How To Sharpen A Colored Pencil The Right Way

How To Sharpen A Colored Pencil The Right Way
How To Sharpen A Colored Pencil

Learning how to sharpen a colored pencil the right way can help to protect your pencils and keep the lead from breaking on you. Colored pencils offer artists the ability to layer color, creating amazing pieces of art, but they aren't without their drawbacks. 

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The main drawback of colored pencils is the fact that their lead is relatively fragile. This, coupled with the fact that high-quality colored pencils are quite expensive, makes taking good care of them a must for any artist. 

Fortunately, if you use care when storing them and care when sharpening them, it is possible to prevent most colored pencil breaks.

If you are first starting out with colored pencils, it might be advisable to buy less expensive pencils. HIgher-end colored pencils can be quite pricey, and using them while you experiment and learn the medium can end up putting a decent size dent in your bank account. 

It's also a good idea to use cheaper colored pencils when you are learning how to sharpen them correctly. This is especially true when you are using the blade sharpening method.

How To Stop Pencils From Breaking

The first step in keeping your colored pencils from breaking is to take care of them. Colored pencil lead breaks more easily than graphite. Its unique properties give high-quality colored pencils exceptional covering power, but this also makes the lead quite fragile. 

The first thing you need to know about colored pencils is that dropping one if like a death sentence for it. Even if you don't notice it right away, you've probably fractured the lead inside of the pencil. 

You'll discover this later when you sharpen it, and pieces of the lead start to fall out. The next thing you need to learn is how to sharpen a colored pencil the right way to keep the lead from breaking, while also giving you the sharp point that you need.

The Importance Of Storing Your Color Pencils Correctly

When you are dealing with paints, you have to worry about them drying out. When you are dealing with pastels, you need to worry about them breaking and the color smearing from one to the next. 

Colored pencils don't have these concerns, they are easier to store than most other artistic mediums, but that doesn't mean that you can just throw them in a bag and leave them lying on the floor of your closet either. 

How should you store colored pencils? You should store them in a cool, dry place, and in a way that prevents them from dropping or moving around a lot. If you are planning to store your colored pencils for a while, you might even want to consider wrapping them with tissue to help keep them from breaking.

Why Using Good Quality Equipment Is Important

No matter what type of colored pencil sharpener you use, make sure that you are using good quality equipment. After all, why would you spend money on quality colored pencils, then try to sharpen them with substandard equipment? The Prismacolor Premier Pencil Sharpener is an excellent sharpener that has excellent reviews. Click here to check the price on Amazon.

Why would you spend money on quality colored pencils

If you are going to use a manual sharpener, then buy a quality one and ensure that the blade is sharp. If you are using an electric sharpener, then make sure you get one that is designed for use with colored pencils. 

If you are using a knife, then make sure the blade is sharp, and for the sake of safety, make sure that you know what you are doing.

Focus On The Level Of The Pencil When Manually Sharpening

When manually sharpening your colored pencils, holding them level in relation to the position of the sharpener is extremely important. If you don't hold your colored pencils level when manually sharpening them, two things will probably happen. 

First, you won't get the sharp point you are looking for because your colored pencil will sharpen unevenly. Second, you'll probably end up breaking the tip fo your lead colored pencil lead repeatedly while trying to sharpen it. 

Colored pencils aren't cheap, so snapping of bits of lead is never a good thing. So when manually sharpening a colored pencil, keep it level. If you are having a hard time doing this, you can always stand in front of a mirror to help you to keep your arms level.

One important thing to remember about using a manual pencil sharpener to sharpen your colored pencils is that the blade needs to be sharp. 

A dull blade will make it more difficult to cut away the wood, and will also tend to break the pencil lead. How can you tell if your manual pencil sharpener blade is sharp? 

Take a look at the shavings. If you are getting a single, smooth strip of wood shaving, then your pencil sharpener blade is probably still quite sharp. But, if you are getting small pieces of wood shavings, then that's a sign that your pencil sharpener blade has dulled.

 If this happens, you can try to loosen or tighten the screw holding the blade in place to buy yourself some time. You could also replace the blade. But, since manual pencil sharpeners are inexpensive, you are better off just replacing it when the blade dulls.

 In fact, you should keep a handful of them on hand, so you always have a replacement ready when the blade on your current sharpener goes dull.

The Advantages Of Rotating The Sharpener As Opposed To The Pencil

If you are sharpening your colored pencils with a manual sharpener, is it better to rotate the pencil or rotate the sharpener? Believe it or not, turning the sharpener does offer some distinct advantages. 

The main advantage is that it places less pressure on your pencil. When most people sharpen a pencil with a manual sharpener, and they rotate the pencil, they tend to push the pencil into the sharpener harder than they need to, which often leads to pencil lead breaking. 

While it's possible to control this, it's easier to control the pressure being applied if you rotate the pencil sharpener instead of the pencil. It's a simple solution that can help you to preserve your colored pencils while avoiding a lot of frustration.

Sharpening With An Electric Pencil Sharpener

Many artists avoid using an electric pencil sharpener, and there are quite a few good reasons not to use one on your colored pencils. But there are also a lot of advantages. 

Plus, many of the negative aspects of using an electric pencil sharpener can be overcome by using the right type of sharpener and using common sense. The main issue that you'll run into with electric pencil sharpeners is that they vibrate and that vibration can slowly damage colored pencil lead. 

While this vibration can be damaging, you can mitigate the damage by not keeping your pencil in the sharpener for long periods of time. You can also mitigate the damage by not applying a lot of pressure when you put the pencil into the sharpener. 

Light pressure and a few seconds are all it should take in most cases to get you a sharp point.

The other thing you should do if you are planning to use an electric pencil sharpener for your colored pencils is to get one that is designed for it. 

Using the wrong kind of sharpener on your colored pencils will give you terrible results. It's the equivalent of trying to remove a Phillips head screw from a wall with a flathead screwdriver. 

It just won't work well. Colored pencils are often slightly larger in diameter than graphite pencils, so trying to fit a colored pencil into a graphite pencil sharpener is a problem. 

If you do manage to get it to fit, there's a good chance you'll have damaged the lead in the process. The bottom line is that if you are going to use an electric pencil sharpener, buy one that is designed for use with colored pencils.

The Advantages Of Using An Automatic Pencil Sharpener

Have you ever wondered how to sharpen a colored pencil with an automatic pencil sharpener, and what advantages there are to doing it? First, make sure that you are using the right kind of automatic pencil sharpener. 

Having the right tool for the job is half the battle. What advantages will an electric pencil sharpener give you? Assuming that you have the right kind of sharpener, you should be able to get a fine point quickly when using an electric sharpener. 

So, the main advantage you are going to get when using an electric sharpener is convenience.

Sharpening With A Specialized Blade

Sharpening a colored pencil with a blade is the traditional way to sharpen pencils that many artists prefer. Does that mean it's the best way? No, how you sharpen your colored pencils in entirely up to you. 

You should do whatever works best for you. If you decide to use a blade to sharpen your colored pencils, make sure that you use the proper technique. You also need to make sure that you have a sandpaper block on hand. 

While you can remove most of the wood from a pencil with a sharp blade, forming the lead to a point with a knife is practically impossible.

The proper way to sharpen a colored pencil with a blade is to carefully cut away pieces of the wood to expose the pencil lead. Once you've exposed about 1/4 inch of lead, you should set the pencil on a flat surface, then look at it eye level. 

If there is a somewhat significant amount of lead-exposed, and it's parallel to the flat surface, then you are ready to start the next step in the process. The next step is to use a sandpaper block to rub the pencil lead against until the exposed lead reaches a fine point. 

It shouldn't take long to achieve a fine point, and you need to be careful to not use too much pressure. Too much pressure will cause the lead to break, forcing you to start the process over again.

Using A Sharp Blade

The first thing you need to know if you want to learn how to sharpen a colored pencil the right way with a blade is that the blade needs to be sharp. 

Using a dull blade will make it much more difficult for you to cut through the wood of the pencil and reach the lead core. You'll also have to use more pressure than you would when using a sharper blade.

 More pressure will often lead to the lead breaking as you attempt to sharpen it. The more significant concern you need to be worried about here is the danger involved. When you are using a dull blade, you are going to be much more likely to slip and have an accident. 

You'll have to apply more pressure as you cut into your pencil, which can lead to you slipping and possibly cutting yourself.

Hold The Pencil Correctly When Using A Blade

How should you hold a pencil when sharpening it with a blade, and what is the proper technique to get a good result, while also avoiding any accidents? 

You want to hold the pencil with your off-hand. For most people, that means their left hand. Make sure that you hold it with a firm grip while keeping your hand away from the tip of the pencil that you will be sharpening. 

When you start to sharpen the pencil, you are going to want to use steady, even strokes away from you. Never, ever try to sharpen a pencil by cutting toward your arm or body. 

This is how accidents happen. If you slip while cutting away from you, the chances of you cutting yourself are much lower than if you were cutting toward yourself.

That's a lot of information about what seems like a simple subject. The reality is, though, if you want to get the most out of your colored pencils, and you want them to last as long as possible, you need to take care of them. 

A big part of that is learning how to properly sharpen them. Take some time to try out the different sharpening methods mentioned above, then choose whichever one you are most comfortable with.

My Top Five Pencil Sharpeners

  • Prismacolor Premier Pencil Sharpener is a great sharpener which has excellent reviews. Click here to check the price on Amazon.
  • The Blackwing Long Point Sharpener is a premium manual pencil sharpener design specifically for sharpening pemium quality pencils. Click here to view it on Amazon.
  • KUM Long Point Pencil Sharpener with Lead Pointer. This is an excellent sharpener which is well worth a try. Click here to see it on Amazon.
  • AFMAT Electric Pencil Sharpener Heavy Duty, Classroom Pencil Sharpener. This electric sharpener will stand the test of time. Click here to read the reviews on Amazon.
  • Prazi USA PR-9862 Accutrax Pencil Blade. Click here to see it on Amazon.


Ian Walsh is the creator and author of and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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