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recycled papers

Putting Recycled Papers to the Test

Putting Recycled Papers to the Test

Eco-conscious artists will be please to hear there are now a variety of good quality, recycled artists’ papers available on the market! And what better person to put them to the test than Karlee Gould from Treasure Studios. We asked Karlee to try her favourite techniques on 6 different papers and see if she can find a new favourite.

Recycled Artists’ Papers

“I’m going to test out 6 different types of paper that all come from recycled sources! Waahoo!”

Just as a precursor, none of these are ‘bad’ papers; I’m not even sure there is such a thing, but they do have differences that mean they suit different needs. If like me, you’re an artist who likes to practice their work in an eco-friendly fashion, then you’ll love all these papers.

I have several kinds of papers to choose from here, in two sizes both A4 and A3. There are also a range of weights to choose from starting at 85GSM, up to the 200GSM mark.

recycled paper

I’ll be discussing how these papers might be used in a professional setting, and which to choose to you practice art as a hobby at home, going over which ones will be most suitable and best value.

For my personal research, I wanted to find out which of these papers would be most suitable for sketching in high quantities. Generally, Artists tend to use a LOT of paper so it’s optimal to find one that is great quality and comes from a responsible source, keeping you super effective at reducing your waste.

Let’s test them out!

recycled paper

Fabriano Ecological Paper

  • Size: A4
  • Opaque (1) -Translucent (10): 9
  • Smooth (1) – Textured (10): 1
  • 90 sheets
  • 85gsm

Ideal for: Fashion Illustration

The first thing to remark about this pad is that it has a beautiful eco-looking design, in pale green, showing flecks of recycled pieces through the front cover. It’s backboard looks to be recycled too. The information on the back tells me that it’s chlorine-free paper and made in Italy.

Right off the bat, I can tell you that this paper is a pale creamy colour and the texture is super smooth to the touch. The top-edge is glued and sheets peel away easily, leaving a clean edge. The weight means it is somewhat translucent and would be perfect for drafting, layout sketching, tracing and technical illustration, so that’s what I’ll go ahead and try.

Grabbing a Pen

I’ll start off by sketching in a fine black ink pen, a few illustrations with different garments. The pen travels smoothly and doesn’t seem to bleed or seep through to the other side. It stays nice and crisp.

I layed over another sheet, to see how the pad would work as a layout pad for furiously fast drafting, for technical or illustrative drawing. I found the opacity is perfect for this, so would be great for all kinds of speedy-drafting and tracing.

I’m quite enjoying the size of the pad (It’s quite slim) as well; it’s not getting in the way of my wrist as I sketch so would probably be very good as a travel pad.

recycled paper

This is great for quick fluid sketching and definitely has the added benefit of having no plastic or fabric edging. it looks fully recyclable as well as being fully recycled, while still delivering a quality sketch paper.


Daler Rowney Fine Grain Heavyweight

  • Size: A4
  • Opacity (1) -Translucent (10): 5
  • Smooth (1) – Textured (10): 6
  • 30 sheets
  • 200gsm

Ideal for: Watercolourists

Just looking at the front of the pad tells me that everything is 100% recyclable and made with renewable energy. According to the front, the pad can take pencil, watercolour, ink and pastels.

The front is also a strong green which gives you an indication that it’s eco-friendly from a mile away, and does feature a big ‘recycled’ symbol and an energy symbol to let you know that it is all above board.

recycled paper

Opening the pad, I can see the paper is an off-white colour, but only slightly. I will stress, this is ever so subtle. The card itself has as a vertical grain that mimics a subtle, smooth wood texture.

This pad is glued at the top-edge and separating the sheets requires a little patience. I found I had to gently pry away each piece gradually to separate them, ensuring I didn’t wrinkle or bend the paper.

To test out this pad I’m going to be using some nude and cool neutral watercolour florals to see how the paper takes water on. I’m testing watercolours to see if I can push this paper to its limits and see how it responds to the most difficult medium it claims to be able to be used with.

The paper itself isn’t translucent at all, but can be sketched/traced over using a strong lightbox.

My final result is lovely!

The paper is great for creating watercolour pieces and also lends to sketching with watercolour. It still picks up all the subtleties and handles water absorption really well.  What’s good is it doesn’t seem to dry out fast and give you a little bit of time to play with your colours.

recycled paper

I happened to have some ‘regular’ DR Fine Grain left over from some of my previous projects, and as a quick comparison, I checked over some finished watercolours I had previously done and the quality looks identical to me! That’s a really encouraging discovery, since there seems to be no difference!

I’ll be buying just the recycled ones from now on then – a definite thumbs up from me!

Canson XL recycled pad

  • Size: A4
  • Opacity (1) – Translucent (10): 1
  • Smooth (1) – Textured (10): 5
  • 50 sheets
  • 160gsm

Ideal for: Crafty Florals or Pattern Designers

The front of the pad is green and I can tell right away that is made from 100% recycled fibres and is made in France. It has paper sheets with a perforated top-edge, which is ring bound using wire binding.

The texture of the pad seems to be fine-grain and you can tell this pad is recycled because it features very small flecks throughout the grain of the paper. There is a texture to the paper, but it’s subtle. It’s not completely smooth, but it has a soft feel to the touch, and doesn’t seem to have an obvious indentation or bumpy grain. If you look closely, it looks as if it’s slightly wove, like a fine, fabric-style, cotton-press texture. Very lovely, especially from a craft perspective. Gives you all the outdoor feels.

recycled paper

I removed a piece of paper from the pad tearing at the fine perforation. It’s a very easy removal process, the edge doesn’t show show a tear, but instead a tiny, almost undetectable ridge mark where it was attached to the pad.

The paper itself seems thicker than 160gsm, when you hold it in your hands. It doesn’t seem to have too much of a transparent finish either, for a 160gsm paper. The paper seems to have a warm off-white base, with natural recycled flecks throughout.

I’m quite happy with the density of this paper, I think it’s won me for that. It’s lovely to work on the texture is actually quite beautiful. Not what I expected from the front of this pad to be honest!

Gerstaecker No. 5 universal Pad

  • Size: A3
  • Opacity (1) -Translucent (10): 5
  • Smooth (1) – Textured (10): 4
  • 75 sheets
  • 160gsm

Ideal for: Concept Artists

This pad has the most sheets out of all the pads I’m testing out. From the outside, I can see it’s 100% recycled, acid-free and the front of the pad is coloured in a tasteful dark green. It looks very professional, so I wouldn’t mind taking this to a client meeting at all. When I open it up, I can see that is a great quality too; one of the whitest papers.

recycled paper

The inside of this pad it tells you a little bit more about the types of papers you can purchase in this range which is really helpful – you can get the number 1 all the way through to the number 5, and each of them has a different use. Number 5, that I’ll be testing today, is a multi-techniques universal pad. This means it can be used for sketching, drawing and watercolour.

The pad is glued at the top-edge and peels away effortlessly leaving a smooth top to each sheet. The quality of the paper is outstanding. It’s quite smooth, almost no texture and has a lovely density to it.

It’s ever so slightly translucent, more so than the previous pad we trialed from Canson, at the same paper weight, however the difference is very slight.

The paper seems to be a bright off-white. Not the purest white, but nearly there.

recycled paper

I’m going to give this paper a whirl!

I start sketching some concepts for hero character designs, to make them ready for digital inking. The size of the pad is great for this, and I also think this slight translucency is going to be a real benefit when it comes to tracing and cleaning up line work.

I had a great time using this pad; I did need a light box to trace anything I wanted to use as a template, it’s not translucent enough to trace straight-up. Using pencils on this paper was exceptional – you’re able to make a clear and clean mark, and you are able to comfortably erase if you need to make an adjustment.

Really satisfied with the potential of this pad, and it really delivered where I needed it, to create this kind of character sketch before it’s put into a computer. It scanned in perfectly well, the colour that the pad carries (the very slightly off-white I spoke of) makes no difference at all. Love the fact that the block itself and the paper feels super professional – it’s one of my favourite things about this pad. I’ll be using this in future when I need to take something to a client.

recycled paper

Fabriano Hydropower Ecological Paper

  • Size: A3
  • Opacity (1) – Translucent (10): 4
  • Smooth (1) – Textured (10): 6
  • 25 sheets
  • 200gsm

Ideal for: Typographical Artists

This drawing pad is sustainably made in Italy using hydropower and is 100% recycled. It’s also acid free.

When you open the pad you see inside that Fabriano have outlined the paper and what they wish to achieve by creating a 100% recycled paper. It explains their commitment to fine artists and the environment in producing this block.

recycled paper

The information tells you that 10 trees have been saved by making each of these paper blocks, and how much methane has been spared thanks to hydropower. It also tells you that the cover page and the backboard are also made of recycled fibres, which have been a guess of mine when looking at the other pads – it’s great to see that the entire pad is recyclable and recycled, and tells you so.

Apparently it’s made from mostly from recycled office paper. It’s been cold pressed and has a brighter white surface than the other recycled papers. It also says it’s ideal for sketching in pencil, charcoal, pastel, coloured pencil, and ink.

The marketing and presentation of this in particular makes me very excited to use it.

So let’s test the paper itself!

The paper is quite smooth and super white (as promised in the blurb!). It’s glued at the top and peels away effortlessly leaving a clean smooth edge. The 200gsm means it’s really thick so it is usable as a commercial and professional artwork paper.

Flicking through the sheets, I can see (here and there) one or two fleck-marks embedded in the paper perhaps every 5 sheets or so and the texture seems to mimic a fine quality cold pressed paper which is very exciting.

The transparency of this paper is quite translucent for the thickness, but it does feel study. I think this paper would be great for crafty or ‘rustic’ lettering or typography.

recycled paper

I test out some bright purple and blue brush lettering with inks and a little water (again, attempting to push the paper to it’s reaches). The paper seems to hold the colours well and dries quite quickly, creating some interesting effects.

I try out some green too, with the blues. I try a little more water too. And a little more. The paper seems to really hold water well and not wrinkle, which was a lovely surprise. You sometimes find that inks can bleed and blend in the directions of the paper texture, but this wasn’t an issue at all.

I love a statistic!

I went back to the stats on the inside-front, before I left this paper. For every 80 blocks made, one tree is saved. Simply from making this information available on their pad makes me want to buy it. There’s nothing more attractive to me, as someone who is passionate about taking care of the environment, than statistics about how this pad in particular is beneficial to buy! This on top of a no-wrinkle ink pad puts this right at the top in my books.

Seawhite of Brighton Recycled Sketch Pad

  • Size: A3
  • Opacity (1) -Translucent (10): 5
  • Smooth (1) – Textured (10): 5
  • 50 sheets
  • 140gsm

Ideal for: Ink and Calligraphy

This pad is very exciting because it’s made with Cup-cycling technology, and is the first of it’s kind to recycle disposable cups, and create acid free sketch paper. They also have the benefit of being handmade in the UK. Win-win-win.

The front of the pad is brown, mimicking a craft paper sketch pad at the front. The top of the pad is glued on the top-edge and has a fabric glued binding.

When I flipped over the front and ran my hand down the first sheet, I was pleasantly surprised to find a super smooth finish. I’m almost in shock that this is a recycled cup under my hand. The paper itself shows small flecks, but not many, and has that distinctive recycled tone, much like the Canson paper; slightly warm. Tt seems as though it’s got this wax-like finish to it. Perhaps waxy isn’t quite right… it feels a little like a coffee cup in truth, and I like it…

This paper is not very translucent, it seems to be quite thick even though it’s only 140gsm. The pad doesn’t seem to want to let go of each of the sheets. As I peel them away, I realise it does take a good tug to remove them, though once you do, there is a clean edge with no damage.

I’m not sure why it matters, but the paper smells really nice! Rather like smelling a new novel!

I do wish they would have put more information about the cup cycling technology on their pad.  I find myself looking for some more stats, like the Fabriano pad had, on the inside cover.

Since this pad has that slightly waxy feel, I’m going to try out some calligraphy with dip pens to see if it might make a great practice companion for calligraphy drills. The surface being as it is, it would probably be great with sharp dip pens! Hopefully, there shouldn’t be ink splatters and the smooth surface will help draw a sharp pen across.

recycled paper

As I begin , I notice the ink sits perfectly bulbed on top of the paper, which is a very good thing. Sometimes papers will allow inks to spread slightly if there is alot placed in one spot, but this paper doesn’t. Looks like there’ll no bleeding or rough edges anywhere  (unless you want them, of course). I begin slowly, taking my time to pen out some letters, and then pick up the pace with some fast flourish tests and mark making.

recycled paper

Smooth and Satisfying

There are some splatters when moving the pen very fast, but this can easily be managed by going at a slightly slower pace. The paper likes the ink and is pulling the ink from the pen. This will mean that the flow of your text is really consistent, though you will be replenishing your ink regularly. This is another good thing though, it means your calligraphy will appear boldly coloured, and you’ll never need to go over a hairline again, which can be a calligraphers nightmare, putting you at risk for ruining a whole piece of work in one stroke.

On the whole, it works wonderfully, perfect for calligraphy or inking sketches since it takes this medium like a champ. Outstanding finish when dry too! Well, I think I’ve found my new drilling paper…

recycled papers

Out of all the papers, there isn’t one I wouldn’t use…

All of them have a quality of their own and suit different things. I did love all the info that producers thought to include and particularly enjoyed using the A3 pads out of the bunch. The Gerstaecker pad is my choice for a professional artists scratch-pad and the Canson XL is fabulous for sketch-heavy artists and hobbyists. The Fabriano pads are at both ends of the spectrum: one is a fantastic layout tool and one is the whitest and most ecologically satisfying (stats galore!). Daler Rowney demonstrate that there really isn’t a need for new trees to be cut for fantastic watercolour paper. The Seawhite pad made me very happy, as a serial coffee go-getter; amazing that is has been made from cups – I’m blown away by the quality and I loved the texture too. Perfect set of recycled pads, all brilliant for different uses.

I encourage anyone sourcing a new eco-paper for both pro and hobby work to try them out!

More about Karlee

Karlee Gould is the founder of Treasures Studios, offering complete stationary packages for weddings and events, as well as bespoke stationary and branding design services.

Treasure Studios is an entirely vegan and eco-friendly design studio, so all the products reviewed and used by Karlee will be cruelty-free and suitable for use by vegan and vegetarian artists.

If you’d like to learn more about Treasure Studios please visit them online or stay up to date by following them on instagram

You can find all Karlee’s posts published in the GreatArt online magazine by clicking here!

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