Let’s talk about those necessary accessories that help us get the most out of our pencils: colored pencil sharpeners and erasers.
There are lots of sharpeners and erasers on the market. I haven’t used all of them, or even most of them, so the best I can do is tell you the which sharpeners and erasers I’ve used and what I thought of them.
Questions about Colored Pencil Sharpeners and Erasers
Let’s begin with sharpeners.
Colored Pencil Sharpeners
What is your favorite sharpener for colored pencils?
Of all the sharpeners I’ve used, I’m not sure I have a favorite. All of them have worked well for some applications, and haven’t worked at all for others. I haven’t found a sharpener that works great for everything.
The first sharpeners I ever used were hand-held sharpeners. You know the kind. They’re a dollar or less at your favorite super store or grocery store, they come in bright colors, and are made of plastic.
Sometimes they come with a container to hold shavings; sometimes they don’t.
My first sharpeners didn’t have a container for shavings, so I had to carry one. Usually a small, empty wide-mouth jar. The sharpeners were usually small enough to fit into the wide-mouth jar.
Back then, they worked extremely well. Prismacolor pencils were still made with a solid wood casing that could withstand sharpening without breaking or cracking. I never once considered a different sharpener, especially since I was doing a lot of work out of the studio. Usually at horse shows.
The bonus was that if I happened lose or break a sharpener, it was no big deal. I just went and bought another!
I currently use an old-fashioned crank sharpener by Apsco. The kind that used to be in every classroom in every public school. I like this sharpener because it’s solid, is designed to take pencils of different sizes, and it sharpens like a dream.
It’s easy to clean, too. Just turn the shaving container a quarter turn, slide it off the blades, and empty it.
To keep the blades sharp and functioning properly, I sharpen lead pencils once in a while to remove wax and other colored pencil debris.
A few years ago, I had a battery operated, which made it ideal for working away from the studio. I used that Stanley Bostitch Model BPS10 everywhere. It fit into the laptop carrier I used to tote art supplies, and it was quiet enough to use almost anywhere I wanted to draw.
It used four AA batteries and had a good-sized, easy-to-empty shavings tray.
Amazingly, it is still available for only $10.99 directly from Bostitch.
I also used a Panasonic Auto-Stop KP-310. The power cord was long enough to also make this compact sharpener good for drawing away from home if I was going to be in a place with access to electricity.
It sharpened extremely well, and had an auto-stop function, so it didn’t sharpen pencils beyond an ideal point.
But perhaps the best thing about this sharpener was the suction cup feet on the bottom. They kept the sharpener from moving backward when I used it. No need to steady the sharpener with one hand.
This sharpener is no longer available new, but I did find several listings at Amazon and eBay. If you’re looking for a good, reliable, and inexpensive electric sharpener, this is a good place to begin.
Colored Pencil Erasers
What is the best eraser for colored pencils?
There isn’t a good eraser for colored pencils. Colored pencils are either wax-based or oil-based, so most “normal erasers” tend to smear the color around rather than remove it.
Some companies make colored pencils that can be erased, but these are not recommended for fine art use, or for any art you want to last. However, if you use them for sketching, you can use almost any standard eraser on them.
Here are some erasers I’ve tried…. for better or worse.
What I refer to as click erasers are similar to mechanical pencils. The eraser is a long, round “tube” and fits into a plastic, pencil-like holder. The eraser is “advanced” by clicking a mechanism at the top of the barrel, hence my name for them.
Here are my click erasers.
The lighter blue one is a Pentel Clic Eraser ZE22. The darker pencil is a very old Faber-Castell Jet Eraser.
Refills come in various hardnesses. It’s helpful to have more than one eraser, each with a different hardness of eraser refill.
These erasers are stiff enough to sharpen with a blade if you want to make a very fine point. You can also shape them with an emery board or sand paper.
Kneaded erasers are pliable, which means you can shape them into various forms, roll them into points, or tear off pieces for small work.
I’ve used kneaded erasers, but they’re better suited to graphite than colored pencil. They work wonders for graphite, but aren’t very effective for colored pencils.
My husband has a couple of old electric erasers that work extremely well with my colored pencils. He worked on one drawing that I thought was hopeless and was able to remove enough color to allow me to finish the drawing.
I’ve used them once or twice myself, but confess that I’m not comfortable with them. There’s just too much risk of scuffing the paper. They could be extremely useful with enough practice, but I work with such a light drawing hand that I see no reason to spend the time to get proficient with an electric eraser.
If you’re more daring with electric tools, you might try an electric eraser, though. A lot of colored pencil artists swear by them.
My Favorite Erasing Tools Aren’t Erasers
When I really want to remove color, I don’t reach for an eraser.
Instead, I use mounting putty (shown below,) or transparent tape.
Mounting putty is a lot like a kneaded eraser, but it’s sticky enough to remove wax- or oil-based colored pencils. You can’t lift all of the color, but you’ll be able to remove enough to work over it.
The real beauty of mounting putty is that you can shape it, clean it by kneading it, and reuse it for a long time.
Transparent tape is very good at lifting color, and it’s very easy to use. Just tear off a piece, press it lightly to the color you want to lighten, and lift carefully.
The only real disadvantages to using tape to erase is that you can tear the paper if you’re not careful, and it can leave the paper feeling a little bit slick. My suggestion is to use it as a last resort, and use it sparingly.
For tips on using mounting putty and tape, read 2 Neat Tricks for Erasing or “Lifting” Color from Colored Pencil Drawings on EmptyEasel.
There you have it. My favorite colored pencil sharpeners and erasers.
As I said before, these aren’t the only sharpeners and erasers available, but they are the ones with which I have experience. They may be ideal for you, but if not, I at least hope I’ve given you a good place to begin looking!
This was very helpful. I’m thinking of buying one of the old fashioned crank (manual) sharpeners as never seemed to have any trouble with those. Your comment on sharpening a regular pencil to remove the wax was also helpful. Thanks for your input.
Look on eBay. There are vintage sharpeners available almost all the time. Mine happens to have been handed down from my husband’s mother, so it’s seen some use.
Nice article, paricularly about erasers used on paper.
As you know, I work colored pencil almost exclusively on stretched canvas these days which sometimes takes (and allows) a bit more aggressive approach to removing color. One of the requirements for erasers on this surface is the need (and ability) to sometimes reconstruct entire portions of a drawing – kind of like one is able to do when working in oils on canvas.
The erasers you described all work very well on canvas. In addition to the click erasers you described, for more precise corrections I employ smaller size click erasers by both Sanford and Tombow that use the same white plastic eraser material but of much smaller diameter (1/8 inch and 2.3 mm respectively). Tombow also has a rectangular-shaped click eraser that is 1/8 inch wide and 2.3 mm thick – great for linear work. All three of these can be shaped as you described, with a craft blade (or with an emery board) for even finer work.
The best thing about white erasers for use on canvas is if dipped in clean water they can be used to remove ALL color down to the original white surface without affecting the tooth or any other aspect of the original ground. This allows rework of areas from tiny to even reconstruction of much larger areas should the artist have an intuitive flash of inspiration (or more likely) a serious ooops! moment. ;-0
Another useful eraser for taking color off canvas is the Mr. Clean Original Magic Eraser used either wet or dry, cut to shape as needed. Don’t use the Mr. Clean version of the product that contains added cleaning/whitening agents which can leave a color oxidizing residue behind. Good for kichen sinks perhaps but not so much for CP.
Thanks again, Carrie, for another informative post.
Thank you for the extensive information on the erasers you use. I have heard a lot about the Tombow erasers, especially the Tombow mono, which was recommended by a student a couple of years ago. I need to put those on my supply list for the next art run.
Your method of working on canvas fascinates me, and not just because I’m a former oil painter. I really like the surface of canvas, but have yet to try colored pencil on it.
Thank you again for sharing!
Good article, and I wish I could have read it before I went through that learning curve, as I now have quite the store of sharpeners and erasers! I agree there isn’t one sharpener that’s right for all pencils, but my favorite for colored pencils is an electric from OfficeGoods; I do sharpen regular pencils to “clean” some of the wax off the blades now and then. For larger colored pencil barrels like Luminance, I just use a Kum manual. My favorite sharpener for pastel pencils has been the Derwent SuperPoint crank; it’s not perfect but works better than any others I’ve tried, with less crumbling and breakage. As for erasers, my favorite is the electric. To date I’ve managed to not ruin the paper, as it seems to skim the top of the pencil marks in layers until the marks are light enough to re-work. Lots of erasers , including the click-types and kneaded, work great for graphite work. Thanks for taking the time to continually share your knowledge.
Thank you for your very kind words!
And for sharing your experiences with sharpeners and erasers.
I think we all have to go through a certain amount of trial-and-error learning. Speaking strictly for myself, the lessons I learn “the hard way” seem to be the lessons that are learned the most thoroughly!
My dad was a draftsman, and I learned from him the practice of shaving the wood with a knife and fine-pointing with sandpaper. He felt manual and electric sharpeners were wasteful of the core. I use an electric to remove bulk wood from a new, unsharpened casing and one of those two-hole Prismacolor handhelds (The one that looks like a little tower) to finish. I have found that if I use my sense of touch it is pretty easy to avoid breakages. When you feel increased resistance in the wood, back up a little and change the angle of your pressure.
A lot of artists agree with your Dad on using a knife to sharpen pencils of any type. A good, sharp knife is ideal for getting a short, but very fine point on a colored pencil. It’s also ideal for pencils that are too short for a sharpener.
I have knife-sharpened pencils when the need arose and have to admit that no hand-held, mechanical, or electric sharpener I ever used got as fine a point on a pencil.
However, for some of us, sharp knives are best left to experts!
Thank you for sharing your Dad’s words of wisdom and for your comments.