Do colored pencils fade over time? The short answer is that yes, some of them do. Some colors are notorious for fading. Pinks and purples, for example. It doesn’t seem to matter the brand or type of pencil, these colors are subject to fading.
Some brands also seem vulnerable to fading, perhaps due to manufacturing procedures or the quality of the raw materials.
In many case, the lower quality pencils can also be subject to fading.
The difficulty is that there is no rule of thumb that’s always true. You simply cannot make a one-size-fits-all statement about fugitive colors (colors that fade).
S0 how do you know the difference between colors (or brands) that fade and those that don’t?
And maybe more importantly, what should you do about it?
Fading and Colored Pencils
Lightfastness is a measurement of a pigment’s ability to resist fading or discoloration under normal circumstances. A lightfast pigment doesn’t fade. A fugitive color does.
The American Standard Test Measure (ASTM) rates pigments from one to five and is generally displayed in Roman Numerals (I, II, et cetera). The lower the number, the more lightfast a color is. Prismacolor uses this method of rating their colors.
Other countries use other rating methods. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Blue Wool Test is used and pigments are rated from 1 to 8, with the higher numbers being the most permanent.
The general rule of thumb is that the higher quality pencil, the more lightfast. That’s not universal, however. You’re likely to have a lower percentage of fugitive colors if you buy a higher quality pencil, but that’s not always a given.
But even the highest quality pencils will have some pencils that may fade under normal circumstances. That’s just the nature of those pigments.
How Do You Know Which Colors May Fade?
Many manufacturers provide color charts that indicate the lightfastness of each color they produce. Many others provide that information online, though you may have to search long and hard to find it. I was able to locate color charts for Faber-Castell and Prismacolor easily.
Others were more difficult and some were impossible.
If you want a color chart for your favorite brand, check the company’s website or search for the brand name with the words color chart. Faber-Castell color chart, for example.
NOTE: Just because a color is currently a fugitive color doesn’t mean it always will be. Manufacturers are always looking for ways to improve their products and that does include lightfastness.
I have a 1999 color chart from Prismacolor that shows Spanish Orange with a IV rating (poor). The current color chart shows Spanish Orange with a III (good) rating. I won’t be using my old Spanish Orange pencils, but I would buy new Spanish Orange and use them.
A Recent Experience
I’ve been aware of issues of lightfastness and art supplies for quite some time. I’ve also known that some colors of colored pencils have serious problems with fading.
But it wasn’t until recently that I actually compared my stock of pencils with the ratings on the chart with the intent of removing all the fugitive colors. You can imagine my dismay when I discovered that nearly half of all the pencils I owned were fugitive. Some of them favorite colors.
Admittedly, I’ve always used Prismacolor pencils. That’s what I started with and what I’ve stayed with. They’re relatively inexpensive and easy to find in the US. Why change?
But seeing my pencils divided into two nearly equal piles was disheartening. It was clear I’d have start doing a lot more blending or settle for art that was less than permanent.
I wasn’t thrilled with either option.
What to Do
I am determined to produce the best, most permanent possible colored pencil work, so my choice is easy. I’ll replace fugitive colors with similar colors that have a better rating. For example, no more limepeel (IV). Instead, I’ll use chartreuse (II).
And instead of light cerulean blue (IV), I’ll use true blue (I), non-photo blue (II), or cloud blue (II), depending on what I’m drawing.
So it’s far from a hopeless case.
But you could also switch brands. A lot of artists have stopped using Prismacolor altogether in favor of some other brand. I have a full set of Faber-Castell Polychromos on the way. Not only do they have a luscious collection of earthy colors; most of their colors have good or excellent lightfast ratings.
Before switching, though, it’s worth your time to research lightfast issues. It’s pointless to replace one brand with another that’s more expensive, but rates no better.
You can also buy open stock from a variety of brands, choosing colors that are highly rated for permanence.
Or you can simply continue drawing with your current pencils, but make sure to notify buyers that some colors may fade if not properly framed with UV protective glass.
What you do with this information depends in large part on you. It’s perfectly okay to use fugitive colors in your artwork if you’re not planning on selling it or if you let buyers know. I may keep some of my favorite colors for doodling or other uses.
But I won’t be using them in portraits, gallery work, or anything I intend to sell. Fine art buyers spend a lot of money on art and deserve to know that whatever they buy from me will stand the test of time.
Not sure whether or not your pencils are lightfast and can’t find a manufacturer’s color chart? Here’s an easy way to test your pencils for lightfastness.