Colored Pencils: Tools & Techniques

Colored Pencils Tools and Techniques

I thought I'd share my favorite colored pencils, tools and techniques with you guys since I've been working mainly in colored pencil during this series. This isn't a medium I use often, but I'm familiar enough with the medium to share some helpful tips with you :)

Prismacolor vs. Polychromos

I use two brands of colored pencil: Prismacolor and Polychromos (Faber Castell). The reason for this is because while Prismacolor has incredible pigment and vibrancy, the pit is very soft. This makes the colored pencils fragile and prone to breaking within the casing (don't drop them on the floor!). It also means that these colored pencils don't keep their edge, so you'll constantly have to sharpen them if you want to do detail work. 

Polychromos, while not as vibrant as Prismacolor, have a very hard pit. They're excellent for detail work and for pushing the pigment into the tooth of the paper. I love these colored pencils because you get great coverage without flattening the grain of your paper. 

Both of these brands are also archival, meaning they won't discolor or fade quickly over time. If you use cheaper colored pencils, your art will look great for a couple years, but it won't have the lasting vibrancy that it originally had. This is only important if you plan on creating original artwork and selling it as professional art. If you're just learning or practicing your technique you may want to opt for more cost effective materials. 


I don't use a lot of tools when working with colored pencils. Really, the only tool I frequently use is a colorless blending marker. While there are many brands and options available, my favorite by far is the colorless blending marker by Prismacolor. It has a lot more solvent than the generic brands and costs pretty much the same. It also has more options when it comes to the tip. They're double sided markers, and on one end you'll have a pen-tip and on the other end you can either get a marker tip or a brush tip. Depending on what you're working on this can be really helpful!

The generic blending markers I've tried are by Artist's Loft and Finesse. They work the exact same way, however they tend to dry out incredibly quickly. They also only come in a brush tip/pen tip double sided marker. Both are archival, but considering they cost about the same price I'd highly recommend just going with the Prismacolor Colorless Blender instead of the generic brands. 



When I draw with colored pencils I always layer the Primsacolors and the Polychromos on top of each other, similar to how you would layer your H-pencils and B-pencils to reach the full gray scale and achieve the most coverage. 

Side Note:

If you don't know what I mean by layering your H-pencils and B-pencils, it's a technique you use when drawing with graphite. B-pencils are dark but soft. While they can reach the end of the gray scale they can't be worked into the tooth of the paper without applying too much pressure and damaging (flattening) the grain of the paper. 

H-pencil are much lighter, but they're also very hard (they can scratch your paper if you're not careful). They can't give you the depth (full gray scale) without being paired with your B-pencils. So you would have to layer your H-pencils over your B-pencils to work the darker pigment into the white grain of the paper. Does that make sense? I'll do another blog post on this soon.

I first apply the Prismacolor to my drawing, then I find a similar color in my Polychromos to layer on top and gently work the soft Prismacolor pigments into the grain of my paper. I repeat this technique until I've covered the paper and no white is showing between my pigments. I typically will end with a layer of Prismacolor on top for added vibrancy and for using my blending markers. 

Prismacolor colored pencils are wax-based, while the Polychromos colored pencils are oil-based. The blending markers are able to break down the wax-based pigments smoother and easier than the oil-based pigments. You can still use the blending markers over the Polychromos, but you'll have to work a little longer to achieve the same look. 

You won't be able to add much more pigments after using the blending markers, so I usually will only use them when I'm about 95% finished with my drawing. I can still go over and add some details or clean up my edges, but I won't be able to cover large areas without risking a wax-bloom on my paper.

Wax-bloom is where you have an excessive build-up of wax/pigment on your paper and get this nasty crayon look over sections of your art. Google it... it's no bueno. 


When I'm completely finished with a piece I spray it a couple times with a permanent fixative. This seals in your pigments so they don't smudge or transfer to other surfaces. The brand I've been using is by Grumbacher and is specifically for pastel, charcoal, and pencils. It's also a professional brand so that it doesn't dull my pigments or yellow my paper. 


Now, if you've never really played with colored pencils before and you aren't sure it's a medium you want to invest in just yet, there are some really cost-effective ways to achieve the same results. When it comes to using a blending marker, you can actually use baby oil and a q-tip to break-down and blend the pigments.

The results are almost identical to using a blending marker, and you won't have to buy a bunch of markers to experiment with the technique. However, baby oil can change the vibrancy and saturation of your pigments and will definitely turn your paper yellow in time. It's not archival so I wouldn't recommend using it unless it's for a study/practice.

You can also use a white Prismacolor colored pencil to varnish your artwork. It gives a similar smooth effect as using a colorless blending marker, though it is slightly different. I like to use this technique over softer areas of my composition. And, this keeps your work archival!

When you're ready to set your piece, you can use hairspray instead of a permanent/final fixative. Again, this isn't archival and will definitely yellow your paper and potentially dull your pigments.

All of these are very cost-effective ways to play with these techniques while you're still learning or deciding whether or not to invest in colored pencils.


In Conclusion 

I hope you found some of that information helpful. There are so many things you can do with colored pencils, but I try to keep my work space and process as simple as possible. However, if I was using a hot-press paper (much smoother than cold-press) then I wouldn't need to work so hard to get a smooth finish, but I just love the texture of my cold-press paper.

 My list of materials is below as well as a list of cost-effective materials (none of these are affiliate links). Let me know if you have any tips for me and what your favorite tools & techniques are when you're using this medium :)


list of materials






I'll be doing another giveaway at the end of June (2018)! If you're already subscribed to my email list then you're automatically entered into these monthly giveaways. If not, go ahead and join! This month's winner will receive:

Prismacolor Colored Pencils, 12pk

Polychromos Colored Pencils, 12pk

Strathmore Cold-Press 12pk. Watercolor Pad

Prismacolor Colorless Blending Markers (Brush tip & Marker tip)

I'll announce the winner on Instagram (and via email) on Friday, June 29th. Sign up below ;)