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 that 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 still be committed to quality, but they don’t have the same burning passion for the product that 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.
It’s not uncommon for many things to follow this course. It takes a lot of work to maintain principles, whether that’s providing the best colored pencil possible or sticking with a diet. It’s kind of like keeping water from running downhill. Possible, but not easy.
I don’t know beyond all shadow of doubt that this has happened with Prismacolor, but I have some very old pencils that bear the Berol name and some even older Prismacolor pencils with the Eagle name. It seems that every time the product lines changed hands, quality suffered.
What to Do About Broken Prismacolor Pencils
The CPSA taught a method of repairing them in the microwave. — Jana Botkin
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 the pigment cores are broken, 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.
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 and even causing a fire.
The reason this works is that 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 wax cools, and the pigment core is restored.
I’ve never used this method of repairing colored pencils, but I have no doubt it’s one way to deal with the issue of breakage with Prismacolor colored pencils or with any other brand of wax-based pencils. How can I be so sure if I’ve never used this method?
Because 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’d taken 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 you suspect has a broken pigment core no matter where you live. The warmer climate in which you live, 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 Option
Of course, if you’ve had so much trouble with 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.
I can’t recommend the following brands because I’ve never used them, but they are on my list of pencils to try (in alphabetical order).
Blick Studio Artist
Caran d’Ache Luminance
Lyra Rembrandt Polycolour
What’s your favorite brand of colored pencil? Why do you prefer them?