My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Methods

This week’s question comes from Denise, who wants to know my favorite colored pencil blending methods. Here’s Denise’s question.

Carrie, what product/techniques do YOU use to blend? My Prismacolor blending markers dry up within a few months. I have been tempted to soak the dry ones in 90% isoprophyl alcohol overnight.

Thank you for your question, Denise. Every colored pencil artist wants to learn more about blending methods!

But you’ve also opened the door to discussing the subject from a slightly different point of view.

My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Methods

Before I share my favorite blending methods let me address the question of blending markers.

Just How Good are Blending Markers?

I tried a Prismacolor blending marker years ago. The marker had a wide, wedge-shaped tip on one end, and a narrow, pen-shaped tip on the other.

In all fairness, I have to say the marker did blend the colored pencil. The marker dissolved the wax binder enough to move the color around and made blending easier.

But I seem to recall the blended color dried streaky. It’s entirely possible I should have added more color after the paper was dry, but this happened in the early days, before I knew I could layer over blended color. I used the marker on a few drawings then stopped.

Another reason I stopped blending with the marker was that I had trouble remembering to clean the tips after every use. Color-stained tips made the marker useless for blending after a while.

I haven’t used a blending marker since. (Maybe it’s time to change that.)

In researching this article, I discovered that the only places the Prismacolor blender markers are still available is sites like Amazon and eBay. The official Prismacolor website makes no mention of colorless blending markers for colored pencils.

I also learned Prismacolor designed blender markers specifically for use with Prismacolor pencils, so the markers perform poorly with oil-based colored pencils.

My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Methods - Art Markers

Are other colorless markers available?

Yes. Blick, Chartpak, Copic, Tombow, Touch Twin, and Winsor & Newton all include a colorless marker in their line of art markers. Even Prismacolor has a colorless art marker.

Can you blend colored pencils with them?

I don’t know.

TIP: If you decide to soak dried out blending markers with rubbing alcohol, check the markers first, and see what medium they’re using as the solvent. Make sure it’s compatible with regular rubbing alcohol.

My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Methods - Colored Pencils

So What are My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Methods?

My favorite blending methods fall into three basic categories: Visual blending, dry blending, and solvent blending.

Visual blending is the most organic and automatic of all the blending methods available.

And you do visual blending without thinking about it. How? Just by the way you put color on the paper.

I generally draw with light pressure and build up color through several layers and different colors.

Light passes through all the layers, strikes the paper, and bounces back. My eye sees the colors and blends them visually. But when I’m careful in layering colors, I don’t need to blend in any other way.

Dry blending doesn’t have fumes and I don’t need to wait for the paper to dry.

But I’m not always careful. I become tired or rush things, and end up drawing uneven color layers. When that happens, I need to blend using a different method.

My preference is dry blending, because I can dry blend while drawing, and I don’t have to wait for the paper to dry.

If I need a light blend or just want to smooth out the color a little, I blend with a piece of paper towel or bath tissue. This method doesn’t do well with multiple layers, but if you just need to smooth one layer before adding the next, it’s ideal.

My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Methods - Dry Blending

Another method of dry blending is burnishing. When I burnish, I press very hard on the paper, and grind the color deep into the tooth of the paper. You can use a colorless blender for this if you don’t want to change the colors you’ve already used.

My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Methods - Colorless Blenders

But you can also burnish with other colored pencils. Lighter colors tint whatever is already on the paper. Darker colors make it darker, but may also nearly completely hide it.

Since burnishing presses down the tooth of the paper as well as “grinding the colors together,” it’s best not to burnish until near the end of the drawing.

For deep blending, my favorite blending method is painting mediums.

When nothing else works or when it’s not practical to blend with the methods I’ve already described, I blend with a solvent.

My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Methods - Solvent Blending

Read Blending Colored Pencil with Painting Solvents.

Any kind of odorless mineral spirits can be used for blending colored pencils, if it’s tested for art uses. All solvents may perform the same, but may not be archival, and that’s especially important if you’re doing fine art that you want to sell to buyers.

I use turpentine right now, because that’s what I have, but I have to blend outside and leave drawings outside to air before continuing work. So I’ll be getting an odorless solvent for indoor use.

WARNING: Just because a solvent is odorless does NOT mean it has no fumes. You still need to use it wisely. Keep it capped when you’re not blending, and work in a well-ventilated area.

I have used rubbing alcohol in the past, because it breaks down the wax binder in colored pencils, so you can blend with it. It doesn’t blend as completely as odorless mineral spirits, but it can be effective.

However, it is not recommended because it’s untested for permanence in fine art applications.  I haven’t tested it, either, so I no longer recommend it wholeheartedly.

Conclusion

Those are not only my favorite colored pencil blending methods; they’re the only blending methods I use right now.

And I generally use them in the order listed above.

My goal with every drawing is to blend by layering colors as much as possible, and dry blend when necessary. I use solvents when I need to speed up the process, or when I’ve made a mistake nothing else will fix.

What about you? What’s your favorite blending method and how do you use it?

17 Replies to “My Favorite Colored Pencil Blending Methods”

  1. When I came back to colored pencils, using Prismacolor I was ecstatic at the colorless markers. I had to buy them and, I detested them, yes “them”. I was so excited that I bought 3 of them in a sale.
    Now I use colorless pencils blenders, toilet paper, learned that from you, better than my fingers 🙂 and odorless paint thinner because it was what I had, I do not have your patience to apply many layers, at least not enough for my taste OPT is good for me but, I am not an artist at your level. I work just for my own satisfaction, it helps me get over the pain and the crankiness that result from fibromyalgia. I realized that when my fingers are busy my brain tends to not gives too much importance to the pain. And, if something I make pleases someone it’s a good thing.
    .

    1. Marie,

      I have the same experience in dealing with pain. Unless a headache is real bad, I can work on art or write and not notice it.

      Doing art for yourself is a great reason to do art. More power to you!

      Carrie

  2. Hi Carrie,
    I’m nearly 85 and obsessed with colored pencil art. I received a set of pencils along with an adult coloring book for my birthday a few years ago. Since that time I have started and finished a lot of drawings. Coloring is truly a diversion from the pain I live with. I rarely keep a coloring as I am also obsessed with getting it right to a fault, but that’s okay I have had my satisfaction.
    I like to make a suitable coloring, scan it to my PC, print it and make coasters. If anyone is interested in how I produce them send a request to hyatt.tn@gmail.com and I will be glad to share my way of doing this process along with keeping and preserving my colorings. This is not a solicitation, just a diversion from pain.

    1. Robert,

      Thank you for your comments, and for sharing a little bit about yourself.

      You’re not the only one who has discovered the benefits of doing art.

      Nor are you the only perfectionist when it comes to colored pencils.

      Thank you for reading this article, and for sharing a comment.

      Best wishes,

      Carrie

  3. Hi Carrie!
    Thanks for this article, it helps to know I’m on the right track, as I use the same blending methods you do. I just wanted to add that, in terms of dry-blending, I also use those paper stumps shaped like pencils, and those cotton pads, used to remove make-up, that you can buy in the drugstore. Thank you, again, for all the effort you put in to offering advice about coloured pencil drawing. It’s much appreciated!

  4. I’m a crocheter usually but I thought I’d try my first drawing since high school (30 now) I found a nice sunset and sailboat picture I want to attempt your tips and a handy YouTube video that explains blending techniques (7 ways of blending colored pencils for beginners) I’m ready to attempt colouring in my pencil sketch

  5. I’ve used Prismacolor’s colorless blender a few times with good results but lately I’ve looked into the use of solvents as an alternative. I have yet to try that method yet.
    But one thing I have noticed never mentioned by anyone demonstrating a blending pencil … the fact that it leaves the blended area “polished” or shiny.
    Am I missing something, or is an unavoidable result of the process? Plus. it’s near impossible to rework the same area with more color. Right?

    1. Greg,

      An excellent point. In fact, you’re not “missing” anything; you’re observing quite a bit.

      The shiny surface that sometimes results from using a colorless blender or burnishing with any color happens because the paper is pressed so smooth and the color is “ground” together so thoroughly. It’s especially noticeable with Prismacolor pencils and is why I don’t burnish very often. I didn’t like the polished appearance on my horses or landscapes.

      I don’t think it’s possible to burnish Prismacolors and avoid the shiny appearance because they’re so waxy. I’m not so certain about other brands, since I haven’t tried burnishing with them.

      And yes, it is next to impossible to layer more color over a thoroughly burnished area if you’re using Prismacolor.

      Thank you for your comment and for an excellent observation!

  6. Hi just wanted to add that I use zest- it. Its solvent made from citrus and is made for art . It’s also much much safer to use than other solvents.

  7. For me I use, the Chart pak ad marker blenders. These are Xylene based, so they actually “melt” the pencil wax of the prismacolor pencils, then spread them across the piece as desired. Alcohol blenders just dont do the sae.

    1. Thank you for that information, Stephen. I’d not heard of using Chart Pak marker blenders on colored pencil work, but it sounds like it works for you. My only concern would be whether or not they are archival, especially if you’re producing artwork to sell.

  8. I have always been in love with drawing. Recently, I have become obsessed with colored pencil art. I learn everything on line as I can not quit working and go to school. Your tutorials are perfect. I too draw to stay up beat. I lost my oldest son 7 years ago at 22 years old of an over dose. I need to do what I love and I honor him with my art. I have a goal to become as good as all the professionals I study from.

    1. Shelley,

      Thank you so much for your comment, and for sharing a little bit of your story. You certainly have an honorable goal, and a very good reason for it. I am sorry to hear about your son, but I’m pleased that you have found a way to honor him, and humbled that I play a role (how ever small) in that.

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