What is Wax Bloom?

Wax bloom is a natural phenomenon that can occur in colored pencil drawings, affecting the overall appearance and vibrancy of the artwork. The term refers to a cloudy, white haze that may appear on the surface of a colored pencil drawing, potentially obscitating the original colors and details. This phenomenon is caused by the wax binder used in most colored pencils, which can rise to the surface and crystallize over time.

Why Does Wax Bloom Occur?

At the heart of understanding wax bloom lies an appreciation for the composition of colored pencils. 

Traditional colored pencils are primarily made of three elements: 

  1. pigment for color, 
  2. a binder to hold the pigment together and help it adhere to the paper, 
  3. and additives that modify the pencil's properties.

The binder is usually either wax or oil-based, with each type offering different characteristics. 

Wax-based pencils tend to be softer and allow for more vibrant, immediate color, but are prone to wax bloom, while oil-based pencils are generally harder and less prone to this issue.

Wax bloom is predominantly seen in drawings created with high wax content pencils. The phenomenon usually occurs when excess wax used in the pencil's manufacturing process rises to the surface of the artwork, crystallizes, and catches the light, creating a milky, white film. 

Wax bloom is often more noticeable on darker colors, as the contrast between the dark pigment and the white of the wax bloom is more pronounced.

What Factors Influence Wax Bloom?

The propensity for wax bloom can be affected by various factors, including the amount of pressure applied during the drawing process, the number of layers in the artwork, the environmental conditions in which the artwork is stored, and the brand and type of colored pencil used. 

Applying heavy pressure or layering multiple applications can increase the likelihood of wax bloom, as can storage in warm or humid conditions.

How to Deal with Wax Bloom?

However, it is crucial to note that while wax bloom might initially appear alarming, it does not damage the artwork and can usually be removed. 

It can be gently wiped off with a clean, soft cloth or tissue, restoring the vibrancy of the original colors. 

Bear in mind that removing wax bloom in this way can result in some pigment being lifted from the paper, so caution is advised.

Prevention of Wax Bloom

Prevention, though, is often better than cure.

1. Fixatives

To prevent wax bloom, artists can use a fixative spray, which forms a protective barrier on the drawing's surface, preventing the wax from rising and crystallizing. There are various types of fixatives available on the market, from workable fixatives that allow for additional layers to be added after application, to final fixatives which are intended for use once the artwork is completed.

Choice of Fixatives

When choosing a fixative, it is important to consider its impact on the color and texture of the artwork. Some fixatives may darken or alter colors, while others may change the surface's texture. It is advisable to test the fixative on a scrap piece of paper or a less critical section of the artwork before applying it to the entire piece.

2. Storing Artworks

Moreover, storing colored pencil drawings in controlled environments can also help prevent wax bloom. Keeping artworks away from high temperatures and high humidity levels can help preserve the integrity of the wax binder.

Quality of Colored Pencils

The propensity for wax bloom is not an indication of the quality of a colored pencil. Some of the most esteemed brands manufacture wax-based pencils, valued for their richness of color and smooth application. Rather, wax bloom is a characteristic of the medium and something that artists working with wax-based colored pencils should anticipate and understand how to manage.


In conclusion, wax bloom is a naturally occurring phenomenon in colored pencil artworks, specifically those made with wax-based pencils. Although it may seem troubling, it does not signify damage and can be managed effectively through simple cleaning and preventive methods. By understanding and addressing wax bloom, artists can ensure that their artworks remain vibrant and true to their original vision. Knowledge about wax bloom contributes to mastering the colored pencil medium, enriching the artist's toolkit for creating enduring, captivating artworks.