Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

Economic Colored Pencil Sharpening

Sharpeners are one of the more frequently discussed topics here, and I continue to get questions about them. Today, let’s take a look at the subject from a different angle: let’s talk about a few economical ways to sharpen colored pencils.

But first, since this is Q&A Wednesday, here’s the reader’s question.

What is the best – and most economical – way to sharpen colored pencils, particularly the softer ones?

I use an electric sharpener for graphite but it seems to “eat” colored pencils quite rapidly. Thank you.

Kathy

I want to thank Kathy for asking this question. Most people want to know the best sharpeners. That’s an impossible question to answer because there are so many factors to consider.

But very few people ask economical ways to sharpen colored pencils. And there is a difference.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

But before we get started, let’s consider sharpeners.

A Few Words About Sharpeners

The purpose of pencil sharpeners is eating pencils. Whenever you sharpen a pencil with a mechanical sharpener, the sharpener has to chew up enough of the lead to make a sharp point.

That’s true for graphite pencils, and it’s true for colored pencils.

But there are ways to sharpen pencils so less of the pigment is wasted.

Kathy’s Sharpener

I also suggest that Kathy find out if her electric sharpener is an auto-stop model. Sharpeners with an auto-stop feature automatically stop sharpening when the pencil is sharp.

Other types of electric sharpeners continue sharpening until you remove the pencil. It’s very easy to sharpen a pencil to a nub quickly if you don’t pay attention to the sharpener while you’re sharpening.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

A Sharp Knife Works Wonders

The absolute best way to sharpen pencils with minimum waste is by sharpening them with a knife.

I use an X-acto knife, but any knife sharp enough to cut through the wood casing is suitable.

Sharpening pencils with an X-acto knife is also a great way to sharpen a pencil that’s prone to breaking. You can whittle away the wood casing with very little pressure on the pigment core itself.

This method requires extreme caution! It’s easy to cut yourself while sharpening pencils, and we most certainly do not want that!

How to Hand Sharpen Colored Pencils

Use a knife with a finely sharpened blade.

Hold the pencil in your non-dominant hand with the exposed pigment core facing away from you.

Hold the knife in your dominant hand, with the blade at a slight angle to the pencil. As you can see in the illustration below, the knife blade is nearly lying on the sharpened wood casing. This keeps you from gouging too much of the wood casing with each stroke.

Push the blade downward along the pencil with your thumb. Use light pressure and make as thin a cut as you can.

Hold the knife at a slight angle to the pencil and stroke away from yourself. Turn the pencil after each cutting stroke.

Always stroke away from yourself.

Turn the pencil between strokes and work around the pencil two or three times or until the sharpened end is as smooth or even as you prefer or until as much pigment core is exposed as you need.

Pointing the Pencil

To get a needle-sharp point, rub the pencil on an emery board. Roll the pencil as you stroke it along the emery board until the point is as sharp as you want it to be.

A sanding block or sand paper (not sanded art paper) also works for fine tuning a newly sharpened pencil.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Pencils

One Word of Caution

Hand sharpening with a knife is a very economical way to sharpen pencils. But it’s not a fast method. For the best results, work slowly and carefully. Always stroke away from yourself, and always keep your knife sharp.

It also requires practice, just like drawing. So be patient. Injuries happen when you rush, so go slow and be careful.

Other Benefits of Hand Sharpening Pencils

Sharpening pencils with a knife allows you to more easily save pigment shavings. You can then soften them with solvent or Brush & Pencil’s Touch-Up Texture and use them like paint.

If you decide to use this sharpening method, get several small containers with screw-on caps to store the pigment. Label each one with the color and brand of pencil (if you use more than one type of pencil.) Then, when you need that color to “paint” with, you can mix a small amount of solvent or Touch-Up Texture and make use of this otherwise wasted pigment.

I found this very helpful article on sharpening pencils with a knife. The demonstration is with a graphite pencil, but the process is the same.

Pay Attention to the Length of the Sharpened Point

The length of the exposed pigment core on a freshly sharpened pencil also makes a difference.

The longer the tip, the more pigment has been left in the pencil sharpener.

Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils
The length of the exposed pigment core makes a difference in how much pigment is wasted in sharpening. As a rule, the longer the point, the more pigment is left in the sharpener.

There are times when you want a longer tip. Glazing with the side of the pencil works best if the exposed pigment is quite long.

But you really don’t need a long pigment core for most work, so look for a sharpener that doesn’t sharpen this way.

Keep Points Sharp While You Draw

One way I keep sharp tips on pencils is by alternating glazing with other types of layering.

I always turn my pencil in my fingers as I draw. I don’t know when or how I developed that habit, but I do it even when writing longhand with a pen. Turning your pencil helps keep the tip from getting flat on one side.

But it doesn’t keep the point sharp.

If, however, you do a little layering with the side of the pencil AND you turn the pencil as you draw, the tip will stay sharper longer.

And that pigment ends up on the paper, not in the sharpener!

Three Economical Ways to Sharpen Colored Pencils

And there you have it. Two suggestions for economical colored pencil sharpening, and a bonus suggestion for maintaining sharper points.

I hope you find them helpful.

My Favorite Colored Pencil Sharpeners

Today’s reader question is about sharpeners. There are so many options available that I thought I’d share my favorite colored pencil sharpeners and tell you what I like and don’t like about them.

But first, here’s the question:

Hi

It’s not my first rodeo so to speak, but I still have sharpening issues at times- broken points, too short a point. Like you, when using a sharp pencil, I prefer a longer point. I’ve gone through 6 sharpeners, some a little better than others, but still haven’t found a gem.
Which ones have you found work the best consistently?

Thanks and stay well.

Dee

Dee isn’t alone in the search for the ideal colored pencil sharpener. Sooner or later we all look for a great pencil sharpener.

My Favorite Colored Pencil Sharpeners

I’ve used a variety of colored pencil sharpeners over the years, from hand-held to crank to electric. Some of them have been excellent sharpeners and some haven’t. The best thing I can say about all of them is that I haven’t spent much money on any of them.

Hand-Held

Hand-held sharpeners 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 two styles. Both of them come with shavings containers and both were very inexpensive. Under $2 each.

But one sharpens pencils to a short point, while the other sharpens a longer point.

One of my favorite colored pencil sharpeners is this inexpensive hand held sharpener.

What I like about them is that I can keep them in my pencil box, in the cup of pencils currently in use, or in my field kit. They’re also so cheap (yes, I’ll go ahead and say it) that I can keep several handy in different locations. For my artsy side, they come in different colors. How cool is that?

What I’m not crazy about is that they don’t last more than a few months under heavy usage. But I have had two of them for more than two years and they still do the job.

Besides, they’re cheap enough that replacing them is no big deal.

Crank

The sharpener I use most in the studio is actually not mine. My husband bought it when he was in school. It’s an APSCO Premier Standard and is the kind of sharpener that used to be in every classroom in every public school. What’s more, it’s all metal! No plastic parts.

I like this sharpener because it’s solid, is designed to take pencils of different sizes, and sharpens like a dream. Pencils sharpened in this sharpener have a lovely, long, tapered point.

It’s easy to clean, too. Just turn the shaving container a quarter turn, slide it off the blades, and empty it.

To keep the blades sharp and functioning properly, I sharpen lead pencils once in a while to remove wax and other colored pencil debris.

Is there anything I don’t like about it? Yes. It’s not attached to a wall, so I have to either hold it on a desk top or in my lap to sharpen pencils. But that’s not all bad. I can move from one working area to another when necessary.

Electric

I’ve used a couple of different electric sharpeners in the past. One battery-operated and one that had to be plugged into the wall.

The battery-powered sharpener was large enough that I didn’t need to hold it while I sharpened a pencil. Just put the pencil in the top-loading sharpening opening and sharpen. But it was also small enough to take along when I worked out of the studio.

The second sharpener was also not very large, but because it required a power outlet, it didn’t leave the studio.

Both of them sharpened well and lasted quite a lot while. Both were under $30, but it’s been so long since I purchased them, that prices have almost certainly gone up.

My only complaint about both is that they eventually wore out, as sharpeners tend to do. By then, I had other options and just never replaced them. Do I sometimes wish I had? Absolutely.

Which Colored Pencil Sharpener is My Favorite?

That’s easy. The crank sharpener is the one I reach for most. It produces long, tapered points, it’s easy to clean, and sturdy. And it’s all-metal, so it’s going to last a long time.

But there are other ways to sharpen pencils, and you can read more about one way a lot of artists swear by in Getting the Most Possible Use out of every Colored Pencil, which I wrote for EmptyEasel.