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What are the four techniques used for colored pencil blending?

Blending colored pencils is an important technique for creating smooth gradients, seamless transitions between colors, and reducing the appearance of individual pencil strokes. There are four main blending techniques used by artists when working with colored pencils: layering, burnishing, solvents, and optical mixing.


Layering involves applying successive layers of colored pencil on top of each other. Each new layer helps blend the previous layers together for a smooth, uniform finish. To properly layer:

  • Start with a light base layer using pale colors.
  • Build up the color gradually with multiple layers, applying the pencil back and forth in the same direction.
  • Use a sharp pencil point to help fill in gaps and blend colors together.
  • Finish with bold, rich layers of color as desired.
  • Avoid pressing too hard to preventindenting the paper.

Layering alone will produce a vibrant, luminous effect. Using up to 20 or more layers can result in a painterly quality and allow more time for grading color. Layering works best for blending large areas of color.


Burnishing melds and fuses colors together using a blunt pencil tip, tightly rolled paper, or a colorless blender pencil. To properly burnish:

  • Apply a medium-heavy base layer of color.
  • Overlap colors while gradually reducing the pressure.
  • Use quick circular motions to blend colors.
  • Finish by burnishing entire area with heavy pressure to smooth and unify.
  • Avoid over-burnishing which can flatten the pigment and cause waxy build up.

Burnishing works best for gradients and color transitions. It quickly blends and softens edges between colors. Heavy burnishing can eliminate the texture of the paper.


Solvents like odorless mineral spirits can be used to dissolve and blend colored pencil pigments. To properly use solvents:

  • Work in a well-ventilated area and use solvents sparingly.
  • Apply solvent with a brush to soften edges or blend large areas.
  • Let solvents fully evaporate before continuing to work to avoid smearing.
  • Use light pressure during blending to avoid damaging paper.
  • Apply multiple layers before and after using solvents for best results.

Solvents create very smooth color transitions and can be used to re-wet and pick up pigment. Too much solvent can damage the paper surface.

Optical Mixing

Optical mixing relies on the viewer’s eye to blend colors together, rather than physical blending on the paper. To optically mix:

  • Draw tiny dots, lines, or cross-hatching of two or more colors close together.
  • Overlap colors so they seem to mix when viewed from a distance.
  • Avoid blending the colors together physically.
  • Use crisscrossing strokes to blend large areas.
  • Varying pressure creates tonal gradations.

Optical mixing retains the vibrancy of the individual colors. It is useful for creating focal areas and maintaining hard edges. This non-mechanical blending technique also preserves the paper texture.

Choosing Blending Techniques

The four main colored pencil blending techniques each produce different visual results. Consider the needs of the area being blended and the overall desired style when selecting an approach. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Layering – Ideal for gradual color transitions over large areas. Creates luminous effects with multiple semi-transparent layers.
  • Burnishing – Best for smoothly blending two colors together, especially in small areas. Quickly softens hard edges.
  • Solvents – Used sparingly when seamless blending is needed. Can re-wet pigments for additional blending. Risk of damaging paper.
  • Optical Mixing – Retains most vibrancy and crisp edges. Gives non-mechanical blended appearance. Best for focal areas and detail work.

Blend colored pencils using a single technique or combine several approaches to suit the needs of different areas and details within a artwork. Experiment to discover what effects work best for your unique drawing style. Proper blending takes colored pencil work to the next level for rich, luminous and painterly results.

Tips for Effective Colored Pencil Blending

Follow these tips to help master the four main colored pencil blending techniques:

  • Use high-quality, artist grade colored pencils which blend better than student grade.
  • Apply light pressure while layering to gradually build up color.
  • When burnishing, use a smooth, rounded pencil tip or colorless blender.
  • Work in small areas when using solvents and let dry between applications.
  • Draw directional lines/dots close together for optical mixing.
  • Blend on smoother paper surfaces like Bristol board vs. heavy textured paper.
  • Keep spare sharpened pencils handy so points stay fresh while blending large areas.
  • Protect blended areas with a fixative spray when completed.

Layering and Burnishing Combined Technique

A very effective approach is to first block in colors and establish values through layering. Then burnish to refine details, create gradients, and unify the different layers. The combined techniques take advantage of the strengths of both layering and burnishing.

Try this blending exercise to see the combined techniques in action:

  1. Lightly sketch out a simple shape, such as a sphere, cube or cone.
  2. Block in the core shadow colors with 2-3 layers of pencil.
  3. Layer the main lit area working outward from the core shadow.
  4. Add several layers to build up the highlights.
  5. Burnish the shadow edge to softly blend into the lit area.
  6. Lightly burnish within the lit area, avoiding the highlights.

This exercises demonstrates how effective blending develops form and brings artwork to life. The layering establishes rich foundations of color and value while burnishing sculpts the fine transitions between them.

Practicing Colored Pencil Blending

Dedicated practice using a blending sampler is an excellent way to improve colored pencil blending skills. Here are steps for creating a simple blending practice swatch:

  1. Draw several straight lines spaced evenly across your paper.
  2. Select two colors that transition well such as yellow to orange.
  3. Apply the first color heavily on one end, leaving white space in the middle.
  4. Apply the second color heavily on the other end, leaving white space in the middle.
  5. Blend the two colors together in the center using your chosen technique.

After making a sampler, evaluate the results. Look for a smooth, gradual transition between the colors. Repeat the exercise focusing on improvements. Significant skill enhancement can occur after making just 5-10 practice samplers.

Further practice by creating a value range sampler with 5-7 values of one color. Try blending complementary colors which can create muted effects. Always evaluate and learn from the results of blend tests.

Common Blending Challenges

Despite careful technique, some common colored pencil blending difficulties can occur:

  • White specks – Gaps in coverage create white spots. Use a sharp point and heavy pressure when layering to fill.
  • Streaking – Dense areas create dark streaks. Lighten pressure and build up color slowly when layering.
  • Blooming – Colors become lighter, opaque or chalky. Avoid over-burnishing and lightly spray blended areas with fixative.
  • Muddying – Colors mix together and become dull brown. Allow layers to fully dry and avoid excess burnishing.

Troubleshooting blending requires patience and experimentation. Review your pencil pressure, layering order and burnishing motions to see what needs adjustment. Maintaining very sharp pencil points is also key for minimizing blending challenges.

Blending Colored Pencils with Other Media

Colored pencils can be blended beautifully with other color media for unique effects. Try combining colored pencils with these art materials:

  • Watercolors – Layer complementary watercolor washes over colored pencil underpaintings.
  • Markers – Color base layers with markers then overlay colored pencil.
  • Pastels – Use pastels over colored pencil base layers to softly blend and mute colors.
  • Acrylics – Combine thin acrylic washes with colored pencil drawing.
  • Graphite – Incorporate graphite pencil shading into colored pencil work.

The combinations are endless! Allow layers of different media to dry fully between applications. Pay attention to layer order and transparency. Gently blending varied media together results in stunning visual depth and interest.


Mastering colored pencil blending brings artworks to life in new extraordinary ways. Layering, burnishing, solvents and optical mixing all produce distinctly different blended effects. Consider the needs of each colored pencil area and detail. Thoughtfully blending colors together using varied techniques creates cohesive and captivating artwork full of luminosity, movement and visual interest. Dedicate time to practicing and experimenting with colored pencil blending to discover the remarkable possibilities.