Pens and markers vs colouring pencils

There are two materials you’ll see us talking about again and again on the Colouring Heaven website – colouring pencils and marker pens. These two colouring supplies are the most commonly used by colourists all over the world, but how do you know which one is right for you? It’s the ultimate question of pens vs pencils!

Both have their own benefits, techniques, and challenges, and we’re here to guide you through the process of choosing which material to colour with!

Looking for some beautiful colouring pages to test your favourite materials with? Take a look at our extensive range of free colouring pages!

Castle Arts colouring pencils

Colouring pencils

Colouring pencils are a hugely versatile and amazing material for colouring. You can create beautiful shading and blending, take advantage of a wide range of colours, and add the tiniest details with the sharpest pencil tip. From applying the lightest pressure for a shiny highlight, to layering the depths of a shadow, you can do it all with colouring pencils.

Why do we use colouring pencils?

Colouring pencils can be affordable, versatile, and available in an incredible range of colours. There are a wide range of colouring pencil brands available to choose from, to suit your needs and budget.

Colouring pencils are either wax-based, oil-based, or gum-based, but all of these pencils have the benefit of being long-lasting and highly pigmented.

You may need to store your pencils in a pencil case to keep them safe from breakage, as the cores of colouring pencils can be easily snapped if dropped on the floor, or if too much pressure is applied when colouring.

Colouring page with pencils.

Colouring by Kelly from our Fledgling Fairies Special.

What techniques can you use with colouring pencils?

Colouring pencils are extremely adaptable, and you can use lots of different techniques with them.

Using pressure

You can vary how much pressure you apply with your colouring pencil, using lighter pressure for lighter tones, and harder pressure for more saturated tones. We generally recommend starting with light pressure.


Using light pressure, you can layer colouring pencils on top of each other to create rich colours with realistic shading.


Because colouring pencils can be used with very light pressure, you can use your pencils to create beautiful blending, and transition seamlessly from one colour to another.


Burnishing is a technique where you use a colourless blending pencil, or a very light colour, and blend over your colouring to create a glossy effect. A burnished page will often look shiny, because it pushes the pencil into the grain of the paper and removes the visible texture. This technique also reduces smudging.

Jenny has some burnishing tips in this Colouring Heaven video:

What are the challenges of colouring pencils?

Well, part of the challenge is that there are so many brands and types of pencil to choose from! Have a look at some colourists’ reviews to find out which pencils might be best for you.

Some wax-based pencils may create a wax bloom – which is a white, waxy film that settles on the surface of your colouring. To remove a wax bloom, use a soft cloth to wipe the bloom away, being careful not to remove any pigment. You can also use a colouring pencil fixative to prevent wax bloom.

Your colouring pencils may also create small particles as you’re colouring, especially if you use an eraser or rubber – you can use a drafting brush to remove these without smudging your colouring page.

As we mentioned earlier, colouring pencils do break. The best way to prevent breakage is to store your pencils safely, using a high quality sharpener to keep them in good condition, and be careful not to press too hard when you are colouring.

Ohuhu markers

Pens and markers

For bold and bright colours, amazing pigmentation, and quick and easy application, pens and markers are your best friend. While pens and markers are not as versatile as colouring pencils, they can still cover a huge range of colours, and you can pick up some techniques for how to use them to create beautiful and detailed colouring.

Why do we use pens and markers?

Pens and markers are great for colourists who like to quickly and effectively put colour on a page. When carefully used to shade and blend, they can create a lovely effect for your colouring pages, or they make a really great and easy base for colouring pencils to shade on top of.

When using pens and markers on an issue of Colouring Heaven, always slip a few sheets of card beneath your page to prevent colour bleeding through.

Just like colouring pencils, there are a wide range of types and brands of pens and markers to choose from, depending on what you want to use them for!

For example, alcohol markers are highly pigmented, long-lasting and quick-drying, which makes them a popular choice for more experienced colourists. Whereas fine liner pens are a good option if you want to add lots of detail or cross-hatched shading or pointillism.

To keep your pens in perfect condition, make sure they are stored with the lids fully sealed so they don’t dry out.

Colouring page with pens.

Colouring by Connie from our Fairytopia Special.

What techniques can you use with pens and markers?

If you’re used to colouring with pencils, you may need to try some new techniques to get the most out of pens and markers.


Start with your lightest colour, using circular motions to get a smooth result, and gradually get darker. This works best with alcohol markers, which dry quickly and layer nicely without streaking.

If you’re working with a different type of pen, you may want to use a feathering technique, which involves using a flicking motion to gradually blend colours together.

Cross hatching

Cross hatching is a technique where you colour a series of parallel lines, then layer with another set of parallel lines in the opposite direction. This is a great technique for adding texture, shading and depth with markers.


Just like it sounds, pointillism involves using the point of your pen and markers to colour your page with only dots. By using different colours and subtle layering, you can create a beautiful colouring page entirely from dots!

Colourless blender

A colourless blender is a pen with transparent ink that you can use to rewet your pigment, blend two colours together, or fix mistakes. These blenders are used with alcohol markers.

Watch an inspiring speed colour by Christine Karron, where she beautifully blends with Ohuhu markers:

What are the challenges of pens and markers?

The first challenge is working out what type of pen or marker is right for you – as there are lots to pick from!

Some pens last longer than others, while some brands can dry out faster, even when used carefully and stored safely. We recommend looking at colourists’ reviews to see if they recommend a marker brand or not, especially looking out for any mention of how long-lasting the pens are.

Some marker brands offer refills, which can be a more affordable long-term solution, so make sure you look into this before making a purchase.

When colouring with markers, the added moisture and pigmentation means bleed through is likely, so always colour with a few sheets of card beneath your design. For alcohol markers, you want to work wet on wet to be able to blend your colours nicely, which is why a colourless blender can be helpful.

When working with water-based markers, be cautious with how much ink you use, as it can damage your paper. These markers are more like watercolour paint, so while you still want to work wet on wet, you may find you have to work a bit faster and more carefully. Water-based markers can also be quite streaky.

Colouring page with pens.

Colouring by Christine Karron from our Fledgling Fairies Special.

We hope this article has helped you gain some insight into the ultimate pens vs pencils debate! While both mediums can be used beautifully for colouring, each have their own benefits and challenges, and you might find you like the sound of one over the other. Or you might decide you’d like to try a bit of both, and combine the smooth texture of markers with the detailed shading of pencils! Either way, we can’t wait to see how you use these amazing materials.

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