Pads of Paper Prevail
by Tina Manzer
During the back-to-school season, sketchpads become the backbone of business for most AM retailers. A steady perennial seller anyway, sales in this category leap up in late summer as instructors and students stock up. We assumed – since the sketchpad has always been an art store staple – that as a product it changed little year after year. We were wrong. The sketchpad continues to evolve. Here’s what industry manufacturers told us about trends, pricing and seasonal sales.
The number-one sketchpad-selling season
“Back-to-school is definitely the key period in the year for our sketchpads,” said Edouard Andre-Hessig from Daler-Rowney, the 225 year-old company known for its color, pads, brushes and canvas. “Our best sellers then are student sketchpads and books, followed by drawing pads.”
He explained the three criteria that artists consider when choosing a pad of paper: paper weight, number of sheets and size of sheets. “In addition, two other criteria are essential for more demanding artists: texture and color – more natural or more white.”
From his perspective, price is also a factor for sketchpad consumers.
At the NAMTA Trade Show in May, Daler-Rowney launched a new line, “Simply” pads, that includes a complete range of drawing and sketching pads at an economical price. “Target users are students and price-sensitive consumers,” he explained. “Professional artists are the target of our higher-end Langton Prestige Watercolor paper pads, blocks and sheets, also launched at NAMTA.”
Designers and manga artists who use markers need a completely different kind of paper pad, he said, like Daler-Rowney’s Layout, Tracing and Bristol pads, and Marker pads of bleed-resistant paper.
More bleed-proof, and what instructors want in a sketchpad
Ron Wallace, vice president of sales at Borden & Riley Paper Company, reported that the company’s hottest selling drawing/sketchpads are the Borden & Riley #116 Vellum Finish Drawing/Sketch Paper and the #234 Bleedproof Paper. “These are unique papers in the market and are the top sellers in their category,” he said. “Number 234 fills a special need for those who are interested in using marker pens, especially for calligraphy, cartooning and other, similar arts.
“Although these two items sell more to the non-student market, our entire line is designed to appeal to the new student all the way up to the professional artist who has many years of experience,” he added. Borden & Riley is known for its wide range of papers for the fine art, graphic design, calligraphy, watercolor, printing, drafting, sign writer, engineering/architectural and inkjet market.
Most students do not get to choose what kind of sketchpad they use for assigned projects in art school; the instructors and teachers specify the brand or quality they have to buy. “It is very important as a vendor to try to influence the faculties of colleges, art institutes and other teaching establishments,” noted Wallace.
When they do have a choice, student artists may be more price conscious, but he has found that professional artists buy the paper they like no matter the price.
As Olivia Fierro from Fierro Paper pointed out, art instructors want a sketchbook that works well with a variety of mediums, including acrylic paint, Conté, charcoal and oil pastels. “A sketchpad that also works well with watercolors is a bonus,” she added.
Gil McMillon from Kunst & Papier agreed. “Instructors seem to prefer papers which are versatile and stand up to a great deal of use.”
Pads and their bindings, new sizes and shapes
“Pads of artist papers are among our best-selling products,” said Don Bozek, director of marketing at Strathmore Paper. Strathmore’s classic 400 Series pad – of a heavyweight 60-pound, acid-free paper intended for practice and quick studies with dry media – is the company’s top seller. The paper has been around since 1940, but wasn’t offered in a pad until 10 years later.
A pad (as opposed to loose sheets) is vital in the artistic process says Bozek. “It’s portable and convenient of course,” he said. “A pad protects your work, it offers you multiple sheets and if the pad is wire bound, you can flip back and forth between drawings. One hundred-sheet sketch pads are the standard, and if an artist is practicing techniques or working on concepts, he can go through that quickly.”
Consumers are interested in three binding methods for pads – stitched, coiled and taped – noted Olivia from Fierro Paper. The company’s Premium Sketch It pad, used by artists at all levels, is coil bound with a lock, and contains perforated pages of 57-pound textured paper. “The coil lock eliminates the problem of tangling between binders and the deformation of the coil itself,” she told us. “It’s also a safety feature because it reduces the chance of getting cut or punctured by the metal. Perforated pages allow artists to neatly remove their art from the pad if they desire, or they can choose to keep their sketches in a book.”
The binding is a big part of the appeal of Kunst & Papier’s binder board books. They offer multimedia archival paper in fold-flat bindings with sewn linen spines in a variety of colors. In the last issue of Art Materials Retailer, Marilyn Hajjar, an AM retailer from San Francisco said, “As soon as our customers discovered Kunst & Papier sketchbooks they were hooked.”
“Binder boards are unique,” agreed Kunst & Papier’s Gil McMillon. “We have imported the line for the past seven years, and have added different styles and sizes.”
What used to be “the norm” in sketchpad size continues to evolve: Standard sizes of 11 by 17 inches, 9 by 12 inches and 6 by 9 inches were originally dictated by the machinery that produced the paper, and standards in the framing industry. “But when artists started requesting different sizes and shapes – like square and landscape – the number of choices expanded,” explained Don Bozek from Strathmore. “Depending on the specialized style and orientation of the paper in the pad, the price expands, too.”
In Bozek’s experience, though, artists will pay a premium price for good quality paper in a size that works for them. “They want good results,” he said.
Size does matter, says Olivia Fierro, but “the standard sizes are always the first to sell. As the old saying goes, ‘If it is not broken, why fix it?’ Artists are accustomed to using certain sizes and are disinterested in changing.”
Children need sketchpads, too
“Price sensitivity depends on the person,” said Lisa Brody from Faber-Castell, makers of the Playing & Learning line of children’s art supplies, including paper products. “We try to build understanding among retailers and consumers about the benefits of high-quality materials for their child’s artistic experience. Still, there is a price threshold so we strive to provide the highest quality paper we can at a reasonable price.”
Faber-Castell USA introduced Playing & Learning for children in the U.S. nine years ago, after acquiring Creativity for Kids, a leading specialty manufacturer of creative activity products.
The company’s paper pads and sketchbooks sell best during the summer when families travel and kids need to be entertained in the car or on a plane, and during the back-to-school season. The target market (parents and grandparents) buys supplies for children to do art projects at home, although Faber-Castell’s pads and rolls of white paper and newsprint sometimes are used by classroom and art teachers in schools. “Art teachers generally look for lower-priced products due to their budgets, but when they have the funds they prefer higher quality products for their students to use,” Brody said.
For children’s products, “The growing focus on environmental awareness has created a trend toward recycled paper,” said Brody. It’s happening across the board for all age and skill groups, based on what these manufacturers told us.
“The trend is toward using recycled paper or paper made with natural resources such as wind power,” said Ron Wallace from Borden & Riley, who noted that recycled paper can come with a variety of different qualities and with differing content of recycled materials.
“As a company, we have eco-friendly products and are planning to expand this range. However, there is generally price resistance to such products at the consumer level, except in some student environments where they are active in ecological issues,” he said. “The professional will generally buy if they like the paper for the paper’s sake, but they are often unlikely to switch to such a paper just because of its eco status.”
Strathmore was the first to offer pads of recycled paper in 1972, during the world’s big push toward environmental awareness. When the movement died down, so, too, did the demand for the paper. Strathmore phased it out.
“In 1989, we introduced it again,” said Don Bozek. “We thought that it was either going to fade away if the movement faded again, or it was going to cannibalize our other products. Instead, sales grew.
“Then we introduced The Windpower Series,” he continued, “manufactured with emissions-free, wind-generated electricity through the purchase of 100-percent certified renewable energy credits. We wondered if it would steal business from our other lines. What’s happening is that they all seem to be doing well.”
Bozek noted that greener paper products are popular in pockets of the country where the environmental movement is particularly strong. “Some artists really like the idea that they are working with a paper that is more ecologically friendly.”
Edouard Andre-Hessig from Daler-Rowney notes: “The main market remains very classical in its needs, yet we have witnessed a demand for more recycled sketchbooks. Our Earthbound product is very successful.”
The rumors of paper’s death have been greatly exaggerated
Sales of sketchpads and paper in general are going strong, and our industry’s manufacturers continue to introduce new products and improve old ones, even as classic paper lines with traditional uses continue to grow.
When we asked Borden & Riley’s Don Wallace about the qualities designers, writers and architects need in a pad of paper, he replied, “In spite of CAD there is still a market for sketch rolls for architects and professionals in similar fields. Also known as trash paper or bumwad, it is used as widely as pads. Many consumers look for hard-backed books or spiral-bound books, especially when working away from their normal workplace, and there is a continuing demand for 100-percent rag papers, especially for archival and/or acid-free purposes.”
Diane Gale from Alvin told us: “Every new computer, copier, printer or data-storage application in the past 30 years was supposed to start a ‘paperless revolution’ but it hasn’t happened. For all the technological advances that have occurred, people still need to see their ideas take shape on paper, and put their final artwork on it.”