Questions about Lightfast Colored Pencils

Just how important is it to use lightfast colored pencils?

There have always been discussions about lightfast colors among serious artists. Artists who create work for sale want their work to last beyond years or decades. They want it to last generations.

So do the collectors who spend big bucks to get original artwork.

No one wants to spend a lot of money on something that’s going to fade away in ten or twenty years (or less.)

Questions about Lightfast Colored Pencils

Given the number of people starting to use colored pencils every day and the number of new products coming to market, it’s not surprising to get questions. Questions like these:

When considering lightfastness in colored pencils, what number is considered light fast?

Is there any difference in the lightfastness of oil pencils in relationship to wax based pencils?

Do I have to use lightfast colored pencils?

Let’s take a look at each of these questions individually.

A Little Basic Information on Lightfastness

If a color does fade over time, it’s also referred to as fugitive. The color “runs away and hides” if exposed to light. Sometimes it may disappear altogether, and sometimes very quickly.

Most companies that produce art supplies for fine art or professional use test their products to see how they hold up under use. That includes tests for fading and durability, among other things.

Oil paints have included lightfast information for many years.

Lightfast Colored Pencils - Oil Paint Rating

Most reputable colored pencil manufacturers also now include such information on each pencil. This basic information is designed to let artists know which colors are lightfast and how lightfast they are.

Answers to Questions about Lightfast Colored Pencils


When considering lightfastness in colored pencils, what number is considered light fast?

Pencils are rated differently in the US than in Europe and other parts of the world, but all brands are tested in some form, and many companies provide color charts that include lightfast ratings.

Let’s look at two examples.

Prismacolor pencils are made by a US-based company, so they’re tested according to US standards. The ASTM D6901 standard, to be precise.

The results are divided into five categories, with the lowest number being the best and the highest being the worst. The categories are labeled with Roman numerals and look like this. I (1,) II (2,) III (3,) IV (4,) and V (5.)

Any color with a I ranking is said to be very lightfast. Colors with a V ranking are very poor. My personal sunlight tests show such colors fade within weeks when exposed to direct sunlight.

Unfortunately, the rating is not printed on the pencils.

Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils are made in Germany and are tested using the Blue Wool Scale, which is the European standard. The results are divided into eight categories, with the lowest numbers being the most likely to fade.

To further complicate matters, Faber-Castell and other companies combine categories into three. They rate their pencils on a star system. A color with one star is more likely to fade than two- or three-star colors.

Lightfast Colored Pencils - Faber-Castell Pencils

So the answer to this question depends on the pencils you use and where they’re made. Look for high numbers in non-US made pencils and low numbers in US-made pencils.

Is there any difference in the lightfastness of oil pencils in relationship to wax based pencils?

The qualities that make a color permanent is in the pigment itself, not in the binder (the substance than  holds the pigment in shape.)

So it doesn’t matter whether you use wax-based pencils (with a primarily wax binder) or oil-based pencils (with a primarily oil binder.) If the pigment fades, then it will fade regardless.

What makes the difference is that some companies replace fading pigments with more expensive pigments that are similar in color, but do not fade or don’t fade as quickly.

Those pencils are more expensive because the pigment itself is more costly. Not because of the binder used in making the pencil.

Do I have to use lightfast colored pencils?

No. You do not have to use lightfast colored pencils all of the time, or for every drawing. You don’t have to use them at all, if you really don’t want to.

Nor do you have to remove every fading color from your new set of pencils if you don’t want to. A lot of those fading colors can’t currently be replaced in any brand. Pinks and purples are notorious for fading, but if you really need to use them in your work, then you should use them.

So is there any time or place for using lightfast pencils?

Sure!

You can safely use fading colors if you don’t plan to sell the original. If it’s a practice piece, just for fun, or if you sell reproductions and keep the originals, it’s perfectly safe to use fading colors.

If you do give those pieces away (or even sell them,) make absolutely sure the new owners fully understand the precautions they need to take. What are those precautions?

  • Use UV resistant glazing with framing
  • Never exhibit the artwork in direct sunlight
  • Be aware of the interior lighting in the exhibit area, since some artificial lighting can also contain ultra-violet light.
Lightfast Colored Pencils - For Crafting

If you’re doing craft work (gift cards, etc.,) adult coloring books, or anything else of that nature, you don’t really need lightfast colors.

Even so, it is important to know enough about lightfast ratings to understand how they work and why they’re important.

That’s the best way by far to avoid potential problems.

One Reply to “Questions about Lightfast Colored Pencils”

  1. So fastening is the life or duration of the color when start to fade. because I live in Puerto Rico and we are in the Caribbean that means we are exposed to a very hard sun we need to exposed the less posible to prevent discoloration?

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