Like with all drawing media, the need for blending arises in almost every drawing. For some mediums, blending occurs quite easily. Charcoal and soft pastels are quite easy to blend transitions of color or value. A simple swipe of the finger or blending stump easily blends these powdery mediums.
But with colored pencils, blending isn't quite so easy. Colored pencils are clearly not powdery and the medium "sticks" quite well to the surface in which it is applied.
This doesn't mean that we can't achieve those smooth gradations of color and value with colored pencils. It simply means that we may need to use a few additional tools to achieve seamless blending of the medium.
The following video explores five different techniques and tools for blending colored pencils. (More on this lesson can be found under the video, further down the page.)
Colored pencils can be blended without using additional tools. In most circumstances, the tooth or texture of the paper will still show through which produces a grainy appearance.
For smoother transitions of color and value, we can use additional tools which help to eradicate the texture produced by the paper.
Both wax-based and oil-based colored pencils are used in this comparison so you can compare how each approach affects the medium. Some are better than others, but each approach does a fairly good job of blending.
1. Prismacolor Blending Marker - The blending marker produced by Prismacolor is alcohol-based. When the alcohol is applied over the colored pencil applications, it dissolves the binder of the colored pencil, allowing it to be spread over the surface. The tip of the marker acts as a brush to move the dissolved pigment. This results in smoother transitions of color and blending.
The Prismacolor blending marker does an adequate job of blending color but produces noticeable streaks. The streaks are less noticeable with the oil-based colored pencils.
2. Artist's Loft Colored Pencil Blending Marker - Similar to the Prismacolor blending marker, the Artist's Loft colored pencil blender is an alcohol-based marker. Like the Prismacolor marker, the alcohol dissolves the binder of the colored pencil applications resulting in blending. The tip of this marker is less flexible and fairly small.
The Artist's Loft marker blends the colored pencil applications but produces considerable "streaking". The small and less flexible tip means covering large areas will require more time.
3. Baby Oil - Baby oil has always been a popular choice for blending colored pencils. The oil dissolves the binder of the pencil allowing it to be spread easily over the surface. Baby oil is safe, odorless, and easily spread with a soft brush.
Baby oil does an excellent job of blending the colored pencil applications with no streaking or color loss. Since baby oil is applied with a brush, larger areas are easily blended in a short amount of time.
4. Turpenoid - Turpenoid is a turpentine alternative. This thinner easily dissolves the pigment of the colored pencil and works the applications into the tooth of the paper. Of all of the methods explored here, Turpenoid is most effective in eradicating the texture of the tooth of the paper. Turpenoid does have a slight odor associated with it and some may be sensitive to this.
Turpenoid does a superior job of blending the colored pencils. This is true for both the wax-based and oil-based colored pencils.
5. Colorless Blender Pencil - A colorless blender pencil consists of a wax-based binder absent of any pigment. By applying additional applications of wax over the colored pencil applications, blending occurs. The colorless blender allows the artist to have a bit more control and since the pencil can be sharpened to a point, a bit more precision as well.
The colorless blender pencil does a very nice job of blending colored pencil applications. Even with the oil-based pencils, the wax-based colorless blender performs well. Larger areas will require quite a bit of time and effort to blend with the colorless blender pencil.
It may seem quite obvious, but many fail to realize the importance of the support. The texture of the paper plays an essential role in the blending that can be achieved with colored pencils.
Smoother papers allow the artist to blend colored pencils with ease. A smaller "tooth" means that less of the medium will be required to fill in the texture of the paper. The drawback to using smoother papers is that less of the medium can be applied. If you like to layer many applications of color before blending, then smoother papers may not be the best option for you.
Textured papers, like pastel paper, allow the artist to layer many applications of color. Smooth blending of the pencils occurs only after multiple applications are in place. If you want to achieve smooth blending without applying many layers, then smoother papers may be a better choice.