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When Your Paper Gets Slick

When Your Paper Gets Slick

Like last week’s Q&A post, this post answers a question that wasn’t asked specifically; it was suggested by another question. But when your paper gets slick after layers of color, it’s a source of irritation. So it seemed worthwhile to explain why that happens, and what you should do about it.

When Your Paper Gets Slick

Why a Drawing Surface Gets Slick

Every colored pencil is made with a binding agent that holds the pigment in lead form. When you draw, you put pigment AND binding agent on the paper.

The more layers you add, the more pigment and binding agent works it’s way into the tooth of the paper. All those layers fill in the tooth, and when the tooth gets full, your paper feels slick.

That’s bad enough, but depending on the type of pencils you use, it gets worse.

All colored pencils contain wax as part of the binding agent. Wax-based pencils contain more wax than oil, while oil-based pencils contain more oil than wax.

Wax and oil both work as binding agents, and they work very well. But oil doesn’t fill the tooth of the paper as quickly as wax. So the waxier your pencils, the more quickly the paper tooth gets filled and your paper gets slick.

The type of paper you draw on also makes a difference. Smooth papers start feeling slick sooner than rougher papers. That’s because there’s less tooth to fill on smooth papers.

Ways to Avoid Slick Paper

Of course the best cure for slick paper is avoiding slick paper. How can you do that? Here are a few suggestions.

Use Oil-Based Pencils

Switching to oil-based pencils or combining them with wax-based pencils is another good idea.

Using oil-based pencils such as these Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils can help you avoid creating a slick drawing surface on your paper.

Binding agents that are primarily oil don’t clog up the tooth of the paper as much as wax-based binding agents. So whenever you use an oil-based pencil, you put less wax on the paper.

Less wax on the paper, less slickness.

Draw with Light Pressure

Put down each layer of color with the lightest pressure you can. You can still get rich, vibrant color using light pressure, but it takes more layers.

The advantage to light pressure is that you put down less binding agent, too. It still builds up. You can’t avoid that. But if you use light pressure for as many layers as possible, you may be able to finish your artwork before the paper gets slick.

What about a Toothier Paper?

The more texture your drawing paper has, the more difficult it is to fill the tooth. You can layer more colors without making the paper slick.

Sanded art papers are the best papers for avoiding a slick feeling drawing surface, because they seem always to take more color. But even if you don’t want to use sanded art papers, you can use other papers that have more tooth. I like Canson Mi-Teintes for this. It’s sturdy and can take abuse, but it also takes a lot of color.

Sanded art papers can take almost limitless layers of color, so they’re an ideal paper to use if you really want to avoid slick paper as you layer.

Even hot press watercolor paper is a good option for avoiding a slick drawing surface.

Use Colorless Blenders Carefully

A colorless blender is a pencil that’s nothing but binding agent. That’s why they blend so well.

But they also fill up the tooth of the paper very quickly.

Since most of us burnish when we use a colorless blender, we’re also crushing the tooth of the paper. Once the tooth has been crushed, restoring tooth is difficult, if not impossible.

It’s okay to use colorless blenders, but save them until the end of your drawing.

Solvent Blending

Solvent breaks down the binding agent so the pigment can be blended. Liquefied pigment tends to soak into the paper without filling the tooth, so it’s a great way to fill the tooth with color without filling the tooth with binding agent.

Ways to Get Rid of the Slickness

There are a few ways to remove the slickness once it develops, but a word of caution before I share them. In most cases, it’s impossible to completely restore the tooth of the paper once it gets slick. That’s why I listed ways to avoid slickness first.

But once your paper gets slick, one of the following methods may be helpful.


I’ve also had limited success cutting through the slickness by blending with rubbing alcohol.


Rubbing alcohol dissolves the wax binder enough to soften the surface, which sometimes removes a bit of the slickness.

Odorless mineral spirits also cut back the binding agent, but they also blend more thoroughly. If you only want to dissolve a little wax without a lot of blending, rubbing alcohol is the best option.

However, neither solvent completely restores the tooth of the paper.

If you decide to try solvents, test them first on a scrap of the same type of paper with similar applications of color.

Workable Fixative

Most workable fixatives for dry media work on colored pencils. Dick Blick offers a selection of workable fixatives.

Whatever type of fixative you use, test it on a sample first to make sure it doesn’t discolor the paper or your drawing. Follow the instructions on the can, and work in a well-ventilated area.

Preventatives (and Remedies) for Slick Paper

The best way to deal with slick paper is to avoid the slickness. The methods I described above will help you do that.

But even if you take all those precautions, if you like layering lots of layers, you will sooner or later end up with slick paper.

When that happens, it pays to know how to restore at least a little bit of tooth so you can finish!

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!

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