Here’s our review of the best solvent for colored pencils
The best solvent for colored pencils dissolves the binder in the colors so that the pigments can mix freely.
Picking the right one can be tricky as there are many types to choose from.
As an artist, I’ve wasted too much money on art supply that wasn’t the right fit. I’ve spent a few days researching so that you can pick the right solvent for you.
And I’ve found that Gamblin Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits is the best overall solvent for blending colored pencils.
At the same time, there are other alternatives for you to consider such as alcohol markers and turpentine.
Let’s get started!
What to consider when buying solvent for colored pencils
Here are a few things to consider before choosing the right solvent to blend your colored pencils.
Type of solvent
There are three basic types of solvents that work well with colored pencils: rubbing alcohol, odorless mineral spirits, and turpentine.
Rubbing alcohol is the mildest form of solvent that you can use for blending colored pencils. It’s great for a light blend without harming your paper. You can use normal rubbing alcohol you most likely have in your house, or you can buy a colorless blender marker that is alcohol based.
Odorless mineral spirits are also great for blending colored pencils. They break down the wax binder in your colored pencils more completely. This allows the pigment to loosen and blend more freely. If you use these, you might want to pick a heavier paper to avoid damage and warping. You also want paper with some teeth so the color can dissolve and fit into the teeth. Check out our guide on the best paper for colored pencils to compare different options.
Turpentine is even stronger than odorless mineral spirits. They break down the binders even more completely which allows for maximum bendability. Turpentine typically has a stronger smell and can take off your colors if you apply it too many times.
If you’re sensitive to smells, you might want to opt for rubbing alcohol or odorless mineral spirits instead of turpentine. Those two are less intrusive and don’t have a strong smell. Some people also have asthma reactions to odorless mineral spirits so be sure to try them out to see which one works best for you. Remember to work in a well-ventilated area as the fumes from odorless mineral spirits and turpentine can be toxic.
Price and value
The last thing to consider is the price and value that suits your needs. Alcohol-based markers may be more convenient, but they can dry out faster than odorless mineral spirits so they tend to end up costing more. Turpentine is also more expensive than rubbing alcohol or odorless mineral spirits. Be sure to compare the price between the different sizes and pick the ones that suit you the best.
5 Best Solvent For Colored Pencils
Here’s our list of the best solvents that work well with colored pencils.
1. Gamblin Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits – Best overall
This Gamblin Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits is a great choice for most artists. It works great for blending both oil-based and wax-based colored pencils. The smallest bottle is 125 ml but Gamblin Gamson also offers 500 ml and 1 L bottles at a cheaper per-unit price.
I find that the 125 ml option is quite enough for most artists unless you blend with solvents very often. Be sure to compare the different size options and prices before purchasing to find the right one for you.
This odorless mineral spirits is combustible and can be harmful or fatal if swallowed. Its vapor is also harmful so make sure your workspace is well-ventilated. One thing to keep in mind is that some users reported that the cap is a bit leaky. So be sure to keep the bottle upright when you store it.
2. U.S. Art Supply Odorless Mineral Spirits Thinner – Best alternative
The U.S. Art Supply Odorless Mineral Spirits Thinner is a great second choice for blending colored pencils. It works just as well as Gamblin Gamsol’s, but the 125 ml bottle option tends to be slightly more expensive. This odorless mineral spirits works well with both oil-based and wax-based colored pencils.
Again, these are combustible and harmful if swallowed so be sure to keep them out of reach from children or pets. You can also buy larger sizes which tend to be much cheaper when you look at the per-unit price.
3. Prismacolor Colorless Blender Marker – Best alcohol marker
The Prismacolor Colorless Blender Marker is a great choice if you want to try an alcohol-based blender. It’s high quality, but the price is on the higher end. This colorless blender works well with both oil-based and wax-based pencils. Since it is alcohol-based, it is more gentle on the paper but doesn’t break down the colors as completely.
This colorless blender marker comes with two tips: a broad tip and a fine tip. The broad tip allows you to blend larger areas with ease while the fine tip allows you to blend fine details. This makes it very versatile which a lot of artists love.
The main downside with this marker is that the brush tip can be stained. You can simply remove the stain by using the marker on a piece of scrap paper. Be sure to keep the cap on tight to prevent the marker from drying out. One last thing to keep in mind about alcohol markers is that they tend to be used up faster than other solvents.
The Art-n-Fly Alcohol Colorless Blender is a more affordable choice if you want to get an alcohol-based marker for blending. These work well for most types of colored pencils and come with three markers. These also come with a broader tip and a fine tip.
The main downside, when compared with Prismacolor’s colorless blender, is that the fine tip is a bit large. Some users find that the fine tip is a bit too large for detailed areas. Like any marker, be sure to keep the cap shut to keep the marker from drying out. Since you are blending colored pencils, the marker will stain. Simply use it on a piece of scrap paper to remove the stain.
The Windsor & Newton Distilled Turpentine can be a good choice if you prefer a stronger solvent to blend your colored pencils. This is stronger than odorless mineral solvents and rubbing alcohol so you need to pick the right paper that can handle it. It is only 75 ml large and tends to be more expensive when you look at the per-unit price.
Turpentine, like odorless mineral spirits, is flammable and can be harmful/fatal if swallowed. Be sure to keep it out of reach from children and pets. The fume is also toxic so be sure to ventilate your workspace.
One thing to keep in mind with turpentine is that it has a strong smell so you might want to avoid this if you are sensitive to smells.
Tips and tricks for blending colored pencils with solvents
Here are a few things to do and avoid when it comes to using solvent for colored pencils.
- Don’t put in details before you blend – putting in details before blending would cause them to be lost in the blending process. It can also make your piece look muddy. Add the details at the end.
- Do a test swatch – different types of solvents, colored pencils, and paper can have different results. Be sure to do a test swatch on the type of paper you want to use to make sure you’re getting the look you want.
- Go from light to dark – blending from dark to light can cause make your piece darker than intended. You lose the contrast between the colors, and it can look muddy.
- Start off with little solvent – it’s always better to use too little than too much solvent because you can always add more. You can dab your cotton swab or brush on the side of the bottle or on a piece of paper towel to remove excess solvent. Too much solvent can cause your colors to bleed out of the main lines and your colors to become muddy. It can also warp your paper.
- Go section by section – this helps you focus on blending each section and avoid mushing your colors together into a big blob.
- Leave at least 15 to 30 minutes for the solvent and paper to dry – Make sure the paper is completely dry before adding more colors.
- Work in a well-ventilated area – some solvents like the odorless mineral spirits and turpentine are toxic when inhaled. Keep your windows open and make sure you have good ventilation.
- Work in an area without pets or children – some solvents are harmful and fatal to ingest. Spillage can cause children or pets to ingest these solvents.
- Use heavier paper or mixed media paper – if you use a lot of solvents, it helps to have a thicker paper to prevent warping and puncturing. It also helps if your paper has some teeth rather than a very smooth paper.
How to blend colored pencils with solvents – blending techniques
Here are a few techniques and things to keep in mind when you’re using solvents.
Start by dipping your cotton swab or soft brush into the solvent of your choice. Then dab it on the side of the bottle or on a piece of paper towel to remove the excess solvent. Use a circular motion or a back-and-forth motion to lightly blend your colored pencils. You can also use cotton balls for larger areas if you’re using rubbing alcohol. I find that it’s a bit easier to use a larger brush if you choose to use odorless mineral spirits.
This technique can create an effect that looks like a watercolor wash. Use a soft brush with the solvent of your choice. Simply wet the colored area and drag it across to lighter or blank areas. The colors will blend and bleed over similar to watercolors. You want to have a bit more solvent for this technique, but remember not to apply too much.
Scrubbing with a bristle brush
Start by layering the colors that you want to blend. Then use a bristle brush and apply more pressure onto the paper. You can scrub it back and forth or in a circular motion depending on the texture you want. The circular motion will give you a smoother blend. You can also use lighter pressure for a painterly effect where brush strokes can be seen. You might not want to use this method for lighter paper as you can easily damage your paper with this technique.
Frequently asked questions
Here are a few frequently asked questions that I came across during my research.
Can you use solvents on oil-based colored pencils?
Yes, all three types of solvents (rubbing alcohol, odorless mineral spirits, and turpentine) can blend oil-based colored pencils as well as wax-based pencils. But, the effects might be different for each type of colored pencil. Be sure to use a test swatch to see how they blend before you use the solvents on the final piece.
Can you use baby oil to blend colored pencils?
Yes, you can use things like baby oil, coconut oil, olive oil, and vegetable oil to blend colored pencils. However, they’re not as strong as other solvents and don’t blend as well. If you prefer a more non-toxic option, I’d recommend rubbing alcohol or alcohol-based markers.
What paper should I use when blending with solvents?
Use heavier paper to avoid buckling and warping (around 300 gsm). If you tend to use a lot of solvents, I recommend going with a heavier mixed-media paper. Otherwise, paper like Strathmore’s Bristol Pad works fine. Check out our article on paper for colored pencils for a more in-depth guide.
Are solvents toxic to use?
Rubbing alcohol is the least toxic when compared to odorless mineral spirits or turpentine. However, they’re all not meant to be ingested or inhaled. A lot of solvents are flammable so avoid candles or other fire sources. Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area so that you don’t inhale the fumes.
There are three main types of solvents that work well with colored pencils: rubbing alcohol, odorless mineral spirits, and turpentine.
Picking the right one depends on how strong of a solvent you need.
Every artist is different so pick the one that suits you the most.
But Gamblin Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits is an excellent choice for a great solvent for blending colored pencils.