Wax vs Oil Based Coloured Pencils

Wax vs Oil Based Coloured Pencils: What are the Main Differences?

The main difference between wax and oil based coloured pencils is the contents of the core. The core of oil pencils will be made from oil binder and pigment, while wax pencils are made from wax binder and pigment. Aside from the difference in the binder, they also perform slightly differently.

The great thing about both oil and wax based colouring pencils is the lustre, intense colours and satin like finish they provide. Both wax and oil pencils are water resistant. 

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First, what are the similarities between wax and oil pencils?

Before we go over the main differences of oil and wax coloured pencils, it’s important to note that there are many similarities between the two types of pencils. You will be able to find the same pigments and colours in wax pencils ranges and oil pencil ranges. Both are artist grade materials and some brands will use both binding agents to manufacture their pencils.

Colour should be layered onto the surface with both wax and oil pencils. It’s best to start layering with lighter colours and gradually build the dark areas and shadows. Start by applying light pressure, then slowly build pressure with consecutive layers. You’ll find colours blending into one another smoothly.

With both wax and oil pencils, it’s important to have patience with your drawing. Coloured pencil drawings can take time to complete if you are trying to achieve more realistic effects. This is due to the number of layers that is required for the drawing to achieve techniques like colour blending. 

Which is cheaper?

Oil pencils are slightly more expensive and they’re also rarer. Where you can find lots of brands of high quality wax based pencils, there are only really one or two brands of oil based pencils. 

The best value artist grade coloured pencils have to be the Bruynzeel Design Colour pencils, these are great quality, highly pigmented wax pencils. They are about a third of the cost of some other brands. The colour range is quite small, but you could fill in some of the colour gaps with other branded pencils.

Which are best for beginners?

Due to the cheapness and the fact that there are more brand options available, wax pencils are slightly more accessible for beginners. 

On top of this, wax pencils are easier to erase than oil pencils. This doesn’t mean that you can’t erase oil pencils. It’s possible to erase lighter lines with ease, either with a kneadable eraser or a sand eraser.

As a beginner, when learning to draw with coloured pencils, start by learning about the supplies you need, then learn some of the essential techniques and start practising to accelerate your skills.

What are the best brands?

The best brands of coloured pencil will use high quality binder and pigment, so colours will look deep and saturated on the paper.

Faber-Castell Polychromos Pencil Set - Wood Box, Set of 120

For oil based pencils, our top pick is Faber-Castell Polychromos. They are professional quality, use lightfast pigments and the tips have a medium softness. 

Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils  - Set of 12

Prismacolor Premier Wax Pencils are a great choice for beginners and professionals alike. If you’re looking for a cheaper, but good quality wax based pencil, the Bruynzeel Design Colour pencils are a great place to start.

Wax vs oil pencils: What supplies do you need?

You don’t need any different supplies for wax pencils compared to oil pencils. A thick, archival paper with ‘tooth’ will provide an adequate surface for either pencil medium. Look at coloured pencil papers like Pastelmat by Clairfontaine, or Canson Mi-teintes Touch

Other than that, coloured pencil supplies like sharpeners, erasers and pencil mediums will work the same with both oil and wax pencils. 

What techniques and effects can you achieve?

The slightly softer leads of wax pencils means pastel-like effects can be achieved. With lighter pressure, more of the binder and pigment will be released onto the paper. 

Use the same techniques with both wax and oil pencils. When using the burnishing technique, where pressure is applied to the paper to release the pencil binder smoothly and thickly, less pressure is required to release pigment onto the surface with wax pencil.

You may find that colours in wax pencils mix faster and burnishing effects can be achieved more easily, due to the softer nature of the pencil. The way in which the two can be blended is also slightly different. Use a wax based colourless blender and apply it over the pencil layers with wax pencil. Blending with solvent is best suited to oil pencil.

Both oil and wax pencils are great for blending, oil pencils offer superb control over colour layering and detail work. Wax pencils are easier to erase than oil pencils. 

Do oil or wax pencils last longer?

As wax pencils are on average softer than oil pencils, they will wear down quicker, need sharpening and replacing more often.

The tips of oil pencils are much more resistant to breaking than wax pencils, so techniques like burnishing where the artist applies pressure to create thick layers of pencil can be achieved without breakage. An oil pencil will last you longer and you will get more use out of it compared to a wax pencil. It will also retain its sharp point for longer than a wax pencil, making it an excellent choice for sharp details.

Pencils that are wax based are prone to ‘wax bloom’ which is where a build up of wax creates a cloudy film over the top of the drawing. This can obscure colours. If you experience this, there’s no need to worry, just wipe it away with a slightly damp cloth.

Wax vs oil pencils: which should you choose?

Both types of pencil can feel luxurious and smooth to use, however that really depends upon which brand you choose. Either type would suit a professional. Due to the softness, erasability and the wide range of brand options at different price points, I would point a beginner towards trying wax-based pencils first. That said, the first type of coloured pencil I tried was oil based and I loved it! So it does come down to the artists’ preference. Take a look at the different brands available, their attributes, price points and colour ranges and see what takes your fancy!


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