Colored Pencils: Free Course in Techniques and Usage

Colored pencils are a versatile artistic tool that can create both subtle and vibrant effects. This article will teach you the basic techniques for using colored pencils, how to blend colors, and some advanced tips to enhance your artistic work.

The Structure of a Colored Pencil

Colored pencils are more than just colored wood. Their structure plays a crucial role in quality and performance. Note that there are also colored leads that can be inserted into a mechanical pencil, but they are rarer and difficult to find in good quality.

Core (Lead)

The core, which is essentially the lead, is the most important part of the colored pencil, as it contains the pigment. The cores in colored pencils can vary depending on the quality and intended use of the pencil. The best-colored pencils have a core with a high concentration of pigments, providing strong and vibrant colors.

  • Pigments: Pigments give the color to the core. High-quality colored pencils use lightfast pigments, ensuring that the colors do not fade over time.
  • Binders: Binders such as wax or oil are used to hold the pigments together and give the core its characteristic consistency. Wax-based colored pencils are softer and easier to blend, while oil-based colored pencils are harder and more durable but deposit less color on the paper.
  • Filler: Some colored pencils add filler to give the core its structure and consistency. This can be materials such as kaolin or talc.

Wood Casing

The wood casing around the core protects it and makes it comfortable to hold and use the pencil. The quality of the wood can affect how easy it is to sharpen the pencil and how sturdy it is.

  • Wood Types: Cedarwood is often used for high-quality colored pencils because it is strong and easy to sharpen without splintering. Cheaper colored pencils may use alternative wood types or even composite materials.
  • Manufacturing: The wood is drilled, cut into two halves, the core is placed in the middle, and the halves are glued together. This construction ensures that the core is well protected.
  • Shape: Most colored pencils are round or hexagonal for a good grip. Thickness can vary. For instance, people with arthritis might benefit from a thicker pencil or attaching a round or triangular silicone grip as an aid.

Outer Coating

The outer coating of the colored pencil provides extra protection and an aesthetically pleasing appearance. It can also provide information about the color and brand.

  • Lacquer: Colored pencils are often coated with lacquer to protect the wood and give it a smooth surface. The lacquer can be colored to match the core’s color, making it easy to identify the color without removing the pencil’s tip.
  • Labeling: Many colored pencils have printed information on the outer coating, such as the manufacturer’s name, the color’s name or number, and any special features.

Choosing Colored Pencils

When starting to work with colored pencils, it’s important to choose the right materials. Colored pencils come in various qualities and price ranges. Professional artists often prefer colored pencils with high pigment concentration and soft cores, as these provide more vibrant and saturated colors.

Some recommended brands that many artists swear by:

  • Prismacolor Premier: Known for their soft core and rich pigments.
  • Faber-Castell Polychromos: Popular for their durability and lightfast colors (author’s preferred brand for over 30 years).
  • Caran d’Ache Luminance: Offers outstanding lightfastness and smooth color transitions.

Basic Techniques

To get the best out of your colored pencils, it’s important to master some basic techniques. Here are some of the most common techniques:


Hatching is a simple technique where you draw diagonal lines close to each other to create shadow and texture. Varying the pressure on the pencil can change the shadow effect, but the point is that the more lines and the closer they are drawn, the darker the tone achieved.


This technique involves applying several layers of different colors to build depth and intensity. Start with a light base and gradually add darker colors.


Burnishing is used to create a smooth, glossy surface. This is done by applying heavy pressure with the colored pencil, which blends the colors and removes visible strokes.

Color Blending

Blending colors is an essential skill that allows you to create a wide range of shades and tones. Here are some methods for effective color blending:


One of the most direct methods is to overlap colors. By applying one color on top of another, you can create new shades and softer transitions. If the colored pencils you have cannot blend, it is because they are of poor quality.

Using Blender Pencils

Blender pencils are designed to blend colors without adding extra pigment. They can be used to smooth transitions and create a more homogeneous color.

Using Light Layers and Overlays

Start with a light layer of a base color and then gradually add other colors on top. This technique gives you control over the color intensity and allows subtle color blending.

“Fantastic Picture: “Wyld Man” made with colored pencil by BARBARA DAHLSTEDT

Advanced Techniques

Once the basic techniques are mastered, you can begin experimenting with more advanced techniques to further enhance your drawings.


Stippling involves drawing small dots to create shadows and texture. By varying the distance and density of the dots, you can create different shadow effects.

Kneaded Eraser

You can’t really erase colored pencils, but a kneaded eraser can lift some of the color if you feel you have made a mistake. A razor blade can scrape off color and is especially helpful if you have already fixed your picture. The razor blade technique, however, requires a very good and thick piece of paper.

Softening with Solvents

Solvents such as mineral spirits can be used to soften colored pencils and create a painterly effect. Apply the solvent with a brush to blend the colors smoothly.

Mixed Media

Colored pencils can also be combined with other media such as watercolors or ink. This opens up a wide range of textures and effects that can enrich your artwork.

Practical Tips

To optimize your drawing experience and get the most out of your colored pencils, the following tips may be useful:

  • Keep Your Pencils Sharp: A sharp pencil provides more control and precision. Often it’s better to sharpen with a razor blade, as it doesn’t waste material, and you can get exactly the angle and point you prefer to draw with.
  • Work in Layers: Build colors gradually to avoid overloading the paper.
  • Use Quality Paper: Thick, textured paper can better handle layers and blending techniques.
  • Fix Along the Way: Fixing gives better adhesion for the next layers and prevents the colors from blending with those underneath. You can also fix before applying light colors over dark ones, as this is otherwise almost impossible.

Need inspiration? – check out the article: What Should I Draw.

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