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You Won’t Believe What Colored Pencils Are Made Of!

Colored pencils are one of the craft supplies that we have all used and fallen in love with. But do you know what goes into making those beautiful colored pencils?

You Wont Believe What Colored Pencils Are Made Of 1

Why is it that the price and quality of colored pencils vary significantly across different brands? If you take a closer look, you will know that they are not as simple as they look. All manufacturers neither employ the same process nor use the same ingredients.

We have broken down all the information in the form of three basic questions that you may have. Read on to find the answers to these questions and know what colored pencils are made of.

What Colored Pencils Are Made Of!?

  1. What Are The Ingredients?

If you think a colored pencil needs only lead and wood, think again. You may be surprised to know that the process of making colored pencils is quite intricate and requires four ingredients – wood, binders, pigments, and extenders. Let’s take a closer look at each of these ingredients.

Wood – Wood used to be an integral component of colored pencils until a few years ago. With the advent of lacquered or woodless pencils, more companies are letting go of this ingredient. Traditionally, the wooden barrel was vital for holding the lead core of the pencil.

Woodless colored pencils are mostly used for high-quality art projects. Some artists prefer pencils that eliminate the wooden casing, which may get in the way. It is also more efficient if you have to shade large areas.

Some artist-grade colored pencils use premium wood for casings, like aromatic cedar.

Binders – If you are a professional artist or expert, you know binders play a crucial role in a lot of art and craft supplies like pastels, crayons, and colored pencils. A binder is used to hold the pigment together, facilitating an even pigment distribution throughout the pencil’s core.

Binders are also called resins and act as a glue for the pigment. There are various types of binders including paraffin wax, gum arabic, and other oily compounds. The type and amount of binder used in a colored pencil significantly affect the final result you get on paper.

Pigments – Pigment is the most crucial indicator of the quality of a colored pencil. Artists always try to get supplies that have high pigment concentration or purity, as it corresponds to a better lightfastness rating and more vibrant colors. As such, top-notch brands offer products with high pigment concentration at premium prices.

The types of pigments used in a colored pencil also define how bright or dull the outcome will be on paper. Most of the reputed brands include a color chart with their products, which shows the lightfastness rating as well as the number and type of pigments used in each colored pencil.

If only one pigment type is used in a particular pencil, it is “pure pigment.” If more than one pigment type is used, the result will be relatively duller. If your artwork will be displayed in an exhibition and not just stored in your studio, you should be concerned with the lightfastness rating of the colored pencils you use.

As a general rule of thumb, artists should go for colored pencils with a minimum lightfastness rating of III or II, whereas students and hobbyists may opt for lightfastness rating of IV and V too (ASTM ratings).

Extenders – Extenders complement binders by ensuring that the colored pencil lead is sturdy. The amount of extenders used in the production process determines whether the lead feels buttery and soft or rigid.

Some companies increase the proportion of extenders used to cut down production costs. These colored pencils have reduced amounts of pigments and binders and hence, are not artist-grade.


  1. What Are The Types Of Colored Pencils?

Now that we have addressed the ingredients needed to make a colored pencil, it is time to take about the different types of colored pencils available in the market. Colored pencils can be broadly classified into two types – oil-based and wax-based pencils. Let’s take a look at each of these types:

Oil-based leads – Oil-based color pencils are not very common. There are only a few brands that sell colored pencils having oil-based leads, like LYRA Polycolor and Faber-Castell Polychromos. Oil-based lead is known for providing more vivid colors with a more elegant and smoother overall finish.

Relative to traditional wax-based leads, oil-based leads result in a brighter finish. A minor drawback of oil-based pencils is that you may need various solvents like turpentine or odorless mineral spirit to dissolve it. Common solvents like xylene or baby oil do not dissolve oil-based pencils and may ruin your paint surface.

Wax-based leads – Wax-based leads are the most commonly used in colored pencils. They are known for being extra smooth and straightforward to work with. Artists go for wax-based leads when they have significant layering or blending work.

One of the most significant benefits of using a colored pencil with a wax-based lead is that you can use readily available solvents like xylene or baby oil to effectively dissolve the pigment onto the paint surface. Xylene has proven to be better than baby oil for providing clean blends.

A drawback of using wax-based pencils is the possibility of wax blooms. After a few days, the wax may start to oxidize which can be troublesome. We recommend using a fixative to seal your artwork and preserve it. In case you do not have a fixative in your studio, use a dry, clean cloth to wipe the artwork.

  1. Can You Make DIY Colored Pencils?

DIY-crafters can make a lot of cool stuff in the comfort of their homes. If you are into DIY projects, you may be wondering if you can make colored pencils at home. Unfortunately, it is one of the limited products that you cannot make at home. Unlike oil and acrylic painting supplies, the ingredients for making colored pencils are not readily available.

The production process of colored pencils requires specialized tools and ingredients. No matter how good you are at DIY endeavors, you cannot mix the pigment with extenders and binders or insert them into molds at home.

Final Words

Irrespective of whether you are an art student, hobbyist, teacher, professional artist, or expert, knowing the composition of colored pencils will help you achieve your goals. It will also help to choose the ideal colored pencils for your needs without exceeding your budget.

Colored pencils may appear to be simple, but their production process is more complicated than you would have imagined.

Till next time!

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