How To Blend Colored Pencils

When it comes to art, often the humble colored pencil is overlooked. Relegated to the kiddy table, we are here to bring colored pencils back, and not just for your stress relieving coloring book! 

Blending with colored pencils can be fun and enhance your work, creating lots of depth. However, it can feel a little daunting. Usually, it is oil pastels we think of for our dreamy blending skills, but no more! 

How to blend colored pencils

The colored pencil is here to reclaim its position, and here is how to blend colored pencils. 

How to blend

As with most things in this world, there is more than one method! There are a few ways you can blend colored pencils, with each offering a different look. An excellent way to find the best way for you is trial and error. 

We will now look at these in closer detail. Why not make the most of a rainy Sunday and give them all a whirl? 

Layering Pencils

Let’s start with the easiest method: layering pencils. You can add a colorless blending pencil to your art supplies to make this method more manageable, or simply use your existing colored pencils. 

The colors can be blended by layering light layers of each color over one another. The key to success here is light layers; a heavy layer will make it challenging to blend the color; it is better to start slow with a very light hand. 

When you want to change, start with a slight overlap in the middle and progressively overlap each layer a little further. This should result in a gradual change of color. 

Colorless blending pencils can be a useful tool to have. They will blend your colors without adding any more color to work. To use a colorless blending pencil, create a light layer as the base of your work. Next, add a thin layer of your lightest color. You can continue with your colors as usual then. 

Dark colors can be difficult to blend, so the blending pencil and light color should help with this issue. This method requires little additional tools and is easy to get to grips with. 


For those after a different outcome, you can use paper and tortillons to smudge the colored pencils. The paper does not have to be costly; soft tissue or a paper towel can work well for this method. 

Tortillons, or blending stumps, are traditionally used for charcoal but work well for smudging colored pencils. The result is fine-tuned blending, although it can be costly for some budgets. A similar effect can be achieved with cotton swabs. 

These dry blending tools work best with a heavy layer of colored pencil. You can then use your smudgers over the color to blend them. They do lift the color from the paper, giving grainier results than other methods.  

It may take some time to get the pencil’s layer right before the smudging, depending on how many colors the paper can hold. Remember, trial and error is all part of the fun and creative process; just enjoy yourself! 

Blending with solvents 

Perhaps the more advanced option is using solvents to help blend your colored pencils. Generally, this method should only be used on sturdy paper. The best way to ascertain this is to test a small patch and let it dry. If there is any damage or warping, then the paper is not suitable. 

There are a few options within solvents you can try to achieve your desired blend. Colorless solvent markers are great for softening and blending colored pencils, creating a watercolor-like effect. You may want to consider using watercolor pencils, as they can be blended with water and provide a more saturated color on the paper. 

Turpenoid or other oil-based solvents dissolve the wax allowing colored pencils to blend. It creates one of the strongest blends but is toxic. It is essential to be careful and follow all the necessary safety precautions when using an oil-based solvent. 

Rubbing alcohol can be used to create a lighter blend. It needs to be 70% or less so that you don’t lose any pigment. If you want a stronger blend, rubber cement thinner can be used. 

When using a solvent on colored pencils, gentle is the best approach. Use a paintbrush, cotton swab, or cotton ball, and take your time. It is easy to disturb the paper surface or rub off the pigment. Thicker layers of the colored pencil are less likely to damage the drawing and will blend better.  

It is worth testing the pencils and solvents before beginning, as they all react slightly differently to one another. Samples are a good idea, making a note of the combinations to save time on future pieces. 

Factors to consider 

When it comes to blending colored pencils, the materials you use can impact your outcome. 

The paper you use will make a massive difference depending on your method of choice. Cheaper wood pulp-based paper is made with short fibers that break off easily and do not hold pigment well. 

They can struggle with the pressure of a layered pencil, causing the paper to distort and tear. Be sure to look for good quality paper which is designed for colored pencils. 

The pencils you use are also important. Each brand of colored pencils will produce different results. Some can look chalky when blended and are difficult to blend. Pencils with a softer wax base tend to blend better and are worth keeping an eye out for. 

The colors of these pencils will blend differently, too. Some colors are driers than others, while some can be granular or more opaque. They can all blend differently again, depending on the amount of pigment in them. These can vary from manufacturers and also colors within the same brand.

Usually, it is a trial and error to find the combination of paper and pencils that works best for you. The best way to do this is often with some scrap paper and a spare afternoon or two.

Final word

As you can see, there are a few different ways you can blend colored pencils. The simplest is to use the pencils themselves in layers or with a colorless blending pencil.

Solvent-based blending or smudging are also excellent methods, depending on your preference. 

It is worth experimenting and seeing what style you like best, you never know, you might be surprised at the answer!