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How To Add Color To Wood Burning

how to add color to wood burning

Pyrography is an underrated form of art, but the process of decorating wood (or leather) by burning using hot instruments produces such classic masterpieces and blends in really well in rustic settings too.

It looks good as it is but if you want to add some pop of color, there are different ways to do it. Some people use acrylic paint, some use watercolor paint, but wet paints tend to affect the quality of the wood, so others choose color pencils as the safest option.

How to use Colored Pencils for Wood Burning

Step 1: Choose your design

You can create your design but it is also completely fine if you copy something you like and enhance it to your liking especially if you are just starting. Most of the time it will take a couple of tries before you get the design that you are pleased with, don’t stop until you get there.

We all have a different creative process and sometimes the pressure is not going to help squeeze the best out of you, I can’t speak for everybody but I sure produce better results when I am at ease and relaxed.

It is also wise to try some parts of your design or color combination on scrap wood to get a glimpse of how it will turn out on a good surface. Some designs or colors look so good in our imagination but translate differently in reality.

Step 2: Prepare your wood

Choose your wood surface and the shape that you think will work perfectly for the design that you created or copied. The best type of wood to use as a canvas for pyrography is light-colored and soft-grained wood to get good contrast to the dark artwork details from the burning with the easily burned surface.

It is best to start your design once the wood surface has been evened out, depending on the roughness of your wood, use sandpaper that matches the condition of your wood surface. For damaged wood, you might want to use more coarse sandpaper for better results.

Remove the wood particles using a tack cloth, using a dampened cloth will affect the grain of the wood so you might not want to do that. Make sure to inspect the wood surface thoroughly and that you are comfortable transferring your design to all corners of your wood.

Step 3: Transfer your design

You can now transfer your design to the clean wood surface, there are different ways to do it. The most common is by using carbon paper, this is originally used to create a duplicate copy of a document or letters using typewriters. It could be blue or black and it should be available in most craft stores.

The second method is more of a DIY process, by using a soft lead pencil to darken the back of your pattern paper and almost create your carbon, minimizing the possibility of misalignment due to paper layers. You can also erase it, unlike the carbon paper trace.

Another way to transfer your design to wood is by using graphite paper, it is lighter than carbon paper but works almost the same, you can also use it multiple times to save it for next time.

Step 4: Time to burn

After a long and detailed preparation, you are now ready to put your wood-burning tools out and get started with your design. You might want to have scrap wood within arm’s reach so that you can test how much it burns and adjust the settings accordingly based on how dark you want it to be.

Remember that the higher the heat setting, the darker shade it will make on your wood. You also need to consider the type of wood that you are using because the softer the wood grains are, the faster it burns.

Depending on the tool that you are using, you can create different styles and strokes using the tip and the temperature. There are three types of wood-burning tools that you can use, first the one temperature unit, next the rheostat temperature unit, and last variable temperature unit.

Step 5: Cleaning your wood

If you are satisfied with the outline and shading (if any) of your design, you can go ahead and clean any carbon lines using a white eraser, avoid using the colored eraser because it might leave streaks on your wood.

Step 6: Adding color

You can use different coloring media in your design depending on how you want the color to appear on your wood. If you want super vibrant translucent colors, you can choose acrylic paint but you might want to replace the water with rubbing alcohol because water would raise the grain of the wood and we don’t want that.

For dry applications, you can use colored pencils for wood-burning designs without worrying about raising the grains. It is easy to control, the color payoff on the wood matches your pyrography shading, and it can be corrected using an eraser.

Other coloring media that provide transparent colors are oil paints, fabric dyes, and watercolor pencils, these will not cover the sepia shading of your wood-burning design but will just add another shade of color.

The pressure that you use to apply the color is also very important especially if you will be using colored pencils, as you keep the tip of your pencil sharp to reach the tight corners of your design you might want to keep a light hand in doing your shading to avoid denting the surface of your wood.

Watch the video on how different coloring media can be applied to your wood surface and how they would look:

Step 7: Seal or coat your design

To prevent scratches and to generally protect the surface of the wood with your design on it, you can either use varnish but it tends to leave a yellowish shade that is not very complementing for other colors. You can also use acrylic or polyurethane gloss spray sealer for a clear transparent coat. Let it dry completely and it should be ready for display or use.


When it comes to art, I don’t think there should be definite rules, it’s just a matter of what works and what hasn’t been tried before. So feel free to play around with your design, mess around and keep working on it until you are happy with what you create.

Obviously, different ways would give you different results, that’s how we learn and get better. Follow the guidelines but don’t be afraid to out of your way and experiment, this is your art after all. Make sure that however it turns out, it makes you happy.