How to Prevent or Remove Smudges

Have you ever had a drawing session ruined by a smudge on your paper or drawing? You’re not alone! Today’s question comes from a reader who wants to know how to prevent or remove smudges!

Hello Miss Carrie!

Your newsletters have been amazing inspiration! After an eight year hiatus I noticed that tools, technology and techniques have really changed the game.

One thing hasn’t [changed] for me. Smudging. I’ve tried many different suggestions but nothing is really working. What do you recommend?

Thank you for a great question. This is another topic that’s important to colored pencil artists, but that I haven’t talked much about. So thank you for the opportunity to correct that oversight today.

How to Prevent or Remove Smudges

Let’s tackle this problem in two parts. First, I’ll share a couple of very easy ways to prevent smudging, and then a few ways to remove smudges.

Let’s get started.

How to Prevent or Remove Smudges

Preventing Smudges

Aside from being very careful when you draw, there are a couple of ways you can prevent smudging your work.

You may already be doing the first thing, which is to start in the part of the drawing opposite your dominant hand.

I’m right handed, so I often start in the upper, left corner of a drawing and work downward and to the right. My drawing hand (right hand) rests on clean paper, so I’m not accidentally smearing color onto clean paper.

If you finish a drawing section by section, this may be all you need to do to prevent smudging.

But I don’t finish a drawing section by section, and I also tend to turn my paper as I work. So this method really only works for me on the first round of color.

And sometimes not even for all of that, if I happen to turn my paper!

That’s not a problem with small drawings because I don’t rest my hand on the drawing at all.

But what about larger pieces?

Cover Sheet

For larger drawings, use a cover sheet. Glassine is best because it doesn’t pick up color, and so cannot leave it somewhere else. Glassine is a smooth, glossy paper that resists air, water and other substances. It doesn’t absorb anything.

Including color.

So it makes the perfect cover sheet. It can be purchased in rolls and sheets from art supply websites like Dick Blick or shipping suppliers like Uline.

And if you happen to buy pads of Clairefontaine Pastelmat, you get a piece of glassine between each sheet. You can use it as a cover sheet while you draw.

Of course you can use ordinary printer paper or a spare piece of drawing paper as a cover sheet, but be careful not to pick up color on your cover sheet.

Removing Smudges

Removing smudges is more difficult, since it’s so difficult to remove or lighten colored pencil in general.

But there are a few ways to lift or lighten smudges. Or to at least hide them!

Mounting Putty

Mounting putty is a soft, pliable material that can be formed into different shapes, broken into small pieces, and cleaned after use. Common brand names are Poster-Tak, Handi-tak, and Blu-Tack.

Here’s a pretty dark smudge on a drawing.

How to Prevent or Remove Smudges

I used mounting putty on it because the paper is Pastelmat and mounting putty works best on most heavily textured surfaces.

The first thing I did was warm the mounting putty by rolling it between my hands. Then I shaped it as you see here. I didn’t want to lift the line drawing, so needed a small edge on the mounting putty.

Next, I pressed the mounting putty lightly against the smudged paper. I didn’t use much pressure, and I didn’t turn or twist the mounting putty. Just press down and lift up.

I repeated that process until I removed as much of the smudge as I could.

Then I pressed the mounting putty against the paper with a little more pressure, and twisted it against the paper.

The smudge isn’t completely gone, but it’s faint enough to cover up. What’s more, the loose pigment has been picked up by the mounting putty, so I don’t need to worry about smearing.

When you finish lifting color, knead the mounting putty and it absorbs the color it picked up! No accidental spreading of that color the next time you use the mounting putty!

Tape

Tape is another good way to lift color, including smudges, off paper. It works best on traditional drawing papers like Stonehenge. And it’s easy to use!

Cut a small piece of tape. I prefer a transparent tape because I can see through it and place it right over the smudge.

Press it down lightly, then lift it carefully. Depending on the darkness of the smudge, you may have to repeat this process a couple of times.

If the smudge is very dark, you may even need to use a couple of pieces of tape.

There a couple of disadvantages to lifting color with tape. It can make the drawing paper feel slick, and that can make adding additional color difficult. If you press tape too heavily against the paper and/or pull it up too quickly, you can also tear the paper.

Erasers

I list erasers last because so many erasers are ineffective in lifting colored pencil smudges. They just push the binder around, smearing color and making the smudge worse!

But there are some erasers that might help you.

I like my handy click erasers. They’re very good at lifting color in small areas or in details. You can also lift a significant amount of color if you work carefully and slowly. They can’t remove all of the color, especially if the color was applied with heavy pressure, but they can lighten it enough for you to cover the smudge.

A lot of artists also recommend Tombow erasers. I’ve never used one, so can’t give you a personal recommendation, but I’ve heard a lot of good reviews. They’re inexpensive and refillable.

Tombow also makes the Mono Colored Pencil Eraser. This is another eraser about which I’ve heard a lot of good, but have never tried.

Finally, I’ve also heard recommendations for regular ink erasers, like the Faber-Castell Perfection Eraser. These erasers can be sharpened like pencils and they’re quite inexpensive, depending on which brand you buy. They are not made specifically for colored pencils, but they can be useful. One version of the Faber-Castell Perfection Eraser even comes with a brush on the opposite end so you can brush away crumbs.

How to Prevent or Remove Smudges

Mounting putty, tape, and click erasers are my most often used ways of removing unwanted color. But as you can see from my recommendations, they’re not the only way.

Of course the best solution is to eliminate smudges before they happen and for that, there really is no better option than using a cover sheet.

Thank you again for the question! I hope I’ve been of help to everyone who struggles with smudges.

Ask Carrie a Question

2 Replies to “How to Prevent or Remove Smudges”

  1. Thanks for the great tips Carrie.

    I have another suggestion on how to prevent smudges. When I first started working in coloured pencil, I did not have any glassine on hand so I used a sheet of photographic paper that I use in my ink jet printer.

    Photographic paper is slippery on one side and that is the side I put against the drawing and it prevents smudging. A lot of people have that paper already on hand so they don’t have to purchase something else. To ensure I don’t put skin oils or hand lotion on the drawing, I write ‘hand side’ on the non-shiny side, that way I don’t make a mistake. Because the photo-paper is fairly thick it can be used numerous times.

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