How to sharpen colored pencils

How to sharpen colored pencils

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Sharpening colored pencils

One of the most important skills for artists is to know how to properly sharpen a colored pencil. If using colored pencils is something you enjoy, you most likely know firsthand how upsetting it is when the lead repeatedly breaks off the pencil. Here we will cover the most efficient ways to sharpen colored pencils, as well as steps that can be taken in order to keep the lead from breaking in the first place.

First, understanding what the lead actually is will help us gain a better understanding of how to keep our colored pencils from breaking. In fact, the lead is a colored pigment in a wax or oil base. Whether the lead is wax, or oil based, will rely on the brand. Colored pencils that are wax based are really rather soft. However, this also means that they may break more often, as well. While it is satisfying to get that refined, sharp point, it is important to remember that without the protective wood that encases the lead, it is more likely to break off.

Methods to Keep Colored Pencils Sharp

You have many ways to not only keep colored pencils sharp, but to also keep them from breaking. Colored pencils can be an absolute delight when they are sharpened correctly. There are several methods colored pencil artists use to keep their pencils in pristine shape. These include handheld pencil sharpeners, cosmetic sharpeners, electric pencil sharpeners, sandpaper blocks, and even using a knife to sharpen them if necessary.

It is important to remember that there is not just one right way to accomplish this. Different artists prefer different methods, and that is perfectly fine. To find out the best way to keep your pencils sharp and from breaking, try using different sharpening methods and sharpeners. We will explore these different ways in more detail so you can find the method that is best for you.

How to Use Handheld Pencil Sharpeners

One of the advantages of using handheld pencil sharpeners is the opportunity to carefully control its precision when sharpening the colored pencil. Next, let us discuss how to use handheld pencil sharpeners correctly.

Take the colored pencil in one hand while holding the pencil sharpener in the other. Next, begin turning the pencil sharpener while still holding the colored pencil. Try to keep it as still as possible.

Sometimes, it can be tempting to do it the other way around, such as turning the pencil while instead keeping the pencil sharpener still. However, it is best to turn the pencil sharpener. This will cause there to not be as much pressure on the colored pencil and helps to keep it from breaking unnecessarily.

If the colored pencil continues breaking, it may be best to examine whether the pencil sharpener is still sharp and in good shape or not. A good way to find out if it is still in good shape is to examine the length of the pencil shaving. Check if the shaving is long and rather continuous, then the sharpener is still in good shape. If it is in good shape, you are not as likely to have the lead break on your colored pencil.

Sharpener condition

However, if the length of the shaving is rather short and begins to crumble in pieces, then the pencil sharpener is no longer in good condition. In other words, it is not sharp anymore, but blunt. A blunt pencil sharpener increases the likelihood of the colored pencil’s lead being broken during sharpening.

If it is blunt, some blades may indeed be replaceable. Check if they are, try replacing them, and if not, you can always try tightening the small screw to see if that has any bearing on the sharpening of the colored pencil. If it does not, it is time to replace the handheld pencil sharpener altogether.

One final tip on using a handheld pencil sharpener is not to apply a large amount of pressure. Firmly yet gently press the pencil against the blade. Sometimes holding the colored pencil vertically instead of horizontally is beneficial.

How to Use Electric Pencil Sharpeners

Each artist has their own preferences, and some may prefer to use electric sharpeners. For other individuals, this may cause more problems. The debate over handheld vs. electric pencil sharpeners is not a new one.

One downside to electric pencil sharpeners is that you do not have as much control of your colored pencil. For example, you slide the pencil in and cross your fingers. Electric pencil sharpeners may be a bit too harsh on the colored pencil. However, handheld pencil sharpeners help you have more control over the amount of pressure put on the pencil.

Some teachers have even complained of their electric pencil sharpeners being damaged from students who want to use them to sharpen their colored pencils. However, most of this is probably from the wax that is in them, which can begin to build up and cause a clog in the electric pencil sharpener.

Here are some tips and tricks on sharpening colored pencils using an electric pencil sharpener. First, use the sharpener on a regular pencil from time to time. This is due to the fact that the grease from the graphite will assist in keeping the blades clean and clear. You can also open the electric pencil sharpener and try wiping the blades with a Q-tip or toothpick to keep them clean and clog-free.  

Other Methods of Sharpening Colored Pencils

As previously stated, there are other methods to sharpening pencils, including a cosmetic sharpener, sandpaper blocks, and even the use of a knife. Let us examine these in detail.

Although cosmetic sharpeners are not made for colored pencils, they can be used to sharpen them. Usually, cosmetic sharpeners are used for eyeliner pencils. However, since eyeliner pencils are soft like colored pencils, cosmetic sharpeners also work on them.

The use of sandpaper blocks is a very simple way to sharpen colored pencils. A sandpaper block is multiple layers of sandpaper that are fitted onto a block of wood. Try holding the colored pencil at an angle and running it over the sandpaper. Rotate it so that every side is sharpened at the same rate and it comes out evenly sharpened. When one sheet of sandpaper is finished being used, you can simply go to the next sheet. One of the great things about sandpaper blocks is that they are compact and easy to transport. They can even be used to sharpen pastels and charcoal.

Important if you are sharpening with a knife

Finally, the last method we will look at to sharpen colored pencils is with a knife. If you want to sharpen your colored pencils in a very simple way, you can try using a utility knife. However, please keep in mind that using a knife can be dangerous due to the exposure of the blade. Many artists actually prefer using a knife, especially if they also use graphite, because using a knife grants them the freedom to sculpt a variety of shapes that help with stroke-making.

If this is the route you choose to go, you can sharpen the colored pencil by holding it in one hand and carefully holding the knife in the other. Always position the knife at an angle that is away from you, and gingerly press it to the pencil with your thumb. Go slowly, and shave off a bit at a time. You can rotate the colored pencil so that it is evenly sharpened. There are step-by-step videos online that can also teach you how to safely and effectively use a knife to sharpen colored pencils, as well as how to sculpt various point shapes and illustrate the lines and strokes you want to achieve.

Summary of Best Sharpeners for Colored Pencils

Whichever method you use to sharpen your colored pencils, these tips and tricks will help you sharpen them correctly and properly so that they do not break off unnecessarily. Sharpening your pencils with care will absolutely help them to last longer and not be as fragile when you use them to create your artistic vision.

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3 thoughts on “How to sharpen colored pencils”

  1. Ulla Samuelsson

    Thanks for the tips. I’ve read all the articles and I like this site very much.
    I also find the videos at the end of each article useful.
    I wish a beautiful spring to everyone and send greetings from Sweden.

  2. A good beginner drawing tip is to think about how many shapes you want to have in your drawing. If you want to draw more than three shapes in your drawing then you should choose a dark color. Dark colors tend to draw clearer lines and more detailed objects.

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