Best Paper/Boards for Manga and Comics Drawing

When drawing American-style comics or manga for a publisher, you may be required to use art board that is provided to you by the publisher; even so, you may have some leeway with other companies (and all the leeway you want if you are self-publishing). If this is your calling, you will need to know what you like and what works best for you and your art. There are a few different types of board and paper that you can use, and it’s best to know what to look for. Ideally, you will try a wide variety of papers at first before you zero in on your ideal drawing surface.

A big point to keep in mind is that different tools behave differently depending on the drawing surface you are using. For example, you may find an art board you like the look and feel of, but may be required to use only the hardest weight of mechanical pencil for cleaning up your art before scanning – and on another board, you may find that the best pencil and eraser is a basic #2 Ticonderoga yellow pencil. In other words, trial and error are a must before you start a long form piece of work.

Bristol Board

Standard Bristol Board

This staple of American and British comics is relatively easy to come by. Bristol board has an almost poster board-like stiffness and thickness, and generally is sold at 2-ply thickness. For specialty purposes, you can buy 3-ply board from a few vendors, and 4-ply single large sheets, if need be. There are a few different kinds of finish as well, depending on the grade of board. “Vellum” finish boards tend to have a rougher finish to them, with more texture on the board itself. “Plate” and “Smooth” finishes are much more uniform finish, with a much less fibrous texture. No one of these three finishes is superior to another technically; whichever one you prefer to use is all you need to figure out. Each finish has its own strengths and weaknesses, as pencils tend to smudge more on the plate and smooth finishes, while inking requires more hand skill to navigate the textured surface of vellum. If you want to start with the best consistent quality of unlined board, Strathmore’s Series 500 is a good place to start; if you want to try out the least expensive option, Strathmore Series 300 board is another good place to start.

Lined Bristol Board

Many companies also offer board that comes pre-cut and pre-ruled for printing purposes. These guides are printed in non-photographable blue ink, and are intended for art production staff only. These can be very helpful and save you time with the setup of each page, but you need to make sure that you have consistent measurements across your project. In other words, you don’t want to mix and match boards, as the guide line dimensions vary from company to company. For example, Strathmore’s 200 series pre-marked board does not necessarily have the same internal marking measurements as Canson’s Artist Series Comic Boards – which, in turn, is different from the Blue Line Pro’s Professional Artist Board. These all come in different finishes as well; it would be best to pick up a sample packet of different board over time to try out for yourself every so often until you find your favorite.

Manuscript Paper

Historically, Japanese manuscript paper for manga is both of a few different sizes and different weights than American comics board. First, most manuscript paper is significantly thinner than American board, and second, there are two sizes that mangaka generally use. Fan artists and a few independents use A4-sized paper, which is measured in millimeters (210 x 297 mm, or within a half an inch of US letter-sized paper), and most professionals use B4-sized paper, which is 257 x 364 mm (or roughly 10” x 14”). Another option for the serious-minded artist is getting manuscript paper known as “Kent”paper, which is a thicker paper capable of absorbing more ink than standard paper. The popular brand Deleter offers surprisingly inexpensive options for artists, from standard non-ruled “Type B” paper for beginners to professional Type AK premium Kent paper. Again, ideally, you will want to try out different types of pencils and inks on any paper you buy; some inks lay down neatly on some boards, others bleed out on the page or worse; you need to make the final determination on what works best for you. On the plus side of this testing, once you find a manuscript paper you like, most packs come with almost double the number of pages as a pack of American boards offer.

Illustration Boards

If you are looking for the sturdiest inking surface imaginable, look no further; illustration board is usually equipped with a significant cardboard backing, which keeps your art in a solid, hard-to-bend state. Illustration boards tend to come in two different finishes: cold press and hot press. Cold press is a toothier finish, and hot press is a smoother surface. Usually, you will find these boards as very large sheets for sale. If you’re trying them out, try out one of each different kind you are interested in, as you will most likely have to trim down your board (which is best done with a utility knife against a non-skid ruler – do NOT cut this with an old-school paper cutter, as it will irreparably damage the board and give you a ragged edge). There are many companies that make illustration board, but the most well-known are Crescent and Bainbridge, and Canson also specializes with heavier comic board. As sturdy as illustration board is, it does have one weakness, and that is due to it’s sturdy nature: if you plan on using a light table for tracing purposes for your final art page, illustration board is too thick for light to shine through. If you plan on using a light table for any reason, you will want to stick with either Bristol board or any Japanese manuscript paper.

Other Options for Color

For those with color in mind, you will probably want to grab a different kind of paper, as you will need something more absorbent. Bristol can technically work with watercolor or gouache, but the more water that hits the board will cause significant buckling of the surface. You would have more luck coloring on Bristol and manuscript paper with COPIC markers, though the color can fade faster than you might think due to the nature of the alcohol-based dyes. If you want to color in a traditional “blue line” fashion, your best bet is to work with a watercolor paper that is reasonably heavy, like Canson’s Montval paper or something similar. If you are wanting to do everything on one page (colors, inks, and lettering), your best bets are going to be either a high-quality block of watercolor paper or a few sheets of Strathmore’s 400 Series 4-ply Bristol board cut down to size.

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