The Best Sharpeners for Prismacolor Colored Pencils

The Best Sharpeners for Prismacolor Colored Pencils

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

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.

The Best Sharpeners for Prismacolor Colored pencils
The cracked wood on the peach-colored pencil is both a result of sharpening, and a problem for sharpening. Either way, you lose valuable pigment working with a cracked wood casing like this.

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.

Soft Pencils

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.

Old-Fashioned 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.

This style of sharpener is one of my favorites for all my colored pencils, but especially for Prismacolor colored pencils.

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.

This little, two-hole sharpener is one of the best buys I’ve made when it comes to buying pencil sharpeners. It even comes with replacement blades!

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.

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

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  1. Kim Vlahovich

    Hi Carrie,

    I have to agree that I also find the old “hand crank” sharpeners work best, especially with the Prisma pencils. When a pencil lead breaks with my regular Staedtler hand sharpener, I use the hand crank to get the lead back to a nice long, sharp point.

    At a quick glance, I think they work so well because of the rotary action of the quality grinding mechanism it uses to hold the pencil in place while it hones the pencil to a sharp point, putting equal pressure on both sides as the 2 sharp grinding gears work their magic.

    I have 2 of them, (Boston) and (Apsco) that are more than 40 years old and they both still work like a charm.

    Kim Vlahovich

  2. Rick Steffens

    I have used most if not all of the sharpeners you showed and described to us and my APSCO, which I mounted on my desk instead of the wall worked great for years. But my grandkids liked to [play with it] sharpen pencils with it and it got pretty worn out and was basically in my way mounted on the desk, when I wanted to draw larger pictures. But a couple years ago my 18 year old grandaughter bought me an AFMAT electric sharpener that works great on practically all pencils. I wish I could post a picture. I’ll look to see if I can find a link to it and come back if I do.

    1. Rick,

      Thank you for your comment. Good for your daughter finding you a sharpener you like.

      I have an Afmat long point sharpener that I like fairly well. It’s a nice sharpener, but it sharpens to a very long point, which I don’t care for, and the pencil tip isn’t quite as sharp as I like. That doesn’t matter so much on Pastelmat, but as long as my trusty Apsco works, that’s the crank sharpener I prefer.

  3. Rick Steffens

    My electric AFMAT has a 2 settings switch on it. One for long sharp points and the other for a more blunt point. And if I ever do get another crank sharpener, it will be the Apsco metal one like you described before. It was a good sharpener but I think my grandkids played with it a bit too much when I wasn’t around. I also had a plastic case Apsco with the suction cup & lever attached. I don’t highly recommend that one . At least in my case it was hard to keep it attached to my table/desk.

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