How to Use Polychromos Pencils

Petr Kratochvil, Dawn R. Levesque

Polychromos pencils are unsurpassed when it comes to coloured pencil quality. Made from California cedar wood, these colour-matching system pencils produce luxuriant and vivid colour. Oil-based rather than wax, these pencils provide a permanent rich colour. You can purchase them individually or in a tin set. There are 120 colours to choose from which include alizarin crimson, burnt umber and cadmium yellow, to name a few.

Broad shading

Apply the side of the pencil lead to the intended surface for broad shading. Move the nib side-to-side in a continuous gesture. Brush the lead lightly across the area to be shaded. Build up colour by layering it. Achieve uniformed colour with very little pressure. The texture of the surface will still show through. For intense colour, press more firmly. The shadowed area will be deeper and richer. The surface texture will appear smooth.


Make use of the polychromos for cross-hatching. Using the pencil tip, apply short, strokes in an angular succession. Make lines uniform and evenly spaced. Follow up with cross-diagonal strokes. Use layering to build up the colour. Use complementary colours to achieve a textured result. For a denser look, put in more lines at different angles.


Generate texture with rapid, vertical strokes called hatching. Create the lightest pigment for graduated shading with a light stroke of the wrist. Draw the lines closer together in order to make the shading appear darker. Alternate the stroke by drawing fine and coarse lines. Vary the length of the lines to create a transition or to highlight.


Soften the look by making scribbled, overlapping circles, or figure eights. This technique called, “scumbling” or “brillo-pad” builds up a single colour. Alternately, add different colours to produce more texture. For spiky texture, make random concave shapes in the same manner as above. Repeat this process until you attain the result that you are seeking.


Keep in mind that Polychromos are break-resistant so it is possible to deposit colour by applying strong pressure with the nib of the pencil to create a metal or shiny look. Called, burnishing, this technique completely saturates the intended area creating a smooth somewhat shiny surface.

Brush with oil

Dip a bristle brush gingerly in Johnson’s baby oil, brush over the surface colour to give the appearance of a painting. Soluble in oil, work with these pencils to sketch out a painting. Once the actual paint is applied, the pencil colour will dissolve.

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