Our Huge List of Colored Pencil Tips and Tricks
Updated by Brandon F. on September 1, 2023
We have compiled a giant list of helpful colored pencils trips and tricks and we wanted to share them with you. Some of these we figured out for ourselves and others we have learned from the many helpful colored pencil communities that exist all over the world. We hope you can find a use for some of these as you continue to develop your abilities. If you have any other neat tricks that we haven’t listed please feel free to contact us! We will add it to the list. We hope you enjoy what we have come up with so far!
Tip 1: Make a mistake while applying color to paper? Try putting some sticky tack on top of the applied color. The tack will adhere to the colored pencil residue and lift it from the paper. This seems to work particularly well on the creamier colored pencil cores.
Tip 2: After sharpening a colored pencil, run it through the bristles of a paintbrush, makeup brush, or some other fine-haired device. This will remove the stray crumbs that can stick to the sharpened point and prevent them from falling on your canvas.
Tip 3: If you do happen to get some colored pencil dust on your work, don’t try wiping it off with your hand. The pressure from your hand can cause streaks to occur. Instead, grab a can of duster that you use on your computer or keyboard and give it a good spray. It will remove the dust without leaving color trails behind. For those that aren’t familiar with duster, it is simply compressed gas that is mostly odorless and non-toxic.
Tip 4: Place a few sheets of paper underneath the piece you are working on. This allows for much easier color layering and also helps to avoid leaving marks from uneven surfaces or residue that might be underneath the sheet you are coloring on.
Tip 5: Afraid to spend the big bucks on a set of premium colored pencils that you might not enjoy? Most higher-end brands offer single pencils. While you don’t get the bang for your buck that you do when purchasing a full set, it gives you the chance to test drive a pencil before opening up your wallet for the big set.
Tip 6: Need a mobile and lightweight artboard? Instead of trying a traditional wood or metal piece that can be heavy, instead, try using some foam core. This will give you the sturdiness that you need without the bulk of many artboards.
Tip 7: If you use your colored pencils a lot and are sick of trying to stuff them back into their case in an arranged fashion, grab some empty toilet paper rolls, stand them up, and glue them to a foam board. This makes for a great, low-cost solution to storing your colored pencils while making them easily accessible. You can even go one step further and color the rolls to match the colored pencils you want to place in them! We found a great example of this here.
Tip 8: If you are in a pinch and need some solvent to blend some color but don’t have some readily available, try using traditional rubbing alcohol. While not as effective as an actual colored pencil blender, it does an acceptable job of blending color and evaporates quickly to help avoid any sort of wet mess.
Tip 9: For sensitive areas such as whiskers or eyelashes, try impressing into the paper before adding the color. These grooves capture color much easier and can help to make the whiskers or lashes stand out when surrounded by other colors. The tip of a closed pen or mechanical pencil without lead is good for pushing down on paper to make these impressions.
Tip 10: As your colored pencil becomes too short to sharpen or hold comfortably, grab a traditional pencil that is not sharpened and glue the colored pencil stub onto the top of the traditional pencil. This will give you some much-needed space to hold the colored pencil.
Tip 11: To get a better picture of the colors you are using and how they interact, consider purchasing a full-spectrum light to work under. These types of lights have a much wider color spectrum which allows for a better view of the various colors you are using and how they interact with one another.
Tip 12: An easy method to mix colors without making a huge mess is to buy some tortillions (cheap paper stumps) and dip them in turpentine. Next, scribble some colors you want to experiment with onto a piece of paper and then use the tortillion as sort of a brush to mix the colors. It will give you a better idea of the color dynamics you have to work with without potentially sabotaging your actual work.
Tip 13: If you are applying color in an area of your work that requires placing your hand on top of color that has already been put down, lay slick or laminated sheets in between the bottom of your hand and the canvas. This will reduce the likelihood of you smearing color. The acetate used for overhead projects works great.
Tip 14: Can’t decide on a color to use? Take advantage of the color-matching barrels that most colored pencils have. Simply grab the pencils that you are thinking of using and lay them on top of your artwork. This allows you to get a good look at how the colors will mesh together before applying the actual color to your work.
Tip 15: If you have a particular set of pencils that are very stubborn to sharpen or that are brittle, try sharpening the point with some coarse sandpaper instead. This can give you the sharp point you are looking for without potentially breaking off the entire tip in a pencil sharpener.
Tip 16: If you are someone who has a huge collection of colored pencils that you use often, you might consider forgoing the cases altogether. A cool solution is to purchase an oversized ammo box similar to this. Double-check the dimensions, but most should be deep enough to house your pencils standing up if you search for deep ammo boxes. The huge collection of compartments makes for easy and effective sorting and you now have a huge carrying case for all of your colored pencils.
Tip 17: If you are trying to erase a very precise area but have only had a large eraser, create an “eraser shield”! For example, grab the lid off of an empty coffee can or other type of jar and cut out the straight edge (or whatever shape you are after) with some sharp scissors or an exacto knife. Place this piece down over the area of your work that you don’t want to erase and it will create a barrier between your eraser and the color below.
Tip 18: If you are working on a face or some other symmetrical object such as a vase, try placing the piece in a mirror when doing your initial sketches. Seeing a reversed orientation of the object can help to identify areas that aren’t symmetrical and allow you to fine-tune them.
Tip 19: Trying to decipher colors that are close to each other on the color tree can be challenging, especially when they are mixed in with other colors on a canvas. To get around this, we recommend getting a color evaluator. This is a wheel that displays every color in the rainbow, making for easy identification. Going one step further, we also recommend getting heavy paper such as a notecard and punching a hole in it. When looking at a specific color, view it through the hole that you punched. Having a white background will make it easier to focus on the color in question and not be distracted by ambient external colors.
Tip 20: If you have a lot of a particular type of color on a piece of artwork and the pencils you are using don’t have identification on them it can sometimes be tough to match a pencil with the color on the paper. A helpful trick is to grab a piece of paper and punch a small hole in it. Color around the hole with the color you are searching for then slide it over the color on your artwork that you are trying to identify. If the colors match the hole should disappear and you know you have matched the color you are after.
Tip 21: Another cool trick for identifying various shades of a type of color is to purchase clear acetate paper of the color on the opposite end of the spectrum. When you lay this acetate on your work, various shades of gray should appear. This can make it much easier to see the various types of colors used. For instance, for a piece with a lot of reds, purchase some green acetate paper.
Tip 22: If you are limited on storage space and have a lot of colored pencils, another easy solution is to purchase bamboo rollers that are typically used for sushi and roll the colored pencils up in them. You can then hold them shut with a simple string or a shoelace. When wound up tightly, the pencils are quite snug and don’t fall out of the bottom. This makes it easy to store them back horizontally as well as vertically.
Tip 23: If you are trying to draw fur that runs right to left and is right-handed, try flipping the paper upside down. This can make it much easier to accomplish and result in much more realistic fur effects. Similarly, if you are trying to draw fur that runs left to right and are left-handed do the same thing.
Tip 24: If trying to capture the sparkle in an eye or the glistening of water from the sun, add several thick layers of white-colored pencil before applying another color. It is much easier to work around these areas and can result in a much more realistic gleam.
Tip 25: If you have problems with your canvas sliding around while coloring, grab a couple of pieces of removable adhesive and place them on the back of your paper. This will keep the paper secure and also allow for easy removal without tearing.
Tip 26: If you like to use an electric pencil sharpener, don’t forget to clean it out regularly. The colored pencil residue can stick to the internal blades which can affect performance and potentially cause more broken cracked points. If you have a hard time accessing the blade, try using duster (like what you use to clean your computer) and giving the internals a good spray. This will help to knock off any lead that is sticking to the blade or other moving parts. For a list of our favorite pencil sharpeners check out our guide here: best colored pencil sharpeners.
Tip 27: If you are looking for dark features on a work, try to see what you can achieve before going wild on grays and blacks. These colors, while useful, can be very overpowering and can easily “muddy” up a work. Also, once applied, they can be a nightmare to remove or color over. A good alternative is to layer opposite colors on top of each other and then blend. For example, mixing orange and blue will give you a gray composition that is not nearly as intense and much easier to control.
Tip 28: If you are utilizing a straightedge to put down some straight lines, use some painter’s tape to hold the straightedge in place. It will allow your hands to be free to do other things and also minimize the chance that the edge accidentally moves when you are putting pressure on it.
Tip 29: If you have multiple colored pencil sets from the same manufacturer, it can be easy to accidentally mix them up. Brands such as Prismacolor and Derwent are notorious for having very similar styling for their various types of pencils. This could be an issue if you have a set of watercolor colored pencils and a similar set of conventional colored pencils. To make things easier, grab a permanent marker or paint marker and put a small dot on the top of the pencil to signify what type it is. For instance, put a white dot at the tip of all of your watercolor pencils, a yellow dot for your pastel pencils, etc. This will make it much easier to identify them when they become mixed.
Tip 30: If you have joint problems and are tired of using a traditional eraser, try making a cheap electric eraser! It is simple: grab your Dremel (or purchase one if you don’t already have one: they come in handy for many applications!) Next, purchase an eraser stick from Pentel, Uni-ball, etc., and remove the stick from the housing. You should be able to adjust your Dremel so that it fits snugly around the stick. Now you have a simple electric eraser that does the tough work for you.
Tip 31: Adding solvent to your piece can give it a very refined paint-like appearance. This blends the color strokes, which smooths them out to the point that it might be hard to tell that they were colored pencils, to begin with.
Tip 32: If you want to test out something on an existing work but are worried you might not like the results, snap a photo of your work under good light. Next, print off a colored copy onto a sheet of paper. This will allow you to test out your ideas without messing up the original work.
Tip 33: Don’t be afraid to mix and match color mediums! For areas that need highlights such as eye reflections, sun spots, etc., you might consider using a gel pen or paint pen for those areas. Simply dab on a bit of the color before applying traditional colored pencil and those areas should stick out vividly. Also, the gel or paint is typically taller when dried which makes working around it much easier since you will feel the upward slope when you get close to it. The same goes for very dark spots such as eye pupils or eyelashes. Try using a black gel pen beforehand and you will enjoy blacks that are hard to achieve with traditional pencils.
Tip 34: Trying to get some authentic-looking fur or pine trees? Try holding your colored pencil like a knife and stabbing the canvas in an up-and-down motion. These strokes will be very sharp and lift to a point, emulating fur much better than a traditional stroke can.