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PENCIL TECHNIQUES  -  Colour Matching - A Continuum

These notes describe a method of finding an exact colour match to a reference image.

Generally you will not need to use such a system, which is fairly time consuming.


If you have problems matching a colour from a limited collection of coloured pencils, this system can be invaluable.

A  Continuum is a continuous strip of developing colour used to match a tint and tone to an original sample.  

This can be very helpful when trying to match skin, hair and fur colour as well as matching a colour from either life or photograph

When we first start with Coloured Pencils, it is necessary to experiment to find out how the pencils we have chosen work together, and whether there is a particular order in which we need to apply them to the surface (there usually is).  Frequently we need a colour that is not in the colour range at hand, and we need to know what colours will layer together to make the shade we require

This suggested method is to make a grid of colours and lay it down individually in blocks, or progressively in layered strips.   

First make a selection of possible colours from our available range of pencils.

if we are working towards a light toned colour, select white, ivory and/or cream as well.  

If we are aiming at a richly pigmented or dark toned colour, select matching colours to intensify, or colours from the complementary colour range which we may use to darken layers.

As you work, note down the colours selected on your sample sheet with a small block of the chosen shade alongside.  THIS IS VITAL  Because you cannot mix colours in CP as we do with, say, watercolour.

Using CP, we depend on layers of transparent glazes to alter and intensify the colour until it matches the exact one required.   The order in which colours are applied is critical, and we also need to carry out the test on the same type of paper we intend to use for our picture.    

Strips can be developed in different sequences of layers to see how results compare.

Hopefully, we will obtain squares of colour, progressively developed in layers, and be able to match from somewhere along a strip to the colour of the original source.

This way we can determine in advance which colours we need and in which order they need to be applied

As an example, in a test for a pale colour, I suggest laying down a narrow strip of the first colour - possibly 15 centimetres long by about a centimetre wide. This is about half an inch wide by 6 inches long, but size is not critical.  

Apply a layer of your first colour – the one which is most likely to form your base colour (in this case ivory, cream or white) across the whole of the strip from A through to E and for however far you need to go  

( this image below – Example 1 - is not a ‘worked’ example, so the colours are not layered nor are they an example of the technique – only of the layout of the strip).  There is a worked example at the foot of this article

Add the note of the name ( and number if necessary) of each colour as you add it and put a sample of the pure colour alongside. Below is example 1   to the Right is example 2

I have coloured the blocks very strongly, as an illustration of the way of working, but your example will be much more delicate and will build up successive layers which will identify the colour and order of ‘lay down’ most likely to achieve the result you need.  If you don’t have the result you are looking for, first change the initial colour, which determines a great deal of the final result (around 70%).

Then, if you are still not finding the coliur you need, an order change may help,

And, if necessary,  change the colours you originally selected to more closely match the skin tone or whatever you are looking for.  

You may find the approach in Example 2  ( above ) offers more options, as each successive layer also drops one or more colours of previous layers.  To save time you could adopt the system suggested in option 2 but first apply a second base line below the first (possibly an Ivory line immediately below an initial White line)

You could also apply a similar set of layers in a strip below this without any light base coat and see the full effect of the colour sequence without the protecting first light layer.

It is quite easy to apply the same principle to a sequence of intense colours to achieve strongly pigmented choices, darks or blacks.

Matching is most easily done by using a piece of card with a small hole cut in it.  The card is placed over the original source and the colour compared through the hole against the white surround.   See  HERE for more details of a comparison chart at the foot of this page

A similar comparison is then made with the colours on the strips to see if we have one with correct matching tint and depth of tone.

You will quickly find that you discover your own favourite mixtures of the colours from the brands you have available, and you will be able to work without a trial strip, but if you are faced with a particular problem this is a route to a solution.

I have worked a strip - below- to show you how this works in practice.

The paper is a sheet of white cartridge paper ( quite smooth ) and the pencils Derwent Coloursoft - a soft waxy pencil.

The surface of the paper is getting quite filled by the time we get to the 8th layer.

This page last updated September 2010

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Some time ago, I posted up on the site here a set of images on PDF files that could be printed off on to card.

These were sets of graduated colour that, once cut out, and prepared for use, could be used to determine the exact tone of a colour in a reference photograph so that the user could match the tone more accurately.

The images and the item explaining their use are still here on the site, lodged on a page of the Allerford step by step ( Allerford page 3 )

A summary is below and the link takes you to the PDF download

The Images on the PDF files look like this.

You simply print them off on to card

Cut around the individual charts and punch holes in the colour bar of each gradient so that you can compare the depth of colour through the hole in the card with the depth of colour in your reference and your worked image.

The cards cover a number of the more usually used colours as well as black.

They will store on a key ring

People who printed off the cards when they were first published say they find them very useful.

I hope that you, also, will find them of help


PDF of charts