Colored Pencils: What Are Their Types and Components (Made of)

Colored Pencils: What Are Their Types and Components (Made of)

Artists use colored pencils to create drawings, sketches, and paintings with vibrant colors. They can be used on paper or canvas to create bold lines or subtle shades depending on how much pressure is applied by artists when drawing with them. However, have you ever wondered what colored pencils are made of? Are they all the same?

This article will cover all you need to know about colored pencils, what they are made of, their main types, and what makes them so special.

Components of Colored Pencils (What are they Made of?)

Colored pencils are made from a combination of pigments and binders. The binders have different properties depending on the brand, but some of them include wax, shellac, latex, and resin. Pigments are usually mineral-based or synthetic organic dyes which are composed of lead, mercury, copper, chromium, and other related chemical compounds.

The color pigments are mixed with a binder that acts as glue. This adhesive holds the pigment particles together and creates a solid block of color when applied to paper. Most colored pencils contain more than one pigment to achieve more complex colors like reds, browns, and blues.

Three Main Types of Colored Pencils

Colored pencils come in three main types: oil-based, wax-based,and water-soluble (also known as watercolor pencils). Each type possesses its own advantages and disadvantages.

1. Oil-based

Oil-based color pencils are made with heavy pigments and oil binders that contain linseed oil, safflower oil, or a combination of the two, so they’re more opaque and solid than other types of color pencils. Definitely, they are the best option for blending and softening colors.

Oil-based pencils have an extensive range of shades, from light to dark and in many different colors. They can be used for detailed work, such as fine lines and shading. They also have a smooth feel similar to that of paint, making them ideal for detailed work such as portraiture or landscapes.


Here are some advantages of oil-based colored pencils:

  • Blending – The ability to blend colors makes oil-based pencils so special. When you want to soften or darken a color, simply draw over it with another color. The color will merge and become darker or softer. It’s very easy to create a variety of color combinations using this method.
  • Saturation – Oil-based colored pencils have greater saturation than any other type of colored pencil, making them perfect for creating bolder colors and adding texture to your drawings.
  • Opacity – Because oil-based colored pencils are opaque, they can be used as a substitute for paint in some cases (such as when you want something painted on top of something else). This also makes them great for mixing with watercolor paints!
  • Durability – Oil-based colored pencils are very durable and long-lasting because they don’t fade like other types of art mediums might over time (like watercolor). This means that your work will last longer than most types of art.


The major disadvantage of oil-based color pencils is that they are prone to breakage or cracking if they are handled roughly or dropped on the floor. This happens because they contain oil in them which makes them fragile when exposed to heat or pressure.

You should also be careful while storing them because they tend to get damaged due to friction while being stored together in one place.

Another downside is that they’re not erasable — if you make a mistake with an oil-based colored pencil, it’s permanent! And because they’re so pigmented and opaque, they tend to be more expensive than other types of colored pencils.

2. Wax-based

Wax-based colored pencils are a form of coloring pencils that contain wax. They are made of a mixture of pigments and binders, usually waxes. The binder is what gives the wax-based colored pencil its name and also makes it different from other types of colored pencils.

The main difference between wax-based and oil-based colored pencils is the type of binder used in each. Wax-based colored pencils contain a wax binder, which makes them harder than oil-based ones.

Waxes are also less likely to bleed through paper than oils. This makes them ideal for detailed work like drawing fine lines or shading darker areas of your artwork.


The Advantages of Wax-Based Colored Pencils include:

  • Vibrant Colors – The rich color saturation is the most obvious advantage of wax-based colored pencils. The wax binder allows for strong pigmentation that doesn’t fade over time or with multiple layers of color application.
  • Less Messy – Wax-based colored pencils don’t have the same tendency to smudge as oil-based colored pencils do. This means you can leave them out without fear of your artwork being ruined by stray marks from other media or surfaces in your studio!
  • Easy to Blend – You can blend different colors together easily using a soft blending stump or tortillon tool without worrying about damaging your artwork surface or creating an unsightly mess on.


The wax-based formula makes for a soft lead that wears down quickly and needs frequent sharpening. The wax can also build up in the tip of the pencil, creating a waxy buildup that can make it harder to sharpen and lead to breakage.

This is especially true if you use the same color frequently; when you need to sharpen your pencil, try using an electric sharpener instead of a manual one — it’s safer and easier on your hand.

Wax-based colored pencils are also prone to smearing when you blend them together with other colors or over wet media like watercolor paper or acrylic paint. If you want to achieve smooth blending with these types of pencils, try using fixative spray before blending so that there’s no smearing later on when you layer colors together.

3. Water-soluble

Water-soluble colored pencils are also known as watercolor pencils or watercolor sticks. They are made with a wax base and can be used like traditional colored pencils, but they also contain a dye that when applied to wet paper will bleed into the paper and create beautiful watercolor effects.

Water-soluble colored pencils can be used on either light or dark papers. The pigment won’t bleed through the paper if you use them on dark papers, but they will create vibrant colors with no problems on light papers.

Water-soluble colored pencils work best when you have a wet media surface to apply them to. For the pigment to bleed into the paper, it needs something wet to absorb into it. In this case, when working with water-soluble colored pencils, you can use watercolor painting techniques such as wash and blending techniques and apply them directly onto wet media surfaces such as paint or gel mediums like gesso or acrylic paint on canvas boards or illustration board panels.


Water-soluble colored pencils offer many advantages over traditional oil or wax-based colored pencils, including:

  • Ease of use – Water-soluble colored pencils are easy to work with, making them ideal for beginners. The colors blend easily and smoothly, so you don’t have to worry about creating a mess while working on your art project.
  • Versatility – You can layer the colors together to create new shades or mix them with water to create new colors all together! This versatility allows you to use these pencils in almost any art project.
  • Durability – Since water-soluble colored pencils don’t need an additional protective varnish layer like traditional oil or wax-based colored pencils, they will last longer without cracking or fading away over time.


Water-soluble colored pencils are a great medium for drawing, but they have some disadvantages.

The biggest disadvantage is that they’re not very durable. The paper can easily be damaged by water, which means your drawings will be ruined if you spill water on them or leave them in a humid environment.

Water-soluble colored pencils also don’t work well with some types of paper. For example, if you use too much water with the wrong type of paper, it will become too soft and tear easily.

In addition to these disadvantages, there’s also a learning curve involved with using water-soluble colored pencils. It takes practice to master how much water to use and how long each layer needs to dry before adding another one.


Colored pencils are an important part of the art supplies collection. Colored pencils can be used to create a wide range of works, from detailed drawings and illustrations to abstract paintings.

It is important to know the different types and components of colored pencils before deciding which ones to buy or use in order to identify the appropriate types and components of colored pencils that can help you to create an outstanding piece of artwork.