Give your coloring projects new life by learning some simple but effective colored pencil blending techniques! Today, Cleverpedia is hosting coloring book artist Ligia Ortega to share all of the best blending techniques for colored pencils in one spot!
You may know Ligia Ortega’s work from her Coloring Press line of coloring books, which are “large print” coloring books designed with larger spaces. Perfect for practicing your blending techniques! Her two newest coloring books are Simple Mandalas, a collection of 50 original full-size mandala designs, and Pocket Mandalas, the same 50 designs at travel size!
Here is a preview of over a third of the mandalas you’ll find in these books:
Well now I definitely feel like coloring some mandalas!
Okay, I’m going to turn things over to Ligia for our tutorial. Ligia, take it away!
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Whenever I discuss coloring with others, one of the top concerns I hear about from colorists is learning how to blend colored pencils. Colored pencil blending techniques help smooth out colors and give a finished coloring page depth and a softer, more finished look.
Blending is actually easy to do and there are many different techniques you can use to blend pencils. We’ll go over some blending basics today and go over several different techniques so you can see which type of blending works best for you. After finishing this post you’ll be on your way to blending your pencils to avoid streaks and get soft, smooth color transitions!
Colored Pencil Blending Supplies
Here are the colored pencil blending supplies mentioned throughout this tutorial, all in one easy spot!
Here’s an easy-to-reference chart of all kinds of supplies for colored pencil blending:
What is Blending?
Blending is a way to have smooth transitions from dark to light or from one color to another. Here is an example of three colors unblended. You can see the colors transition from light to dark, but they are clearly distinct from each other.
Here are those same colors blended. You can see the colors gently shift from light to dark in a smooth way.
I will give an overview of two types of blending: blending with pencils, and blending with solvents.
Here’s a quick reference chart of all the types of blending I’m about to cover, compared:
Colored Pencil Blending Techniques: Layering
The easiest and most basic way to blend colored pencils is to go from light to dark in one color. To do this, several layers of color are gradually added, one on top of another with fewer on the light side and gradually more layers are added on the darker end.
You can layer a single color by making small gentle strokes, either straight or small circles (small circles give smoother results), following the contour of the line of the image you’re coloring. You add a light layer, and gradually add gentle pressure and add more layers on the edge to where you want a darker color. I tend to color from light to dark, but it’s fine to go from dark to light — do whichever way works best for you.
I start out with a light layer, leaving a little white at the end since I am layering from white to this color.
Then I gently and gradually add more, smaller layers at the opposite end to darken the color.
I keep adding more and more layers, smaller in size, to add depth or shading to the image. I add less pressure at the light edge of the layer, and a little more gradually all the way to the opposite, darker edge.
As you can see there is a smooth transition from white to the color I am working with. If you want your darks to be more dark, feel free to add more pressure at the end. However, if you add too much pressure, you’ll see the white dots in the paper — called the paper’s tooth — disappear.
This is not a problem if you’re finished. However, once there is no tooth left on the paper you can’t add any more layers.
Tooth is something you’ll hear about paper when coloring with pencils and pastels. It indicates how rough the surface of the paper is. Those tiny raised bumps are the paper’s tooth and hold onto the pencil or pastel pigments. Tooth allows you to layer colors, and smooth papers without tooth are frustrating to color with colored pencils because they can’t grip the pencil the way a paper with more tooth does.
Single color layering is good and it’s the basis of the other layering we’ll be doing. To add more depth and richness to colors, I like to add darker colors in the same palette.
So here is the original color, (PC 1008) but I’ll add two more colors to show you some basic blending. I find that using more than one color adds depth to your work. I start by adding layers of the next darker shade of the same color at the opposite end (PC 932). I add more layers of the second color to the middle area and ease up pressure and add fewer and fewer layers as I get to the light color. I overlap the colors for a smooth transition.
I layered the third color (PC 933) in the end opposite the lightest color, again adding more layers and slightly more pressure at the darker edge, less and less until I fade to nothing in the middle area where the medium color is.
Colored Pencil Blending Techniques: Burnishing
As I mentioned earlier, paper has tooth to catch layers of colored pencil. This tooth can be crushed with pressure from the pencil. This gets rid of the tiny white dots of paper showing through the pencil, and this type of pressure that eliminates the paper’s tooth is called burnishing.
Burnishing is one of the ways you can blend colored pencil. It helps the pigments meld together and adds a smoother, more polished look to your page. Because burnishing flattens the paper’s tooth, no more layers can be added after it has been done, so it should be done at the end when you are finished with all the color layers you want on a page. The result is a slick, shiny surface and adding new layers is difficult or impossible because there is no tooth left in the paper to grip any new pencil layers.
Here is that petal again, I added more pressure and burnished the colors. See how smooth they look and how there are no little white dots left in the colored areas of the paper.
You can simply add more pressure to the page and burnish the colors to help blend them and eliminate the white dots on the paper.
Another type of burnishing can be done with a white pencil. First we do our basic blending of several colors. Add a light layer:
Add a medium layer:
Add a dark layer. Here I show it in progress, you can see how I am adding more layers and gentle pressure near the edge of the petal and easing up as I get closer to the middle, adding more layers near the edge and fewer, lighter layers as I blend into the medium color.
Finish layering your colors by adding the rest of the dark layer.
Then add a layer of white pencil to the entire area with some gentle pressure to burnish the colors. See how much more smooth they look, without white spots. But the white pencil did lighten colors of the colored area. Different brand white pencils do this to different degrees; this is what the white Prismacolor pencil does (PC 938).
Yet another type of burnishing is called tonal burnishing, where you use the lightest color and use it all over the colored area to burnish your work. So you layer your pencils:
Then go over everything with the lightest color (PC 1008) and some gentle pressure.
As you can see, it gives a beautiful smooth surface. It softens and lightens the colors a little when compared to simply burnishing, but not nearly as much as the white pencil does.
Burnishing and blending gives a smooth look. They use pressure from your hands as the tool to blend and smooth by adding more layers and gentle pressure at the end.
You can also use solvents to blend colored pencil. These solvents break down the binders (for Prismacolors, that binder is wax) holding the pigment in your pencil and allow you to push around the pigments on the page. When blending with solvents, I use the blending agents from light to dark to avoid pushing pigment from the darker colors into the lighter colors. There are a variety of solvents used to blend colored pencils.
I will use easy to find, affordable, less toxic options for my examples. If you are looking for a purer, residue-less solvent for blending, one option (not covered here since it is less common) is to use mineral spirits like Gamsol. You need to use more care when you use more potent materials like these (protecting yourself, your work area, and keeping things well-ventilated) but the results can be great!
Colored Pencil Blending Techniques: Rubbing Alcohol
One way to blend colors is to use rubbing alcohol, no higher than 70%. Higher percentages will lift all the pigment off the page.
You can use a cotton swab, a tortillon (made of rolled up paper), or even an inexpensive acrylic brush to do this.
If you use a brush, make sure to blot it on a paper towel so you don’t apply too much alcohol. It’s easier to add more solvent than to remove it from the page!
Here is an example of blending with alcohol. I layered my colors, then used a cotton swab to push the pigment around.
When blending with alcohol be careful not to go over the area too many times — I illustrated that here — you can see how the colors are lighter around the middle – it will lift too much pigment on the page.
Here it is finished. I did the second half with a lighter touch and not as many passes to avoid lifting too much pigment. You’ll see a smooth surface and virtually no visible tooth on the page. The advantage is that the pigments were spread on the page but there is actually some tooth left, so if you accidentally lifted too much pigment, you can go back and add layers of color like I did on the area I lifted in the next set of pictures.
Colored Pencil Blending Techniques: Baby Oil
Another solvent you can use for blending colored pencil is baby oil. Like alcohol, it breaks down the pigments to help blend them. Use sparingly and avoid touching uncolored paper to avoid stains. I blended my colors:
Then I used a cotton swab to blend with baby oil. You can also use a tortillon, just dip the tortillon in a small amount of baby oil. This smooths out the colors but also lifts pigment from the page onto the cotton swab so the colors seemed lighter after I blended. I was able to go back and add more color to the page, though the surface felt a little more slippery and less toothy than before I blended it.
Colored Pencil Blending Techniques: Petroleum Jelly
Another way to blend is to use Petroleum Jelly or Vaseline. There are two ways to do this. I layered my colors:
Then I gently rubbed a cotton swab over my Vaseline to pick up a very small amount and then gently rubbed it over the layered pencil and results were smoother, but it left visible amounts of pigment on my cotton swab and lifted color off the page. It was also harder to control, but that could be due to the size of the cotton swab; it might be easier to control with a tortillon. But it did soften and smooth the colors.
Some colorists dip the tip of their pencils directly in the Vaseline and pick up a tiny amount of Vaseline on their pencil and color directly on the page. I tried this and got some bright colors and smooth application. Here’s the light color layer. I was not sure how well they would layer because the pencil became slightly slippery and the application seemed thicker and did not have any visible tooth:
I added the medium color, again these colors were more intense and there was no visible tooth on the paper, because they were slippery, I was able to easily blend the edges of one color into the next.
I added the dark layer and went over the edges gently to smooth them. The colors appeared almost like burnished colors, but bright and without having to add pressure. The page was smooth and shiny.
Coloring with Vaseline on the tips of your pencil gives and effect similar to burnishing, but without having to apply pressure.
Make sure to wipe off any excess Vaseline from your pencils so the remaining Vaseline doesn’t penetrate the pencil’s core causing it to crumble or be damaged because the binders are broken down by the solvent.
Some colorists are concerned if they blend with Vaseline directly on a coloring book that there might be some Vaseline left on the top of their colored areas that could get on the facing page when the book is closed. You can lightly blot the finished area with a paper towel to remove any excess Vaseline before closing the book just to be safe. Some colorists even put a layer of tissue paper or wax paper between pages where they’ve used solvents to protect the facing page.
Again, if you are concerned with the residue left behind by these solvent blending methods, consider trying a mineral spirit like Gamsol, which evaporates off the page and leaves no residue or lasting smell.
Colored Pencil Blending Techniques: Blending Pencil
Another type of blending can be done with a blending pencil. A blending pencil is essentially a colored pencil with only binders and no pigment. First, you layer your colors:
Then go over everything with the blending pencil (I used PC 1077, the Prismacolor brand Blending Pencil).
I notice the colors are slightly faded, but the paper’s tooth is still somewhat visible because no color was added. The blending pencil did seem to push the pigment around, and if enough pressure was added, the pigment lifted off the page.
You may need to add more layers of pencil before blending with a blender pencil to eliminate white areas on the page. I tried going back with the original pencils to darken the colors, but the white spaces were filled with wax and the layers were burnished and I wasn’t able to get smooth color added. So bear in mind when you use a blending pencil try it out first to see how much pigment you want to lay down before adding blending pencil.
You can also use blending pencil to soften the edges of unblended layers of pencil. In this case, I added a layer of blending pencil it to the unblended layers on the very top petal (the first one illustrated with the stripes of color) and noticed there was a lifting of pigment on the edges and I was able to smooth out the colors and get them blended. So blending pencil can also be used to soften edges between colors or streaks in your pencil work. Make sure to clean the pencil’s tip on a scrap piece of paper to remove any pigment that may have gotten on the tip of your blender pencil so you don’t add them to the page you’re blending next time you use it.
That does it — even though the edges were sharp before, they are now blended using the blender pencil!
Well there you have it — eight different colored pencil blending techniques, using both pencil tricks and solvents. Be sure to give some of these colored pencil blending techniques a try!
I used the Colorist Palette Reference Book to test these blending techniques — this book is a great place to try blending methods before you do them on a colored page or a book, because it allows you to test palettes and techniques on a coloring picture instead of just squares or rectangles. It also allows you to save your experiments and notes in one place for future reference. There is room at the bottom of the page to help you keep track of your colors, media, and make notes of whatever technique you used.
Now you have a variety of blending techniques to try so you can experiment and see which ones you like best. These should work well with other types of pencils besides Prismacolors, so give them a try and see which technique becomes your favorite!
Which colored pencil blending technique is your favorite? Share your experiences in the comments below to help other colorists!
Ligia Ortega is a coloring book artist with several books published in different genres including inspirational, grayscale, and simple coloring pages with bold lines and larger spaces. After work, when she isn’t drawing coloring pages or coloring, she likes to craft, cook, travel, and spend time in nature and with her family. You can learn more about her coloring adventures at ColoringPress.com, find her coloring books on Amazon, and don’t forget to follow her on Pinterest and Facebook for more coloring tips and techniques.
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