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Use sandpaper to improve the tooth of coloring book pages

Today, September 14th, is National Coloring Day. Of course coloring isn’t limited to coloring books, but over the last few years they’ve definitely become more prevalent! Whether they’re your preferred place to apply color or something you only do with kids, you’ve likely noticed that the paper quality can vary greatly. From thick cardstock to what’s basically printer paper, the type of paper will affect everything from what media you can use in the book to if you can actually color both sides of the same page.

On average, most adult coloring books use a slightly thicker-weight white paper that can handle all dry media as well as water-based markers, with some bleed-through if you press too hard or go over the same spot repeatedly. Crayons and colored pencils will lay down pretty evenly as the paper has little-to-no tooth, but if you’re the kind of artist who prefers to work with a more textured paper, here’s a tip that can help transform the books you already own – sandpaper!

I’ll demonstrate this in my copy Archie’s Coloring Book (and there’s a video demonstration at the end of the post).

This is a great book that is jam-packed with tons of images of Archie and the gang, showcasing everyone from the core trio to side characters (Dilton, Moose, Cheryl, Sabrina, Josie and the Pussycats, Miss Grundy, Mr. Weatherbee), to the ‘Lil Archie gang. Even Jughead’s dog Hotdog appears in all his shaggy glory!

I first thought about this back in 2017 after watching one of SuperRaeDizzle’s videos on dollar store art supplies. If you don’t follow her you really should – she’s a fantastic artist who does a lot of art supply reviews and draws/paints with incredible realism. In the linked video she uses a sanding block to rough up a sheet of inexpensive Bristol board to give it a better drawing surface.

I thought it was really cool but didn’t think it applied to me – until I started wondering if the same technique would work in what I was using a lot of at the time – coloring books. In theory it seemed like it should work but with the paper so much thinner than Bristol board I didn’t know if it would work. Would it tear the paper? Would it destroy the printed outlines? Would the ink bleed?

I had to try it for myself. To make the results as clear as possible I chose a page that allowed me to clearly divide the page into two halves.

I left the Veronica side of the page untouched and sandpaper I had on-hand to lightly rough up the Betty side of the page.

Here you can see the before (left) and after (right). There’s no obvious distress to the page though if you look closely at the black line of Betty’s shirt near the guitar you can see faint striae where the ink was removed.

To hold the book open while I worked I used my pants hanger hack. Still highly recommend!

I then set about coloring the page with Faber-Castell Polychromos colored pencils. I was careful to color in both girls the same way, using the same colors and applying the same amount of pressure.

Right away you can see a difference! Coloring on the Veronica side was exactly like coloring with colored pencils on computer printer paper (though I think this paper is slightly thicker). It’s super smooth and flat without any tooth or texture at all, and the colored pencil glided over the page really easily. On the Betty side I could feel the roughened-up surface of the page and it gave the colored pencil something to grab to, making coloring a very different experience.

It’s difficult to put the feeling into words but coloring the Veronica side felt like I had to concentrate more, because my natural tendency was to use more pressure to get more color payoff, whereas on the Betty side the same amount of barely-there pressure gave a richer color payoff.

Coloring on the super-smooth side made me very conscious of trying to not color too hard because it took more work to lay color down. On the flip side, coloring on the textured side of the page made color application a breeze, to the point where I had to concentrate on not applying too much and losing any highlights.

Both sides are colored the exact same way, using different colors for shading. I didn’t want to do anything too fancy because this was only a test; it was more about seeing if the sandpaper would ruin the book or any attempts to color vs me trying to get a professional-looking result.

I’d sanded the guitar evenly down the middle and thought there would be a more obvious difference between the two sides but I’d say it’s pretty subtle. Again- the sanded side has more depth and more color payoff while using the exact same pressure as the unsanded side.

I was also curious if sanding the paper would affect marker application, so decided to fill in the music notes with a mix of sparkle and metallic gel pens, in black and charcoal. I was really happy to see that there didn’t seem to be any effect on how the gel ink applied, and that both sides had the same amount of glitter and shine in the light.

Finally I wanted to see if there would be any issues coloring on larger open areas, so I picked two colors and experimented with blending them to each other. In my first layer of color (2nd image from the left) you can see that both sides are streaky but the funny thing is it’s for different reasons!

Veronica’s side is streaky because I struggle with laying down barely any color…though I probably didn’t have a proper point on my pencil, which didn’t help. Whereas Betty’s side is streaky because that’s the grain from the direction I’d sanded. You can see it better in the image below (though I sort of like the streaky look on her jeans because it makes them look more like real denim LOL)

The last test that I did was to compare the difference that burnishing would make on either side. I went over both sides of the guitar with my beloved Prismacolor Premiere colorless blender and really tried to smooth any grain down and move the color to fill any remaining white areas. I have the page open in front of me as I type this and while my fingertip can tell the difference between the two sides it is SLIGHT, and definitely not as much of a contrast as the rest of the page halves.

(And truthfully I’m not completely convinced that I’d feel a texture difference there at all if I hadn’t sanded too hard in that spot, as you can see by the diagonal lines of indentation on the lower right of the guitar)

Here’s the completed page. If I didn’t know that one side had been sanded I would think that I’d colored harder on the right side, and possibly used a different color for Betty’s jeans and background, as I do feel that there’s a visible difference in this closeup.

I don’t find the difference is as obvious in this image, though I’m not sure if it’s because the black background is causing a distraction.

After trying this once I’m a convert! I have a large collection of coloring books and I think this technique opens up a world of possibilities for getting different effects and results with colored pencils, crayons, and pastels. The opportunities expand even further if you experiment with different grits of sandpaper!

Imagine coloring a fantasy scene and sanding a grassy area with one grade of sandpaper, bricks of a castle with another, and the bark of a tree with a third… you could get a whole range of textural effects within the image all before even laying down any color!

Other notes: in the video below you’ll see a little bit of ink smearing. That was due to pressing too hard with the sandpaper, so it’s avoidable but something to watch out for. I was happy to see that there was no consequence to the back of the sanded page, nor any texture transfer on the facing page.

Here’s a graphic for those of you who like to pin my posts, and as promised above, here below is a video showing this technique in action.

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