Study in Drawing Pens and Paper

Pen and Paper Comparison Canson Paper

As a follow up of a prior post, this is a more comprehensive study of two sets of pigment based drawing pens and 4 different types of paper. The focus for this is in the hand drawing of RPG maps.

TL;DR: The Sakura pens on Canson paper is definitively the best when you compare side by side. however, if you are only using the thinner pens, the Prismacolor pens is very close in quality.


  • 0.5 mm mechanical pencil
  • 0.7 mm mechanical pencil
  • Routine “office quality” printer paper:
  • Low Quality Graph Paper: Office Depot Graph Paper
  • Routine Quality Graph Paper:
  • Better Quality Graph Paper:
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Apple MacBook Pro 2017
  • GridMaker iOS app for creating any type of graph paper you need for printing

Scanning Methods

  • Imported through Adobe Photoshop on a MacBook Pro running High Sierra
  • Kind: Black and White
  • Resolution: 600 dpi
  • Format: JPEG
  • Image Correction: None
  • Unsharp Mask: None
  • No modification to image except to add text for which paper (probably should have just written it). Then saved with embedding color profile as jpg with Quality of 10, Maximum, Baseline Optimized


Regarding current prices, the above materials are linked to product pages.

Click on images to view a larger version to see the detail.

Printer Paper

Pen and Paper Comparison Universal Paper

And then a scan of the back of this printer paper:

Pen and Paper Comparison Universal Paper Back

Office Depot Graph Paper

Pen and Paper Comparison Office Depot Paper

Scan of the reverse of this Office Depot paper:

Pen and Paper Comparison Office Depot Paper Back

Ampad Graph Paper

Pen and Paper Comparison Ampad

Scan of the reverse of this Ampad paper:

Pen and Paper Comparison Ampad Back

Canson Foundation Series Graph Paper

Pen and Paper Comparison Canson Paper

And for the scan of the back of the Canson paper, I want to mention that with the naked eye, you can barely see any bleeding on the 08 Prismacolor pen. The scanner shows a lot more than what you can actually see.

Pen and Paper Comparison Canson Paper Back


I had some ideas regarding using pencil and couldn’t get all the variations I needed, so didn’t complete that idea.

I should have included a separate row using a dye ink pen like the  to demonstrate the accentuate how much better these pigment based pens are.

Regarding the feel and utility of the pens. I like the Prismacolor pens best. This may be subjective, but the inner ink cartridge doesn’t jiggle like the Sakura pens do. Also, the caps on the Prismacolor pens snap to the back end better whereas the Sakura ones fall off sometimes. In a very small way the Prismacolor feel like they grip a little better. The Prismacolor pens come in a simple but nice little box whereas the sakura pens are in a package that isn’t any good for keeping them in. And, lastly, I like black… so the Prismacolor pens just look cooler.

There are many more different variations in thickness for the Sakura pens, if you need something specific. For example, the . (see this listing for the other versions too)

In regards to value, with the sets that I am using, the Sakura set costs $4.38 more than the Prismacolor pens, but does come with one more pen. So, for a cost per pen ($1.59 for Prismacolor vs. $2.06 for Sakura). If you want really cheap and don’t care about bleeding (didn’t show here, based on prior experience), get the 12 packs of the Sharpie Ultra Fine Point pens for $0.51 per pen and I’d guess that a dozen pens will last forever.

The Office Depot graph paper is noticeably lesser quality than either the Ampad or Canson paper (via Amazon) AND costs twice as much.

The cost/value/quality of ‘printer paper’ is going to vary widely and so is a little difficult to compare. The cost for the Ampad and Canson graph paper is very reasonable, but could be limiting if you are using quite a bit of it.

If you are scanning these, the Canson paper has thinner/fainter lines than the Ampad, which makes it much easier to remove with post-processing. The custom graph paper I am making using the GridMaker app is a smidge thinner than the Canson, but overall the quality of the Canson paper is much much better than printer paper.

I’ll have to do a separate post regarding using the GridMaker iOS app. There are many options to customize your paper. But in short, it is free to use for making basic graph paper with a small logo on the bottom. For $0.99, you can unlock the capability to make hexagons, which allows you to make isometric paper. And then, for $0.99 you can remove the logo (and make titles, etc.), which isn’t necessary, but is nice to remove. After making any paper you like, you can save as a PDF for future use however you want.

I notice less bleeding with the Sakura Pigma pens compared to the Prismacolor. This is evidenced by looking at the reverse scans of the paper that shows more ink on every paper used. This is most pronounced with the thicker pens. Bleeding is still evident with the thinner pens (005, 01), but still noticeable. I am unable to really show this here, but this is most pronounced on the reverse side of the Canson paper, where with the naked eye, you practically can’t see any bleeding through with the Sakura pens except on the corners of the hex (where lines cross) with the 08 pen.


You can’t really go wrong with the Prismacolor pens and there are some pros with them. However, if you are looking for the ‘better’ pen in regards to performance, it’s the Sakura. But, to break this down into 3 different use scenarios:

  1. If you are looking for the cheapest and easiest way to draw maps with pen and paper, go with the Prismacolor pens and a decent printer paper. This gives the added benefit of being able to print various types of graph paper. You really can’t go wrong with this combination.
  2. However, if you want a better quality, the Sakura pens are definitely better. Especially on a good paper, like the Canson.
  3. In the middle, is to spend a couple more dollars and use the Sakura pens and use the Canson (or the Ampad) paper when drawing on regular 1/4″ boxes, but then print up isometric or hexagonal when you want it (until I find a ‘high quality’ equivalent graph paper).

Hope this helps someone else. For me, it was a little fun to nerd out and learn something about pens and paper and to see what may work best for different purposes.

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