How to Design a Bristol Board

Things You'll Need

  • Bristol boards (1 rough and 1 smooth)
  • Crayons
  • Chalk
  • Charcoal
  • Fine art pens
  • Spray-on fixative

Bristol board is also known as bristol paper, originating in Bristol, England. It is a drawing paper of a heavy grade that offers two working surfaces for any type of two-dimensional art. This is the main difference between bristol board and illustration board, which only has one workable surface. It is rated by how many plies it has. The thicker the board, the heavier the medium that can be used. The board comes in a variety of surface finishes varying from smooth to medium vellum. It also has a variety of uses including paperback book covers, file folders and ticket stock.

Smooth Bristol Board

Lay down your bristol board on your table or drafting surface. Draw your design in ink as smooth boards are made especially for fine art pens and drafting. Begin with wider nibbed pens for the main lines of your design. These boards offer a clean and flat surface for drawing and are conducive to line drawings as well. You are free to draw to the edge as these boards are heavy duty and will not bend at the corners.

Take out finer nibbed pens for the details of your drawing. Apply all necessary details according to your design.

Spray on the fixative in a well-ventilated space, as it is not to be inhaled. This will ensure your drawing will last and will not run or get damaged in transportation or when being mounted and hung.

Rough Bristol Board

Lay out your bristol board on your work surface. Take out the chalk, charcoal and crayons you wish to use for your drawing. Draw your heavier lines with the thicker media going all the way to the edge if necessary.

Draw your lighter lines with the finer media according to your design. Shade in any contours or shadows that you require. The heavier the board, the more media application it can handle without warping.

Spray on the fixative in an area with good ventilation. This will preserve your work on the bristol board and allow it to be framed or hung as is.


  • If you plan to use heavier media, make sure the ply of the board is highest to ensure there is no warping once you have completed your design. If you only plan to use pencil or some other light media, a lighter grade is acceptable.


  • Do not use spray on fixative in an area with poor ventilation as it is toxic if consumed.