What are the best sharpeners for Prismacolor colored pencils?
Sharpeners are one of the more frequently discussed topics on my art blog, and I get questions about them on a regular basis. With so many people starting to use colored pencils every day, this is a good time to share with you the types of sharpeners I find work best with Prismacolor pencils.
Why Prismacolor Pencils in Particular
Before we begin, let me explain why so many artists have difficulty sharpening Prismacolor pencils. Let’s begin with quality control in the manufacturing process.
Quality control is always important. It doesn’t matter whether you’re making colored pencils or beef stew. The better the ingredients and the more attention you pay to the details, the better the end result. Right?
There is room for improvement in both areas when it comes to Prismacolor pencils. Problems with breaking leads, cracked wood casings, and pencils that aren’t straight contribute to problems sharpening the pencils. Changing sharpeners isn’t likely to help with any of those problems.
Enough said. If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, take a look at Why Prismacolor Pencils Break So Often, published on my art blog.
Prismacolor pencils are also soft. Color application has been described as “buttery,” “creamy,” and “smooth.” Those descriptions require a fairly soft pencil so that color goes onto the paper easily.
And Prismacolor pencils do layer color smoothly! We all know that.
But with smooth pencils comes the tendency to break during sharpening, and to crumble while drawing. Especially if you draw with heavy pressure.
A pencil sharpener will not help you resolve either of those two problems.
But the sharpener you use can reduce the amount of breakage and still give you nice, sharp points.
The Best Sharpeners for Prismacolor Colored Pencils
I’ve used a variety of sharpeners over the years, and have had decent success with all of them. My collection of old sharpeners includes electric, battery-operated, mechanical, and hand-held sharpeners, and even a trusty X-acto knife!
These days, I’ve narrowed the selection down to two types of sharpeners.
The best sharpener I’ve ever used is an old-fashioned sharpener like the ones that used to be in school rooms. It’s a crank sharpener designed to be bolted to a wall. The one shown below has different sized holes for different sized pencils.
My husband bought this sharpener when he was in school. It’s an APSCO Premier Standard. It’s easy to use, fairly portable, and easy to clean. It’s also metal. No plastic parts!
You can still find them on online auction sites if you’re patient and persistent. You might also find them in estate sales and antique shops, but beware! Prices in those outlets could be high.
This sharpener is great with all of my pencils. Yes, even Prismacolor. I think the reason for that is that the opening for the pencil has a small spring device that holds the pencil. The pencil doesn’t wiggle, turn or twist, so the sharpening blades do not put excessive or unnecessary twisting pressure on the pencil.
That’s just a guess on my part. I’m not an engineer, but that explanation makes sense.
Hand Held Sharpeners
These sharpeners are available in the school and office supply sections of most grocery stores and discount stores. They come in a variety of shapes and styles. Some have containers to catch shavings and some haven’t, but they all have one thing in common. You hold them in your hand.
I currently have three styles. Two of them come with shavings containers. All three were very inexpensive.
But one sharpens pencils to a short point, while the other sharpens a longer point.
Sharpeners like this are very portable in addition to being inexpensive. I throw one into my field kit or pencil box when I plan on drawing away from the studio.
The newest addition to my collection of hand-held sharpeners is the basic, two-hole sharpener that came with the Spectrum Noir Sketching kit. It has no container for shavings, so I keep a small container handy for that.
I review this style of sharpener in this post if you would like to read more about it.
One Other Suggestion
Sometimes, the problem has less to do with the type of sharpener you use, than with the way you use it.
For example, when using a hand-held sharpener, I’ve found that when I turn the sharpener instead of the pencil, my Prismacolor pencils sharpen better and with less breakage. I’ve been able to sharpen the more stubborn Prismacolor pencils without breaking them by this simple trick.
A reader also told me that she successfully sharpens Prismacolor pencils by using the larger hole. You need a fairly steady hand for this to work because the sharpener opening doesn’t support the pencil as well. But it does seem to work.
If you prefer a larger sharpener, look for one that securely holds the pencil while the pencil is being sharpened. The mechanical sharpener I mentioned above is such a sharpener, but many modern sharpeners also support the pencil. This type of support holds the pencil steady and keeps it from turning or twisting while you sharpen. This “torque” is what causes a lot of breakage in pencils; especially in softer pencils like Prismacolor.
The Best Sharpeners for Prismacolor Colored Pencils
Remember that these sharpeners and tips are what work for me. They’ll probably work for you, too, but that’s no guarantee.
Try any sharpener that catches your eye, inexpensive or expensive. Test each one with all of your pencils if you use more than one brand.
Also listen to what other artists say about the sharpeners they use. Hearing what other artists have to say is helpful in finding the right sharpener for you.
Sign up for Carrie’s free weekly newsletter and be among the first to know when she publishes new articles.