6 Ways for How to Blend Colored Pencils – You Can Learn Today!

I’d be lost without my colored pencils. They have been coloring my world since 2001! They are such a wonderfully

responsive medium that is relatively easy to learn, is inexpensive, very portable and produces great art!

But did you know how blendable they really are? And how important it is to be able to blend them in your art? This article will uncover 6 ways for how to blend colored pencils so that you may create stunningly beautiful pieces!

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1. Layering for Color Magic

This type of blending is for creating new colors or to enrich, tint, dull, or shade another color. In my post, Basic Colored Pencil Techniques, I discussed that you cannot mix colored pencil in the way we mix paint on a palette. Instead, we layer them in order to mix colors right on the art paper. In this way, layering is in fact blending those colors to create new colors.

2. Chill out on the Pressure

Whenever you wish to have a color fade to form a gradient type of blending or simply have a color end without forming a hard line of demarcation, my motto is, blend it where you end it. To do this, you will want to let up on your pressure gradually to form a seamless transition from one color to another or to simply fade out a color.

3. Erasers—Not Just for Boo-Boos

Erasers are for more than just mistakes; you can use erasers as blending tools to a certain extent. The vinyl erasers are best and can be used gently to help fade a color or soften a hard edge. This would be most effectively done in early layers—not when color is heavily built up. With gentle pressure, just pull with the eraser over the boundary you wish to fade.

I really love the White Pearl Eraser by Papermate.. They are 100% free of latex and resist smudging.

4. Rub a Dub Dub

Sometimes, your subject requires a gentle look similar to a soft-focus portrait. One of those subjects are flowers, particularly close-ups of petals. I will often use a cotton q-tip or cotton ball to gently rub the application.

I do this especially on the first layers; this will virtually eliminate the look of the strokes and push the color into the valleys, gently toning the paper with the color. You will love the effect!

You can also use facial or bathroom tissue, blending stumps/tortillions; although not my first choice for this purpose as they are really more appropriate to use to blend and soften the look of graphite.

5. Burnish With a Flourish

If you desire to have a painted look to your colored pencil art, you will want to virtually eliminate the “tooth” of the paper. Your art paper should have “tooth” (remember that’s the teeny, tiny hills and valleys in the paper’s surface) in order that you may successfully layer and blend colors.

After many layers, your paper may still be showing a “grainy” look or tiny specs. In this case, you have three choices: You may leave it grainy (some people like to be able to tell it’s colored pencil), burnish the tooth away using heavy pressure, or simply use a type of solvent.

Burnishing is using very heavy pressure to completely eliminate the tooth of the paper. That is, colors are blended into the paper mechanically. The process is that the heavy pressure creates friction, thereby creating heat that will slightly soften the wax and pigment. This softened pigment will glide right into the remaining valleys of the paper.

Although burnishing can be done with color or white, I recommend using the
Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencil – Colorless Blender

. Just using the color
in an area may affect the integrity of the color mix you have achieved with layering. Using white may slightly lighten the color causing you to have to refresh the color after the white layer. The Colorless blender pencil is just the binder, no pigment. Through burnishing, it will beautifully blend the remaining grain away and slightly intensify your color.

If you see “crumbs” as you burnish, that is just the extra pigment that sloughs off from the friction from the heavy pressure action of burnishing.  This is perfectly normal and won’t affect your drawing.  But you should use a soft brush (not your hand) to gently sweep the crumbs off your paper.

6. Gentle Solvents —Is There Such a Thing?

Another way to blend colors for a painterly look is to use solvents. The Prismacolor Premier Double-Ended Brush Tip Marker – Colorless Blender

 is just as the name indicates. It’s a marker that has no color (many brands
exist on the market, but I use Prismacolor). It also has a double end with two different size tips.  You simply apply as a final layer
(although you can layer over it) to any area you wish to blend. The gentle solvent will dissolve the wax and pigment and enable it to be moved around, eliminating the remaining specs in your application.

Marker is a bit “fume-y” but not as bad as a sharpie, in my opinion.

Baby Oil is another gentle solvent (and smells a lot nicer!) that will beautifully blend your application. I will usually apply a tiny amount with a q-tip. It’s easy to overdo, so I recommend practicing on scrap first as to how much to get on the q-tip and how to apply.

Rubbing Alcohol is another solvent that works similarly to the marker. I also use this with a q-tip or tiny piece of cotton. However, just like baby oil, it can be overdone and lift off or dull your color that you worked so hard to get.

Not-So-Gentle Solvents

I did not include this section as a way for how to blend colored pencils because I do not use them. Why? Well, simply put, they’re too toxic for me.

Turpentine speaks for itself. It emits highly toxic vapors and fumes.

What about the safer alternative mineral spirits? Don’t be fooled by the term “odorless”; you can’t smell them, but they nonetheless emit toxic vapors.  And some may say they are a safe alternative because they are less toxic, so it reduces your exposure. Well, they may not be as toxic but still are. Why take that risk when there is really no need to use them?

Honestly, I just don’t think the medium of colored pencils requires the use of harsh chemicals when there are so many other products and techniques to blend them.

Blending Rules!

There’s no getting around it. To create quality colored pencil artwork, learning to blend them is imperative. Blending is really part and parcel in using this medium. Do try some (or all!) of the 6 ways for how to blend colored pencils outlined in this article for very cool effects and a lot of fun. I think you will be amazed!

If you like this article, you may also like my article on backgrounds in colored pencil. Click here for the post.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. I will never share your email.

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Thanks for visiting!

Have an artful day!


47 thoughts on “6 Ways for How to Blend Colored Pencils – You Can Learn Today!”

  1. I’m new to using colored pencils and really appreciate your website. Love that you present different techniques in easy to understand ways. Thank you.

  2. Thankyou for sharing your expertise with us. I find it difficult to get information on using colour pensils correctly. Very much appreciated.

  3. I have started using color pencils as part of my Therapy for PTSD. I find it relaxing and feel a new sense of accomplishment. Looking forward to my journey with your instructions. Thank you Elaine.

  4. Thanks Elaine for teaching us, me in particular, as beginners in color pencil art. This medium is relaxing & meditative to use. And thanks to the reply of Tim Humbert, I know now what to give my friends that could help their PTSD and depression.

  5. Colored pencils are my favorite. Thank you for posting this article. It was very informative for me as I just started using this medium several months ago. I started to help with recovery from an accident. Again thank you for writing the article.

  6. I tried the alcohol and baby oil method and it worked absolutely well. Though i still have problem with using the pressure method. I think i will just stick with what works for me. Thank you so much.

    • Yes , by all means do what is comfortable and works for you. Just remember, with the pressure method, there has to be enough pigment on the paper for it to work well for blending. 🙂

  7. Hi, and thank you for a very informative article.
    I am just starting a new product for my store which has very tiny illos. I’m experimenting with acrylics, but one has to work pretty fast because they dry so quickly, but they are waterproof and can be thinned down so as not to look”cartoons.”
    Colored pencils look like a good alternative, with your post making good sense.
    Can it be sprayed with a fixative to “seal” it up? I’m working on smooth Bristol board from Strathmore. I’d have to buy a good set of pencils. — or should I just buy singles as I go to build up a palate?
    Thanks again.

  8. Yrs ago coloring geologic maps we applied lighter fluid to burnishing sticks and rubbed to blend the colors/smooth out color pencil lines. It worked beautifully. The results were like water color without the bleed.

  9. I also share your joy and relaxation working with colored pencils. I hate painting. I’ve been using pencils with pyrography on wood. Pencils are so much easier to work with! Thank you for sharing your skills!

  10. Elaine, I read the comments of people that replied to you. I have painted for about twenty years. I started to use colored pencil about a year ago. I like the challenge. I’ve been looking for a article to explain the process. You have answered almost all my questions. All the responses have been questions that I had. Thank you so much for this article and the people that commented. Now I can’t wait to try some of the things that I read about! Thanks so much! Sandy Galanis

  11. Elaine, I have really enjoyed your site this evening. 😊 I love working with colored pencil and just want to thank you for sharing your experience. Have you worked any with the water color pencil? I love ❤ learning from you.

    • Thanks, Doris. So glad you’re enjoying the site. Yes! Watercolor Pencils are among my favorite mediums. Here are a few links to my articles on them.

  12. Great tutorial. Can I apply the blending tips to Derwent Intense watercolor pencils?
    I am 89 year old who has painted most of my life. No longer able to use acrylics or oil, am able to use watercolor pencils from my bed. So I am trying to learn to use a new medium.
    Was excited when I saw your links for watercolor pencils. Unfortunately I cannot open them.
    Thank you for for all your wonderful information.

    • Hi Nona, thank you for your kind words. It’s great you’re learning a new medium. Watercolor pencils are a super medium. Although you can’t directly use all the methods from the article about blending dry colored pencils, there are ways to blend watercolor pencils. For example, you can layer the pencils before applying water to blend colors. You can fade out the amount of dry color you put down to blend out a color for soft transitions when you wet it. What may be helpful is to check out my article on watercolor pencils. Here is the link:

  13. Love your idea for using baby oil to blend colored pencils. I don’t have baby oil but I’m using coconut oil. It blends pencil beautifully.

    • That’s great Sharon! Glad you found a good alternative that works. I imagine almost any type of oil used sparingly could blend pencil well. Always a good idea to try them on scrap before using, though. 🙂

  14. Have always wanted to try pencils. Much less messy than paints…
    Saw this on Pinterest and will give it a go…Thank you…!

  15. I have been using Prismacolor pencils since I was in high school, that was over 50 years ago, I bought my first set when I was a junior in high school and I have been using them ever since. I have to admit, I have been playing with gamsol lately, but don’t like the fact that it is a solvent, so I ordered some citrus oil and will try that instead. Thanks so much for all your info, I do find a couple of things new to me, I always LOVE learning something new!

  16. I’ve been a computer montage artist for 25 yrs. Every now and then I want so much to get back to my traditional art: paints and brushes, crayons, prisma color pencils,. just plain pencils and paper art, but I’m gun-shy. Reading your instructions has moved me another step toward actually trying. We’ll see what happens!


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