Are Old Colored Pencils Still Good?

Old colored pencils. Many of us have a few of them lying around. I have a Spectracolor somewhere, as well as an Eagle. Both are previous incarnations of Prismacolor.

Are those old pencils still usable? That’s the subject of today’s reader question:

Hi Carrie,

My question is: Can coloured pencils deteriorate or get “old” so that they’re no longer as good as when they were new? I use pastel pencils, but also have quite a few coloured pencil sets that I don’t use. I want to learn them but just haven’t taken the time. Do they have a “best before” or “expiry” date?? I hope not!

Thanks!

Thank you for the question, kind Reader. I think I can lay your fears to rest.

Are Old Colored Pencils Still Good

Are Old Colored Pencils Still Good?

Colored pencils do get old, just like everything else.

But unlike many mediums, they do not wear out. Twenty-year-old pencils should work as well now as they did the day they were made. In some cases and depending on the brand, they may actually work better than their modern counterparts!

Wet mediums can dry out with age, especially if the tubes have been opened. Colored pencils are dry, so you don’t have to worry about them drying out.

Image by sebastiano iervolino from Pixabay

So far as I know, colored pencils don’t become brittle with age either (at least no more brittle than it might have been when it was new.)

Sometimes a pencil may look like it’s turning gray or fading, but that may just be wax binder rising to the surface of the pigment core. Wax bloom is sometimes a problem with artwork drawn with wax-based pencils, and with pencils that don’t get used very often. It’s usually most obvious with dark colors, but it can happen with any color.

Happily, it’s easy to remedy. Just wipe the exposed pigment core with a paper towel. But the pencil is perfectly usable even if you don’t remove the wax bloom first.

So if you have old pencils, go ahead and use them! They should do fine for you.

And if you don’t have the time to use them right away, don’t worry. They will still be good when you do get to them.

3 Replies to “Are Old Colored Pencils Still Good?”

  1. Carrie, the only thing that might not be good about old colored pencils is that they didn’t used to have lightfast ratings. The CPSA has worked hard to get the companies to manufacture colors that are more lightfast and also to rate them according to lightfastness. I’ve never had the art fade, but it must be a problem for others.
    (Colored Pencil Society of America)

    1. Yes. Lightfast ratings would be an issue with old pencils, because they were not marked.

      The best work-around for that is knowing which basic pigments are almost always safe (black, white, earth tones, etc.) and using those for fine art, and leaving the rest for sketching, fun stuff, and crafts.

  2. This was very good to know as sometimes with moving, etc. we accumulate things and then find them much later. At least, I know that the pencils will still perform okay.

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