8 Best Colored Pencil Solvents & Blending Techniques In 2023
Caption: Applying colored pencil solvent - Image by Kirsty Partridge
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Do you love using colored pencils for your drawings and sketches but find that the colors don't always blend well? In this blog post, we will discuss the best solvents for blending colored pencils and some techniques that will help you create beautiful pieces of art!
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Gamblin Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits
Best for Oil-Based Colored Pencils: Winsor & Newton Sansodor Low Odor Solvent
Artist's Choice: Weber Odorless Turpenoid
Best Turpentine Alternative: U.S. Art Supply Odorless Mineral Spirits Thinner
Most Versatile: Real Milk Citrus Solvent
Best Budget: Sunnyside Low Odor Mineral Spirits
Best Portable: Art-n-Fly Alcohol Colorless Blenders
Best UV Protection: Pure Gum Spirits of Turpentine
1. Best Overall: Gamblin Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits
Gamsol is an excellent solvent for colored pencils because it effectively dissolves the waxy build-up on the pencils, allowing the color to be more evenly distributed. It also prevents smudging and fading of the colors.
This product is great for artists looking for an odorless alternative to traditional turpentine. Gamsol is also less flammable than turpentine, making it a safer choice for home studios.
When working in a small room where you’ll be exposed to a lot of vapors, we recommend proper ventilation. Not only would you need a window open or a fan blowing, but it’s good to have a system to suck all those vapors out.
Country of Origin: USA | Product Options: 4 oz, 16 oz, 32 oz | Material: Petroleum distillate | Safety: Fatal if swallowed, harmful vapors
Related: The Best Colored Pencils for Coloring & Shading
2. Best for Oil-Based Colored Pencils: Winsor & Newton Sansodor Low Odor Solvent
Winsor & Newton Sansodor Low Odor Solvent is the ideal product for cleaning up your antique art pieces. It's got great archival quality, so you can rest assured that your collection will be well-protected.
This solvent evaporates slower than most, so you can blend colored pencils and other mediums without any issue. It works great for cleaning artwork and brushes and removing adhesive residues in a snap. The solvent also works well for removing paint stains.
However, newbies may be more lenient when using solvents. To better understand the effects of OMS on your health, you might want to read about the symptoms of solvent poisoning.
Country of Origin: France | Product Options: 75ml, 250ml, 500ml, 1L, 2.5L | Safety: Harmful or fatal if swallowed, less VOCs
Related: The Best Oil Painting Thinners
3. Artist's Choice: Weber Odorless Turpenoid
Weber Turpenoid is a very effective colored pencil solvent and doesn't have a strong chemical smell. It’s also gentle on the skin. We’ve seen many professional artists use this brand as it is safe and doesn’t cause coughing after prolonged exposure.
However, go the extra mile to protect yourself from unnecessary fumes exposure. Using a gas mask may be too cumbersome, so try installing an air purifier instead.
Country of Origin: USA | Product Options: 236 ml, 473 ml, 4 oz, 1 quart, 1 gallon | Material: Petroleum distillate | Safety: Fatal if swallowed, harmful vapors, skin irritant
Related: A Beginner's Guide to Drawing With Colored Pencils
4. Best Turpentine Alternative: U.S. Art Supply Odorless Mineral Spirits Thinner
U.S. Art Supply Odorless Mineral Spirits Thinner is the best way to get the job done without harsh chemicals and odors. This highly refined solvent quickly thins oil-based paints, varnishes, and blends colored pencils. It leaves minimal residue on your work.
Though it is odorless, it still has toxic fumes, so we advise working with good ventilation. It's also good for cleaning up your workspace to avoid ruining your project from accidental smudging.
Country of Origin: USA | Product Options: 125ml, 500ml | Material: Petroleum distillate | Safety: Fatal if swallowed, harmful vapors, skin irritant
5. Most Versatile: Real Milk Citrus Solvent
Real Milk Citrus Solvent is an all-purpose cleaner naturally extracted from citrus peel. It is safe and can be used to clean your oil paint brushes, leaving no residue.
This product has a slight citrusy scent to mask the real smell of the solvent. Aside from blending colored pencils, you can use it for thinning oil paints to replace OMS and turpentine.
What we love most about this solvent is its versatility. You can use it for cleaning your floor and carpets, deodorizing petroleum, staining wood surfaces, or as an additive to your fragrances.
Country of Origin: USA | Product Options: 16 oz, 32 oz, 128 oz | Material: Oil from orange peels, water | Safety: No harmful VOCs
Related: The Best Oil-Based Colored Pencils
6. Best Budget: Sunnyside Low Odor Mineral Spirits
Sunnyside Odorless Paint Thinner is an excellent choice for a versatile, indoor-friendly solvent during the colder seasons. For colored pencils, it is best to use for blending oil-based colored pencils. Wax-based colored pencils don’t respond well to this solvent.
This thinner is also useful for cleaning grime and grease, and it's an excellent choice for cleaning paint brushes, making it an ideal addition to your art studio. However, you can't use this mineral spirit if you’re someone from California and other VOC-restricted areas.
Country of Origin: USA | Product Options: 1 quart, 1 gallon | Material: Petroleum distillate | Safety: Combustible liquid and vapor
Related: How to Set Up an Art Studio
7. Best Portable: Art-n-Fly Alcohol Colorless Blenders
Colorless blenders fill the tooth of the paper quickly and are almost as effective as the other solvents. However, it can get messy since it can accidentally drag colors into each other. The colorless blender remains stained after use, so you can no longer use it on alcohol markers.
This set from Art-n-Fly has 3 alcohol blenders that are excellent for blending, sketching, and drawing. We recommend these colorless alcohol blenders for professional colorists who prefer mess-free blending for their artwork.
Country of Origin: Japan | Product Options: Set of 3 | Material: Alcohol
Related: Alcohol Vs. Water-Based Markers
8. Best UV Protection: Pure Gum Spirits of Turpentine
Pure Gum Spirits of Turpentine has a fresh, clean pine scent, proof that it is not a by-product from industrial sources. They come from the distillate of pine tree gum, making this turpentine a great solvent for blending colored pencils.
Gum spirits are excellent solvent that leaves a film over the pigments, protecting your work from UV rays and improving the lightfastness of the colors. However, you should not mix gum spirits with mineral turpentine because they have a different composition. Mineral turpentine comes from petroleum distillate.
Country of Origin: USA | Product Options: 1 oz, 2 oz, 4 oz, 8 oz, 16 oz | Material: Gum spirits | Safety: Non-toxic, biodegradable
Related: The Best Colored Pencil Drawing Ideas
While many solvents on the market promise to work well with colored pencils, only a few have been proven effective. And according to experts, the best solvent for colored pencils is the Gamblin Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits. It’s a great solvent, diluent, and cleaner that doesn’t have that strong petroleum smell. Plus, it evaporates quickly, so you don’t have to wait too long for it to dry.
Solvent Blending Techniques
Staining is a great way to add color and depth, especially if you feel limited by your materials. Simply apply an oil-based colored pencil to the paper, then dampen the paintbrush with solvent. The resulting stain makes a good background or underpainting for your colored pencil art.
You can use artist-grade solvent, but if you prefer to stay within your budget, you can also use turpenoid. Artists love the effect of turpenoid because it transforms oil-based pencils into a paint-like effect.
Wet Brush Blending
Wet brush blending is best used to achieve a loose painterly effect. Dip your brush into the solvent and spread it directly on the colored pencil applied on paper to dissolve the pigments and spread it like a watercolor wash.
Damp Brush Blending
Instead of applying the brush directly to the colored pencil drawing after dipping the brush into the solvent, wipe off the excess solvent on a piece of folded paper towel. Use a filbert brush to remove the excess solvent from the brush easily.
Damp Brush Scumbling
Brush scumbling involves adding circular strokes over a colored pencil artwork with a damp brush dipped in solvent. You can use clear blending markers if you don't have a brush.
How to Blend Your Colored Pencils With Solvents
Blending colored pencils with Gamsol - Image by Gina K Designs
Solvents change the composition of your colored pencils by dissolving the pigments so they work like paint. After blending your colored pencil art, you can tell a huge improvement in your project if you know how to maximize the solvent.
Know the Colored Pencil’s Composition
Colored pencils have two kinds of cores. Wax-based colored pencils are harder, slightly slick, and are the most common component in colored pencils.
The other type has an oil core mixed with the pigments, so they're softer than wax core colored pencils. You need solvents to dissolve the pigments in the colored pencils to improve the blending.
The third type is watercolor pencils, which are less popular among beginners. Unlike wax or oil-based colored pencils, watercolor pencils don't need solvents for blending them; they just use water.
Don't Layer Heavily
Using colored pencils makes it tempting to layer colors thickly to achieve a rich, vibrant look. However, this can cause problems during the blending process.
Solvents for colored pencils dissolve the waxy binder that holds the pigments together, causing the color to become muddy and blotchy if you layer heavily.
The best way to avoid this is to gradually use light, feathery strokes to build up the color. This process may take a bit longer but will produce better results.
Use the Right Type of Paper
Blending with solvents may cause your paper to react negatively. The thickness of the paper won't cut it. Cardstocks are not the best paper for colored pencils. Instead, look for something with a little tooth.
Adjust the Pressure When Applying Solvents
The key is to start with small strokes and then gradually widen the area you are working on when using solvents for colored pencils. This technique will help smooth the color and provide a more even coverage.
Don't Oversaturate Your Applicator
Most newbie artists use cotton buds to apply solvent over colored pencil drawings, while professionals use brushes. Whatever you find convenient to use, wipe off the extra solvent with a paper towel.
Colored Pencil Solvent Buying Guide
Solvents for colored pencils are made from different sources. Some come from petroleum distillates as a by-product of industrial manufacturing, while others are from environment-friendly sources.
Some states in the US are very particular about volatile organic compounds (VOCs) because of their potential for allergic reactions, health-threatening conditions, or cancer.
It is best to use solvents from environment-friendly sources if you live in California, Massachusetts, and other states with strong restrictions on VOCs.
Solvents from petroleum distillates usually have strong odors, while others add scents to mask the strong odors. Choose odorless mineral spirits or citrus-derived solvents if you are sensitive to scent.
Solvents not only work for blending colored pencils but on various painting mediums too. A good solvent that you can use for cleanup is also a winner.
Price and Value
Turpentine and thinners are cheaper than other solvents. However, in terms of value, they're not the most cost-efficient art supplies because of the high VOC content.
If you work with solvents for long periods, it is best to get one that won't cause headaches, nausea, and adverse reactions.
Colored Pencil Solvents FAQ
Can you use water as a solvent for colored pencils?
Using water on your colored pencil drawings depends on the colored pencil composition. Wax and oil-based colored pencils need solvents like Gamsol or turpentine to blend well. On the other hand, you can use water as a solvent if using watercolor pencils.
Can you use coconut oil to blend pencils?
Yes, you can use coconut oil to blend colored pencils. It is not as strong as other solvents, but you can still do it. You can also use olive oil, baby oil, or vegetable oil. However, you must make sure you're using oil or wax-based colored pencils.
Can you blend colored pencils without solvents?
You can still blend your colored pencils without solvents using blending stumps or paper towels, a colorless blender, a white colored pencil, or some household items like tissue paper and cotton buds.
How do you make smooth colored pencils?
There are a few ways to make your colored pencils smooth. One way is to use solvents. Another is to use a colorless blender or household items.
If you're using solvents, the best way to make your colored pencils smooth is by using odorless mineral spirits. Aside from being odorless, they're also good for cleaning your station and leaving minimal residue.
What is the best way to blend colored pencils?
Colored pencils are a great way to add color and detail to your drawings, but they are tricky to blend. Using the colored pencils themselves is the simplest way to blend them.
You can blend your colored pencils, create new colors, or mute some overly vibrant colors by overlaying colors. Tissue paper, a small soft rag, blending stumps, or even cotton buds are good for blending colored pencils.
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Related: A Beginner’s Guide to Blending With Colored Pencils