Today, I want to share some of the colored pencil blending tools I use most often.
If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you may have read about some of these in different posts. But a recent reader question prompts me now to talk about them in a single post.
That reader asked about my favorite blending tools. Yes, of all the colored pencil blending tools available and all those I’ve used, I do have a few that I reach for repeatedly.
So I’ll tell you what they are and why I like them so much.
Colored Pencil Blending Tools
As I describe in The Only Blending Methods You’ll Ever Need for Colored Pencil, there are really only three main categories of blending:
Pencil blending is what you do when you layer one color over another.
Dry blending is any method of blending that happens after you’ve layered color, and that doesn’t involve solvent. Colorless blenders, blending stumps, and scraps of paper fall into this category.
Solvent blending is any blending method that requires a solvent. The solvent could be odorless mineral spirits, turpentine*, rubbing alcohol*, or rubber cement thinner*. Anything that dissolves the binder in colored pencil can be put into the solvent blending category.
I’ll list at least one in each of these three categories, and tell you not only why I like it, but how and when I use it.
The Colored Pencil Blending Tools I Reach For Most Often
The pencils themselves are my blending tool of choice. I use them every time I draw.
I love layering color and that’s the easiest—and most easily used—method of blending colored pencils on the market today. You don’t need smelly solvents (or any other kind.) You don’t need special tools or materials. Just pencils and paper.
Whenever I draw, I’m blending, whether I’m adding more layers of the same color to make darker values, or adding other colors to make new colors, it’s all blending.
Colored pencils are also great for burnishing, which is a form of blending in which you press down as hard as you can on the paper.
But the best part is that they require no additional storage containers or special treatment!
A good, stiff bristle brush is also an excellent tool for blending colored pencils. Whenever you blend with solvent, you need a brush, and I get the best results with bristle brushes because I can use a little more pressure.
Well-worn bristle brushes are my absolute favorite. These two are just a couple from a jar full of worn out oil painting brushes I’ve kept on a shelf for years.
Yes, bristle brushes are perfect for blending with solvent, but that’s not my favorite way of using them.
When you draw sanded pastel paper (which I highly recommend you try at least once,) you create a lot of pigment dust. You can sweep that dust into the trash if you want, but there’s a much better option.
Blend it into the tooth of the paper with a bristle brush. The results can be quite pleasing.
Granted, this method of blending works best on sanded papers.
For regular drawing paper, my favorite dry blending tool is what’s known as colorless blenders or blending pencils. Prismacolor colorless blenders are shown below, but many other brands also have blending pencils.
Colorless blenders are pencils without the pigment. Prismacolor colorless blenders are a wax-binder core. Lyra’s Splender Blender is an oil-based blending pencil.
But in both cases, you can blend with them without putting additional color on the paper.
You can use any brand of blender on any brand of pencils. Lyra’s Splender Blender is oil-based and I used it on Prismacolor pencils until I used it up. It worked fine.
But in most cases, the blenders do work best on the pencils for which they were designed.
I don’t really have a single favorite tool for blending with solvents other than my trusty bristle brush and a sable or two, so let me share my favorite solvent.
As I write this, I have Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits on my drawing table. I also have a small jar of rubbing alcohol. Both blend colored pencils quite well, though the Gamsol does produce a more thorough blend.
It’s difficult to say which I like better. Both are good, but suited for different types of blending.
Gamsol, for example, works on Stonehenge, Canson Mi-Teintes, watercolor paper (but not with watercolor pencils,) and sanded art paper.
Rubbing alcohol doesn’t have much of an impact on sanded art paper, and even on smoother papers, it’s better for smoothing out surface color, then deep blending multiple layers. What I refer to as “gentle blending.”
My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Tools.
Do I use other tools to blend colored pencils? Absolutely!
Paper towel and bath tissue are great for soft blends on smooth papers like Bristol or Stonehenge. Sable brushes work quite well with solvents when I can blend an area without exerting a lot of pressure.
Don’t tell anybody, but I even sometimes use a finger tip. This is not recommended because of skin oils.
And there are many blending tools I’ve never tried.
But that, my friend, is an topic of another day!
Thank you, Carrie. Very helpful. I tend to blend using the pencils, too.
I appreciate this list. I am a graphic design student with little experience with traditional art materials. I have been working on a couple of colored pencil images for my current class and am struggling with blending the colors. I am going to try the alcohol and or Gamasol!
Thank you for reading and for leaving a comment.
Practice layering colors, too. The more smoothly you can layer colors one over another, the better your results will be. Rubbing alcohol and odorless minerals spirits are helpful, but they don’t completely smooth out color the first time. You may have to layer color and blend, then layer color and blend some more two or three times.
So be patient!
And keep trying!
I’m not an artist, a crafter just starting with pencil colouring, found your article very informative for a beginner. I’m using Polychromos, very old Karisma colour and coloursoft ,experimenting with them.
Welcome to colored pencils, Joan, and thank you! Let me know if you have any specific questions.
Hello, Carrie. I enjoy reading your advice, and always find myself learning something. I have a question about the use of colored pencils. I have read the last two articles you published above. After reading other articles, and your articles, I am questioning myself about the pencils I use. I started with Crayola. The cost was low, and I didn’t know how I was going to like using colored pencils for coloring. I felt the results would improve if I tried a better brand of pencils. I purchased Prismacolor pencils. At first, they seemed glorious to me. Eventually, I disliked the difficulty I had blending them; plus, they seemed to get used up too quickly. That was a problem for me. I needed to be able to use my colored pencils for as long as possible during my learning period. So I tried another brand. Same result. Now I am learning to use the Crayola pencils, again. After all my experience with the two brands, I find myself liking the Crayolas because of the hard leads, and lightfast properties which makes them last much longer than Prismacolors. I have found no information about how long my pictures will last if they are hung away from direct sunlight. The only information I have found about Crayolas is the encouragement to use them. I am now wondering how long a picture made with Crayolas will last if it is framed with art quality materials, and hung where it does not receive direct sunlight. Do you have any advice that will help me decide to try the Prismacolors again? I have drawings I made up to 20 years ago that look fine, but they are kept in portfolios. Crayola pictures also last quite well if kept inside portfolios. I have been offered commissions that I have turned down because I persist in using Crayola pencils. I don’t want to sell something that may quickly fade. Is there inexpensive art quality pencils? I still have the Prismas, though they are 20+ years old, but I keep them out of sunlight. I also do not like how messy they can be. They are just too darn soft, and seem to disinacrate as I use them. One of the reasons I continue to use the Crayolas is how hard and long lasting they are. They are hard enough to continue lasting through more than a few drawings, while I was using up Prismas quite quickly. Also I have framed and hung up Crayola pictures. They hang about 12 feet away from two sliding glass doors that receive late afternoon and early evening sunlight. I keep the blinds closed during those times on sunny days, so the pictures I have on the wall look just fine after being up there for several years. I have become interested in entering local shows, but worry about the light my pictures may receive if hung in a show. Do you have any comments or advice about what I am doing, as I would like to start selling my work. I do not feel embarrassed about telling buyers to not hang them in direct sunlight, but I do feel I would lose commissions if I told potential buyers to be careful about where they hang their original art. I am interested in any advice you or other readers offer. Thank you, Theresa Glover
I’d have to write another post to answer all of your questions! They’re great questions, so maybe I’ll do that in the future.
But for now let’s talk about the lightfastness.
All of the artwork I have hanging around the house is hanging out of direct sunlight, but most of it is like yours, opposite windows that let in sunlight at some time of day. I don’t see any fading on them, but would have to unframe them and see how the color that is under the mat compares to the exposed color.
If the shows you are thinking about entering are local, you can always visit the space and see what type of lighting they have installed. If they are not local, you can always ask.
You’re doing the right thing in telling buyers the best way to display their work. How else will they know?
For clients, you can always include an “Artwork Care” sheet with the artwork. Or better yet, post a page on your website if you have one.
Thank you for your question! I hope I’ve helped.