3 Colored Pencil Questions About White Out, Illustration Board, and Fixative – Answered!

By Carrie Lewis in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

Today I’m going to answer three anonymous questions asked by EmptyEasel readers. The questions are wide-ranging, but each of these artists is really just looking to improve their skills and solve problems.

If these questions have been on your mind as well, I hope my answers help!

Q: Can you use white out or correction tape with colored pencils?

There are many examples of artists using non-art materials in their work. So the short answer is, “Yes, of course—you can use anything you want with colored pencils.” But you’ll probably get the best results by using only materials and supplies designed specifically for colored pencils or other artistic mediums.

I understand why the artist asked this question. If you’re looking to add white or bright highlights over your colored pencil layers, White Out and correction tape seem ideal. After all, both are made to leave a bright white surface over any kind of error.

However. Even though these products WILL cover up colored pencil for the short term, they will not last. I’ve been a writer since before computers were common household appliances. My first typewriter was a little, portable model that just typed. There was no correction ribbon – I had to use White Out or correction tape to fix any mistakes I made.

White Out stuck to the paper fine, but it yellowed over time. Correction tape flaked off the paper, sometimes quite soon. Both products were made specifically for use with basic typewriter paper, and neither was permanent. They will not be permanent when used with colored pencil, either.

So if your intention is to make and sell original colored pencil art, don’t use either of these materials on your work. They’re simply not archival, and any work you do over them is likely to be lost or damaged in time.

Does that mean there’s no solution? Not at all!

Artist Alyona Nickelsen faced the same difficulties, and developed a line of products which allow colored pencil artists to add white highlights, and even draw over them. And they’re all archival!

Her product, Colored Pencil Titanium White, is designed for this very purpose, and is available at her online store.

Q: What is the best illustration board for colored pencils?

I’ve never used illustration board for colored pencil work because illustration boards are usually very smooth, and smooth surfaces don’t work well with my methods. However, I did a little research for this question, and came to the following conclusions.

1. Among the brands I looked at, most manufacturers recommend the vellum surface for colored pencil work. (Although they more often recommended pen-and-ink, markers, and other illustration mediums.)

But if your method involves fewer layers, Bristol illustration boards with a vellum surface are worth a try. Vellum surfaces are a little more “toothy” than regular (aka, plate) surfaces.

2. Most illustration boards appear to be Bristol. I have used Bristol paper, both regular surface and vellum. The works I made on the vellum turned out pretty well, but I never felt I was able to get enough layers of color on the paper to really and truly finish a piece. Afternoon Graze, shown below, is my best piece on Bristol, and it was drawn on the vellum surface:


3. The best options appear to be mixed-media boards such as Art Spectrum’s Colourfix Multi-Media Painting Boards, Canson Mi-Teintes Touch Sanded Papers, and others of a similar nature. They will not be as smooth as illustration board, which means they will accept many more layers of colored pencil.

4. Mat board is also an ideal alternative to illustration boards, and it’s available in a wide range of colors and surface textures. While most aren’t as rigid as illustration boards, they are wonderful supports for colored pencil work.

Blizzard Babe, shown below, is on gray mat board.


Mat board is also a good option for larger works. And as always, if you try mat board as a drawing support, make sure to purchase archival mat board. It will make a difference in the longevity of your work.

Q: What are the white specks on my drawing after spraying with fixative?

Without seeing a specific example, I can only make a guess at the cause of the white specks. But my first guess is that the nozzle on the spray can may need cleaning.

Aerosol nozzles can clog, and a clogged nozzle can sputter, resulting in uneven application of fixative. To clean a clogged nozzle, hold the can upside-down and spray until only clear gas comes out. Make sure to spray away from yourself.

Another possible cause for white specks could be high humidity, or temperatures above or below ideal conditions. Most spray fixatives work best in temperatures between 50 and 85 degrees and low humidity.


It’s also possible that the white specks are dust or dirt lodged in the spray before it dried. I know from personal experience that this is a possibility, though my problems were more from dust and other particulates, than white specks.

There is also the slight possibility that the white specks are simply paper showing through your layers of color – they may have been there all along, but weren’t noticeable until you sprayed a layer of fixative (spray fixatives tend to darken colors somewhat until they dry).

Depending on the thickness of the coat of fixative, it may also be that the paper fibers were “pasted down” by the fixative, making them more noticeable. It’s best to apply very light coats of fixative. If you want or need heavier applications, use two or three light coats, rather than one heavy layer.

Luckily (no matter what the cause of your white spots are) most fixatives are not intended to be final finishes – so I’m guessing you can resolve the issue just by adding more color to your artwork.

Good luck, and happy drawing!


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