or mixed media paper (if that’s the one you meant). I’ve written about it and I just don’t care for it at all. But we try papers and then we know not to buy them again. Sorry you didn’t see the review before hand so you could have saved the money.

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