Colored Pencil Solvent:
A Must-Have for Artists?

Is there a safe colored pencil solvent? Why would you want to use it?

After you have applied several layers of colored pencil to your paper, there are still more things you can do to make your artwork look even better. You can add more layers on top to make the colors stronger and the contrasts deeper. Additionally, you can move the color around on the paper surface to create different effects. This is because the pencil core is made up of both color and wax, which can be moved around easily.

Need for caution!

I am repeating here a similar warning to that given in the section on fixatives. 

Aquarelle pencils are the only type of colored pencils specifically designed for use with a liquid - in this case, water.

When it comes to other liquids in the art world, very few are manufactured with colored pencils in mind. This is particularly evident when considering fixatives and solvents.

Test first!

When it comes to using solvents on colored pencil artwork, caution is key. Unless the product explicitly states that it's designed for colored pencils, it's best to assume it isn't. However, this doesn't necessarily mean the product is off-limits.

Even if the manufacturer's instructions give the green light, it's always wise to err on the side of caution. While most solvents will likely prove safe, there's always a chance of an unexpected reaction. The only way to know for sure is to put the product to the test yourself.

Before applying any solvent to your precious artwork, it's crucial to conduct thorough tests on a similar surface with the same pencils. This step is non-negotiable, as it can save you from potentially ruining hours of careful blending and shading.

Remember, the following notes are merely guidelines to inform your own experimentation. They come with no guarantees, so proceed with a healthy dose of caution and a commitment to thorough testing. Your artwork deserves nothing less.

Zest It colored pencil solvent

Dissolving and blending oil-based colors on paper can be achieved through various methods, but these techniques often result in an unwanted oily residue surrounding the treated area. This residue may take some time to dissipate.

To prevent damage to your artwork, it is crucial to test your solvents before applying them to your piece. Once you have finished using the solvents, dispose of them in a suitable container and ensure that you are working in a well-ventilated space.

Fortunately, there are solvents specifically designed for use with art and colored pencils. One popular option is Zest-It *, a colored pencil solvent that is non-toxic, non-flammable, and completely biodegradable, making it a safe and eco-friendly choice for artists.

* As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases. The price you pay does not increase.

The original 'Citrus' product contains a solvent called Orange Terpene, identified by the CAS number 8028-48-6. This natural solvent is derived from citrus sources, typically the rinds of oranges that are left over from fruit juice production.

Orange Terpene serves multiple purposes. Its primary function is to dissolve the waxes used in the pencils.

Among the solvents available for general purchase, this one stands out as likely the safest option. Unlike many highly flammable solvents on the market, it poses no fire risk.

It boasts eco-friendly properties and, perhaps most advantageously, leaves the paper entirely free of residue. That said, a few artists have noted experiencing headaches after working with this colored pencil solvent.

Spectrum Noir Pencil Blending Solution

In August 2015, I was able to locate a seller of Spectrum Noir products, who not only sell their craft lines but also sell their pencil blending solution.

This colored pencil solvent was suggested to me by a reader in Finland who also critiqued the Spectrum Noir pencils (which she did not recommend). The solvent is very expensive at £6 for a small 75ml bottle. It proved effective on the two brands of pencils I tried, Faber Castell Polychromos (oil based pencils) and Derwent pencils Coloursoft (wax based colored pencils). It had no smell that I could discern.

A scan of the results is shown below, with tests on the same paper, with the same brands, and utilizing a third cheaper but similar solvent. This test was carried out on a rough surfaced 500gsm Bockingford watercolor paper, so there were plenty of white flecks visible before treatment. The paper dried quickly and there was no residual stain.

The test used three products. 

  • Zest-It Pencil Blend  
  • Spectrum Noir
  • and a further solvent, easily available in the UK, De-solv-it ‘sticky stuff remover’.   

There seems to be little difference in the effectiveness of the three solvents.

Zest It at Jacksons Art was selling for £10.40 for 250ml (July 2022). Spectrum Noir is £6 for 75ml  and the De-Solv-it solvent was £1.99 for 250ml at a local discount supermarket - three times the quantity of the Spectrum Noir solution for a fraction of the price.

The results of the tests are shown below.

Photo showing the results of testing different solvents
Photo showing an assortment of colored pencil solvents

Odorless Mineral Spirits (OMS)

Odorless mineral thinners, such as those sold for oil painting, will also work but may leave more of a permanent oily mark on a paper surface.  

If you are using a mineral-based spirit (Odourless Mineral Spirit is sometimes referred to as ‘OMS’) then be cautious about the amount you use.  

This liquid can soak into the paper surface and stain it, leaving a dark ring around the edge of the treated area.  

For this reason, the recommended technique is to use blending stumps to take a small amount of the liquid from a safe container that can then be used for blending pencil pigment without wetting the paper surface.

Some of these liquids are also labeled as 'Toxic' in the USA and are inflammable. 


In the USA and also sometimes available in Europe, the solvent ‘Gamsol’ can be used. This is a mineral-based odorless solvent from a petroleum base that has a higher flash point than turpentine and is also generally sold as an oil paint thinner.

This product is advised as being safer than white spirit. It certainly has no smell and is available from several suppliers in the UK and Europe.

The Spectrum Noir blending solution quoted above is manufactured by the Gamsol company (Gamblin) and my guess is that it is identical. 


Turpentine Substitute - also sold as Turpenoid - is another option however, it is highly flammable and can cause respiratory issues if inhaled, so it is important to use it in a well-ventilated area and avoid breathing in the fumes. It should also be kept away from any open flames or sources of heat. 

n addition, it can be harmful if it comes into contact with skin, so it is important to wear gloves and avoid any prolonged skin contact. It is also important to dispose of Turpenoid properly and not pour it down the drain, as it can harm the environment.

Overall, Turpenoid can be a useful tool for artists, but it is important to prioritize safety when using it and take necessary precautions to avoid any potential harm.

Solvent in a pen

Possibly a safer option to using thinners or solvents from a bottle is to use a pre-packed solvent in a fibre tipped ‘pen’.  These are sold by a number of art product firms such as Tombow, the Finesse blender pen, Derwent's blender pens (with nibs in two sizes) and Sanford’s own brand Prismacolor blender marker.

This can be a dearer way of using solvent as the amount of liquid in a pen is small, but the more gentle application will probably be of benefit. The solvent is often alcohol based and they do work.

Photo of a pen containing solvent

If you are using any of these colorless blenders, be sure to test out a sample on a similar paper and your chosen pencil brand colors. Some solvents have been known to change the color balance of the pigments. 

After treatment you may find that the solvent has bedded the pigment into the paper with a lot of the wax/oil carrier and the resultant picture surface may be matte where the treatment has taken place. This may stand out against the more polished surface of the rest of the picture.

It is possible to work the solvent into part of your picture to soften the pencil colors, and then blend them using a wax type burnisher such as the fairly hard Derwent burnisher, the Faber Castell burnisher, or the softer wax based Lyra Splender Blender and the Caran d'Ache Full Blender Bright blending stick.

Baby oil?

Baby oil has featured in the past in articles about colored pencil solvents. I agree that it works - but is it inclined to leave a permanent oil mark on the paper. Not something I would either want or recommend.

There may well be other colored pencil solvents  sold throughout the world. Do let me know of any not listed and give details of known benefits and problems if you can.

Safety Code

  • Most solvents can be inflammable and have a high flash point. They may also damage your health if breathed in - so a well ventilated work space is a must.
  • Bear in mind the need to ALWAYS work in a well ventilated area if you are using any solvent. 
  • Store any solvents you are keeping in a cool place. 
  • Dispose of any fabric that is soaked in the liquid carefully - bear in mind there will be cautionary notes on any container that will need reading and understanding. Some flammable solvents left on material and shut in a container may build up an explosive ability. 
  • Keep solvents off your skin. 
  • If you use limited amounts of solvent on a felt pad, don't dip the pad in solvent. Control the amount of liquid by transferring it to the pad with a brush.
  • Avoid wetting the support too much unless you are sure the solvent will not stain it.
  • Solvent can take quite a long time to dry.

A link to a useful article on using solvent is on the ZestIt  web site -

Icarus Board

There are a number of other options for blending colored pencils - quite apart from the obvious choice of water with watercolor pencils.

One of those I will briefly discuss is the Icarus Board. This is manufactured in the USA and sold by developer, Ester Roi.

I have not tried this heated drawing board, but I have seen excellent results from those who have.  It melts the wax binder with a controlled heat. 

Full details and a demonstration can be seen on their website.  The boards are despatched worldwide. Discounts are sometimes available to members of pencil groups such as CPAL Facebook group. The board is expensive - the smallest size is 14 inches x 20 inches working area and is priced around $270 plus shipping and Insurance.

In conclusion

In conclusion, using a colored pencil solvent can enhance the look of your artwork by allowing you to blend and move the color around on the paper surface.

However, it is important to exercise caution when using solvents as they can damage your artwork if not used correctly.

The safest option for blending colored pencils is Zest It pencil and parchment blend, which is non-toxic, non-inflammable, and environmentally friendly.

Other options include odorless mineral spirits and Gamsol, but they should be used with caution and in a ventilated area. Additionally, it is important to test any solvent on a similar surface before using it on your artwork.

The Icarus Board is another option for blending colored pencils, but it is expensive.

Overall, using a colored pencil solvent can be a useful tool for colored pencil artists, but it is important to prioritize safety and test any solvent before using it on your artwork.

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