Wax Bloom Basics and Colored Pencils

Wax Bloom Basics and Colored Pencils

Lets talk about a topic of great frustration to a lot of artists. Wax bloom. Today’s topic, wax bloom basics, arises from a question from Helen, who asked:

How can I avoid wax bloom, or eradicate it if I cant avoid it?

Thank you for the question, Helen!

Wax Bloom Basics

A Brief Explanation

Wax bloom happens when the wax in a colored pencil rises to the top of the layers of colored pencil on paper. The softer the pencil, the more likely wax bloom becomes. That’s because soft pencils use more binder to hold the pigment together in lead form. The more wax binder in a pencil, the more wax binder ends up on the paper.

Wax bloom is also more likely if color is applied with heavy pressure. That’s because you put more color on the paper with heavy pressure than light pressure. The more wax binder on the paper, the more likely you’ll see wax bloom sooner or later.

Wax bloom makes the colors look misty or foggy. Sometimes, colors appear to actually get lighter overnight or after a few days, but that’s not true. The color is the same; it’s just “veiled” in a layer of wax bloom. This illustration shows the difference wax bloom can make.

wax bloom basics
The left half of this sample is pure color. The right half is the same color after wax bloom appears.

Wax bloom happens with all colors, but it’s especially noticeable in dark colors. Light colors simply don’t show the wax bloom as much.

Prismacolor pencils are notorious for producing wax bloom, but Helen is getting wax bloom on Luminance pencils and Derwent Lightfast pencils. It is a possibility with any colored pencil with a largely wax binder.

So now you know what wax bloom is. Let’s talk about how to avoid it.

How to Avoid It

The best way I’ve found to avoid wax bloom is to use an oil-based pencil like Faber-Castell Polychromos. They contain wax in the binding agent, but not as much, so they’re less likely to produce wax bloom. Oil-based colored pencils very rarely produce wax bloom.

Even just mixing them with your favorite wax-based pencils helps reduce the likelihood of wax bloom.

Putting down each layer of color with light pressure also helps avoid wax bloom, because it leaves less wax binder on the paper.

How to Remove It

Wax bloom on a drawing is not the end of the world, because it’s quite easy to remove.

Fold a piece of bath tissue, facial tissue (without lotion!) or paper towel into quarters or eighths as shown here.

You want the resulting folds to be small enough to fit comfortably in your hand and sturdy enough to withstand being rubbed on your paper.

Lightly stroke the folder paper across the drawing. The paper picks up the wax bloom without damaging the color layers.

You will see a little bit of color on the paper, but that’s okay. The wax and pigment never truly separate, so you can’t avoid lifting a little color.

If you need to remove wax bloom from several different colors, start with the lightest colors first. Use a fresh part of the paper towel or tissue with each color or you could end up putting one color over another.

Preventing Wax Bloom on Finished Drawings

The best way to prevent wax bloom after you finish a drawing is to spray it with a fixative. The fixative keeps the wax bloom from happening, so you can frame a drawing without fear of wax bloom developing later on.

Use a fixative specially designed for colored pencils or for dry work. I recommend Brush & Pencil’s Advanced Colored Pencil Final Fixative which is designed specifically for colored pencil art.

So Now You Know the Basics of Wax Bloom

The best solution is to avoid wax bloom as much as possible. But it’s not possible to completely avoid it, so it’s helpful to know how to remove it after it appears.

I hope these tips and explanations have taken the frustration factor out of wax bloom for you.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!

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