Colored Pencils and Fading Colors

Colored Pencils and Fading Colors

Today, we’ll talk about colored pencils and fading colors, a common concern among artists. The question for the day comes from Carolyn. Here’s her question:

I originally began with Prismacolor pencils, read that they fade, gave them away.  

I replaced them with Caran d’Ache Pablo, then bought their Luminance set, as well.  Been working in both.  

I read that the latter are light-fast, but are the Pablo, too?  Understand that Pablo are oil-based, and Luminance wax-based, and therefore more opaque, which drove my decision to purchase and use with the Pablo, which are more transparent.

I just don’t want my work disappearing after all the time invested.


I wholeheartedly agree with you on the issue of having your artwork disappear over the years. If you’re like me, you put way too much time into your work to risk it fading into pale memories!

Colored Pencils and Fading Colors

Colored Pencils and Fading Colors

All mediums include colors that fade or are fugitive. The problem isn’t with the medium (oil, acrylic, colored pencil, etc.) The pigments used to make those colors are the problem. Some pigments, like those derived from minerals or the earth, are very stable and last a long time.

Other pigments, usually those derived from plant sources, are not stable and tend to fade. Some fade quickly.

Until science comes up with non-fading AND inexpensive substitutes for those fugitive pigments, we have to deal with fugitive colors.

Prismacolor Pencils

Prismacolor pencils have a reputation for fugitive colors.

Some of the fading colors fade because there are currently no non-fading substitutes for naturally fading pigments, or the non-fading pigments are prohibitively expensive. Pinks and purples are good examples.

Some of the colors could be more lightfast with the use of more stable pigments. But those pigments are expensive, so the Prismacolor people have chosen to use less expensive pigments (even though they fade) in order to keep their prices low.

That, incidentally, is true of most inexpensive pencils. They cost less either because they use inferior pigments, or a lot of binder.

Even so, about half the colors in the Prismacolor line are perfectly safe to use. I use colors that are rated I (1), II (2), or III (3), with I being the safest. Colors rated IV (4) or V (5) are not even in my tool box. I don’t buy full sets anymore, but prefer to buy open stock.

But a lot of artists are like you and prefer not to mess with Prismacolor at all.

Caran d’Ache Luminance

Caran d’Ache has chosen to take the high road in their colored pencils. They use the highest quality pigments, which means they have more non-fading colors.

They’ve also opted to produce fewer colors. Prismacolor currently has a line of 150 colors, for example. Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils come in only 76 colors. The colors that Prismacolor offers and Caran d’Ache doesn’t are the colors most likely to fade.

You can use every color in the Luminance line with confidence.

Caran d’Ache Pablos

The difference between an oil-based pencil and a wax-based pencil is the binder—-the stuff that holds the pigment together in that pigment core and allows you to put color on the paper. The binder has no affect on the lightfast qualities of the color.

The same pigments are used in Pablos that are used in Luminance.

The biggest difference will be in handling. Pablos are a harder pencil. They hold a point longer, and lay down color differently than the softer, thicker Luminance according to other artists.

I haven’t used either Luminance or Pablos, but I trust the company to produce a quality product and would have no hesitations at all about mixing Pablos and Luminance pencils.

The Bottom Line on Colored Pencils and Fading Colors

Should you be afraid of fading colors? No, and you can read my thoughts on why in this post.

But you should be careful, especially if you plan to sell original artwork.

No matter what brand of pencils you use, some colors will be less lightfast than others. Knowing how each color from each company is rated for lightfastness is your best tool in deciding which companies (and colors) to trust and which to avoid.


  1. Carrie: thanks for sharing your insight. As you implied, discovering the validity of the LF ratings of each brand can be a chore since not every manufacturer discloses how it’s done. CPSA has recognized this and for years conducted testing of most well used brands according to accepted industrial standard tests. All published in one place available to every member. I urge any of our fellow CP artists to look into CPSA not only for this vital benefit but also for the many other great things which membership brings. HAPPY HOLIDAYS, Carrie!

  2. Rose Viellieuz

    Hi Carrie,
    I recently read an article on preserving your paintings using an Art Varnish spray by Krylon, followed by a paste wax application. The article was for water colors but I decided to try it for CP applications as I am doing animal portraits professionally now. Wow! The colors stay put and they are much brighter and sharper after a couple of coats of varnish (24 hour drying time between coats) followed by a couple of coats of Dorlands Wax Medium, again 24 hours between coats and then buffed to a soft shine after dry. I do this to all of my mixed media paintings now.

    1. Rose,

      Thank you for the information. Varnishes and finishes certainly do often seem to bring colors to life!

      Unfortunately, no final finish, varnish, or fixative will make a fugitive color permanent. Pigments that don’t last will not last under even the best finishes.

      I found an article describing the process and admit it looks interesting. But the time required and questions about longevity will probably keep me from trying it for the time being.

      I would be very interested in knowing how your work does long-term, though.

      Thanks again!

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