Sillman & Birn sketchbook paper sampler

At the Spectrum Live Art Event I was lucky enough to pick up a couple packets of paper samples from Stillman & Birn. I’ve always been a little flummoxed by their notebook naming system so actually getting a little 4×6″ bit of each paper available was such an eye-opener.

There are six different kinds of paper; three types of paper at the 100 lb/150 gsm weight (Alpha, Gamma and Epsilon) and three types at the 180 lb/270 gsm weight (Beta, Delta, and Zeta).

For the most part, the lighter 100 lb/150 gsm is plenty heavy enough for most writers. If you are planning to do more mixed media, collage or art journaling, you might want to consider the 180 lb/270 gsm papers. To me, these feel more like cardstock than paper.

Sillman & Birn sketchbook paper sampler

I used the same tools on all six papers from an assortment of pens to a brush loaded with ink and a Sharpie marker. All the papers performed admirably and I don’t think anyone would be disappointed by any of them. Even my flexible nib dip pen did not bleed, though on some of the papers it took several minutes to dry (not uncommon for dip pens though).

Stillman & Birn paper grades

The Delta (180 lb/270 gsm) and the Gamma (100lb/150 gsm) are both warm ivory stocks. The Alpha and Beta papers are both cold-press (which means they have some texture to the paper like watercolor papers). Because the Alpha is a lighter stock the tooth to the paper is less noticeable. The smoothest papers are the Epsilon (100lb/150 gsm) and the Zeta (180lb/270 gsm).

Sillman & Birn sketchbook paper sampler

The lighter weight papers were my favorites. I could see using them to write or draw and were thick enough to handle a little water color or ink washes. They would be more than enough for me under most circumstances. The Alpha sample got a lot of ink pooled on it and buckled a little bit as did the Epsilon. The cream ivory Gamma paper stayed flat. The Alpha and the Epsilon were my favorites. The Epsilon is smoother so my tools had very little resistance. The Alpha paper is a little toothier, providing a bit of friction which is helpful with rollerballs and slick gel inks. The Epsilon is probably the most comparable to Canson and other makers of the classic black sketchbook though the paper is a bit heavier weight (better).

Sillman & Birn sketchbook paper sampler

The heavier 180 lb270 gsm papers withstood all the inks and the Sharpie marker without being worse for the wear . The Zeta is smooth to the touch, the Beta has a little tooth to it and the Delta is the creamy ivory with some texture as well.

Sillman & Birn sketchbook paper sampler

From the reverse of the papers, you can see the top row is all the 180 lb/270 gsm papers and the bottom row is the 100 lb/150 gsm papers. There is the merest hint of the Sharpie marker but no actual bleed through.

All-in-all, these are excellent papers and I can see what all the fuss is about now. The best source for Stillman & Birn sketchbooks is Goulet Pens. They stock all six paper stocks in the 5.5×8.5″ A5 size and a few of the other available sizes of the Zeta (smooth, 180 lb/270 gsm). Prices start at $18, about the same as a Moleskine and the S&B books are considerably better for fountain pens.

GIVEAWAY: Oh, I have ONE sampler pack to give away. Its just a little thing with one sheet of all 6 grades of paper. Tell me which grade of paper you’re most interested in trying in the comments to be entered to win.

UPDATE: The kind folks at Stillman & Birn have offered to provide the winner of this giveaway with the notebook of their choice and I’ll still send you the sampler pack as well so now there is even more reason to enter!

FINE PRINT: All entries must be submitted by 10pm CST on Friday, June 13, 2014. All entries must be submitted at, not Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook, okay? Winner will be announced on Sunday. Winner will be selected by random number generator from entries that played by the rules (see above). Please include your email address in the comment form so that I can contact you if you win. I will not save email addresses or sell them to anyone โ€” pinky swear. If winner does not respond within 30 days, I will draw a new giveaway winner. Shipping via USPS first class is covered. Additional shipping options or insurance will have to be paid by the winner. We are generous but weโ€™re not made of money. Iโ€™m feeling generous today so, this contest is open to any reader, US and international readers!

0 comment on Stillman & Birn Paper Sampler

  1. I have used the Epsilon and agree with your assessment. Great for almost anything you want to throw at it, just don’t use as much water or use a dry brush technique. However, I have never tried the other grades and would be thrilled to do so.

  2. I’ve never tried any of those before, but I think I’d be more interested in the Beta; something with a little more texture for me to play with watercolours on.

  3. I mostly am interested in good paper for sketching with pen and watercolor washes, so I think the Epsilon would be my first choice. But I’d be happy to try them all! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. eThe Epsilon seems quite nice. I do lik your thourough testing of the whole stock. It’s just WaD style…

  5. “Only on paper has humanity yet achieved glory, beauty, truth, knowledge, virtue, and abiding love.”
    โ€“ George Bernard Shaw (This is, of course, a willful misreading of the quote – but still. I think I’d make most use of the Delta, as a collage artist: Thanks!

  6. I’m looking for a sketchbook to be loyal to for pen & ink and the odd watercolor here and there, so I’m most curious about the Beta and Zeta…..I’ll say the Zeta? A sampler pack would be awesome- do they make those available to the general public I wonder?

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