Over the last few weeks, we have looked at the basics of art theory and how we can use it to improve our coloring.  Over the next couple of weeks, we will be looking at the basics of colored pencils, before moving on to a new series on blending and shading using colored pencils.

Colored pencils are not as simple as they look, and there are a lot of variations in the different types and brands of colored pencils. In this post, we will be looking at the creation of colored pencils so that you have an understanding of what it takes to create a colored pencil.

Colored Pencil History

According to Wikipedia, the history of colored pencils are not entirely clear. It appears that wax-based materials have been used by artists for many centuries, and can be traced all the way back to the Greeks and Romans.  

Manufacturers started producing artist-grade colored pencils in the early 20th century. The manufacturers included Faber-Castell in 1908, Caran d’Ache in 1924, and Prismacolor in 1938. Other popular manufacturers include Derwent, Koh-I-Noor, Lyra, Stabilo, and Staedtler.

Colored Pencil Construction

A colored pencil is just a wooden shaft encasing a colored pigment. This pigment can be oil, wax, or water-soluble based and held together by a binding agent. The binding agent is one of the key factors that determine how a colored pencil performs.

Colored Pencil Cores

Four materials are required to manufacture a colored pencil core. These include the pigment, the binder, the body of the core, and water. These four ingredients are mixed in a large mixer which kneads them together into a uniform doughy substance.

When complete, the contents of the mixer are rolled into flat sheets and pressed into long solid cylinder shapes called cartridges. Each cartridge is pressed into the diameter a pencil lead, and an automatic slicer cuts the core into the proper length for the pencil. Finally, the cores are dried in large ovens until they are hard enough to insert into the pencil casing.

Colored Pencil Casings

Most colored pencil casings are made from reforested wood. Reforested wood is wood taken from tree farms grown specifically for gathering wood and are not part of the tropical rain forest. Tropical rain forest wood is not ordinarily used in making colored pencils.

The process of making colored pencils begins with seedling cultivation and plantation in special nurseries. These seedlings are planted in fields much like a farmer plants a crop, where they continue to grow into trees which are eventually used to make wood casings for the pencils.

After about 14 years, these trees are harvested and shipped to the sawmill. At the mill, the lumber is dried, stripped of its bark, and cut into rectangular slats that are about three inches wide and the length of the finished pencil, and transported to the pencil factory.

Colored Pencil Assembly

At the pencil factory, the slats are fed into a machine which carves a small semicircular groove into each slat to fit the core. A special glue is injected into the groove, and then a core is placed into it.

Another slat is placed over the core to make a “sandwich”, which is pressed together and heated to turn into one piece. Finally, the sandwich is cut to produce individual pencils.

These individual pencils are painted, varnished, sharpened, stamped with the manufacturer’s trademark, and then packaged into the products that you buy today.

I hope that this helps you understand what it takes to create a set of colored pencils. The quality of the wood case, pigments, and additives to these pencils determine the grade of pencil and ultimately the cost of the pencils.

In the next post, we will look at the different grades of pencils in more detail.