Do Prismacolor Colored Pencils Expire

Do Prismacolor Colored Pencils Expire

Do Prismacolor colored pencils expire? Do any colored pencils expire?

I’ve had more than one artist ask that question over the past year or two, so I thought I’d take the occasion of this most recent question to answer publicly. Here’s the question:

I have quite a few Prismacolor pencils close to 25 years old. My question is do they expire? I’m finding a few of them color unevenly and leave globs of color instead of smooth and creamy. I really don’t want to get rid of them though! I’ve got three new sets and try to smooth them out if I can.

Do Prismacolor Colored Pencils Expire

Do Prismacolor Colored Pencils Expire

Colored pencils don’t expire. No matter how old they are, they still color just as well as on the day they left the factory. I have a few that are quite old, too, and I still use them for some things.

If you have problems with old pencils, then it’s likely the pencils left the factory with those problems. I once bought several Indigo Blue pencils at the same time, and they were all gritty and tended to break. They were essentially unusable.

The next Indigo Blue pencils I bought were perfectly fine.

What to do About Globs

I’ve had no experiences with globs, though. The only thing I can think of is that the wax binder isn’t behaving like it should. Fortunately, there is an easy way to test that theory.

Try placing one of those pencils in a sunny window for an afternoon, then let it cool. After it cools, try drawing with it and see if that makes a difference.

If the globs are wax binder, other possible solutions are blending with rubbing alcohol or odorless mineral spirits. Any solvent breaks down the binder in colored pencils, allowing the pigment to “flow” almost like paint. If the globs are wax, the solvent should dissolve them and allow you to smooth the color.

Solvents can help smooth out “globs” of wax binder left on your drawing. But test the solvent on scrap paper first!

Before you try solvent, make sure your paper will hold up when dampened, and will dry flat.

For more information on blending with solvents, read Blending Colored Pencils with Painting Solvents elsewhere on this art blog.

I hope that helps. You may have to set those “globby” pencils aside and use the newer pencils for those colors. Old and new work together fine, so that’s a perfectly acceptable solution.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!


  1. John Tatham

    I have heard many complaints with regard to Prismacolour pencils suffering from breakage whether from dropping or applying too much pressure. I have an electric heating paint stripper close by and when I find a pencil is breaking or splintering I run the paint stripper lightly over the pencil applying a little heat along the entire length. Not so much as to blister the paint on the outside but just enough to melt the wax in the core’ This seems to cure the problem of breakage. I believe a hair dryer will do the same. There is a large chain of art stores near Toronto that have discontinued Prismacolor pencils because of too many breakage complaints. They were quite surprised when I told them of this solution. This may help the person with the old pencil problem.

    1. John,

      Yes. Breakage in Prismacolors can be a serious problem. A paint stripper would work if you were very careful with it. My husband has one that can not only blister paint, but ignite wood if not used properly, so use caution.

      I have heard other artists talk about hair dryers for this purpose, but I really prefer just leaving any suspect pencils in a sunny window for a day. I haven’t had much problems with breakage, but this has worked for me.

        1. Quite right, Valerie! I just threw away one of my inexpensive sharpeners because the blades were bad and the sharpener wasn’t made for replacement blades. It cost less than two dollars, so it was no loss, but I’ve since switched to sharpeners that can have the blades changed.

          So watch those blades!

  2. Theresa Glover

    Hi.I have been working with colored pencils on and off for a number of years. I have a large set of Prismacolors, one set of Crayolas, and I just bought a set of Staedtler. I have been working off and on with all my pencils. Crayola pencils have a hard lead that can be sharpened to practically a needle point. I have read about my sets of pencils, and I have questions about Crayola.I have learned that they are not lightfast. Is there anything I can do to keep them from fading?I really like the sharp point. Could I use them for a base coat, with coats of lightfast pencils over the Crayolas?
    Thank you.

    1. Theresa,

      Thank you for reading this post and for your question. Thank you also for the amount of detail you shared.

      Unfortunately, the thing that makes a color fade is the pigment itself. Many of the inexpensive pigments used for scholastic grade pencils (which is what Crayola’s are) are used because they are inexpensive and not because they’re non-fading. You have to remember that Crayola pencils and similar pencils are made for schools, so cost is important, not necessarily quality. So the companies use the most inexpensive materials they can find to make their pencils.

      Using UV-resistant glass when you frame artwork will slow down the fading process, but will not stop it. Displaying artwork in places where it will not receive direct light (as from a window) also slows down the fading process but doesn’t stop it.

      Your best option is to find a different, higher quality pencil that also is hard enough to sharpen to a very sharp point. Prismacolor Verithin is probably the most inexpensive, artist quality pencils available, but they are available in very limited sets (36 colors) and only 18 of those colors are in the top two tiers for lightfastness.

      I like Faber-Castell Polychromos because they’re hard enough to sharpen to a very sharp point. The advantage is that most of the colors are lightfast. The disadvantage is that they’re on the inexpensive side, especially compared to Crayola.

      You can also look for any oil-based pencils. As a rule, oil-based pencils are harder than wax-based pencils because they contain more oil and less wax in the binding agent. The wax is what makes soft pencils soft. Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor pencils are a good, oil-based pencil that’s not quite as expensive as Polychromos.

      Whatever you decide to do, make sure to check the lightfast ratings before you buy. You can also get just a few of the lightfast colors as open stock to try before you buy a full set.

      1. Thank you for your reply. I am sorry it took me so long to reply. I get wrapped in my work, and forget to check for mail — any mail. :)
        Because of your reply, I will begin to replace the Crayolas with ones that promise lightfastness. It will be hard for me, as I was a Crayola kid. That is what my mother always bought me, so I grew up with the Crayola brand, and I am nostalgic about them. I spent many happy afternoons with my Crayola pencils. Thank you very much for your help. Theresa Glover

        1. Theresa,

          I don’t blame you for your loyalty to Crayola. I, too, grew up with Crayola crayons. In fact, I have a box of 96 colors in a drawer. Every now and again I take them out to look at the colors and enjoy the fragrance. I do so enjoy the smell of those old-fashioned wax crayons!

          You can still use the Crayola pencils for sketching and other things. They are a good pencil. They’re just not lightfast.

      2. Thank you, Carrie, for your reply. Now I will be building a supply of better lightfast pencils. I will have to be sneaky about it. My husband thinks I have enough pencils to supply my town, which has a lot of artists.
        Also, what do you think of the new lightfast sprays? Will they help with preserving the work I have already done. I’ve been at this for 40 years, and would like to preserve those works, and am keeping them in a portfolio where they seem to hold their color well. Thank you very much for any help.

        1. Theresa,

          I don’t really know what to think about the UV-resistant fixatives because it’s the pigment that fades and pigments fade whether they’re sprayed or not.

          But there is some evidence that using a UV-resistant fixative does slow down the fading process somewhat. Granted, the test I saw was an extreme test, with color swatches exposed to direct sunlight for a year or more. So would it be effective in the “real art world?” I don’t know.

          Since I don’t use fixatives very much anyway, it’s not likely I would try this. I prefer using UV-resistant glass and displaying work in the safest way possible.

          Sorry not to have more concrete help than this. I hope it helps.

  3. Hello Carrie!
    I have several prismacolors that the lead is Incredibly unstable in. they are pretty much unusable, as I cannot sharpen them at all–the lead crumbles instantly. the wood is also prone to breaking at the seam, but there’s not much that can be done there. Do you think that leaving them in the sun would help the issues with the pigment?

    1. Rhiannon,

      Leaving your unstable pencils in a sunny window is definitely worth a try. If you want to try that, put them in a window where they can get from two to six hours of sunlight. The more direct the sunlight, the less time you’ll need, but it doesn’t hurt to leave them there all day, then overnight.Try them the next day and see how they sharpen.

      An alternate idea is to put them in your car window if you park your car in a sunny spot. That’s how I first discovered how much pencils can be soften by heat from the sun.

      You may still have problems since the wood casing is bad. But the wood casing is actually in two parts glued together after the pigment core is put in place, so the sunny window might help that too.

      Let us know what happens if you try this.

  4. Patricia E Wilson

    I loved this question and your thoughts on it. Was wondering the same thing as have had some of my supplies for years and wondered if they would hold up. Thanks for taking the time to answer this.

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