Colored Pencils and Pencil Sharpeners for Art Photography

sharpened colored pencils with wood dust

Some photographers are also coloring artists, and here are some tips they stumble across often. Anyone who is using colored pencils all the time, you know by now that it takes some good skills to learn how to sharpen a colored pencil well. It’s much fun in using colored pencils and it gets so frustrating to see a lead break off, for sure!

The “lead” of a colored pencil is a colored pigment in wax base. Typically, it’s rather soft so it does break quite easily. Most colored pencil artists love a nice, sharp point and without a protective wood encasing the lead, there’s little chance on having sharp point for long.

The most popular colored pencils out there are the Prismacolor colored pencils and, along with the soft, buttery texture of the pigment, they also bring the unpleasant tendency to break too often.

Is there a special way to sharpen the Prismacolor colored pencils?

When you sharpen right your Prismacolor colored pencils, they can color and last for quite some time. You may use a handheld pencil sharpener, a cosmetic sharpener, an electric pencil sharpener or sandpaper block and, if none of the above work for you, even the old, ageless knife.

Each artist gets to decide which way works the best for him and you can only give it a go and try various methods of sharpening and various sharpeners just as well- only to get the results you’re expecting. By the way, here’s a good resource for more tips on how to sharpen colored pencils and how to choose your sharpener. But let’s move on.

A handheld pencil sharpener gives you great precision and a lot of control when you sharpen your Prismacolor pencil. You can hold the pencil in one hand and the pencil sharpener in the other hand and then turn the pencil sharpener, while holding the colored pencil very still. Of course, you can also do it the other way around (move the pencil and not the sharpener), but it’s less stress on the pencil when you turn the pencil sharpener-thus less risk for breakage.

It’s better not to sharpen your pencil if it really doesn’t need it and the length of the pencil shaving is a good tip for checking the condition of your pencil sharpener. A pencil sharpener in a good condition gives long, continuous pencil shaving so there’s little chance for breakage of the pencil due to sharpening. Small shavings that come off in bits and pieces means a blunt pencil sharpener and you either need to change the blades or buy a new pencil sharpener.

Keep in mind not to apply much pressure when you use a handheld pencil sharpener and use a gentle touch on your pencil. It’s better to hold it vertically and not horizontally.

If you go for an electric pencil sharpener, it’s clear that you have less control. There’s always the risk of the electric sharpener to apply too much force on your pencils and not all electric pencil sharpeners do well with colored pencils. The wax from the colored pencils typically builds up and clogs the sharpener.

But, if your mind is set on the electric pencil sharpener, run from time to time a regular graphite pencil as its grease cleans and clears the blades of the electric pencil sharpener. You should also open up the sharpener and clean the blades with Q-tips and toothpicks as often as you can.

As they are designed for eyeliner pencils, the cosmetic sharpeners can also give you the right tip on your colored pencils.

If you have the skills for it, you can also use sandpaper blocks to sharpen your colored pencils. Several layers of sandpaper are mounted onto a wooden block and they are quite efficient for sharpening your colored pencils. Small, lightweight and very easy to carry around, you may also use them to sharpen charcoal and pastels.

The most dangerous method to sharpen your colored pencils is using the knife. You need to pay extra attention and go carefully through each step. Of course, it’s likely not to get the best point on your pencil but if the method fits you…

Is that all?

Never use a hand-crank sharpener on your colored pencils as it ruins your colored pencils for good.

You can have your colored pencils around for quite some time if you microwave them for 10 seconds or if you freeze them before sharpening.

And of course, try to find the best option when it comes to sharpening your colored pencils and be gentle with them. All the time!