How to Keep Colors From Fading

How to Keep Colors From Fading

Do you wish you knew how to keep colors from fading on your colored pencil drawings? You’re not alone.

I recently received the following reader question.

I have been dealing with a problem with my colored pencils in that after I color a leaf or something, the color starts to fade as if it was being sucked into the paper. I’ve been coloring in well produced coloring books and I have very good pencils (Prismacolor, Derwent Coloursoft, and Polychromos). It started around September or October. It’s making me not want to color. I just have to go over it and do it again, blend and burnish quickly. Thank you for any information.

How to Keep Colors From Fading

There are a number of reasons for fading color. I’ll explain a few of the more common reasons colors might fade over time, and suggest some ways to avoid or correct fading.

How to Keep Colors From Fading on Colored Pencil Drawings

Colored Paper

Drawing on colored paper is one reason colors appear to fade. Darker papers especially seem to soak the life out of color no matter what type of pencils you use, and the fading can appear to happen almost at once.  The darker the paper, the more dramatic the fading appears.

What to Do

There isn’t much you can do except continue to layer color. The more color on the paper, the brighter it appears.

Some artists recommend starting with a white under drawing, then layering over that. A white under drawing can be quite effective. You’ll have to learn to draw “backwards” by adding more layers of white to the highlights and fewer to the shadows.

You might also try Derwent Drawing Pencils. These subtly colored pencils are highly pigmented and more opaque than most other colored pencils. They are great for under drawings, no matter what color paper you prefer.

Listen to Derwent Drawing Pencils review from Sharpened Artist.

If you really like the look of dark or black backgrounds—and a lot of artists do—you can draw on white paper, but draw the background either with pencil, archival ink, or some similar medium.

Wax Bloom

Wax bloom is another reason colors seem to fade, especially with wax-based pencils. It happens with all colors, but is more noticeable with the dark colors. The more layers you use or the heavier pressure you use, the more likely you are to have wax bloom.

Wax bloom happens when the wax in the pigment drifts to the surface of the drawing. It creates a foggy or misty look on the drawing.

What to Do

To find out if your drawing is fading because of wax bloom, wipe the drawing very lightly with a piece of paper towel or tissue. If the colors become bright again, then it’s wax bloom.

To help prevent wax bloom, use very light pressure when drawing, and add lots of layers. This leaves less wax on the paper, so there’s less wax to rise to the surface of the drawing.

To get rid of wax bloom after it appears, fold a piece of bath tissue or paper towel into quarters or smaller and lightly wipe the drawing. That removes the wax bloom and your colors will look as good as new. Even with the lightest pressure, you’ll probably also pick up a little color, but that’s okay.

To minimize wax bloom afterward, spray it with a final fixative made for colored pencil. Brush & Pencil makes a good final fixative designed for use with colored pencil.

Non Lightfast Colored Pencils

Not all colors are created equal. Some last for decades, while others fade rather quickly.

Most artist grade colored pencils are tested for lightfastness and each color is rated accordingly. Prismacolor rates on a scale of five, with one being the least likely to fade and five the most likely to fade.

Faber-Castell rates on three grades, with three stars the most lightfast and one star the most likely to fade.

Most pencils don’t fade very quickly. They’ll continue to look good for up to a year. But some do start fading more quickly, especially if exposed to direct sunlight.

What to Do

The only thing you can do is stop using the colors that are not highly rated. For example, I no longer use any Prismacolor pencil with a rating of III, IV, or V.

Those are a Few Tips on How to Keep Colors from Fading

There may be other factors at play that I haven’t addressed. In general, using the best papers and pencils you can afford goes a long way to correcting fading problems.

But there may also be other causes for fading; especially fading that happens so quickly.

If you’ve experienced something similar to this reader, let me know.


    1. Randy,

      Final fixatives work very well on keeping wax bloom to a minimum.

      A spray fixative will help reduce the amount of fading if it’s a UV-resistant fixative, such as Krylon’s UV-Resistant Clear. That type of fixative will work in a way similar to the way UV-resistant glass works. That is, it filters ultra-violet light, and keeps some of it from reaching your drawing. That will keep colors from fading as quickly.

      Thank for the comment!


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