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How to blend colored pencils with water and 6 other crazy liquids

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I love to color, and I know you do too! It’s relaxing. But sometimes it feels like blending coloring pencils the proper way can get a little boring. That’s why I put together this blog post to satisfy the curious minds out there wondering what things you can use to blend your colored pencils with! There are so many options available, from water to coconut oil! Some work well, some don’t work so well and some don’t work at all. So let’s take a look at how to blend colored pencils with water and 6 other crazy liquids that will add some oomph to your pictures.

I love to color, and I know you do too! It’s relaxing. But sometimes it feels like blending coloring pencils the proper way can get a little boring. That’s why I put together this blog post to satisfy the curious minds out there wondering what things you can use to blend your colored pencils with! There are so many options available, from water to coconut oil! Some work well, some don’t work so well and some don’t work at all. So let’s take a look at how to blend colored pencils with water and 6 other crazy liquids that will add some oomph to your pictures.

Important Note: If you have never done this before I strongly recommend you get a scrap piece of paper and create small patches of 2 overlapping colors using your colored pencils and then testing each liquid and technique. You don’t want to go ruin a proper artwork for this.

When we talk about blending we are going to cover the referring to Solvent blending over dry blending or layering of colors and then blending. If you are interested in learning more about Layering and Blending I suggest you have a look at this post.

Solvent blending is basically using any kind of liquid that will act as a solvent to dissolve the binder in a pencil and leave mostly the pigment that can then be blended in with another color. Solvents can be water, alcohol or oils (and even heat but we won’t be covering that in this post).

How to blend colored pencils with water

How to blend colored pencils with water

In order to blend colored pencils with water you’ll need to get a container that can hold all of your coloring supplies and a smaller one that contains clean water.

You will also need a Q tip as I find this works best when using a liquid to blend as it is gentle on the paper and will not damage the paper as would happen if you used your finger or thumb.

Water can be used to blend color pencils if they are water-soluble. Most colored pencils use a wax or oil to bind the pigment into a pencil so these types of colored pencils will not blend with water.

If you have watercolor pencils then these will definitely blend with water. To do so, simply draw on the desired colors and use a brush, paper stomper or Q-tip to add just a slight amount of moisture.

Then use either the Q tip or brush to gently start blending.

Use a new Q tip for every different color combination you wish to blend.

Also keep a kleenex tissue around to gently dab on any extra water that you may have on your Q tip. Too much water will start damaging your paper.

So there you have it, using water to blend colored pencils that use water based pigments and binders was pretty straight forward but what about pencils that have a wax or non water based binder? What do we use then?

Before we answer that question, we need to also look at what other types of pencils there are.

3 Main type of pencils you can blend

Water based pigments and binders – Prismacolor pencils, pigment pens.

Watercolor pencils can be blended with water. You can use water to blend these pencils. You will see that it is like watercolor painting.

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Wax or non-water based binder – Crayola pencils, Faber Castell Polychromos.

A wax-based pencil is a type of colored pencil that can be blended in the same way as wax crayons. Wax doesn’t dissolve when it’s treated with solvents like water or alcohol, but instead will “set” or spread color to other areas. It is the same kind of wax you get in a candle and will respond to heat better than a liquid.

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Oil Based Pigments & Binders – Caran D’ache Luminance pencils.

Oil-based pencils are less difficult to blend than those that are water-soluble but they need an alcohol to break down the binder.

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Once you have your colored oil based pencil on paper, simply use a paper stomp or a finger or thumb, Q tip or even a kleenex tissue.

You can turn a color into a wash by adding a solvent. The solvent will dissolve the oil binder, leaving only the pigment behind. I’ll go into which solvent to use below.

Now that we know what types of pencils are available to use we can now address the question I posed earlier about using different liquids for a more diverse range of effects.

You see there is an important difference between blending your colored pencil with something like alcohol which has a low viscosity level than say olive oil which will be much thicker in consistency.

So what kinds of solvents apart from water can we use? Let’s explore.

How to blend colored pencils with rubbing alcohol

Blending colored pencils with rubbing alcohol is quite a well known technique so there’s not much to prove here.

Now it’s time to grab a fresh Q tip and a patch of color to test.

We’re going to dip the Q tip in a tiny bit of rubbing alcohol or isocol. I would not suggest hand sanitizer because that has some perfumes or hand moisturizer in it which may affect the coloring pencils.

Now if you’ve done this before then you’ll know that sometimes rubbing alcohol has a bit of a strong smell but don’t worry, it’s not toxic for your body or anything like that.

Adding a little amount of rubbing alcohol breaks down the wax binder in colored pencils, it will leave just enough pigment to let you blend.

Use the Q tip or paint brushes to blend with rubbing alcohol. You will see the pigment start to act more like a paint and you can use the same techniques for painting to start blending the colors.

Clean your brush with fresh rubbing alcohol.

Let’s try something similar to rubbing alcohol but slightly different.

Blending colored pencils with nail polish remover

Nail polish remover is similar to rubbing alcohol but it differs because it is acetone based. Acetone removes the paint from your nails, it will also remove wax binder in colored pencils.

Since nail polish remover has a higher concentration of acetone you need to use less amount than rubbing alcohol and be careful not to inhale it because that can lead up some serious health issues.

To blend the colored pencils, you just need to follow the same technique described above in How to blend colored pencils with rubbing alcohol.

Now let’s try something a little weirder.. vaseline.

How to blend colored pencils with Vaseline

Vaseline is a white petroleum jelly derived from coal and oil. It is an emollient, meaning it will soften the wax binder in colored pencils to make them easier to blend when combined with different liquids such as water or alcohol.

Vaseline can be used for blending without any additional liquid but may require some effort.

My only concern with using vaseline on paper is that it can leave a residue on the paper surface that can be difficult to clean.

If you do not want any residue on your work, I recommend using water with vaseline for blending instead of just Vaseline by itself.

This will make it easier to control where the color goes and prevent streaking or other unintended effects from leaving a stain on your artwork.

So Vaseline was a little weird, how about some baby oil?

How to blend colored pencils with baby oil

What you may not know is that baby oil is not just an oil, it contains mineral oil, which is a form of paraffin (a long-chain hydrocarbon).

Baby oil was actually the first liquid sold as nail polish remover.

You may be wondering how this relates to blending pencils and I’ll tell you: baby oil can sometimes contain wax, so it makes for an interesting experience with colored pencil.

As before, once you have dissolved the binder in the pencil, you can blend as per the other techniques.

Give it a try!

Now if baby oil wasn’t weird enough for you as a solvent for coloring pencils, how about coconut oil?

Blending colored pencils with coconut oil

Coconut oil is derived from the meat of the coconut palm tree.

It is composed mostly of fats, so it makes for an interesting experience with colored pencils because once again we are talking about a binder that can be soluble in oil and not water or alcohol.

When using coconut oil as your solvent, you may find that some colors will dissolve more than others. Which is why I always recommend making a patch of all the colors you wish to use and to make notes for every type of solvent you wish to use.

Keep a record of the results because what you may dislike today may be just the thing you are looking for in the near future.

Can you use olive oil to blend colored pencils?

Now we come to olive oil. As someone who has Italian heritage, I always wondered if the old Italian artists used olive oil. I doubt it. But does olive oil make a good liquid to blend colored pencils? It

It’s actually not that bad. In fact, it is one of the best for blending out browns and grays.

You can use olive oil to get a good blend if you are coloring in earth tones or need to lighten up gray areas with medium pressure strokes. This is because as the olive oil dries it oxidizes. Oxidation is the process of breaking down molecules and compounds to form new ones.

If you are working on a project that has light colors, olive oil will cause more of the color pigment to come off onto your paper. So if you use it with lighter pencils beware!

Will baby oil or coconut oil leave an oily residue on my paper? No. They will not leave an oily residue on your paper because they are fully water soluble, which is the same type of solvent that you would use to wash off oil from your hands after cooking.

Lastly what didn’t work as a colored pencil solvent?

Butter was one of the tips I keep seeing online and I tried it out and it sort of works for oil based colored pencils but it makes one heck of a mess. I would stay away from butter as a solvent.

Turpentine could be used as a solvent for oil based colored pencils but I found the smell too strong and it was just overpowering on all levels. It even ruins the paper.

Personally I would stay away from baby oil, coconut oil as well. They both leave a lasting smell and have the problem of the oil component bleeding away from the area you are working on, leaving what looks like a wet stain.

Safety Tips when blending colored pencils with solvents

There are a few safety tips for when blending colored pencils with various solvents.

  • Use natural light if possible because it is less damaging to your eyes.
  • Wear protective eyewear such as goggles or glasses that are designed for protection from chemicals and liquids, just in case the pigment should splash up into your face.
  • Protect the area where you are working if you are going to use large amounts of solvents that could spill.
  • Work in a well ventilated room or at a minimum open a window and turn on a fan to help circulate fresh air.

These tips will help you blend colored pencils with water-soluble solvents safely without any adverse effects on yourself or your paper. If there are other methods for blending colors that you would like us to cover please send me a note in Contact Us!

How to blend colored pencils with water – supporting video

Seeing is believing so instead of risk ruining your own drawings, I have found a few brave artists who have shared the video process of how they blend colored pencils using various liquids and materials.

In the video below, you will be show the testing of everyday products to test their ‘blendability’. They will be using baby oil, alcohol, olive oil and paint thinner to blend Prismacolor colored pencils.

Wrap up!

So, what have we learned? It turns out that there are many ways to blend colored pencils! You can use water or a variety of other liquids including coconut oil and alcohol.

Some work well, some don’t work so well and others make the coloring process more fun than it already is.

The bottom line is this- explore your options until you find something that works best for you!

And if you’re not sure where to start with blending colors on paper, check out our blog post “Layering and Blending Colored Pencils as a Beginner Artist” which has plenty of additional tips about how to blend and layer coloring pencils.

Share these ideas with your artist friends on social media and let them know they’ve got options.

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Sources

Image by Tafilah Yusof from Pixabay 

Image by JL G from Pixabay 

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