Colored Pencil for Beginners Guide

Colored pencil tipsGetting started in a new art medium can be confusing. That’s why we’ve created guides to help you through the process. In this guide, you will learn about colored pencil.

How to Choose the Right Paper for Colored Pencil

Choosing the right paper for your colored pencil techniques can make the difference between it looking amateur and spectacular. Watercolor paper and vellum paper are two papers commonly used by colored pencil artists. They both have very distinct feels and qualities and there are many different types of these papers for a colored pencil artist to choose from. 

Here is an overview of each type, along with detailed pictures of each. 

Cold Press Watercolor Paper 

Colored Pencil on cold pressed paper140 lb. cold press watercolor paper is very popular with artists that like a rougher look to their art. It is somewhat smooth, but has a very distinct texture. 

Because of the texture, the white areas are harder to cover, but it takes to burnishing very well. Care should be taken with sharper pencils because this paper tends to indent very easily. It is also very hard to erase mistakes from cold press without damaging it. 

140 lb. Hot Press Watercolor Paper 

Hot press watercolor paper is the smoothest of all watercolor papers. It has very little texture, but can still take many layers of pigment. Hot press doesn’t indent as easily as cold press, and it is much easier to erase mistakes from this type of paper. 

Vellum Paper 

Colored Pencil on vellumTraditionally, vellum paper was made with animal skin. Today, modern vellum paper is made from plasticized cotton. It is much more stable and durable than linen or regular paper sheets, which is good for very large colored pencil drawings. Vellum is translucent and very easily wrinkled, though. 

With vellum paper, there is very little “white dot” effect because it is so smooth. It is easier to get vivid, solid colors with vellum, too. This is good, because there isn’t much tooth to grab heavier layers of pigment. 

Bristol Vellum Paper 

Colored Pencil on bristol paperBristol paper is a very stiff, slick, poster board-like paper. Bristol vellum paper a mix of vellum paper and Bristol paper. It is a slightly more texturized paper that grabs pigment better to create brighter colors and easier burnishing. There is only the slightest indentation from sharp pencils on this type of paper, as well. 

Vellum Illustration Board 

Colored Pencil on illustration boardIllustration board is thick, tough, and smooth. When vellum is added to it, the board gets a slight tooth, just like Bristol vellum paper. It takes layer after layer of burnishing without wearing out. It also makes colored pencil look very bright and vivid. 

It is good for the artist to experiment with each type of paper to get a feel for how their techniques work with each one. These tips, though, should help the artist choose which paper more closely fits their needs.

How to Do Colored Pencil Techniques

When many people think of colored pencil, they think children’s art supply. Using advanced colored pencil techniques, though, the artist can create expressive, paint-like drawings. 

To use colored pencils as a professional art supply, the artist must be armed with three basic techniques: burnishing, layering and blending. 


layering Colored Pencil TechniquesLayering colored pencils adds depth to the color in the drawing. It’s a lot like layering paints. The artist simply lays down a thin layer of pigment and then covers it with a thin layer of another color of pigment. The bottom, darker layer shines through the lighter colored layer, creating a color that is much more interesting than a flat layer of one color. Here’s how to do it: 

  1. Choose two colors, one darker and one lighter. Primary colors are usually best to avoid a muddy color, though the artist can experiment with secondary colors to find combinations that work for their painting.
  2. Lay down a layer of color with the darker pencil. To make an even layer of pigment, simply hold the pencil by the end and sweep it back and forth without using much pressure.
  3. On top of the darker color, lay down a layer of pigment with your lighter colored pencil.
  4. Continue the above steps until the desired look is accomplished.


blending Colored Pencil TechniquesSince colored pencils don’t smudge very easily, the artist has to blend colors by layering them or gradually working the colors into each other. 

To blend with layering, lay down a thick layer of color by pressing down hard with the pencil. On top of this layer, add a second layer using heavy, circular strokes. 

To gradually blend colored pencil, lay down a thick layer of one color and lay down a second layer beside it. In the middle, let the two colors mix, as shown below. 


burnishing Colored Pencil TechniquesBurnishing can give colored pencils the smooth silky look of glass, metal or other smooth surfaces. There are basically two ways to burnish. 

To burnishing using a colored pencil, choose a light color such as white, light grey, peach or cream. Press down hard on the pencil while making small, circular strokes. This technique will give the drawing an extra colored layer, so be strategic about the color that is chosen to burnish with. 

To burnish using an object, choose a hard object with a smooth, rounded surface. The backs of spoons, the lids of magic markers or the bottom of a ballpoint pen works well. Rub the surface of the colored pencil drawing with the object. Do this rapidly, but make sure not to scar the paper. This technique burnishes without adding extra color. 

The friction of the pencil or the object makes the wax in the colored pencil melt and become smooth and shiny. It is best to burnish over layers of pigment. 

Using these color techniques, the artist can get a number of different looks. 

Comments are closed.