When it comes to oil-based colored pencils mum’s the word! Ingredients and trade secrets are closely guarded and very hard to find the facts for as each manufacturer uses varying ratios of ingredients.
What we do know for sure is (based mostly on other artists more than the colored pencil manufacturer) they are generally oil-colored pencils or wax-colored pencils.
Colored pencils have come a long way from just note-taking and journal writing. New techniques and styles have come on the scene along with science making colored pencils a popular choice among many professional artists and colorists.
For information on some of the most popular brands of colored pencils check out my best-colored pencil reviews where we break down some of the facts on oil-based and wax-based colored pencils. You can also read my reviews on some of the best oil-based colored pencils here.
Let’s dive in and see what we can learn.
Oil Based Colored Pencils or Wax-based Colored Pencils. What’s the Difference?
There are 2 main types of binding agents (wax or oil-based) that can be found in colored pencils and play the biggest role in how the colors lay down on the paper as well as how long it will last without fading.
The balance of pigments and binders is what gives a consistent color on the paper throughout the core of the pencil whether it is oil-based or wax-based.
We will go over a few of these binders to point out some of the key differences between wax and oil-based colored pencils in the next few paragraphs.
One thing you should note is that all colored pencils will have some wax in them. If there is more oil in the base then they are considered oil-based pencils and the opposite is true for wax-based pencils.
In most cases, a sharp pencil is needed especially when layering which requires a good pencil sharpener. I have reviewed some of the best pencil sharpeners that will work well with oil-based colored pencils.
Of course, there are also water-based colored pencils and pastel pencils that I consider to be a different medium altogether.
The number of pure pigments used in conjunction with binders and extenders determines how well your colors will hold up over time.
Generally, the more pigment the better the lightfast rating. This means that the colors will hold up better through time from the elements especially when it comes to UV rays.
The higher the rating means the longer your colors will hold up. Of course, the type of paper will also play a crucial role in this as well.
For professional works that are for sale and museum-quality art you always want to use the highest grade materials to get premium prices for your works of art.
Binding agents are used to hold the pigment together to create the colored pencil lead and make the core of the pencil more stable. Some are softer while others are harder making it difficult to know which colored pencil best suits your artistic style.
These agents also help hold the pigment on the paper and are what allow for blending and layering.
Paraffin, Beeswax, and Carnauba Wax are the 3 Types of Waxed Based Pencils
These are your more common style of colored pencil and are what you will typically find in the stores. They do come in an artist-grade or a student-grade pencil and are also considered to be more affordable.
This type of colored pencil will oxidize and leave a shiny film that will make the color appear faded over time.
I will be publishing another article on this colored pencil type and will provide a link to it here in the future.
Vegetable oil appears to be used in the oil-based colored pencil.
This type of colored pencil is generally less available and usually bought at the art store with the exception being Amazon. Popular Brands like Faber Castell Polychromos and Koh-I-Noor is believed to be among these oil-based pencils.
The key difference appears to be in the infusion process of the colored pencil lead itself. Once the lead is created and dried it is soaked and allowed to marinate for a given period of time until the lead is infused with a mixture of wax and oil all the way to the center of the core. It is then tested, dried, and glued into the barrel.
As this process is kept secret it is hard to be certain but here is the video I sourced this information from.
This is added to give the lead hardness and determines whether the pencil is smooth or rigid when marking on surfaces. The amount of pigment, extenders and binders ratios look to be different for each manufacturer which inevitably affects the quality and durability of the colors over time.
Whether it is oil or wax it is the ratios of all the ingredients that ultimately make the colored pencils good or bad.
Are Oil Pencils Higher Priced?
Oil-based colored pencils can be more than double the price of similar artist-grade wax-based colored pencils of the same count.
This is somewhat puzzling considering both pencil types are used by professionals.
The benefits listed below may help you to understand why oil-colored pencils are more expensive.
4 Benefits of Oil Based pencils
If you can get past the price then you may want to try this type of colored pencil because in a lot of cases they are definitely worth the money if you know what you are buying and learn how to use them.
Firmer or Harder core
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I have read so many articles and they all seem to say that oil-based colored pencils have harder cores. But my research has found that this is not always the case since the amount of oil and wax used along with the extenders is what makes the lead hard or soft.
For example, Faber Castell Polychromos has a firmer pencil core that is wax and oil with the oil being more dominant. This oil pencil is best for details that are finer in nature such as hair and fur.
Derwent Lightfast Colored Pencils is a softer oil-based pencil that gives a rich and vibrant application of color and has a buttery feel that is good for blending soft colors such as skin tones and backgrounds. These colored pencils feel very similar to Prismacolor color pencils which are wax-based.
One noticeable advantage of oil-based pencils is the ability to get a sharper tip when sharpening without breaking. This is especially useful for adding fine details for longer periods of time before having to re-sharpen the pencil again.
Typically, oil-based colored pencils will last longer if you have the harder core variety of pencils. Not only do they hold a tip longer but will outlast a wax-based pencil almost every time.
The diameter of the core plays an important role in how long your pencil will last as well.
No wax bloom
I saved the best for last on the benefits.
The best thing about oil pencils is there is no wax bloom. As mentioned earlier this is a common problem when wax is the dominant ingredient. A milky or faded color can emerge over time, especially in darker colors.
Although this can be overcome with some fixative spray if you are willing to accept some value changes in your colors.
This is where oil-based pencils excel the most and could be one of the biggest factors in the price difference.
Using oil Based Colored pencils
Since many oil pencils will have a harder core the techniques used in applying pencil to paper can be more prolonged and tedious than the standard wax pencils. But in general, the techniques are similar.
Designed for layering
With a sharp pencil and a light touch, you can add multiple layers of color without any waxy build-up. Plus the amount of layers you can add is limited only to the paper you are using.
Just be sure to use lite pressure or you could compact the tooth of the paper.
Another important factor is to be sure to use paper designed for colored pencils. You can get more details on my best paper for colored pencils article.
Using heavier pressure only when you are adding your final layer is called burnishing. Just be sure you are not needing more layers because the tooth of the paper is compressed and it will be difficult to add more layers.
A toothier paper will hold many more layers than a smooth paper giving your art more depth and realism.
Great for finer details
Getting that realistic photo quality effect can be achieved with patience and practice. The firm leads offered by oil-colored pencils serve as an excellent medium for adding details as the pencils will hold a sharp tip. When combined with the softer oil-based pencils you can achieve a fair amount of realism quite easily.
You can try the soft colored pencils for the background and underpainting and the harder colored pencils for the foreground and details and come back with the soft ones for your highlights which will make your details and contrast more pronounced.
To see an example of the details that are possible with oil-based colored pencils check out our How to Draw with Colored Pencils lesson where we draw a bluebird from start to finish.
5 Tips on How to Blend oil based colored pencils
If you have done any research on colored pencils then you have undoubtedly noticed all the information on blending. Blending is about the same regardless of the pencil’s core properties.
This is one of the main techniques used to blur backgrounds to shading in details and learning this skill will help you to create awesome masterpieces with colored pencils.
One important thing to note is always start off with a sharp pencil and work lightly to preserve the tooth of your paper. This also helps to correct mistakes easier.
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Using solvents with oil-based pencils can help you to achieve an oil painting effect by giving you the ability to blend using brush strokes. Once dried you can add more layers on top to build depth and add detail.
Oil-based colored pencils will require a solvent that will break down the oil in the binder and core of the pencil to achieve the best results. Many articles say to use baby oil or alcohol. Baby oil will work on wax-based pencils but not oil-based colored pencils and the results are mediocre at best.
Though standard paint thinners and acetone can be used they are not recommended as they can give off more fumes that are harmful if inhaled especially for long periods of time. Use solvents from an art supply store as these are designed for oil-based pigments which will work for blending colored pencils and some brands are odorless.
Try to be sure of the type of colored pencils you’re using and buy the solvent that best compliments them. If you are unsure you can contact the manufacturer to determine the type of colored pencils you have.
Tortillions and stumps
These accessories are used in many types of mediums in art and colored pencils are no exception.
Use these to push colors into each other to get a smooth gradient effect. You may find some oil pencils can be harder to blend with these and a different method may be better.
Erasers are used to lift color and erase mistakes. That was a dumb statement but one worth saying because in many cases highlights can be added in shaded areas for reflected light and to change tonal values completely by removing pigment.
This blending method can also be a little more difficult on oil-based pencils but you can try a fine pointed eraser or even an electric eraser to get the job done. Shaping a kneaded eraser works pretty well in some cases, especially for larger areas.
For smaller areas of detail, you can use a pencil eraser which can be sharpened to get a fine line for light effects on hair and fur.
The brand of an oil-based colored pencil will play a big role in how well the eraser method will work.
light Or White Colored pencils
Lighter colored pencils can be used to blend colors together when using oil colored pencils. This can soften lines and tone down highlights that may be too dominant.
Using a white colored pencil is one of the most popular methods to add light and detail as well as blending 2 colors or more.
Using a softer oil-based white pencil will also allow you to highlight shadow areas and works well for reflected light. The softer core will be more opaque and shows up better over darker colors.
Try coloring your paper with a white colored pencil then add color on top to get a lighter version of the color you are using.
Colorless blenders are another popular tool for blending. Colorless blenders are made of the same core ingredients as the colored pencils you are using but without the pigment.
Buy these to compliment your own sets of colored pencils to get the best results.
Regardless of the type of colored pencil, there is artist-grade in both oil and wax-based pencils. The only way to know which is for you is to try some out.
Thanks for reading!