Paper Nightmares (is not my new band name...)

Imagine you’re an artist working primarily in pencils on paper. You’re 42 illustrations into a 60-illustration print project. And suddenly, the paper from the brand you’re using plummets in quality. That paper now sucks. You’re stuck trying to find a new brand that gives comparable results to your former-fav, so you can finish the project. That would suck right?

Yes. Yes it does suck.

That’s what just happened to me, because Daler Rowney changed their smooth heavyweight drawing paper to be considerably lower quality. TL;DR - I tested it, and it sucks, and I expect it relates to a change of manufacturing location. But one way and another; it sucks now.

I abruptly noticed the surface of the paper breaking up when I drew layers of colour. One of the reasons I (used to) like this paper was that it (used to) hold up exceptionally well to lots of layers of pencil shading. I also noticed that when I blue-tacked sketches or drawings onto my board, the blue-tack now tore then paper - which was both weird and crappy. But because I’m a scientist as well as an artist, I did some tests just to satisfy myself that it wasn’t my imagination, and that something has actually changed. Yep, I’ve been that retentive about it. I’ll update my Materials page when I’ve tested & found a better replacement paper.

Two A4 Smooth heavyweight paper pads, an old one on the left, a new one on the right (I managed to find and old pad with a couple of sheets in to do some tests with.)

Visible differences in paper & packaging

Above are two A4 gummed pads bought from Jackson’s art a little while apart. The old nearly empty pad is on the left, the newer one on the right – the barcodes and paper description on both are the same, but there are some differences (see images below);

  • The old pad says “made in England” on the front, the new one says “made in France” on the back

  • The old pad is bound with a black fabric strip, the new one isn’t

  • Both new A4 and A5 pads are now packaged for shipping in such a way the paper curls slightly at the front edge, which is annoying

  • The new paper is a slightly different shade of white, which can just about be made out in a scan - because I get through a lot of this paper, the ‘old’ pads are not THAT old, so it’s unlikely to be due to paper aging

Visible differences in packaging - fabric strip, manufacturing location, slightly curled edge

Slight difference in paper colour

A change in manufacture location suggests that although the paper description is the same, something about how it’s made could have changed? So does the difference in colour of the paper (from a more off white to a lighter white) I guess?

Drawing tests…

Before anyone @’s me, I know these are not super-rigorous-n=6-blind tests, idc, they’re just to satisfy myself that the decline in quality I perceive is demonstrable. I numbered the tests in the order I drew them, and did two sets of tests, on different days. On the first day I drew old then new paper, and on the second day I drew new then old. It’s impossible to do a blind test when you’re the only one testing, but I wanted to at least swap the drawing order. I tested with freshly sharpened pencils each time, for;

  • Drawing feel with some quick shading tests (1-4)

  • Surface fragility using an 8-colour scheme/layers I’d be working in when I first noticed quality decline in the form of paper surface damage when shading in layers (5-6)

  • Resistance to blue tack tearing (7-8)

  • Another test of shading/layers (9-10)

Drawing tests; day 1 testing, day 2 testing & omfgs how much does that blue tack test suck???, all the tests side by side

Scanned tests on a black background

Test results

To be honest, the first set of results showed me it wasn’t just my imagination, and this paper now sucks. But I repeated the tests the next day, just to be thorough. Here’s my interpretation of the results…

  • Drawing feel; the new paper feels weirdly spongey – the pencil tip sinks into it more and becomes blunt faster

  • Surface fragility; in the 8-colour shading scheme I’d been using for beetle drawing, the new paper surface broke up on the 4th colour in the 1st test, and 3rd colour in the 2nd test. The old paper did not suffer any surface damage, and I could finish colouring

  • Blue tack; The old paper survived having blue tack stuck & unstuck with no appreciable damage. The new paper tore or was damaged EVERY TIME blue tack touched it. WTAF?

  • More shading; I did the last shading test with different colours because I was depressimazed by how badly the new paper did in the surface fragility stakes. So I used different colours to make it easier to see how many layers I could get through. Tl;dr, the new paper sucked again

  • & btw, when I took the tests of the drawing board to scan them, the blue tack damaged the back of the new paper too, because of course it did. Gahd. Damm. It.

Welp… [Scowls at Daler Rowney.]

I could have done the tests again a few more times to get more data, and maybe got a friend to number paper tome blind the test somewhat. But these tests already took half an hour each time, this new low quality paper has already messed up two of my illustrations, and I’m already wasting half an hour tetchily writing this post to vent my drawing angst. So Daler Rowney have wasted enough of my time. Quality testing their paper is their own flipping job.

I’ll be contacting Jackson’s for a refund on my last couple of orders, and I’m testing paper by Canson, Strathmore, Stonehenge, & Bockingford to try and find something comparable to the old style paper I was using. I shouldn’t have to & I’m salty about it, but I need to finish my current workload, and I can’t afford to re-do more than 40 illustrations.

In summary - yes, I am retentive for doing these tests, but Daler Rowney smooth heavyweight paper has really declined in quality; don’t buy it, it sucks now. You’re welcome.