Yes, you can erase colored pencil but it isn’t going to be perfect and….with varying degrees of success.
Here we give you examples and tutorials to increase your odds of getting a good result.
Colored pencils can be difficult to erase. Keep in mind that there are many variables that come into creating your art in colored pencil and they all contribute to the potential success or lack thereof of getting that pesky error off your page.
Colored pencils look like regular office pencils, but they only have their basic shape in common. Office pencils are made of a chemical element from the earth called Carbon. Colored pencils on the other hand, are made of a formulation of pigment, some proprietary resins and either an oil or wax binder. It is the binder agent that makes it particularly difficult to erase marks, but which also gives the vibrancy of color and buttery application that colored pencil artists love so much. It also makes it possible to unbind the ‘lead’ after it is applied using oil or odorless mineral spirits to dissolve the stroke and achieve something like an oil painting effect.
Here is a quick flower sketch I did using Faber-Castel polychromos and a waterproof pen. I deliberately goofed on the stem so that I could experiment with erasing. (see the video tutorial below!)
Some pencils have very staining pigments in them, and no matter how hard you try, the colorant in the ‘lead’ has permanently bonded with the paper and stained the fibers to their core. If you are trying to erase a particularly cherished artwork, then I would do a sample dye test by making a sample on a scrap paper of the identical paper you are working on and the identical pencil you used and try one or more of the methods below before you commit to trying to erase on the real artwork.
The heavier the paper you work on the more abuse it will tolerate in your efforts to remove marks. Really thin paper will need a light touch or the fibers may tear through completely. Below are tests I ran on several different types of paper so you can the effect the paper has on the ability to erase.
AND there are differences in the erasers you choose to try out. Some smudge rather than erase…which makes me crazy! Some crumple into pieces, but are very mild on your paper. Some require constant kneading to stay clean and some are lead type-specific.
AND….some are just junk: won’t erase to save their skin, hang onto the lead color on its tip and transfers smudge around your paper etc etc.
CAVEAT: Please, please make sure you test these methods out on a sample before you experiment on your artwork! Results are going to vary from paper to paper, method of application, pencil to pencil etc. etc.
Colored Pencil Erasing Tutorials
1. My number one hint:
This is one that is so old school that hardly anyone talks about it anymore, which astounds me, as it works soooo well. Use a metal eraser shield like this one:
Back in the olden days, I was a draftsman, working for both civil engineers, chemical engineers on mylar blueprints for petrochemical plants and on paper as a home building designer. We had shields right on our drafting tables and used them daily. The beauty and simplicity of it is that you can place it over your drawing error and expose an area to be erased that is precise and hard edged. It keeps untouched the rest of the area you do not want changed.
Here’s a little demo of how well it works on colored pencil art, the first step is with a good bit of painter’s tape blotting, then with my trusty battery operated eraser. I was pretty happy with the results.
2. Hint number two:
The second most important thing is to remember to blot-lift the pigment first with painter’s tape.
A kneaded eraser is fairly useless with colored pencils, but painter’s tape works well. Blot at least a dozen times in a vertical motion or until you are sure nothing much more is coming up. Then use your favorite eraser.
In the samples below I did not do painter’s tape blotting first. I wanted you to see how effective the erasers were just by themselves!
Here is a sample page I made using three erasers on one sheet of mixed media paper and using several different brands of colored pencil. You can see that they all erase about the same, with some colors remaining in all cases. Oil and waxed based media are just gonna stain, people!
For these I used Koh-I-Noor Progresso dark blue colored pencil
This page is on Strathmore Mixed Media Paper with a light application of dark blue, then two swatches of very dark blue pressed hard and layers two or three times . I used an eraser shield for the small circle attempt. As you can see, the rubber kneaded eraser was ineffective. The best was the electric eraser then the Hi -Poly by Pentel, but I was surprised how well the pink eraser did.
On Canson Bristol 96 Lb. Paper (Notice that I couldn’t get a very dark shade no matter how many layers I put down? Paper makes a big difference.
On Canson Watercolor Paper 140 Lb Cold Press
This one is from a coloring book on cheap paper, probably much like computer paper:
And after, using the top three erasers from the above experiments: Pink eraser on left, electric eraser in the middle and Pentel Hi Poly on the right. Pretty much the same all around.
Gotta have tool:
Completely indispensable tool in my studio are eraser shields! They are all pretty much the same.
This packet of three is worth having because you will lose them all too easily, or if you are like me, you loan them out to art students and they are mysteriously never seen again. I keep one in my pencil drawing case, one in my work desk and one in my colored pencil work box.
They work well with any eraser, but they are the BOMB with a battery operated or electric eraser.
Sumind 3 Packs Erasing Shield Stainless Steel Letter Shield Craft Drawing Drafting Tool
Also gotta have tool:
ScotchBlue Original Multi-Surface Painter’s Tape, .94 inch x 45 yard
Pentel – Hi-Polymer Eraser – Large – ZEH10 – Pack of 5
Rated the best of the best in electric erasers:
Sakura EE-3000 Electric Eraser Kit
I have both of these: (Well I used to, until I loaned one out to someone!)
Mont Marte Electric Eraser, Includes 30 Eraser Refills. Suitable for use with Graphite Pencils and Color Pencils
Derwent Battery Operated Eraser, Artist Tool, Drawing, Art Supplies (2301931)
General Pencil 136EBP Artist Gum Eraser-
Paper Mate Pink Pearl Erasers, Large, 3 Count
Factis Eraser Black 18
- No phthalates
- Highly rated
Faber-Castell Erasers – Drawing Art kneaded Erasers, Large size Grey – 4 Pack
Kneaded erasers are made of butyl rubber and a few other compounds AND phthalate compound, a known endocrine distruptor. Faber-Castell Kneaded erasers are the only erasers that I know of that do not use phthalates in the manufacture of their kneaded erasers.
- No Latex
- Gentle to paper
- Moldable into any sort of shape
- Stretch, fold and massage the residue on the eraser so that it looks clean and new
- Less than maximum erasability
And if you are not worried about gritty erasers tearing your paper, this one has silica (sand) and might do the trick for correcting colored pencil errors:
Tombow 57304 MONO Sand Eraser, Silica Eraser
One last thing before we sign off, here’s an option to think about: Erasable Colored Pencils.
Light blue pencils are used extensively in the animation world where artists will loosely sketch out shapes of characters as an underlayer. Then they will refine that layer with a graphite pencil or felt pen and erase the underlayer or photocopy/scan the sketch into the computer for digital work. Typically, a scanner has trouble picking up light blue pigment so it won’t show in the digital version.
Here’s a sample of a beginning stage character development using blue pencil on the left and using graphite on the right. The idea of the erasable blue is to give your forms guidance without bothering about controlling how dark you are applying it. It’s much easier to refine the sketch shapes on top of pale blue than on top of graphite because you can the the assistance you need without it screaming in your face.
If I had sketched the dog in ink, I could erase the blue and have a pristine inked sketch. Of course, I forgot what my intentions were for this demo and I used graphite for the upper layer. Doh! Oh well, you can use your imagination!
Prismacolor Col-Erase Erasable Colored Pencil, 24-Count, Assorted Colors (20517)
- These pencils already have an eraser on one end, which is ideal because the eraser is product specific, and will work well with the Prismacolor Col-Erase brand lead as long as you don’t bear down too hard or go over your lines with repeated layers
- The downside is that there are only 24 colors
- Great for a light touch, but will not give a dense opaque laydown of color
- Difficult to blend
- The colored pencil of choice of animators and illustrators and for notations in books and papers
- Perfect for a sketch-in stage, but not really useful for final layers
- Typical difficulty in sharpening a questionable wood casing by Prismacolor brand
- Does not arrive presharpened
Crayola Erasable Colored Pencils, Coloring Book Essentials, 50Count
- Great color assortment, only available on Amazon
- Comes pre-sharpened
- Each pencil has its own eraser on one end
- Uneven, grainy application
- Noticeably lighter color lay down than non-erasable pencils
- Mixed reviews on the complete erasability of each color
- Low staining pigments
- Kids love these!
Good luck creating with your colored pencils, and remember, it is much easier to erase if you apply your colors very gently. You can go darker, but pigments WILL stain, so light is best to begin with.