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Colored Pencil Basics

Updated on January 29, 2020
linfcor profile image

Professional scrapbook artist, paper crafter, and author, I have taught people how to make family memories into legacies for 20 years.

Craft Uses For Colored Pencils

If you are a stamper, card maker, scrapbook artist. journal maker, or mixed media artist, then colored pencils should be part of your stash. While some sets can be pricey ,there are very reasonable alternatives. They are an investment that will yield back hours of fun and craft enjoyment.

So the obvious use would be on coloring books ! Those of us who love to color, love the idea that colored pencils can be more forgiving than markers.Unlike markers, you do have a chance to erase if you color lightly enough.

Stamped images are another place where colored pencils can be an effective tool. You don't have to use any special inks if you are using colored pencils.You don't have to be concerned that any inks will run over the image.

Digi images can also be completed with colored pencils. It's the perfect way to get a great deal of detail with very few supplies.

You know those little tiny stamped images, we all love. They are often very difficult to color. With a sharpened colored pencil, you can get into the tiniest spaces and still shade and blend.

I have the Cricut Design Space program. There are a lot of images to print and color. I love to spend time grabbing my pencils and have a ball making cards and images for my art journals.

Other Reasons Why Colored Pencils Are Good For Crafters

  • They are very portable-you can carry a small pouch of colored pencils when you travel or just every day.I get tired waiting in my doctor's office. I love to have a small book and a few pencils to pass the time away.Perfect for a plane trip too.
  • They are not expensive-yes there are expensive if you invest in real artists pencils, but there are plenty of sets that are not that expensive. Several pencils come as singles. So you can try them out. Do your research and decide how much you are willing to spend. The only thing that I would tell you is that if you start out with a really cheap set, your results may meet your expectations.
  • They are easy to learn -unlike other markers and pens, colored pencils are relatively easy to learn. With a few blending techniques you can get good results. If you want to go further, you can learn some additional techniques to take you even further.

Masking tape can be used to hold down your paper while you work on your projects

Small Girl For Scrapbook Page

Clean As You Go

Colored pencils cause debris on the "tooth" of the paper. It can't easily be erased,.Blot, don't rub when you use an eraser. Keep a soft paint brush in your work area, Carefully brush away debris as you work

Types Of Colored Pencils

There are basically two types of colored pencils.

Oil Based Colored Pencils

The oil based pencil is harder and does not have the waxy feel. Their cores have a thick coating which helps to prevent breakage. They don't leave the waxy crumbs on the paper that the wax pencils do.

  • Faber-Castel Polychromos colored pencils are recommended for their high quality. They are available in different size collections or as singles.
  • Polychromos colored pencils have a hard core. 120 colors are available in sets and as singles.
  • Caran d'Ache Pablo colored pencils, if you want pencils that feel softer and creamier- more like waxed based colored pencils- than Faber-Castell brand. See the color chart for this collection
  • Lyra Rembrandt PolyColor are available in 72 colors. The consistency is a cross between a Pablo and Polychromos pencil. in a set of 120 colors.

Wax Based Colored Pencils

Wax based pencils are the most common types of pencils on the market. The core inside the pencil casings contain pigments bound by wax. The drawings have a creamy texture as a result. The downside to wax pencils is that they are very prone to breakage and wear down quickly.

  • Prismacolor They contain high wax and blend very smoothly. They are best known for their creamy and soft consistency. The drawbacks are that they require frequent sharpening, since they wear down and break easily. They also create bloom, a thin, powdery film of wax that appears on the surface after application. Prismacolor Premier is their artist grade line. It has 150 colors. Verithin pencils have the hardest, thinnest and lowest wax content cores of any colored pencil. They are valuable for producing layouts, cleaning up edges and working for small areas.
  • Derwent Pencils have thick cores and are available in 72 color ranges. They are moderately hard. The artists pencils are available in a set of 120. Their studio pencils come in a set of 72 or you can buy them in smaller boxes. Not as bright as the Prismacolor or Polychromos. See the Derwent Color Range
  • Spectrum Noir come in five tins with 24 colors in each tin. Each tin is sold separately. They are considered a wax and oil blend. There are 120 colors are available. Each tin has a complete family of colors that are meant to blend seamlessly. See the Spectrum Noir Color Chart

Water Soluble Colored Pencils

The strength of these pencils is that you can blend them with water

  • Faber-Castell Albrecht Duerer water-soluble colored pencils come in a range of 120 colors. They are the only brand in this category that completely dissolve when water is added.
  • Caran d'Ache Supercolor II soft pencils have the same 120 color range and have the softest cores of any water soluble colored pencils. They dissolve nicely when water is added.
  • Caran d'Ache Neocolor II resemble crayons, but are are highly pigmented wax pastels. The texture is creamy, intense, and dissolves easily. Because of their high waxy content, you can only sharpen them by hand.
  • Lyra Rembrandt-Aquarell pencils have the same core hardness as the Lyra Polycolor oil-based line.
  • Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils come in 36 colors that match the popular Premier colors. However, these watercolor pencils have a drier and chalkier feel.

Other Non Classified Colored Pencils

  • Chameleon Color Tones have 50 shades in 25 pencils. That is to say that each pencil has two colors that enable you to shade without too much thought. Considered artist quality pencils, I could see only one drawback to these. You may run out of your favorite colors fast, and they are not replaceable as singles. Still a good idea for those who don't color very much. They are reasonably priced

Prevent Smuding

Most artists lay the heel of their hand on the paper while they work, to steady the page. If the heel is in contact with the paper, smudging or color contamination may occur.

To prevent this from happening, lay a sheet of tracing or wax paper under your hand. Even better, lift your hand off for a short period of time and rest often between paintings. If light smudging does happen, remove it as soon as possible with a kneaded eraser.

While you can do most techniques with less expensive colored pencils, the better quality colored pencils will provide a better result and the color will be brighter

Shopping For Colored Pencils

Be a smart shopper ! Since you are going to make an investment, do it the smart way. Once you have decided the brands you are interested in, ask google. Type best prices on......(whatever brand you are researching) . Compare prices in different locations. Factor in shipping costs too !

When starting out or changing brands of colored pencils, start small if you can. Buy a couple of compatable colors to the ones that you own, Use the pencils to see which ones that you like as you use them.

Buy in sets whenever possible. You will generally get a better price in sets rather than buying individual. Some colors will get used more than others, so those should be bought as individual replacement pencils.

Often your craft box stores will have sales on the best pencils. If they will accept those lovely 40% coupons, then go for it !

Watch around the going back to school sales. They will often have sales on colored pencils then too

Holding Your Colored Pencils

Hold the pencil sideways so the greatest area of the tip is in contact with the paper. It allows you to start with a light layer of color and gradually build on it. Also keeps you from seeing lines on your image

How To Hold Your Colored Pencil

There are different pressures that you can use to create different color tones of the same color. Generally speaking, there are three types of pressure that you can use. There is a light pressure, a medium pressure and a heavy pressure. If you tend to put a "death grip" like I do on your pencils, then you can learn to control your pencil easily. For a light touch or tone, color with your pencil, holding it at the farthest edge of the pencil away from the point. For a medium tone or color, hold the pencil at the midpoint of it. For a darker tone, hold the pencil closer to the point.

How to Color With Colored Pencils

Colored pencils are one of the slower mediums to color with, but the results can be fantastic ! You want to start off with slow small circles in the area that you are coloring. Small circles give you the best blending with no visable lines.

While there are times where you want to see lines like when you are coloring fur, the circle ,method is still the best blending technique.

Start with the lightest shade of the color that you are working with. Then add the next color shade or one deeper to add shadows and definition.

Always color with a very sharp point to get the best blending

Always build your color gradually by starting out applying a light color first. Add darker color layer by layer. That helps you make any corrections and helps your color appear even.

Colored Pencil Strokes

There are many ways to use strokes in colored pencils.

One theory is to use simple tiny overlapping circles when you color.This is called srumbling

The side to side stroke is a simple back and forth line. More than likely this is the kind of coloring you learned as a child. Layers are built up with strokes that all go in the same direction.

Hatching is similar as all the lines are parallel in the same direction but these lines are created by lifting the pencil after each stroke and then placing down again to begin each new line. Hatching lines can be close or far apart and anything in between.

Cross-hatching is a variation of hatching that combines two or more overlapping layers of hatching lines. Each layer is simply drawn in a different direction. This technique is used to create shading, as well as interesting textures.

Where Is Your Light Source

You need to consider the direction of your light source when coloring and shadowing. Be consistant with your shadowing

Sharpening Your Pencils

There are many things to consider when sharpening your colored pencils, After all, you have made an investment in this tools, and will want to get the most out of them. You need a very sharp point to color fine areas on stamped images and coloring pages. Not sharpening your pencils correctly will only result in frustration. Not to mention the cost of replacing pencils.

Some pencils are very hard, while others have a softer core. Some have a harder wax core, while others have a softer oil core. Some cores are thicker, while others are thinner.

If you have a pencil that is difficult to sharpen or is brittle, sharpen them with a coarse sandpaper instead

Always rotate or twist the pencil rather than rocking it back and forth.If you are sharpening correctly and if your sharpener is sharp, you will produce a long round shaving.

After sharpening your pencils, run them through the bristles a fine paintbrush or makeup brush. That will assure that there will be no stray crumbs to get on your work

Best Colored Pencil Sharpener

Prismacolor Premier Pencil Sharpener 1786520 with PC1077 Colorless Blender Pencils, 2 Piece
Prismacolor Premier Pencil Sharpener 1786520 with PC1077 Colorless Blender Pencils, 2 Piece

In my book, this is the absolute best pencil sharpener. Lots of other people agree too. It gives a very sharp ppoint and there is very little breakage. It aso comes with 2 blender pencils that help you blend colors seemlessly


Does Paper Matter With Colored Pencils?

In a way, it really does. For starters, you want to use some acid free paper, even for cards. You also want some paper that will hold the pigment. So if you use copy paper, the paper will not hold the pigment well and you will not get the results that you are looking for. It is too smooth and the pencil will crumble on it

Select a paper specifically for colored pencils. You need a paper that has peaks and valleys in it to hold the pigment. You want a paper that has some texture to hold your pigment. You also need a good weight paper. The heavier weight papers will hold the pigment better. If you are using solvents, you will also need a heavier weight paper so that the paper doesn't warp.

Watercolor papers can be also used for wax and oil based colored pencils. Based on the tooth difference, there are three kinds of watercolor paper: hot-press, cold- press and rough papers.

Use rough watercolor paper to create textures with colored pencils. It is also the most resilient paper for erasing, both wet and dry. One drawback is that it can easily wear down colored pencil points.

Hot-press papers are very smooth and thus less forgiving to work with. Their tooth is fine and shallow, yet harder and more water resistant than other watercolor papers. These papers don't tolerate repeated layering of colors or much correction, whether dry or wet. They are not ideal as colored pencil paper.

How To Save Your Project

With wax-based colored pencils, you will find a thin layer of powdery white film that becomes apparent shortly after you apply it on the surface. Darker colors seem to bloom more quickly than light colors. To fix this problem, spray it with a fixative to darken it again when the colored pencil artwork is totally completed.

Making Color Swatches

It is important to have color swatches to refer to, especially if you have more than one type of colored pencils as I do.

Why would you want to have color swatches?

  • You may want to mix colors from two different sets of pencils and you will have a reference to turn to
  • You may not have all the colors in a particular set, so this way you will know what you have
  • You may have to replace a pencil from a set and need to know the name or number
  • Makes blending easier

Everyone Needs Pencil Grips

The Classics 12-Pack Soft Foam Pencil Grips, Assorted Colors, 1.5-Inch Long (TPG-16412)
The Classics 12-Pack Soft Foam Pencil Grips, Assorted Colors, 1.5-Inch Long (TPG-16412)

Pencil grips are a real necessity for anyone who is serious about coloring. The will help keep your coloring comfortable and easier. You can move them around to accommodate the area of the pencil that you need to use. They will last for a long time


Colored Pencil Tip

Place several sheets of paper underneath the paper you are coloring, This will give you more even coloring. It also makes sure that no marks from the surg=face appear on your paper

How To Blend Colored Pencils

There are solvents that help you blend colored into a very smooth image, so that you do not see any of the lines.

Gamsol is the most popular. It is an odorless mineral spirits. It gives you a very smooth blend. You can apply it with a very small synthetic brush or with a paper blender stick. Use it very sparingly. If you use too much, it will remove a lot of the pigment. Keep a paper towel handy

Dry Blending -This is the most basic blending. You simply use a small piece of paper toweling to blend the color on the paper. Use the smooth side for lighter blends and the rougher side for heavier blends.

Colorless Pencil Blenders are made by both Prismacolor and Caran d Ache.They are white pencils made to help blend colored pencils

Paper Stumps are made from rolled up papers . They are inexpensive, but do not blend as well as the gamsol

As an alternative to solvent, try rubbing alcohol. It's not as effective as regular solvent, but can work in a pinch

Burnishing Tip

Avoid using smooth paper if you're going to burnish your colors. I've found that burnishing is only possible on some toothy papers, but 'toothy' does not mean it has to be rough like some watercolor papers.

Storing Colored Pencils

For some of us who need to see our supplies, storing our colored pencils means that we like to see them in a cup or container.

But if your manufacturer or supplier has sent your pencils in a flat tin, it is best to store them in that tin. That will help to prevent breakage.

You cab also store your colored pencils in a soft padded carrier made for pencils. It you drop them, the padding will mean there will be less chance of cores or pencil breakage.

Using Colored Paper For Colored Pencils

Don't limit yourself to just white paper ! Consider using colored paper. It gives you an interesting ready-made background

So Here's The Bottom Line On Colored Pencils

Who needs colored pencils:

  1. Stampers
  2. Card makers
  3. Coloring book lovers
  4. Bullet Journal makers
  5. Scrapbook artists
  6. Mini scrapbook makers

What can you expect to pay for decent colored pencils?

Anywhere from $23 on up depending on the quality of the pencil that you want. There are very cheap sets, but you won't get the results that you want from them

Can You Learn Colored Pencil Techniques?

There are many opportunities to learn how to use them on line or you can take a class

If you want to add some highlights to your page, use a bit of white paint on a very fine paint brush

What Are Your Thoughts About Colored Pencils?

We would like to hear your thoughts and experiences on colored pencils. What brand do you favor? How often do you use them? What have been your experiences?

© 2017 Linda F Correa


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    • linfcor profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda F Correa 

      2 years ago from Spring Hill Florida

      I love using my colored pencils for all kinds of craft projects. Thanks for your kind comments

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for sharing this information. Drawing is one of my hobbies. I've used the Prismacolor and Derwent pencils as well as the paper stump and the colorless pencil blender, but the other materials that you describe are new to me. I'm looking forward to exploring them!


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