Broken Prismacolor pencils driving you to distraction?
You’re not alone.
After reading a recent post, Everything You Need to Get Started with Colored Pencils, Jana Botkin left the following question in the comments:
Will you address the fact that the majority of Prismacolor pencils are broken all the way through? Sanford denies there is a problem and blames the wrong sharpeners.
If you’ve been using colored pencils for very long or if you’ve participated in any social media discussions on the subject, you’ve already heard the comments. Perhaps you’ve even experienced quality problems with Prismacolor pencils, as I have.
I’ve observed over the years that most companies tend to follow the same course.
Someone has an idea for a new product. They’re passionate about the idea and product. So passionate that they spend time and money to start a business. Product quality and customer satisfaction is the most important thing and they’ll do anything to keep their customers happy.
Eventually, the company moves from the first generation (the person who started it) to the second generation. The founder dies and passes the company to children or maybe sells the company. The second generation owners may be committed to quality, but they lack the burning passion the original creator had. The product is still good and customers may not notice a difference, but there is a change behind the scenes.
The company is sold again. Perhaps it becomes part of a larger company. Just another department or product line. Quality is important, but maybe not as important as the bottom line. The company talks the talk but may be lax in walking the walk.
If a company goes through enough of these cycles, product quality begins to suffer to the extent that customers begin going elsewhere.
This happens with a lot of businesses. Maintaining principles is a lot of work, whether it’s providing the best colored pencil or sticking with a diet. It’s like keeping water from running downhill. Possible, but not easy.
What to Do About Broken Prismacolor Pencils
There are two camps when it comes to the best response to broken pencils.
Send ‘Em Back
The first camp says the only thing to do is return the pencils if they’re new and came with broken pigment cores because you can’t repair the core. If you buy brand new pencils and discover broken pigment cores, return or exchange is probably the best policy if you can afford to wait for new pencils.
Unfortunately, broken pigment cores aren’t usually discovered until after you’ve started using the pencils. Most stores won’t accept a return on a pencil that’s been used.
And sometimes you drop pencils and they break. Prismacolor pencils seem to be especially prone to damage in this fashion. In this case, you don’t want to send them back.
Heat ‘Em Up
The second camp declares with equal conviction that you can repair broken pigment cores and they have just the solution.
The Microwave Method
Every source I looked at recommended 5 seconds in a microwave. What no one said was at what setting! (Start low and increase the setting if that doesn’t work.) If you microwave pencils longer than that, you risk splitting the wood casings or causing a fire.
This works because wax melts when subjected to heat. Yes, even the wax binder in a Prismacolor pencil—or any wax-based colored pencil, for that matter. The softened wax melts, “healing” breaks or fractures. The pigment core is restored as the wax cools.
I have never used this method of fixing broken Prismacolor pencils and I probably never will. Why? Because the foil imprinting on most colored pencils is a thin form of metal. You don’t put spoons in a microwave because the metal can damage or ruin the microwave. It can also start a fire.
Why would you want to put a colored pencil into a microwave if it has foil printing? Metal, after all, is metal, no matter how thin it is.
How can you tell if the labels are foil? If the color names and other information is very shiny, it’s foil. Do not put them into a microwave.
The Sunny Window Method
So what do I do?
I put the pencils in a sunny window for anywhere from a few hours to all day depending on the time of year. Why?
I do have experience warming pencils in the sun and seeing how soft the pigment cores get. Granted, I wasn’t repairing broken pigment cores; I was attending a horse show. I took my pencils along, but left them in the back window of the car while I watched horses. It was a sunny July day and when I got back to the car, the pencils were so soft I could almost paint with them.
That experience leaves no doubt in my mind that leaving pencils in a sunny window would be an excellent way to apply gentle heat to a pencil with a broken pigment core no matter where you live. The warmer climate, the less time it would take, but I’d still suggest that a few hours wouldn’t hurt the pencil. Check the exposed pigment core every couple of hours and see how soft it is, then use your own judgment on how much longer to leave the pencil in the sun.
Not Quite Convinced?
That’s okay. If you want to try either of these methods without exposing your pencils to possible risk, break off a few tips—yes, on purpose unless you have broken pieces of pigment lying around. Put them together in a small container and set them in the sun and see what happens. If you like the results, you can be more sure about using the same method for your pencils.
The Final Alternative to Broken Prismacolor Pencils
Of course, if you’ve had so much trouble with broken Prismacolor pencils that you’re ready to throw them over, you can always find a different type of pencil. There are plenty of high quality, artist grade pencils available.
The most popular are Faber-Castell Polychromos, but there are others. Jana recommends Polychromos first, but for her students who are on a budget, she also recommends Staedler Ergosoft as a high quality, lower cost substitute.
What’s your favorite brand of colored pencil? Why do you prefer them?
Nice summary, Carrie! The CPSA recommended 15-18 seconds in the microwave, but watch until the paint on the pencil bubbles. Then let the pencil sit for an hour before doing a test sharpening. If it is still broken, redo.
I’ve returned pencils directly to Sanford, and they chastised me for using the wrong sharpener, but said to return for unbroken pencils. Then they sent me more broken pencils.
And like yours, my old pencils that say either Berol or Eagle are definitely better quality.
Thanks for the clarification. The best information I could find suggested five seconds, which hardly seemed long enough to me. The tip to watch for bubbling paint is great. Thanks!
Returning product can be a nuisance. The response you get from the company depends on whether the company really wants to do what’s right or wants to protect themselves. I’ve heard enough complaints from enough artists, yourself included, to believe the problem is not related to sharpening as often as is claimed.
I keep my eyes open for Berol or Eagle brand Prismacolors. They’re hard to find, but are occasionally available through eBay and similar sources.
I called my supplier, (Blick) after my $800 order of prismacolors arrived mostly broken (probably from the box being thrown around during shipping). They said to put them in a toaster oven at the lowest setting for 15-20 mins, then let them cool. That seemed to work well, especially since I could pile them up and heat a bunch of them at once. I had a box on my desk labeled “Won’t sharpen” and my students were taught that if a Prismacolor didn’t sharpen after 2 tries it went in the box to be heated.
Thanks for sharing.
Dick Blick seems like a good company to work with.
Doing batches of pencils at the same time is a good idea. Maybe even a good preventative measure with new pencils.
You think that paying that much you shouldn’t have to do anything to them.
Julie, with an order that large, I wouldn’t even think twice. I’d call Blick’s (or wherever you got the order from) & say… ‘there’s more broken pencils than not. Being such a large order, I fully expect your company to do their absolute best to help expedite this process, to prove, once again, that I made the right choice using your company.’ or something like that. Amazon is good for returns, &/or exchanges. I’m a Prime member & their 2 day turn around is excellent, when ur in a rush to get something fast.
OMG, I have Berol and Eagle Brand pencils left from my childhood my first set of 60 I was 7 yo and I am 74! The other day I did put my pencils in the oven very low temp my oven start at 200 F I put them all as preventive. When done the wood of many of my old pencils and a lot more of the new ones were cracked from start to end I could cry but it is my fault.
I will replace them with real good ones if I keep working with pencils.
I discovered an art studio with a store not too far from my home, it is tucked in the wood almost, I had a fit when the first time I was there, she has so much stuff all good quality, everything for the seasoned artist, not me but even so, I love to go once in a while to dream…….The lady is an art teacher and has artists guests often, it is very expensive, I can not afford her classes on my little old age pension but finding a reason to go there is a delight. That store is like a candy store for the child in me
Carrie here is my question: Can I mix different wax pencils? She has different lines of pencils and Prisma wich is more in line with what I can afford at least I can choose them and check the wood and the lead to see if it is centered. But I want to go up and buy better quality
, one at the time to replace my dead ones.
I have a couple of Eagles and a Spectracolor somewhere.
I should have pointed out that only the newer Prismacolor pencils are subject to breaking. The older Prismacolors were a very high quality pencil. Well made and wonderful to use.
It was only after Sanford was sold to Rubbermaid in 1992 that quality dropped.
So if you have old pencils, treat them with love and enjoy using them!
Or save them and cherish them.
As to your question: You can absolutely mix Prismacolor and any other wax-based pencil. The truth of the matter is that almost all of the artist grade colored pencils work very well together.
For example, I’m getting a feel for Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils by doing a drawing with both Prismacolor and Polychromos. It’s a “back burner” drawing, which means I work on it only when I have the time and after working on the current drawing for someone else, but so far, I really like the way those two brands work together. I’m hoping to do a tutorial on it, and to share what I’m learning about the Faber-Castell pencils, but it will have to wait until the project drawing is finished. Watch for the tutorial sometime this summer.
If you want to try new pencils, buy a few pencils of the kinds you want to try and play with them. Keep trying pencils and sooner or later, you’ll find the perfect fit for your budget and your drawing method.
so which brand do you like better Prismacolor, or Faber-Castell? I only have Prismacolor and I am scared to spend more money on another brand in case they are not worth it.
It’s too soon to tell. I’ve only done a little work with the Polychromos.
But I can tell you that I like using them. They’re oil-based, so they’re drier than Prismacolor, which gives them a different feel to draw with. On the other hand, they sharpened to a much nicer point and hold a point much longer than the Prismacolor pencils.
My test drawing is on Canson Mi-Tientes. I started out with Polychromos in the background, but have started layering Prismacolor over that to finish the background more quickly. I’ve been blending with turpentine and they blend together beautifully. You just need to make sure to have two or three layers of color on the paper first.
If you want to see what I’ve done so far, take a look at the Drawings in Progress board on my Pinterest account. The first three pins are the drawing in progress. The top part of the background is Polychromos only. The bottom part is Prismacolor over Polychromos and blended with turpentine.
I like having both. The Prismacolors are good for laying down color quickly. The Polychromos are better for drawing detail.
They’re definitely worth trying. If you want to buy a set, try the set of twelve ($16.13 at Dick Blick.) The colors included are:
Dark Cadmium Orange
Deep Scarlet Red
That’s more than enough to let you do some drawing and see how you like them.
You could also buy a handful of your favorite colors open stock.
I’m already planning to start buying a few Luminance or other pencils a few at a time to try. It’s a great way to sample several different types and find the type of pencil that will work best for you and the methods you use.
Thanks so much for the tip, I will have to try them one day, maybe sooner than later.
A late comment on broken Prismas – could one put them in hot water, or even boil them perhaps?
A good question, but a bad idea! Colored pencils are encased in wood. Most of the time, it’s cedar wood, which is not a hardwood.
If you were to put a pencil into hot water, you run the very real risk of damaging the wood casing. Boiling it makes that risk even more serious.
A damaged wood casing may crack or splinter when you try to sharpen the pencil, or it may split as it dries.
So you might be able to soften the wax core enough to “heal” a broken lead, but you would most likely end up with even worse problems.
I had done the microwaving a broken core pencil for 15 seconds. My Biggest regret was that the lead got so hot, it started to expand, almost causing the wooden casing to crack! NEVER do 15 seconds! The Paint on outside of pencil bubbled up; causing the number-code/name of color to be hardly eligible. If I ever decide to try doing a repair on a pencil it will be sticking them in the car on a hot summer day! Best of Luck!
Yes. Low heat for a longer period of time seems to work the best!
Thank you for sharing.
I have used the hair dryer on High heat and that seems to work for me , just a few min. and the lead gets a little wet looking and I have also taken an end when it breaks off and glued it and used the hair dryer and it works great.
Thanks for the tip. Gluing broken ends back to the main pencil seems like a popular way to deal with broken leads.
I wasted a pencils one time by sharpening it and each time an end came off and instead of gluing it, I kept sharpening it until there was nothing left, what a waste. Gluing really seems to work at least for me. And the hair dryer seems to mend it so it is easy to sharpen the next time.
A similar thing happened to me once. The lead didn’t break, but the pencil was gritty all the way through. I sharpened half it away, then tossed the rest, as I recall!
This is what I do( glue the broken tip wit crazy glue) and it works wonder until it gets a bit dry on the paper but I had a good use of that broken bit.
Crazy Glue also works great for gluing pencil stubs to unsharpened new pencils.
Thanks for the comment!
Try a hair dryer, it so far has worked for me, you can tell when the lead gets a little oily looking and that is when I stop it.
It seems like everyone is experiencing broken cores of their beloved Prismas. Returning them is an option but if you’re like me and had to wait almost 3 months to receive your pencils due to the high volume of purchases, then returning them isn’t something to consider unless you open the box and most of the pencils are broken. Seriously, why should I have to put them in the microwave or find a fix in the first place. Spending over $100 on art pencils was a big deal considering I’m on a budget. I did consider just ordering the just the few pencils I needed since Prismas have an open stock but even still, why should me or anyone else have to do that in the first place? The company needs to rethink their quality situation, when you spend that much on your product, you expect it to be good. As for using the wrong pencil sharpener, that’s just an excuse. I’ve bought 6 different ones including the Prisma sharpener and I’m still experiencing broken cores.
I’ve tried lots of other brands including the Caran d’Ache Luminance, Derwent Coloursoft, Faber-Castell Polychromos and Koh-I-Noor woodless pencils and I love them all as well as my Prismas. The Luminance ,in my opinion, are the best pencils on the market. Yet the Polychromos are pretty great too, they just color a little different considering they are oil based instead of wax. But if you never tried Koh-I-Noor, their woodless pencils are pretty cool. They feel like your holding glass sticks in your hand and I was amazed on how well they laid down color. The only drawback is their largest set only contains 24 pencils. I just wished they had larger sets.
Thank you Carrie for your article, good to know I’m not the only person going thru this problem. Now if those sitting behind the huge offices at Prisma would find a way to solve this ongoing problem, it would be nice.
A lot of people feel as you do. We’ve definitely entered a time in which quality control isn’t very good and it’s not just Sanford or Prismacolor.
Thank you for sharing your experiences with the other brands. That will be of interest to a lot of readers, particularly the Koh-I-Nor woodless pencils.
Keep on drawing. Don’t let broken pencils get in the way of making great art.
And thank you for reading, too.
koh-I-Nor woodless are no doubt my favorite. They are the best quality I have found. They work especially well with the Gamsol technique. The only thing is I wish they had more color options.
For alcohol markers. I go with blick. They are more affordable then most on the market and good quality.
Kind of stinks when we save and spend so much money on products and find them defective.
Thanks for your recommendations. Are the Koh-I-Nor Woodless pencils anything at all like Prismacolor Art Stix in laying down color? I have used the Art Stix and liked them for large areas, but I haven’t used them in a long time.
Thank you also for the tips on alcohol markers. I’ve never tried these but I know a lot of artists are using them for mixed media work. Sounds interesting.
Me personally because the Kohr-I-Nor are woodless and all pigment I feel they lay down very nicely. I use different blending techniques on most of my projects and I have the prismacolor and I find them way better for a fraction of the price. Plus they last a long time. I think it is personal preference. I personally feel the prismacolor has an inflated price tag for an inferior product.
I use gesso and glazes alcohol inks come in handy for those projects.
Personal preference does play a huge role in colored pencil selection. There’s no doubt about that. Some artists like the feel of Prismacolor so much that breakage is a small price to pay, particularly if they don’t have a lot of broken pencils.
Other artists wouldn’t touch Prismacolor with a ten-foot pole!
Your drawing (painting?) method sounds intriguing. I use alcohol blends sometimes, usually after there’s a lot of pigment on the paper. But since you also mention gesso, and mentioned Gamsol in your previous comment, I assume you’re drawing on canvas or a rigid support?
Carrie, I use cardstock and prism papers. I am a quiller/card maker lover of paper textures, colors techniques of all types. Yes gesso and glazes can be applied to these both.
I.E. let’s take a cob of corn for example. Once you have the image you use a brush and apply the gesso to each kernel giving the texture. By applying it to each kernel individually the correct lines will mimic what real corn would have.Next you apply the color alcohol ink, then apply the Aleenes paper glaze. It will give the corn a dimension and finish similar to real corn. Always let each layer dry before applying the next.
How very interesting! So what you’re doing is creating a sort of bas relief with color. Right?
I am not familiar with that term. Has relief.
Bas relief is a form of art in which the overall art itself is flat, but there are semi three-dimensional parts that “rise up” out of the artwork. The three-dimensional part can be raised just a little bit or quite a lot, depending on the purpose of the art and the era in which it was created.
It sounds like the end result of what you’re doing could be classified as a bas relief in some form.
Oh I see what you are saying.
This is a very good article. I recently developed an obsession with colored pencil art. In my obsession, one by one, I bought at minimum at least a box of 12 of every available colored pencil at my local retail craft store. I used 40/50/60 % coupons to justify the cost of some of these. Overall, Color is my pick of them all. I have not had a break yet. I did learn a trick while sharpening. Hold the pencil stable, and rotate the sharpener ( reverse of how we normally sharpen). You can feel if the lead seems weak and adjust the pressure you apply while turning the sharpener. One more comment on selecting the “best” pencil. I think it isn’t so much that one particular brand is the single best brand, but it may be the best brand for you personally. I think this because we each have different pressure we apply and mediums we add to our art.
Thank you for sharing your tips. Turning the sharpener instead of the pencil is a great idea!
The way an artist draws does influence his or her preference in pencils. If you draw with very light pressure or very rarely use heavy pressure, you’re likely to have fewer problems with broken or breaking pencils.
If you use a lot of heavy pressure, you may have more difficulties.
Finding the best pencil is a matter of doing what you did; trying as many different brands as possible and seeing which ones perform best.
I found when using the microwave method on my Prismacolor pencils sometimes left the core crumbly. Possible heat setting too high.
I have found supergluing the tip back on works best. You can sharpen right through the glue.
Also, sharpening properly is important, turn the sharpener not the pencil to reduce pressure on the core.
Love my Prismacolors for their great blending but use many others as well.
Thank you for the tips on repairing broken Prismacolor pencils! I’ve long glued pencil stubs to new pencils of the same color, but never thought of gluing broken tips to the pencil!
When I have a broken lead in my Prisma colored pencils, I put a very tiny amount of Elmers Glue on the lead and fit it back into the pencil so that the broken parts line up. Once it dries, your good to go, at least till you sharpen it again. Altho sometimes there isn’t anymore breakage. Like everyone else, I’ve used Prisma for years and I’m frustrated with this lack of quality in today’s product. I have never had much luck with the microwave method. I have recently bought a whole set of Faber-Castell polycromos, and I supplement it with a few of my favorite Prisma’s colors. The FB’s are a joy to use, the core is bonded to the wood.
Gluing the broken tip back to the pencil is a great idea. I’ll have to give that a try the nice time I break a pencil.
Thanks for sharing it!
Try using a hair dryer on high for a few min. when the lead seems wet is when I stop drying it. Works for me and I would also recommend glue for wood.
Do you leave the pencils lying down or do you stand them up for microwaving?
Lying down is probably best, but I don’t think it matters. The microwave is going to heat the pigment core evenly no matter how you place the pencil in the microwave, especially if your microwave has a turntable.
Have you tried laying your Prismacolor pencil on a heating pad?
No I haven’t. What a great idea! What setting do you use?
Did you try this method? If so ,how long and what Temp?
I was just going to say try a heating pad. I put my new pencils inside the cover of my heating pad for about 2 hours on medium heat. It worked great. Only be sure to let them cool completely before using them.
A heating pad is an excellent idea, Lorna. And yes. Make sure to let the pencils cool before using them!
I went to the art store with my friend yesterday, and she alerted me to the problems with Prismacolors–she recommended checking the pencil ends, to see that the pigment core was centered. I noticed at the store, that a great many of the pencils had cores that were not centered, so they will break when sharpened. I came home and checked my current supply. I have two sets by Sanford, in which many of the colors are cockeyed in the wood. I also have a Prismacolor “Scholar” set, made by Newell-Rubbermaid (of all things!) and they are nearly uniformly centered. I also have woodless by Ashleigh Nicole. And I picked up 4 Caran d’Ache yesterday to try out…I learned with Prismacolors, but I think I’m ready for a change.
Thank you for sharing your pencil buying experience.
Your friend is correct: a pencil with the pigment core placed off-center is much more likely to break during sharpening. When I buy open stock, I always check to see that the pigment cores are centered.
Something else to look for is curvature in the pencils. If a pencil isn’t perfectly straight, it is more likely to fail during sharpening. This is another test I give every pencil I buy open stock.
In 1992, Sanford became a division of the Newell-Rubbermaid company, so everything Sanford makes is under the Newell-Rubbermaid umbrella now. Writing supplies. Office supplies. Art supplies. Including Prismacolor.
The difficulty is that the quality of the pigment core in the Scholar pencils is not as high as the pigment core quality in the Premier/Soft Core pencils. As a rule, they contain more filler and wax and therefore don’t lay down color quite as well.
Let us know what you think of the Caran d’Ache. I’ve looked around my home town for open stock in this pencil and haven’t found any.
I’d also be interested in your thoughts on the Asleigh Nicole woodless pencils, since the Amazon reviews are mixed.
Thank you for visiting and commenting!
do you like your Scholar prismacolored Pencils?
I have been thinking of getting a set just to try, they are much less expensive compared to the Premier Prismacolored pencils.
Thanks for any information you have.
I had the same problem with breakage, especially with sharpening!I was seriously going to invest in Polychromos! Recently moved from the Northeast to Florida and left my Prismacolor Premiers in the trunk of my car for over 2 weeks- while most of my other art supplies were still in boxes in garage I decided to give Prismacolor 1 more try…to my surprise they all sharpened to a great point with no breakage and they didn’t break while drawing…after a good 2 weeks in a HOT trunk in Aug in a sub tropical climate my pencils were all fixed who knew? Lol
I had a similar experience. I once left my colored pencils in the back window of the car while attending a horse show in July. Even in Michigan, the pencils had softened considerably when I took them out to do some sketching three or four hours after arriving. Of course, breakage wasn’t a problem back then.
It would seem to me that leaving brand new boxes of Prismas in a warm place for a few days before opening them would be a good way to prevent the frustrations of breakage.
Thanks for the insight!
My favorite colored pencil remains the Prismacolor, although there is a noticeable decline in quality of some batches. Caran d’Ache Luminance is wax-based, and may be a very good choice, but I simply can’t afford them. I have Lyra Rembrandt oil-based, as well as Polychromos, but for some reason my wrist starts to hurts after using those. Caran d’Ache Pablo is becoming my favorite oil-based pencil, with it’s smooth, creamy lay-down.
I’ve always used Prismacolor, too. It’s what I learned with.
But I do want to expand into other brands and types.
Thanks for reading and contributing to this discussion.
No new recommendation on repairing broken Prismacolors Premier pencils. However, a caution in using microwave. The labeling on the new Prismacolors evidently has a component of metal in it. I’ve had pencils not only bubble but literally FLAME! Doesn’t take long either.
I like he Superglue trick and will use it. I recently used a hair dryer to heat pigment already laid down and it got me thru what would have otherwise ruined piece (I’m a beginner! What can I say! LOL). I was wondering if a heat gun might be a good option. Also laying broken pencils on an old cookie sheet and heating in an oven at low temp (maybe 170 or so F) for an hour or so. Would want to check often and experiment for a successful process which I have Not done.
Wow! Flaming pencils!
Thanks for the warning, Mike. I didn’t know about the labeling on the Prismacolor pencils. I wonder if other pencils also use traces of metal?
I do seem to recall having read about someone who heated whole batches of pencils in the oven. I wish I could remember who that was and how they did it.
Overall, it appears that low heat for a longer period of time works better than high heat for short periods of time. That’s why direct sunlight in an enclosed area (like a car) seems to work so well. It would seem like a good idea to keep brand new tins in a warm place before using them, as a precautionary measure, with or without the shrink wrap.
If you try the oven, make sure to let us know how it turns out.
Thank you all for this very enlightening thread. I am a beginning artist and purchased a set Polychromos several months ago. To my horror a few of them are having the lead breakage problem. As per the discussions here, I am going to give my colored pencils a week or so vacation in the back of the hot car. If that doesn’t work I will try the toaster oven idea.
I’m glad we’ve been able to help you.
Let us know how the “week of vacation” for your pencils works!
i was putting broken prismacolors under a led lamp for awhile until they felt warm and then stand them upright to cool down so core doesn’t become lopsided if that’s possible? but then i left one for too long and it became brittle and snapped in half. oops.
i have a variety of brands and all have their special uses. prismcolors because they are soft and creamy, faber castell albrecht durer range are very smooth with beautiful colours. i like caran dáche supracolor aquarelle because they are lovely soft pencils which i have never broken one yet. staedtler ergosoft are great for needing a very fine tip which is tough and doesn’t break easy. i only have 2 luminance due to cost but i like supracolors just as much.
Thank you for sharing your experiences.
There are no doubt as many ways to repair broken Prismacolor pencils (or any brand) as there are artists who like to experiment. Using a lamp sounds like a good way to warm pencils, so long as you don’t overdo it!
Thanks Carrie for such an honest and thorough article on this very important topic for us colour pencil artists – quality. Because I am an art course curriclum designer as my main work I really need to be able to rely on my pencil brand. I feel its my duty and responsibility to do my research then inform those who put their trust in me which brand I like the best and why. In my work I have to create a huge variety of textures from tiny details to large areas of blending. I am constantly reviewing and exploring art products and mediums as they come accross my path.
My husband laughs at me with quiet admiration…He says I am like a mad scientist. I am very scientific in my approach though. It makes sense that if a pencil is a bit too waxy then its going to accumulate on the surface in tiny clumps or if its too hard with too much clay it will be scratchy and pale. Because I need to blend alot it dramatically limits my pencil brand choice. There are so many hard pencils on the market for fine detail but very few for soft blends. Prismacolor is a beautiful soft wax based pencil and thats not easy to achieve. Thats why it also makes that the core could be breaking and to fix that applying just the right amount of heat can work. However constant breaking of a pencil can be frustrating and if the wood shreds thats not good at all. A good sharpenner is a must and sometimes the blade can go blunt quite suddenly so that’s worth considering. In my opinion to sum up…at the moment best coloured pencil brand i have experienced for versatility and quality is Derwent Coloursoft. I have visited their factory and seen how much they care about quality control. There are people stationed at just about every part of the process checking things along the way. Derwent has been in business for over 180 years and its still going strong. I have never had trouble with the core breaking in my Coloursoft pencils. The reason I like them so much is because of the pigment strength and softness as well as their ability to create fine lines. If you don’t apply pressure when the pencil is sharpened to its finest tip you can create beautiful fine lines and wonderful even layers because the pigment is so rich you don’t have to press at all. Just use the weight of the pencil to do the work. The blending ability is beautiful too. I hope this helps anyone wondering what brand to try next. Thanks for the opportunity Carrie to have a say about this facinating subject.
Thank you so much for your indepth comments! You sound a lot like my husband, who is very detailed-oriented and loves doing research, even just for the sake of research.
I’m thrilled to get your recommendation on pencils. I’ve heard a lot about Derwent Coloursoft and will be trying them as some point.
Do you happen to know if the new Derwent Procolors are the same as the Coloursofts, or a different line altogether? They are getting good reviews from the trade shows, but I haven’t heard of many artists who have actually used them.
Someone had an idea of a heating pad, any idea of how long and the temp?
Any kind of heat that’s sufficient to melt the wax binder inside the pencil will work. A heating pad wouldn’t be my first choice simply because the sun does such a good job and it doesn’t run up my electric bill.
But if you want to try a heating pad, I’d suggest a low to medium low setting for an hour or two. Just don’t go off and forget it!
If you do try it, let us know how it turned out.
The more I read about this the more I’m wanting to try my hot car some day, it would ever get hot. LOL The temp here today is only going to be 46, ,might have to wait for a few months.
Not necessarily. If you can park your car in the direct sun you’d be surprised how warm it can get inside. You could put a pencil or two either on the dash or in the rear window and leave them for a few days. The slow, gentle warming and cooling might do the trick.
But the best time is in the summer, when temps can get very hot inside a car.
Here’s another thought. If you have heat vents in the floor in any of your rooms, try laying your pencils over those. So long as you don’t have a cat, that could also work. Just make sure the pencils can’t fall down into the vent. You might want to lay them on a thin piece of cloth, then lay that over the heat vent.
If you do have cats, all bets are off. There’s no telling where the pencils could end up!
I did put my pencils on the heat vent right after I accidently dropped them on my wood floors, I had just gotten them at Michaels craft store . But my heat vents don’t get that hot ,but I’m thinking about trying it for a few day’s.
I do not think the microwave is the way to go. My pencils wood split when I tried it.
Apparently having the wood split on Prismacolors is also a long standing issues. I’ve heard many other artists mention it when they simply sharpen a pencil.
You might try leaving your pencils in a warm, sunny window for a day or two. The heating is more gentle and less likely to cause problems.
I bought 10 pencils the other day and dropped them. I had one that the had broken and lead fell out so I used super glue and glued it back in the pencil and then used a hair dryer on hot setting for a few min and it worked like a charm , it sharpens and works like nothing ever happened.
Excellent! Thank you for the tip!
Great post! I am newish, but have found so far that the oven is best. The lowest you can get it for 30 minutes or so worked for me. As far as sharpening goes, I was finding that using handheld sharpeners was an issue whether I turned the pencil or the sharpener. I bought an X-Acto School Pro electric and have been really pleased with the uniformity it leaves. It also has a function to pull the cutters back when its sharp. $20 on Amazon, but it was worth it for me.
Thank you for the comment.
A good electric sharpener is not always expensive, but is always a good investment!
The microwave can catch the pencils on fire because of the gold paint on them… I use a heating pad.. works great .
Hi, all. Great discussion. I never thought of heat, or glue! So far (touch wood) I haven’t had much problem with my Prismacolor Premiums. Possibly one reason is that I buy them at my nearest (1 1/2 hours away) art supply store, and the staff there rolls EVERY ONE of them on the counter checking for warped pencils before bagging them. If one doesn’t roll evenly, they get a different one of the same colour. I know this isn’t possible if you are buying them by mail, but if you are buying them in person, you could try this and see if it makes any difference (until I drop them, at least, lol).
I buy my Prismacolor pencils locally, too. I roll them myself. It’s amazing to see how warped some of them are!
Another thing to look for is a centered pigment core. If the pigment core is off center, sharpening puts abnormal stress on the pigment core and can also cause it to break.
Finally, look for cracked casings.
Prismacolor Premiers are naturally on the brittle side, so they need a lot of support. Any of these three problems will make it more likely a pencil core will break during sharpening.
So buy local if you can and examine the pencils carefully.
My problem is that the wood casings on the Prismacolor Premium pencils are splitting and even leaving big gaps in the wood in some of them. Several of the 72 in my recently purchased set have had this defective wood. Does anyone have suggestions about that? I haven’t been able to think of anything.
The best suggestion I can give you is to return those pencils, tine and all, and get replacements. The company won’t do anything about improving quality if they never hear from the artists who are having problems. You could also just return those that are broken, but returning the entire tin would make more of an impact, I think.
does this work for all pencils
It should work for all wax-based colored pencils. It’s the melting and rehardening of the wax in the pencil that makes heating work.
It won’t work for graphite or any other kind of pencils.
I have found if you have a desk lamp most of them get quite hot. I have found if i take the pencils I am working with and just let them sit under the lamp the heat will warm them enough to fix them. My desk lamp is adjustable so I position it about 8 inches from them and let them sit about half an hour. Good Luck.
That could certainly work, since the primary factor is steady warmth over an extended period of time.
I have put my Prismas in the microwave, but wasn’t really happy with the results. I then tried using a heat tool/heat gun on them and was really pleased with the results. I only needed to let them be heated for about 30 seconds, I can tell they are ready when the lead points are shiny, then they sharpen without problems.
Thank you for sharing your experience with fixing broken Prismacolor pencils.
I have taken to using ‘Superglue’ to repair my broken Prismacolors. Takes a bit of maneuvering to get the break properly aligned, usually just one dab/squeeze of the glue does the trick. I let it set for a few minutes and then test. This now my preferred method…
Yes, yes, yes! I’ve been using glue like this with my pencils for years. Except I’m not repairing broken pencils. I’m gluing pencil stubs to new pencils so I can use every bit of color!
I use a lighter on the tip for about 4 seconds and let it cool. That usually allows the wax to melt into the wood.
I have tried baking the pencils in the microwave , and that was a very bad idea. I started at 40% of full power and at one minute the pencils almost caught fire! Also they cracked open lengthwise and the problem was not fixed. That was bad advise. Sorry.
Microwaving is a risk, that’s for certain. Microwaves behave differently and have different power settings.
Most of the advice I’ve read about using a microwave recommends no more than 5 seconds, though. A minute is most certainly going to do more harm than good!
That’s why I prefer a sunny window on a hot day.
Or even better, a car window on a sunny day.
Why would you write a blog post about something you haven’t tried?
Thank you for reading the post and leaving a comment.
I’ve never used a microwave to fix broken colored pencils, but have left them in a sunny window or in the car on a summer day. The principle is the same. Heat softens the wax binder and when the wax hardens again, the break is “healed.”
Many reputable experts also recommend using a microwave. Remember, I got my information from the Colored Pencil Society of America, so I trust it to be accurate.
Piece of advice *Do Not* put it in the microwave on *High*. My dad didn’t listen when I said Low and my daughters colored pencil blew up into pieces at 3 seconds.
Definitely start at the lowest setting.
Absolutely! The low setting is the best setting.
Caran d’Ache Luminance, Derwent Coloursoft, and Faber-Castell Polychromos are all excellent pencils but my all-time favorite is Holbein. I have an autoimmune disease that makes it hard for me to use pencils but I’ve found the Holbein pencils lay down so nicely, and layer so easily, that I can work far longer using them. I also love their selection of colors which I haven’t found in any other brand’s sets and I have the largest sets of all the major brands here and abroad.
I was very frustrated with my Prismacolors because they kept breaking. They had probably been dropped, but some were that way from new (had gone through mail-who knows how much they were tossed around. Any way, had had them for awhile, so threw the ones that were an issue away, bought new ones-same thing with some. I tried the micro wave thing-didn’t work for me. Then I read this post this summer. Left a couple out on the porch in the sun for an hour or so. The next day I sharpened them and eureka, it worked. In the winter I just put them by the heat vent so they heat up, and that works, too.
Thank you for sharing your experience, Jackie. I’m so glad you found an easy-to-use solution that works!
My experience has been that it doesn’t work that well putting them in a microwave. What worked really well for me was putting them in a toaster oven on low for 3 minutes.
Thanks so much!
Just a warning though, my pencils actually began to spark just a tiny bit, so be careful when putting them in a microwave.
I think the oven might work a little better. Still have yet to try.
Yes. If your pencils are labeled with metallic paint or coloring, it could very well spark in a microwave.
I bought a set of Derwent Ink ?Tense ?pencils through one of Amazon’s flash sales. If I could afford it, I’d only use Derwents. They are pricey… but oh so nice.
Now that I know how to fix my Prismacolors though… they’ll do nicely. I do have a set of Prismacolors with harder pigments. I got them for laying more detail on top (not that I’m any good at it) such as hair details or highlights. They are actually pretty good as far as staying in one piece.
Derwent does make excellent products, Laura! I’ve not used the InkTense, but do have a small set of Derwent Watercolor pencils, and a few other odds and ends.
I was having trouble yesterday with 2 of my penciles and stumbled on this article. One of the leads was actually sliding out of the wood. I blasted them with the hair dryer and let them cool. WOW! Problem solved. Lead is in there solid. It had actually slipped out a bit while I was heating it and I didn’t notice and now it is sticking out the bottom of the pencil a bit. Won’t budge! Haha!
Thank you SOOOO much!
Thank you for your comment, Lori! I’m always glad to help!
For everyone trying the microwave method and having the wood split, I think I know why the splitting happens.
Microwaves heat things by exciting molecules. Basically, the molecular structure of whatever you’re heating is getting jiggled.
Most things we heat in a microwave is food and food has a high moisture content. The water molecules heat up and turn into steam, so your food cooks from the inside out.
Heating a wood-cased pencil in the microwave causes the water in the wood turn into steam. If too much steam builds up and it cannot get out of the wood fast enough, it will split the wood. Or perhaps there is steam from the core forcing itself through the wood.
Either way, I would be VERY careful using a microwave. As some others have already mentioned, I would use a lower power setting and a short cooking time. Say, 20% power for 10 seconds. Stop the microwave, inspect the results. If needed, repeat and check results again. Repeat as needed.
For myself, that’s too much fiddling with buttons and such. A hot car window or a heating pad, or even the toaster oven, is the method I would personally try first.
I have some Eagle branded Prismacolors from my first set from 1979. I treat them like gold. I have a ton of Prismacolors from the early to mid 90s, when they retired my workhorse colors of Lemon Yellow and Tuscan Red (why?!!) so I stockpiled on those. Apparently they were from the extant old stock before the changes in quality kicked in. I’m set for life but it’s VERY good to know about the toaster oven/hair dryer/super glue/car window hacks. I will be using them to extend the life of my 30 year old pencils. 😉
Thank you for the explanation. My engineer husband couldn’t have give a better explanation!
Those old Eagle’s are gold! Use them joyfully! Prismacolor doesn’t make pencils like that anymore.
Wow, getting to the reply hideously late, but thank you very much for your reply and your compliment, Carrie! ^_^ You just made my day!
After the discussion of leaving the pencils in the car working to melt the wax binder, I’m wondering if part of the increase in issues in recent years is due to cultural changes, rather than product changes.
If sitting in the heat can “melt” the pencils back together, then perhaps sitting in the COLD can make them brittle — and we’re all ordering more to be SHIPPED nowadays and buying fewer in stores. So maybe the conditions during shipping are contributing to problems with pencils.
That’s an interesting thought.
The problems with Prismacolor quality control goes back a decade or two and pencils have been shipped for far more years than that.
I’m so happy to have found this article. I create using a lot of different mediums, but have been itching to get back to my colored pencils. I have a fondness for the Prismacolors. I found a huge set at an office supply store marked $14.99 and have loved them ever since. All of my children grew up using them and now they won’t settle for cheap brands. However, I have had some sharpening issues in the past and was very interested in the article and the comments. Very eye-opening. I now know why I haven’t had any problems with sharpening for quite some time…I live in Florida and keep my pencils on the window sill in mason jars. I guess they stay warm enough to keep the wax from breaking. Until I read all of the information here I had wondered if keeping them this way was a bad idea. I think they will stay where they are.
I will be trying some of the other pencils mentioned. I live near the Ringling School of Art & Design and have gotten lucky through the years and have found Derwents, Bruynzeel, Fabre-Castells and more Prismacolors.
Thank you for your comment. I’m glad you found the article helpful.
I don’t think storing your pencils in mason jars in a sunny window is a bad idea. It will definitely keep the wax a little softer and that will minimize breakage. The only thing you might want to watch for is the wood casing splitting. I don’t think you would have much trouble with that unless the air in your house is extremely dry. That’s not likely to happen in Florida!
Just wanted to say thank you – you seriously just saved me $7 instead of buying new pencils when I try the microwave method.
I’m glad to hear that! Pennies saved are pennies earned.
For those wanting to fix a colored pencil with broken lead but not wanting to either heat them in an oven or microwave them (and not having a good sunny window) try wrapping them in a larger electric heating pad set on high for about 7-9 minutes, or until the lead starts to get shiny. The wood should not be painful to touch when you unwrap them. Let them cool down completely before using them.
Lacking both oven and window and not wanting to start a fire in my microwave (foil print on pencil barrels can arc!) I tried multiple heat sources to heat up my wax pencils and repair the breaks. I got the best results from the heating pad.
What a great idea! Thank you for sharing it!