Do you dislike erasers because of their limitations or just got caught without one (understandable during quarantine)? You need an effective alternative to complete your project pronto. What are your choices?
There are a few alternatives to traditional pencil erasers that will get rid of your marks completely. They work in exactly the same way as their counterparts, with one exception – they don't leave any residue behind!
Alternatives to erasers that actually work are just sitting in your fridge, kitchen, foyer, or garage. Suggestions include bread, edges of rubber sandals, and clay, among others. Some solutions are logical; others seem crazy. But those who suggest these claim they really work.
We sourced artists, crafters, writers, retailers, and art supply store managers for advice. Read on to discover what they use in the absence of standard erasers.
The alternatives suggested here refer to those that can take the place of regular erasers made of synthetic rubber and soy-based gum (cheaper models) and vinyl, plastic, or gum (pricier or specialized ones).
Even though the term eraser also refers to tools used to remove marks from chalkboards and whiteboards, for this article, we focus on the kind that removes marks and mistakes made with pencils or pens on paper, walls, canvas, or skin, such as parchment or vellum.
Eraser Alternatives for Pencil Marks
Artist Norman Price says sourcing an alternative depends on the kind of pencil, the type of mark made, and the material the mark is on. He suggests diluting carbon pencil marks by dabbing at them with a brush and water.
He recommends using a rolled up piece of bread for eradicating marks on wallpaper. The practice of using balled up, de-crusted bread to erase pencil marks dates back to the days before they discovered that rubber could be used as an eraser. According to Henry Petroski’s book, The Pencil ($10.37), this was prior to 1858, the year Hyman Lipman of Philadelphia patented a method of attaching erasers to pencils.
If you’re doing sketches and not technical drawing, you may opt to go with what you’ve drawn and don’t bother erasing your mistakes. This instills a bit of discipline. You will learn to use light and dark outlines rather than single lines. This also helps develop a connection between hand movement and the resulting image.
- rubber bands (Depending on the type, they’re as effective as standard erasers.)
- the edge of a sneaker
- white flexible earphone cords
- the sole of a Chukka Boot or a Bass Weejuns boat shoe
- a scrap of art paper folded four times—good for lifting lead
Remember that whatever eraser alternative you choose, it has to be ultra-clean and applied with a light touch.
Art director and art history lecturer Robert Cpok suggests that if the pencil marks are not too deep, take a strip of masking tape and rub it up and down the side of a tabletop or desktop to remove around 50% of its adhesive properties, then fold it over a few times to make a small pad. Lightly dab and lift (rather than rub away) the pencil marks.
E. Clayton Rowe, working at Wal-Mart retail, says that if the mark is from pencil graphite and is rendered on the surface of smooth paper, you can rub it off easily with a finger.
One artist had some success with Silly Putty, although some faint lines remained.
David Nash, the author of The Basics of Homemade Cleaning Supplies (Kindle $0.99, paperback $5.99), claims a magic eraser—the type used for cleaning—works very well in removing both pen and pencil marks, even off walls.
He also suggests a cheap magic eraser alternative. He claims that a magic eraser is just a piece of melamine with a scrub pad glued to it. A pack of 100 melamine sponges bought online costs $10 with shipping, while store-bought three-pack magic erasers cost $5. A box of eight Mr. Clean magic erasers from Amazon costs $12.26.
Rubbing with slightly moistened melamine foam removes hard-to-clean markings like crayon, marker pen, grease, and tar from painted walls, floors, and wood finishing.
Make Your Own
Use moldable, bakeable clay to create erasers. They’re meant for kids, but who says you can’t use them for emergencies? Two worthy of mention are:
- Make Your Own Mini Eraser Kit ($15-22) from Klutz. It comes with eight blocks of multi-colored clay enough for 25 erasers, a clay-shaping tool, punch-and-fold paper pieces, a pencil, and a 48-page book of detailed instructions.
- Creatibles DIY Erasers from International Arrivals (set of 12 for $12).
The usual procedure for clay is to bake it in the oven at 230°F for 30 minutes, then cool for one hour.
Also known as putty rubber, this artist’s tool isn’t considered an eraser in the traditional sense. Made of a grey or white pliable material, such as rubber, it looks more like chewing gum or putty. It is useful in removing pastel and carbon marks. It absorbs charcoal and graphite particles too.
Artists use kneaded erasers in subtractive drawing techniques as they are useful for removing minute details. One advantage they have over regular erasers is that they’re more durable because they don’t leave behind eraser residue nor wear away easily.
Another is pliability. They can be manually stretched, shaped, and compressed easily—great for making highlights, precision erasing, or detailed procedures. Users can blend multiple colors and change their texture and form.
A disadvantage is that they’re not appropriate for completely erasing large areas. They may also smear or stick to surfaces if warmed up too much. When they become saturated, they can leave marks on paper.
- Gum-based and rubbery objects—test on a corner of the surface first to make sure they don’t smear.
- Paper towels—you can clean 90% off the marks if these were drawn lightly with vine charcoal.
- Correction fluid
- The side edge of a flip-flop (rubber sandal)
- Rubber accessories that help you grip pencils and pens
Eraser Alternatives for Pen Marks
Mary Norris, a senior writer at The New Yorker, says her house eraser is the Magic Rub, which erases India ink and absorbs graphite. It is used on polyester-based drafting films, tracing paper surfaces, and delicate drawings.
She also mentions a Koh-I-Noor eraser she saw in a fountain-pen store, which was suitable for ink. Its label said, “imbibed with eraser fluid.” A cheaper equivalent meant for pencil marks is the Koh-I-Noor soft eraser pencil ($3.99), a soft thermoplastic eraser used for retouching or erasing details. It’s especially useful for graphite.
Electric- and Battery-Powered
Norris also cites electric erasers that look like the tooth polishers found in dental clinics. A former colleague of hers had a battery-operated eraser that also drilled holes in paper.
- Zico butane lighter ($25 from cigar and smoke shops or convenience stores)—It erases pen ink marks (even colored) on paper.
- It works really well with Pilot’s Frixion erasable gel rollers. Zico is an excellent clean-up tool. Just don’t use it in large establishments with sophisticated fire-alarm systems because even a tiny flame can set these off.
Frixion pens, obtainable from stationery stores and eBay at $3 each, erase more cleanly than pencils. Frixion ink is erased by heating at around 140°F (60°C), but it can reappear at around 14°F (-10°C).
The advantage to this feature is that it allows you to deliberately erase marks, yet undo this without damaging paper in the slightest.
- Max Wax battery-powered wax sculpting pen ($25 from eBay and Amazon)—Mark considers this the best eraser equivalent and clean-up tool. It’s perfect for precision-erasing Frixion ink. It has a built-in alkaline battery that will last if you use it sparingly by just pulsing the button (instead of long-pressing it).
- Letraset Tria brush pen ($5 from art stores and eBay)—It can be used as an eraser alternative when loaded with water. Blot excess moisture with a napkin.
Mark demonstrates the above tools in this amazing video. While (currently) only using a freezer can undo erasing action, erasing can be achieved using other heat sources, such as electric heaters, stovetops, light bulbs, or microwave ovens.
So there you have it: loads of alternatives for erasing pencil and ink. We hope you have gained insight from the numerous suggestions mentioned here and can apply these to your projects and artwork.