A colored pencil is an art medium constructed of a narrow, pigmented core encased in a wooden cylindrical case. Unlike graphite and charcoal pencils, colored pencils’ cores are wax- or oil-based and contain varying proportions of pigments, additives, and binding agents. Water-soluble (watercolor) pencils and pastel pencils are also manufactured as well as colored leads for mechanical pencils.
Colored pencils vary greatly in terms of quality and usability; concentration of pigments in the core, lightfastness of the pigments, durability of the colored pencil, and softness of the lead are some indicators of a brand’s quality and, consequently, its market price. There is no general quality difference between wax/oil-based and water-soluble colored pencils, although some manufacturers rate their water-soluble pencils as less lightfast than their similar wax/oil-based pencils. Colored pencils are commonly stored in pencil cases to prevent damage.
Made of wood, there are also under this name of “pencils” plastic. Unlike lead pencils, which are classified according to their hardness (H, HB, B), colored pencils are rather soft. The hardness varies according to the marks. Some colored pencils, called watercolor pencils, whose mine contains gum arabic, allow dilution in water for a work in watercolor. Other bold colored pencils are specially used for makeup.
Colored pencils are used by professional artists in different fields: drawing, illustration, comic strip, technical drawing, advertising, animation. Colored pencils can have a high level of quality in pigments, binders, wood support, choice of colors.
The traditional technique of colored pencil uses a paper more or less grained, depending on the desired effect. The coloring is done by successive successive light plots, hatching, which can then be crisscrossed and possibly superimposed with other colors to produce a wide variety of shades. The mixing of colors is done both by the superposition and the physical mixture of the pigments, but also optically by juxtaposition. The white paper that remains apparent gives the work a great lightness. However, one can insist until the paper is completely covered with pigment and get surfaces very dense in color, always having a very rich material. You can also use technical tips to achieve effects: stamping thin lines or dots with a tool, scraping, etc.
The use of wax-based mediums in crayons can be traced back to the Greek Golden Age, and was later documented by Roman scholar, Pliny the Elder. Wax-based materials have appealed to artists for centuries due to their resistance to decay, the vividness and brilliance of their colors, and their unique rendering qualities. Although colored pencils had been used for “checking and marking” for decades prior, it was not until the early 20th century that artist-quality colored pencils were produced. Manufacturers that began producing artist-grade colored pencils included Faber-Castell in 1908 (the Polychromos range was initially 60 colors) and Caran d’Ache in 1924, followed by Berol Prismacolor in 1938. Other notable manufacturers include Cretacolor, Derwent, Koh-i-Noor Hardtmuth, Mitsubishi (uni-ball), Schwan-Stabilo, and Staedtler.
Several types of colored pencils are manufactured for both artistic and practical uses.
Artist-grade pencils are filled with higher concentrations of high-quality pigments than student-grade colored pencils. Their lightfastness – resistance to UV rays in sunlight – is also measured and documented. Core durability, break and water resistance, and brand popularity are also notable features of artist-grade colored pencils. Artist-grade pencils have the largest color ranges; 72 color sets are very common and there are several brands of 120 colors or more. They are also typically available as individual pencils.
Student and scholastic grade:
Many of the same companies that produce artist-grade colored pencils also offer student-grade materials and scholastic-level colored pencils. Lightfastness rating is usually not included in student- and scholastic-grade colored pencils. Core composition and pigment-binder ratio vary among artist- and student-grade colored pencils even when the same company produces them. As they are intended for different users, student- and scholastic-grade colored pencils lack the high quality pigments and lightfastness standards that hold artist-grade products true to their name. Also their color range is smaller, most often limited to 24 or 36 colors.
Using lower grade colored pencils does have its advantages, however. Some companies offer erasable colored pencils for beginning artists to experiment with. Also, due to their significantly lower prices, student-grade colored pencils are ideal for elementary and middle school students. Colored pencil manufactures tailor their products — and prices — to different age and skill groups.
Mechanical colored pencils:
Although not as common as graphite mechanical pencils, some companies also offer colored refill leads. Currently, a very limited color range exists for colored refill leads.
Watercolor pencils, otherwise known as water-soluble pencils, are a versatile art medium. The pencils can be used dry—like normal colored pencils—or they can be applied “wet” to get the desired watercolor effect. In wet application, the artist first lays down the dry pigment and then follows up with a damp paintbrush to intensify and spread the colors. This technique can also be used to blend colors together, and many artists will apply both techniques in one art piece. Artist-grade watercolor pencils typically come in 60 or 72 colors with a few 120 color assortments.
Pastel pencils are similar to hard pastels. Their advantage is that they can be sharpened to a fine point and so they are useful for adding details on pastel drawings.
Colored pencils are traditionally associated with children’s creative hobbies and school activities thanks to their non-staining and easy-to-handle side. They are competing in this area with fountain pens. By their manufacture (use of dyes based on heavy metals such as chromium or cadmium, varnished wood) the pencils may contain toxic substances for children. Some non-toxic alternatives are proposed.
A variety of pencils of particular color is the blue light pen, in the form of a conventional pencil or mines for pencil, having a single color, a light blue, which has the characteristic of not being detected during the line reproduction with a high-contrast photographic film (lith film), or which can be easily removed by adjustment during a CT scan. The blue pencil makes it possible to make a sketch, which is then inked in black, without it being necessary to erase it (with the risks induced by the exfoliation if the ink is not dry or the support not very resistant). The blue color does not affect the final result. The blue light pen is used in graphics, comics, manga, animation, for documents in black and white (even if they are colored later).
Colored pencils can be used in combination with several other drawing mediums. When used by themselves, there are two main rendering techniques colored pencil artists use.
Layering is usually used in the beginning stages of a colored pencil drawing, but can also be used for entire pieces. In layering, tones are gradually built up using several layers of primary colors. Layered drawings usually expose the tooth of the paper and are characterized by a grainy, fuzzy finish.
Burnishing is a blending technique in which a colorless blender or a light-colored pencil is applied firmly to an already layered drawing. This produces a shiny surface of blended colors that gets deep into the grain of the paper.