Cathleen Lengyel > Scribbles > Tools > Colored Pencils > What Do I Do With A White Pencil?

What Do I Do With A White Pencil?

Blick Studio – Colored Pencils
  You can’t wait to open your new set of colored pencils!  When you take your first peek you admire the beautiful rainbow that is in front of you.  As you gaze at the amazing array of color your eyes pause on that white pencil.  When you’re new to colored pencil work you’ll find yourself wondering why on earth do you need a white pencil?  You’ll quickly discover that it probably won’t make areas of your drawings white again once you’ve laid down another color.  Then why do I need it?  It can be perplexing. My journey into this medium has been teaching me many things.  White colored pencils are no exception.  While true, once you lay down a color you won’t be able to simply use the white pencil to make it white again, a white pencil can be an amazing companion to the other colors.  Today let’s take a look at what your white pencil can (and can’t) do and the different types of white colored pencil.

What Can White Pencils Do?

Keeping Whites White 

When you’re working on a colored pencil painting you will undoubtedly have areas that you’ll want to keep white.  One way to do this is to lightly apply several layers of white pencil to those areas.  In a sense it will protect those areas from taking on unwanted colors.  You still need to be careful not to go over those areas with another color, but having those layers of white colored pencil truly helps. If you’re working on colored or toned paper, they can introduce whites to your drawing.  It won’t be as pure white as white paper, but it will appear white on the toned paper.  The amount of layers needed to bring the white to the level you want will depend on the white pencil you are using.  (We’ll look at a comparison later on.)  

Blending Layers

I’ve found that quite a few colored pencil painters will use white or gray pencils to blend their layers.  After laying down the initial colored layers they will take their white pencil and with a bit more pressure blend the colors together.  This works good especially when you want to lighten an area.  Be careful though, using a white pencil to blend will change the final color.  


While white colored pencils can’t bring bright white back to an area of color, it can still add lighter tones.   Going over areas with white can add highlights while keeping the base tone of the area.  In my recent painting of a red fox, I used my Tombow Mono Zero eraser to gently remove areas of fur on the face and then added in white pencil to create the brighter highlights which were seen in the photo.
Red Fox Colored Pencil Painting
Red Fox Colored Pencil Painting

What White Pencils Can’t Do

They can never, ever, EVER, bring back the pure white of the background if you’re working on white paper.  Never. You can lighten, brighten, but never get that pure white back.  This is why you must be careful when applying color around any areas where you want pure white.  

Why Can’t White Pencils Make It White Again?

Something you learn when working with colored pencils is that their pigment is translucent.  The amount of opacity depends on the brand and type of colored pencil you use.  Most white pencils are incredibly translucent.  Even building up several layers of white won’t ever bring back a pure white on your drawing. However, you can choose more opaque white pencils to help you out.  They may not bring back the pure white, but they will get you pretty darn close when needed! Here are the two pencils most recommended by professional colored pencil artists:
Derwent Drawing Chinese White 7200
Derwent Drawing Chinese White 7200
Caran d’Ache Luminance 6901 White 001
Here is a comparison of my Blick Studio Artists white colored pencil along with a Caran d’Ache Luminance White and a Derwent Drawing Chinese White.
Comparison of White Pencils
I made this comparison chart on Strathmore 400 Series Toned Tan sketch paper. On the chart from left to right:  1 layer, 2 layers, 4 layers, 1 layer of hard pressure. The top row is the Derwent Drawing Chinese White 7200.  This was a pencil highly recommended to me by other colored pencil artists.  It is sold open stock so you can go to places like Dick Blick and buy a single pencil. The middle row is Caran d’Ache Luminance 6901 – 001 White.  This is the other white pencil I was advised to add to my supply list.  It is also sold in open stock. The bottom row is the white pencil which came with my set of Blick Studio Artists’ Colored Pencils.  As you can see, it’s not all that opaque! There’s a bit of a debate as to whether the Derwent Chinese White or the Luminance White are the most opaque.  My experience while making the above chart is that the Caran d’Ache Luminance white wins the opacity hands down!  Yet, Luminance pencils are quite pricey, even open stock.  If you need to save a little money the Derwent Drawing Chinese White is a very good substitute.   I am glad to have both in my collection of pencils!  As far as Prismacolor Premier pencils and Faber Castell Polychromos pencils, I have not tried either in white.  I can only go by what established colored pencil artists have said which is that you need to have either a Derwent Drawing Chinese white or a Caran d’Ache Luminance white. Going back to my fox painting, I used my Blick white to lay down layers on the muzzle where I knew it needed to stay white.  After working the area and adding in some of the dark tones, I then went over the white with my Luminance pencil to brighten up those white areas.  It worked very well for me. Hopefully you’ll find this information helpful when it comes to using a white colored pencil. Questions or comments?  Leave them below! 😉 Until next time, Keep Creating!
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