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Why Do Artists Sketch in Red and Blue? 5 Important Reasons

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Blue and red pencils aren’t just great for coloring. In fact, they play a really important role in sketching and drawing that goes beyond their aesthetic appeal.

Red and blue pencils have been traditionally used with copy machines because the blue pencil becomes invisible and the red pencil appears black. They’re also less reflective when drawings are scanned. Red and blue pencils also glide easily, don’t smudge, and make it easy to differentiate between drafts and final drawings.

There are a lot of benefits to red and blue pencils that we don’t always think about. 

Once we dive into everything they have to offer, you may have a craving to shop for some new red and blue pencils you can use.

1) Colored Pencils Glide Easily

When sketching with colored pencils, you’ll find that your strokes glide more easily. This will not only speed up your work progress, but will also give you a clean and consistent sketch to work with.

With a preliminary sketch, you don’t want to worry about the type of pencil you’re using. With graphite pencils, there are a lot of different choices you need to make depending on the type of drawing you’re creating. 

No need to sort through all of your drawing pencils to find the one that is the correct level of softness and thickness. Simile spot that red or blue color and you’ll have a pencil that will lay down a consistent line from start to finish.

Once you start drawing, colored pencils will give you a faster and smoother sketching experience. They’ll glide more easily across your paper than typical graphite pencils, which will allow you to finish your sketch more quickly.

To make things even more efficient, you can buy 2 in 1 red and blue colored pencils. One side of them is red, while the other side is blue. This not only makes it easier to find your colored pencils when you sit down to draw, it also makes it easy to switch between them.

Mitsu-Bishi red and blue colored pencils

2) Colored Pencils Don’t Smudge

Graphite pencils are prone to smudging. Due to their waxy composition, colored pencils don’t smudge in the same way that graphite pencils do. This makes colored pencils a great choice for sketchbooks and preliminary drawings that will be handled a lot.

Protecting pencil drawings from smudging can feel like a full-time job. Fixatives, wax paper, frames. Drawings made with graphite pencils need to have a barrier between them and the outside world.

Colored pencils don’t require that same level of protection. 

If you make a sketch with red or blue pencil, it won’t be as vulnerable in your sketchbook. Also, if your red or blue version is a preliminary sketch, you’ll be able to sketch over it without smearing it. 

The fact that red and blue pencils are more smudge-resistant can be a huge plus depending on the project you’re working on.

colored pencils and electric sharpeners
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3) Blue and Red Pencils are Important for Copying Drawings

When making copies of a drawing in a copy machine, blue lines do not appear on the copy and essentially are invisible. On the other hand, red lines appear black. This makes it easy to do preliminary sketching in blue pencil and final drawing in red pencil.

Remember the fun of invisible ink? Well, blue pencils can act like an invisible ink of sorts!

That said, it’s REALLY important to note that you can’t use just any blue pencil and expect it to be invisible when copied.

You need to buy blue pencils that are certain shades of blue. These special blue pencils are often called non-photo blue pencils.

Staedtler offers a non-photo blue pencil. There are also many other options out there. Just make sure they state that they appear invisible to photocopiers.

Staedtler Non-Photo Pencil

4) Graphite is Reflective in Scanners

Graphite can be reflective, which can be problematic for scanners that use bright lights to capture an image. Scanning red and blue sketches can be easier to scan more consistently, which is especially useful if you plan to use your sketch in an editing program like Photoshop.

When scanning artwork made with graphite, the light of the scanner can reflect off of the graphite and create strange hotspots and shiny areas. 

This can be problematic if you are trying to get a realistic and even representation of your drawing scanned to your computer. 

Red and blue pencils don’t have this issue. Given that they aren’t reflective, you will have an easier time scanning your drawings and getting a consistent result.

red and blue colored pencils

5) Differentiate Between Drafting and Final Sketch

Using red and blue colored pencils can be helpful for differentiating between your preliminary sketching and your final product. Many artists will sketch in red or blue and then go over their work in graphite once they’ve landed on their final version.

When you’re first beginning to sketch, it’s important to have the freedom to let all of your ideas flow. This might mean that you wind up with pencil strokes that you won’t use in your final sketch.

If you begin your preliminary sketching in red or blue, but then go over your final version in black graphite, you will be able to differentiate your brainstorming from your final version. 

This can make it less confusing when you’re reviewing a sketch later and trying to figure out which lines you intended to keep in your final version, and which lines you didn’t.

The other benefit to this method is that it will make it easier to trace your work onto another piece of paper once it’s finalized. Using a light box, your black lines will be more prominent than your red or blue lines. This will make it easier to transfer your final sketch onto a new piece of paper.

Great Ways to Use a Light Box for Tracing
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Drawing in red and blue colored pencils has a lot of benefits. From smudging to photocopying and drafting, these pencils offer so much more than their beautiful colors.