What Are Colored Pencils Made Of? And Why You Should Care

Michael Daly
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What Goes Into Making A Colored Pencil

Colored pencils are made from a combination of two things: graphite and pigment.

One of the first steps in making a colored pencil is to grind the graphite and bind it together with pigment then mold them into sticks.

The graphite binds the pigment, and gives the pencils its smooth, wood-like texture.

The pigment creates the pencils' vibrant colors.

Together, the graphite and the pigment creates the pencils' hard lead core.

To make colored pencils thicker and harder, manufacturers may add a third component which is wax.

Manufacturers add wax to change a colored pencil's texture and the way it feels when you write or draw with it. Here are the primary types of colored pencils:

Surface Colored Pencils: This is the most common colored pencil on the market. It is used for art and design. The pencil has a hard lead core that ranges from extra soft to soft.

Technical Colored Pencils: It is essentially similar to the surface colored pencil, but the core is made from a mixture of wax. These pencils are a bit darker and are often used to create bold effects.

Watercolor Colored Pencils: These pencils are used primarily by artists who want to color or shade on wet or damp paper. These pencils have a soft lead core, which produces delicate marks.


The most common, and cheapest, construction material for colored pencil leads is wood. Even the most expensive pencils use wood encased in foil and wedged between cores.

These kinds of pencils are relatively inexpensive and easy to find. They also display very little binder breakdown, delamination or chipping, all of which can be invaluable features to consider if you plan on adding a lot of color to a piece of paper.

However, there is a notable downside: many people, myself included, feel they produce less vibrant color than graphite pencils. In fact, professional artists tend to shun wood colored pencils altogether in favor of graphite pencils, which tend to be far softer.

While wood cores can be soft, they can also be quite hard. This results in a pencil that is scratchy and unpleasant to work with if it is not carved and shaped properly.


The pigments are the substances that give the colored pencil its color. The pigments used in colored pencils are usually a combination of iron oxide (yellow), cobalt (blue), manganese (brown) and chromium (green). To obtain a particular color, the manufacturer has to use a mixture of all these pigments.

For instance, in order to get yellow, they mix the pigments of iron oxide, cobalt and chromium together. To get brown, they mix the chromium and the manganese with the iron oxide.

Moreover, there are other pigments too. They are the titanium dioxide (white) and carbon black (black). Carbon black is often associated with colored pencils, whereas titanium dioxide is usually found in white colored pencils. Titanium dioxide is responsible for the whiteness of the white colored pencil.


Fillers, and Synthetic Dyes.

Binders are the binding agents that are mixed into the raw pigments to form a pencil core that is capable of accepting the high-quality light- and water-resistant dyes. Tertiary is the main ingredient to bind the raw pigment and other ingredients. Tertiary is a mixture of clay and wax obtained by heating minerals, sometimes referred to as montana or kaolin clay.

Since the best binders are protected proprietary secrets of the pencil manufacturers, you will not likely see them listed as ingredients on the package. Other than Tertiary, other binders used in colored pencils include polyester resins, acrylic resins, and polyurethanes.

The pencil core is then filled with a wax binder to prepare it for wrapping. Pencil manufacturers often refer to this material as "sinking agent," and it serves to capture the excess wax and keep the core from being too soft.

The final step before extrusion is the addition of the dye. This is typically done through a special resin pellet, because the dyes are usually too expensive to be mixed in with the raw pigments right away.

The resins are pellets that are dissolved with a solvent and pelletized again. The resins are directly used in small quantities and exhibit good light and water resistance, and if properly formulated, exhibit durability when exposed to abrasion.


Boys and girls are different. Girls will wear skirts and boys should wear pants. So the retail outfitters would have you believe.

Parents teach their boys to be boys and their girls to be girls. As long as they do the things expected of a boy, boys will be boys and girls will be girls.

But as parents when we look at our children, and the world today, we should examine what is actually being taught. I walk into some very nice retail stores and I do not see all the boys in pants. I do see them in kilts. I really wonder what is being taught today.

I have heard many stories of young girls feeling uncomfortable with trying out for a soccer team because they would have to wear those awful shorts, and if they didn’t they could not play. I wonder if in the future we will be promoting soccer for boys and the Christian white walk for girls. I wonder how boys will feel about wearing skirts and kilts.

And if we start asking children to wear kilts and skirts, then what would be next? Hips and knees exposed? Maybe we will even have to cover the naughty parts like they do in some places in the world to help protect the women from men who cannot control themselves.

Subsets Of Colored Pencil Types

There are two main types of colored pencils: oil based and wax based. Subsets within these two major groups include:

Oil based pencils: There are various degrees of oil based pencils leading from hard lead to soft lead. The glossy lead is the softest of the many varieties.

Wax based pencils are made of a variety of waxes. Because wax is brittle, most of the brighter colored pencils are wax based. These are often called hard wax coloring pencils.

A hard wax coloring pencil can be sharpened to a very fine point. The solvent for hard wax pencils is colorless mineral oil. An easy method for sharpening wax based pencils is to sharpen them on a sheet of waxed paper. The paper will absorb the excess wax shavings.

The different types of pencils are best for different purposes.

A student should use an oil based pencil for sketching and blending.

If an outline is to be added, it should be done with a wax based pencil.

For spot illustrations just use a wax based pencil.

When it is necessary to have a small amount of a clashing color a wax based pencil will work best.

A hard lead is best for outlining when using colored pencils on dark surfaces.

Bristle brushes are best for cleaning lead.

Wax-Based Leads

Colored pencils are made with a wax-based lead. The pencils use a binding agent such as clay mixed with pigment to create the lead, which is then sculpted or formed into a point. The colored pencil leads are then deposited, through a process of compression (in a mold) or hand-pressure, into a rectangular wood casing to complete the pencil point.

Oil Based Leads

If you wish to color in your lines, pencils with oil based leads should be your choice. The best brands like ColorMates and Crayola make oil based leads. They are much more opaque than wax lead colored pencils and they cover very well.

Most colored pencils use an oil base for their pigment. This makes them smooth and easy to work with and helps them retain their point.

From the point of view of the environment, wax leads can be reused, which improves their statistics. However, the grinding down of the pencil into powder to reuse the wax from colored pencils releases wax into air and water landfills, where the leads and wax are seen as a hazard by most environmental officials. However, if you want to use green colored pencils, then go for them. It’s your choice.

Oil based pencils have gotten a bad reputation, due to some bad reactions with children. And for a good reason. That is why the manufacturing companies have made oil based pencils the first ones to be colored. Also, oil based colored pencils are more opaque. But, there are a few things you should know. Be sure to use the best quality oil based pencils to ensure you don’t have any problems. And always treat oil based colored pencils with respect at all times.

Can You Make Colored Pencils At Home?

Precisely crafted colored pencils are used to detail, enhance and finish a drawing. Colored pencils are found in a wide range of colors which allow artists to easily work with several hues. It is important to identify the best colored pencils to use for each occasion.

Colored pencils aren’t always created equal. Most artists would agree that they are not easy on your wallet. A high-quality colored pencil can set you back a pretty penny.

This, then begs the question: is there an easy way to make your own colored pencils?

The answer is yes, you can gather a few materials around the house and come up with your own set of colored pencils!

The interesting thing is that you can make colored pencils in various forms. The most popular coloring medium includes:

  • Crayons
  • Watercolor pencils
  • Sketching pencils
  • There are also pencils with thicker cores and flexible leads …

In this article, I’ll tell you more about colored pencils and share the best methods to make your own. In addition, I’ll share some fun projects that you can use these colored pencils for.

Video Explaining What Colored Pencils Are Made Of

Colored pencil are made of pigment and a binder, which are melted together and then applied to the paper with a pencil. The different colors of pigment are often collectively called the color “batch” or color “body”.

The binder is the part that comes from the tree in the form of rosin. The earthy material coats the wood in the pencil lead and holds the pigment together.

There are many different binders.

The most common are:

  • Cellulose
  • Soy wax
  • Lignin
  • Resin

All of which are derived from wood (cellulose and soy come from plant matter whereas lignin and resin are derived from glue).

The main differences between the binders are the temperature at which they melt and become soft, and the durability of the image made by the pencils.

Cellulose is the most common binder used globally. Soy wax is the most commonly used binder in black colored pencils.

Why Is This Important?

Pigments and binders affect the quality of your artwork in the following ways:

Pigment Quality: The quality of the pigment is the most important factor that will help you produce a high-quality artwork.

Getting The Most Out Of This Medium

If you’ve been wondering why you haven’t been able to break into colored pencil, well, it’s because they’re pretty finicky and it takes a bit of chemistry to get them right.

Basically, there are two types of colored pencils. Oil-based and wax-based. The oil-based pencils are softer and more flexible, and the wax-based pencils are harder and more brittle.

The kind you want is the oil-based. Colored pencils are a bit like crayons (and wax pastels, for that matter) in that their pigments are combined with binders to create a solid structure.

In the case of colored pencil, the binders are oils. Oil-based pencils are made of pigments combined with a liquid oil that’s made in Michigan.

The wax-based pencils, on the other hand, are made with paraffin wax.

The oil in the colored pencils soften the wax or paraffin and gives them their desired malleability. Without it, your drawing would be as brittle as crayons.

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