Ultimate Guide to Coloured Pencils

Coloured pencils are a very popular choice for colourists. They’re easy to get hold of, portable and can be an affordable option. When choosing what’s right for you consider the points below and remember you can buy some of the more expensive ranges as open stock (individually) to give them a try before committing to the expense of a full set. Learn more in our guide to coloured pencils!

What makes up a coloured pencil?

A coloured pencil is made up of two parts, the pigmented core and the wood casing. The pigmented core is the most important part as this is the actual ‘colour’ that you will use to colour with.

The pigmented core is at the centre of the pencil and is held together by a binder. This binder has an effect on the finish of your colouring. The three different types of binders in a coloured pencil are wax-based binders, gum-based binders or oil-based. Wax binders are the most common in coloured pencils and can be layered on your paper easily. Blending and mixing colours is also achievable with a wax-binder. One thing to be careful of is that the core of wax-based pencils is easily broken, so make sure you don’t drop them!

Oil-based pencils are usually more resistant to breaking than wax-based, and they’re water-resistant. You are still able to blend and mix colours with an oil-based pencil, but it may be easier with a wax-based pencil.

Gum-based binders are only found in watercolour pencils, which is a completely different type of pencil to a wax-based or oil-based pencil. The colour of a gum-based pencil is activated when it comes into contact with water. This means that the techniques for using these pencils are completely different to those used with wax-based and oil-based pencils.

colouring pencils

What is a wax bloom?

If you’ve ever coloured a design and come back to it a few days later to find a white, waxy film over it, that’s wax bloom (also known as efflorescence)! Wax bloom isn’t down to incorrect technique or poor quality pencils and thankfully is easy to fix.

It happens because of the wax binder in the pencils. The material in the pencils settles on the surface and the wax binder rises to the surface of the drawing. It’s most common in heavily layered drawings and some brands of coloured pencils are more wax-heavy than others which will make them more likely to have a wax bloom.

Removing wax bloom

Removing a wax bloom is easy, using a soft cloth will usually do the job just make sure you don’t press down too hard (you could remove some of the pigment too). Use a light swiping motion to remove the wax bloom, you may also use a q-tip instead of a cloth if you’re particularly worried about removing pigment.

Rather than removing the wax bloom, you can prevent it from happening in the first place. Using a coloured pencil fixative will stop the wax bloom from appearing. They come in an aerosol can and you apply it to your colouring using quick sweeping sprays. Make sure to do a test spray before you apply to your colouring. It is also recommended that you do a test sheet with the colours used in your colouring and spray the fixative on that before your colouring. This makes sure that the colours aren’t altered in a way that you don’t like. 

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