Color Pencils & Tools Overview

For my colored pencils classes and my own work, I like to use a combination of wax- and oil-based pencils, plus some handy tools I always have nearby. Here’s an overview of a basic collection of colored pencils and tool.

Types of colored pencils

Colored pencils are pigments suspended in a medium, pressed into a rod and encased in wood (usually). There’s a lot of variation in types of medium, and form (color sticks, for instance are basically colored pencils!).

Wax-based pencils like Prismacolor are usually less expensive while still offering high-quality pigments. Their soft core means smooth texture which can easily blend through layering. Their tips are also easier to break, meaning these can be used up rather quickly.

One thing to note about wax pencils, when layering color, a waxy “bloom” can appear on work, creating a large shiny area.

Faber-Castell colored pencils are pigments encased in an oil & wax medium. Their pigment rods are harder than wax-only pencils, keeping their sharp tips longer and offering the ability to layer colors well without having to add too much pigment.

These pencils tend to be more expensive, but last longer with good care. These work very well with the solvent blending method.

Papers & Equipment

Paper is a matter of personal preference. I’ll typically use my beloved cheap watercolor paper in colored pencils classes, and for illustration studies. I like this kind of paper because it offers a sturdy surface and tooth that can grip the pigment in colored pencils really well, and also hold up to burnishing and solvent blending methods. I also typically like to use colored pencils with watercolor in mixed media pieces, for which this paper is ideal

I also typically use a lot of carbon transfer paper to layout designs I’ll use in my colored pencils illustrations. In classes, I don’t focus on drawing very much, and so this is a handy shortcut for getting designs onto your preferred paper and ready to color without first having to sketch or draw. I do also use carbon transfer paper in my own finished work, which allows me to sketch an illustration or deisgn on a separate sheet of paper that I can erase and make changes to, and then to transfer the illustration to a sheet of paper for the final work.

Tools-wise, I’ll most commonly use (in the image, left to right): a horse hair drafting brush to brush away pigment dust, low-tack washi tape, paper tortillions for burnishing, odorless mineral spirits for solvent blending, kneaded eraser, x-acto knife, embossing tool, paint brushes (for solvent), drafting pencil. I also value a high quality pencil sharpener – one that can anchor to the table or otherwise create stability is preferred. I use a Derwent pencil sharpener.

That’s the super quick overview of a colored pencils tools set up that I use. In the next post, we’ll get into blending techniques.