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Vellum vs Tracing Paper – Differences & Comparison

vellum vs tracing paper

Although these two types of drawing paper may look the same, when you compare vellum vs tracing paper closely, you will find that there are quite a few notable differences. This article will teach you about these differences and learn about the particular circumstances that you can use them for.

What is Vellum?

vellum paper

Vellum has been around for centuries (at least traditional vellum is). This type of vellum was made from stretching thin calfskin over a large wooden frame and then waiting for it to dry and cure completely. Some craftsmen still make traditional vellum, but they are few and far in between. This makes traditional vellum quite hard to find and expensive.

On the other hand, modern vellum does not contain any animal products whatsoever. Just like regular paper, modern vellum also comes from plant cellulose fibers. However, the main difference is in the way of manufacturing the paper. The reason why the regular paper is opaque is due to the amount of air trapped inside the cellulose.

When making modern vellum, there will be machinery meant for beating or squeezing the air out of the cellulose fibers. It will process the cellulose until it removes most, if not all, of the air in between the fibers. This results in a sheet of paper that is quite translucent.

What is Tracing Paper?

tracing paper

Technically speaking, you can also consider vellum as tracing paper as you can use it to trace drawings. However, the manufacturing process is quite different.

Some types of tracing paper use the same method as making vellum, which uses a different type of plant cellulose. There are other methods of making tracing paper. One of the most commonly used methods is chemically treating regular paper to make it translucent.

Essentially, it involves filling the spaces in between the fibers with a material that has the same refraction index as cellulose. This makes the sheet quite translucent.

Vellum vs Tracing Paper – What are the Differences?

Looking at sheets of vellum vs tracing paper side by side, you would probably not notice any differences between them. However, I can assure you that these two types of paper are different and have slightly different applications.

Vellum Tracing Paper
Materials Used Made from plant cellulose Made from wood pulp
Appearance Glossy and quite translucent Not as translucent; a bit cloudy
Thickness Comes in several thicknesses Comes in just one thickness
Durability Highly durable Quite fragile, can rip easily
Price Very expensive Quite affordable, slightly more expensive

Materials Used

In the old days, vellum came from stretching calf skin tightly over a wooden frame and then allowing it to dry for a couple of days to weeks. Some companies still use the same materials, but they are few and far in between. This also explains why authentic vellum sheets are so hard to find and quite expensive.

These days, you can see vellum being made either from cellulose fibers from plants and trees or sometimes, from plasticized cotton fibers. This modern type of vellum is always available in most stationery shops.

On the other hand, tracing paper is just regular paper but treated with chemicals to give it its translucent appearance.


If you take a closer look at vellum, you will find that vellum has a glossier finish compared to tracing paper. In addition, vellum is significantly more translucent than tracing paper.

Tracing paper has a more matte finish. If you run your fingers over the surface, it is a bit more textured. Also, tracing paper is a bit cloudier, so you will need a lightbox underneath the paper to clearly see what you are tracing underneath.


Vellum comes in many different thicknesses and sizes. There are types of vellum that are really thin but they almost look like plastic sheets. Then there are also vellum boards that are quite thick. These are ideal for making invitation cards.

On the other hand, tracing and parchment paper only come in one paper weight and thickness. This is why you would not be able to use parchment or tracing paper for invitations or other stationery uses. However, this uniform thickness is what makes it ideal for architectural drafting.


When it comes to durability, vellum is the winner of the two. Vellum is quite durable and can withstand repeated erasures. If you are talking about traditional vellum, the one derived from calfskin, then it can last for hundreds of years. On the other hand, modern vellum can still last quite a long time.


Vellum, because it is typically thicker and has higher quality, is much more expensive compared to regular tracing paper. This, in turn, is just a bit more expensive than regular paper. This is the reason why most traditional draftsmen would use tracing paper for their projects.


Even though they may look the same, there are several, quite significant differences between vellum vs tracing paper. Both these types of paper have similar uses, but vellum has more applications, such as in the making of stationery, like invitations.

However, being quite cheap, tracing paper is the more popular choice for architectural drafting. Now that you know the uses of these two types of paper, you can choose which one would suit your project the most.

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