Colored pencils are a favorite among artists for their bright and vibrant colors. However, because some pencil brands have an expiration date printed on the packaging that indicates when the pencil should be discarded it makes many people ask how long do colored pencils last. The truth is while there may be an expiration on some packets of colored pencils, that they never expire. The lifespan of each colored pencil varies depending on its composition that is what it is made of, but if we want to talk about expiry we should think of it more like a “best before” as the wax in a pencil may dry out but it can still be usable.
As for suggested lifespan of a colored pencil well this tends to range from eighteen months (the shortest) to two years (the longest).
The most important thing you can do is store them at room temperature in a dry environment, away from direct sunlight and extreme changes in humidity or heat.
If stored correctly, these tips will help keep your colored pencils fresh for longer periods of time. If you want to learn more then I have some more tips to extend the best before life of your colored pencils.
How do you make colored pencils last longer?
Here are a few simple tips to ensure your pencils last longer.
Store your pencils flat, not standing on their points.
They’re just as likely to be damaged by this as they are by being kept in bad conditions, and it will reduce the lifespan of a pencil considerably if you stand them up after the first few uses.
This also means that when you buy a pack of pencils, don’t remove all but one from the plastic sleeve they come with; put them in another where they won’t be able to roll around and break off the ends.
Use a good sharpener
You can avoid damage caused by sharpening with a top quality pencil sharpener rather than a cheap plastic one with a semi-blunt blade.
I have covered some of the best pencil sharpeners in my pencil sharpener review and buyer guide.
Buy a high quality sharpener rather than a cheap one that will leave jagged edges on your pencil if you have problems with breakages try an electric pencil sharpener it’s safer but be careful as they can take chunks out of thinner pencil cores or leads.
Some people say use a small hand held pencil sharpener but I always get broken pencils using these, I will swear by pencil sharpeners that fixed to a desk or bench as they reduce the amount of movement by my hand when sharpening and so reducing the risk of breaking.
If you can’t afford a good quality sharpener, I would suggest a box cutter or sanding pad and gently shave or sand away the timber to expose the pencil core.
For some of my colored pencils that came with a special sharpener, I actually keep these and use them to sharpen my more expensive and higher quality colored pencils.
Preventing tip breakage
We have all experienced the annoying pain of having sharpened a pencil to a nice long sharp tip and within seconds the newly sharpened tip just breaks off! It’s even worse when it happens multiple times with the same pencil!
Colored pencils are susceptible to cracking when they are sharpened so the best way around this is not sharpening your pencil too much, just enough to remove the outer layer of wood exposing the pencil core.
Don’t drop them
Another way to prevent breakage is not dropping or throwing them around. Colored pencils are brittle so they will easily break if thrown and dropped on the floor.
I keep mine in a case with a lid on it, this keeps them from flying out when you open it up and hitting the floor. Use a good pencil case – I have also reviewed 5 here.
Don’t expose them to air for too long
If your colored pencils are exposed fully to air for long periods of time then they will dry up, warp and become fragile.
The best way to store them is in an air tight container or a pencil case that protects them from moisture and oxygen exposure.
If you can’t afford a pencil case then look around your kitchen for plastic-ware such as Tupperware containers or storage cases with airtight lids.
These can even be made at home by using plastic bottles cut in half lengthwise, siliconed together and placed over each other and sealed with the original bottle lid.
Buy a good quality brand of colored pencil
Quality pencils allow you to enjoy them for longer periods of time. Faber-Castell Polychromos and Derwent are examples of good quality brands; they last longer, glide better on paper and have a smoother surface that is less prone to breakage.
There are other well known brands that can be a little more expensive such as Prismacolor and Caran d’Ache, but they are also better quality and have the best pigmentation of all.
Permanently pastel colored pencils such as Prismacolor and Derwent watercolour pencils will not last forever because these types of color pencil tend to fade with time; this is what makes them permanently colored rather than chalks or wax-based which do not fade over time.
Will my color drawings fade then?
If you keep them properly, your art pieces made with quality colored pencils will not fade.
The ultraviolet radiation present in ordinary artificial light or daylight is damaging to color drawings made with colored pencils; these kinds of damage can be minimized by viewing the drawing under a protective glass and keeping it away from direct sunlight.
When left exposed to the elements, even indoors, the wax basis used in color pencil leads tends to flake off the surface of the lead leaving gaps between layers that can let light pass through which causes fading.
Encasing your drawings with wrappers or plastic sleeves and storing them out of direct sun rays will prevent this sort of damage.
The use of fixative spray also helps to preserve your artwork because they increase resistance against fading or yellowing. I also suggest using a quality paper rather than the cheap stuff.
Quality paper will not yellow or fade. I have a buyer guide here if you are interested in learning more.
Can colored pencils expire?
As stated in the introduction, No, they don’t expire even though some brands insist they do. Just like food or any art tool made out of a material that contains pigment (which can be pigments from plants, minerals etc.) colored pencils will not go bad and become hazardous to use they just become harder or drier.
How long they last depend on how well stored you kept them; whether it was in an airtight container or something not so ideal (such as an old shoe box).
What are colored pencils made of?
Colored pencils are usually made with either a wax based binder by using a combination of clay/soap/animal fats which is then compounded into a dry powder mix that is used to bind the core materials together or a natural non animal based wax/oil, bamboo extract (natural occurring wax), and linseed oil binder.
The use of these ingredients often determine the core part or body structure of the colored pencils; which is what keeps them from crumbling, breaking, and cracking when using them.
Another factor that affects how well colored pencils last is how they are shaped.
Some companies make wood encased pencils by mixing graphite or color pigment with mineral oils to form a paste then molding it around a wooden stick that has been previously dipped into a paraffin wax bath.
This makes for an excellent pencil material but this process has more steps involved than making straight-up pigment based cores; so therefore would add cost to manufacturing while also shortening the effective of the quality of the color in the pencil.
How can I keep my colored pencils from breaking?
Due to the nature of colored pencils, they are made with wood therefore when you sharpen them you often will end up slightly breaking the inside core.
This is because you are essentially working against a material that was never designed for such an act.
Clicking here can show a demonstration on how to avoid snapping and breaking your pencils when sharpening them.
Certain brands use better quality woods; so in turn these companies will be able to afford better equipment and machinery. This allows them to produce higher quality products that will last longer than others.
The more expensive colored pencils are also made with a higher grade of wax which will hold and retain color better than brands using lesser quantities.
So even if the wood is good, companies can fall short on what really counts by using cheap dyes or waxes in their coloring mixture.
All the information above pertains to how long an individual colored pencil will last; however you shouldn’t be concerned with just one colored pencil but rather your whole set of colored pencils.
After all, it wouldn’t make much sense buying a new pack of twelve colored pencils when only two of them have gone bad due to age or not storing them properly.
Additional tips for using colored pencils more effectively
It is often helpful to keep the colors you use most frequently a bit closer at hand. This will ensure that there are no frustrating moments of searching for your favorite color in the pencil box or cupboard.
The area where you choose to hold, store and sharpen your colored pencils should be well ventilated. In fact it’s best if this area isn’t too close to either the stove or heater (as heat will dry them out faster).
It’s also advisable not to leave them near bright sunlight; which could cause their pigments to break down prematurely.
Storing your colored pencil collection someplace that is free from strong odors in food, cleaners or chemicals is also recommended as these can rub off on your drawing implements and ultimately.
How Long Do Colored Pencils Last – Supporting Video
In this video, we see some quick hacks to extend the life of colored pencils by making them physically longer after being sharpened down to a stump. This trick will get you a few more drawings in before your fingers start to scream in pain.
I hope you enjoyed How Long Do Colored Pencils Last and learned something unique and new. If you found this information useful, please feel free to share this post with your artist friends or on Reddit or other areas artists who use colored pencils may find of use.
If you need some inspiration on what to draw with colored pencils, I have 5 ideas to get you inspired.
If you’re new to colored pencils then I can point you to my guide – How to draw with colored pencils.
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Images from Pixabay
Joseph Colella is a frustrated artist with over 40 years experience making art (who moonlights as a certified Business Analyst with over 20 years of experience in tech). While he holds a Diploma in Information Technology, in true wasted talent style he spent years trying to get into various Art degrees from the Accademia di Belle Arti (Napoli), and failed to get into the Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) at the University of Western Sydney. His goal is to attend the Julian Ashton School of Art at The Rocks Sydney when he retires from full time work. In his spare time, he writes for the this blog, WastedTalentInc, where he shares practical advice on art, making art, and art materials. Joseph’s art has been sold to collectors all over the world from the USA, Europe and Australasia. He is a trusted source for reliable art and copyright/fair use advice and is committed to helping his readers make informed decisions about making them a better artist.
He also loves all things watches (ok it’s an addiction) so show him some love and visit his other website https://expertdivewatch.com