A NOTE ON REVIEWS: Everything reviewed here is based on hands-on, personal testing. Wherever possible, I use a wide variety of tools, media, and techniques to give the average reader as broad a perspective on the reviewed item as possible. Unless otherwise noted, nothing reviewed here is a complimentary item; approximately 99% of all board/paper, pencils, pens, inks, and paints have been hand-purchased by me, the reviewer. Any reviews of complimentary items will be noted upfront in the interest of full disclosure. For example (and yes, this is an actual disclosure):
DISCLOSURE NOTE: Two items tested on this board were, in fact, complimentary. The squat bottle of EON’s Vortex ink was added as a “thank you” to a board order for testing a piece of board for a Twitter user (which I did for free, for fun, and without expecting anything in return) and the eyedropper bottle of EON’s Abyss Ink was added to a large shipment of art board I purchased from EON as a gift due to a production delay. This bottle of ink was not requested or expected; it was simply a complimentary item from the manufacturer for me being patient due to unforeseen circumstances. All other inks, pencils, and paints were purchased through various online vendors except for the Palomino pencils, which were purchased at an Artist & Craftsmen Supply store.
Intro to EON
I first learned about EON Boards through an online interview with Freddie Williams II, which stuck with me at the time as I knew him primarily for digital work (and, of course, writing the great DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics). As I looked into the company’s offerings, I saw a number of working pros whose names I recognized giving the art board glowing reviews, saying it was as close to the quality of art boards that they used when they broke into the industry.
Getting EON Board
While I love pencilling on rougher vellum surface board, I chose to purchase the smoothest board the company made for inking purposes (it just looks better to my eyes; you mileage may vary). To that end, I purchased EON’s HD Plate board a while back. As of today, HD Plate costs $14.99 before tax for 12 sheets, which comes to about $1.25 per sheet (not including shipping). If you decide you like this board, you can order more at a higher volume for free or reduced shipping, which is good to keep in mind. Shipping was though the US Postal Service, and I had no issues receiving my initial board order. Having been satisfied w/ my initial purchase a few years ago (and how the board worked with how I ink), I ordered seven or eight packs’ worth of board last year (free shipping!) – enough for a short graphic novel, if I were so inclined to make one. A production issue delayed shipping by about a month, but I wanted that board, and so I patiently waited, and it came to my door within three to four days of being shipped.
- How well does the board handle pencil marks (and how cleanly do pencil marks erase)?
Taking into account the most people have their own favorite way of pencilling, a wide variety of pencil brands are used for testing. The quality of line is reviewed, the quality of built-in erasers (if applicable) are reviewed, and how well an electric plastic eraser can remove marks is also reviewed. Traditional and mechanical leads are tested; HB and F leads are the primary weights tested (most easily available lead vs. the middle weight lead in the pencil lead spectrum). H leads are not used as they can cut into the paper as marks are made, and B leads can get extremely smudgy, so they were omitted as well.
- How well does the board handle different types of ink (and inking utensils)?
Four different inks in bottle have been tested here: Speedball’s Super Black India Ink, Koh-I-Noor Radiograph Ink, and EON’s own two bottled inks: Vortex and Abyss. These inks are tested with a Hunt 102 nib, a Kuretake inking brush, a Windsor & Newton Series 7 brush, a Raphael 8408 red sable hair brush, and, for the sake of large areas, a cotton swab is used for a swatch of each ink to show overall shade on the board. Additionally, a COPIC Multiliner SP pen, a Sakura Micron pen, a FaberCastell PITT artist pen, and a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen are also tested. For large areas of ink, I tend to use cotton swabs in an effort to prolong the lives of my brushes. Those are also tested here.
- How well does the board handle pigmented color paints (watercolor and gouache)?
This is a new category for me. As I am looking to work with color on traditional media in an admittedly impractical way (more on that here), I prefer to work with pigmented color, as opposed to alcohol and/or dye-based art markers, which fade over time. For this reason, I am testing out the viability of using light watercolor and gouache paints on various types of board and other art paper. I do not expect most Bristol board to be up to watercolor, but gouache has different qualities, especially when it dries, so I’m looking to see what boards, if any, can not only handle color on the board, but also (preferably) not warp or buckle in such a way that it would make scanning production art difficult. For this test, I chose two colors (a shade of blue and red), for both watercolor and gouache. Watercolor paints were in watercolor pans (i.e., not in tubes). I used a brush with a water reserve in the handle for the water colors, and a standard mixed-media brush with synthetic bristles for the gouache.
When you open your bag of boards, you will notice the overall paper weight, thickness/stiffness, and smooth drawing texture right out of the gate. While I have purchased board in the past from other vendors with similar qualities, I was not impressed with their ability to hold ink. That being said, EON is not one of those those companies. Historically, I have been impressed with EON’s quality on my own, but this test isn’t for me – it’s for anyone else out there looking at buying art board.
The Pencil Test
Each pencil is used to fill out a long rectangular bar of space. The box is then shaded in, and then harder marks (with an average handwriting pressure) over that. The first third of the rectangle is left alone, to show the quality of line and shading. The next third is then erased with the pencil’s built-in eraser (if applicable). The last third of the rectangle is then erased with a high-quality Derwent electric plastic eraser, in order to show the best possible quality erasure of the original pencils (something that is good to know when you are cleaning up your artwork for publication).
The first three pencils used were high-end Palomino pencils. These are sold for over $20 per dozen, regardless of the style of pencil. Personally, I enjoy using these for writing and sketching. As you can see here, the quality of line and shading is great. However, it’s a bit too great: none of them erases well enough that I would consider using any of them for production work.
Next, I used the most ubiquitous lead pencil I could think of: the standard yellow Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencil. This is an HB lead, for those who don’t know. It works relatively well, but still doesn’t erase as much as I would prefer.
This other Dixon Ticonderoga, the 2.5, is an F lead. I have never tested it with EON board before; here are the visual results:
Most pros that I know are very picky about their pencils, and this is where it starts to get to more obscure “purchase these in an art store” type of pencils.
For example, the Staedtler Mars Lumograph F lead pencil performs pretty well. Like all Lumograph pencils, it has no built-in eraser.
Lead holders are also a favorite of many pros; these particular marks below were made with Prismacolor Turquoise brand F lead (again, no built-in eraser):
Lastly, I tested a mechanical, high-carbon F lead made by Pentel. The mechanical pencil has a white plastic eraser that is held in place at the top.
Generally speaking, the lighter the line, the easier it erases, and that goes for all boards I’ve ever used, with the exception of Strathmore Series 500 (where the standard Dixon Ticonderoga #2 erases best, of all things). For EON board, the mechanical lead seems to erase the best (with the Turquise lead a close second), and that’s my most important criteria.
The Ink Test
Speedball Super Black India Ink
This stuff is pretty easy to find not only in an art supply store, but also in any garden variety Michaels or Jo-Ann’s style arts and crafts store. You’ll probably get a better deal on price in a regular art supply store, though, and if you plan on inking like crazy, you can save money and buy it in larger bottles than the standard one- or two-ounce bottles that are usually bought. It’s pretty thick, and as time goes on, you may need to water it down, as it can clog in a 102 pen nib pretty easily.
Koh-I-Noor Radiograph Ink
Technically, this is supposed to be used to refill Radiograph tech pens, but it can also be used for nibs and brushes, provided you house it an empty bottle more conducive to dipping a nib or brush in it (the original packaging is not designed for it). Also, you can purchase this ink in a larger bottle from many online vendors. It’s noticeably thinner than the Speedball ink, which helps with flow…however, it does seem to bleed a little bit as the lines were made.
EON Vortex Ink
This complimentary bottle of ink is thicker than the Koh-I-Noor, but not as thick as the Speedball. This ink is manufactured for EON by Ziller’s, which sells specialty inks of it’s own online (I haven’t used them, so I don’t know how different this is over their normal product). Overall, it seems to flow pretty well.
EON Abyss Ink
This other bottle of complimentary ink is, I believe, intended for tech pens and brush pens. The consistency of this is much closer to the Koh-I-Noor, which makes sense, though I experienced no bleeding from it. It should be noted that it is supposed to be diluted with distilled water (at least according to the label) for pen refill usage.
The Tech/Brush Pens
All pens and brush pens here are using their original manufacturer ink. Not much of a fan of the Microns here; nothing wrong with the application of ink, but the overall comfort and quality of line isn’t as good as the PITT or the Copic.
What I look for in nib/brush ink is a happy medium of flow and darkness. I would probably put the EON Vortex and the Speedball (with dilution) as my favorites here. When it comes to tech pens, the overall quality of line and comfort are most important to me. I love the PITT pens for line quality and comfort, but I primarily use the COPICs over them because they are close in terms of comfort and can also be refilled, which cuts down on overall waste. Either/or works just fine.You can see how all the inks performed below:
The Paint Test
This new test will show both how colors show on the board and how much/little the board warps or buckles with water-based media.
I started on one side with as strong an amount of pigment as I could, and pulled it out until ran out of as much pigment as possible.
The next day, I returned to the board to check on the overall quality of board once fully dried. As you can see, there was a little bit of buckling, which makes the page lie on the table in an uneven fashion. That being said, it is not the worst warp I have seen:
The top right edge does not lay flat due to the water from the watercolor brush strokes.
I added a small amount of water to each shade of gouache paint, in an effort to stretch it out just a little bit (and when I say a “small amount,” I mean I dipped the brush in water once and mixed it with the paint before applying). Again, stretched it across the paper which, granted, makes the brush strokes really obvious here. However, I wasn’t testing for brush stroke visibility; I was testing to see how the board held up after drying. After waiting 24 hours, I was generally surprised to find that it surprisingly lays pretty flat.
It should be noted that I do not expect any Bristol board I review to do particularly well with watercolor paint, because none of them were really designed for heavy watercolor use. That being said, I’ve actually seen paper marketed as watercolor paper that buckles significantly worse than this board. As for the gouache, while it did end up laying pretty flat, I also only painted those two thin swatches. How it lays with paint in large batches is a different story, and I have not tried that yet. It might be a good idea to test out a fully painted page in the future.
Watercolor use: Probably not (but performed better than expected)
Gouache use: Yes, with reservations (until further testing)
Assuming that the production process is standard across EON’s batches of product, and also assuming that what I have is indicative of that product, EON’s HD Plate board should be more than fine for professional use. It holds up with a lot of ink on the page, cleans up well with care. I would happily buy it again for traditional inks. Everyone has their favorites, and, for many, this will probably be up there if they haven’t given it a try already.
Until I perform further gouache tests, I will probably use this board primarily for inks, and then print blue line art out on a watercolor/gouache-style paper (as opposed to doing colors and inks on one page).