The Curious History of Colored Pencils


Colored pencils are one of the most famous art supplies, but when were they invented? Unfortunately, the history of colored pencils is not as straightforward as you might think. Early history was not as clear as we would like it to be, making us curious about what really happened back then.

It is incredible to know the history of something so small and unimportant, like colored pencils. Still, history has had a meaningful impact on society.

Today, there are many types of pencils that people can choose from depending on their needs, but where did they come from?

What came first, the pencil or the colored pencil?

The history of graphite pencils can be traced back to 1827 when an English artist named Nicholas-Jacques Conte developed a method for creating a mark that looked like ink and could be erased with water or white spirits. This was the original “lead” in what we now know as lead pencils. 

This invention took off among artists and engineers who needed to create drawings and plans on-site. But it wasn’t until much later that manufacturers began adding color pigments to make them more appealing to artists and children alike.

Did the Greeks invent colored pencils?

The true-time predates colored pencils by nearly a thousand years; it goes back to the Greek Golden Age when people used wax-based crayons. However, the first time documented usage of wax-based media was Pliny the Elder, a Roman scholar.

These colored wax crayons as a medium were prepared with beeswax and pigment. It was then heated to bind the colors to the surface. Wax-based medium has a long history of resistance to decay and color brilliance and vibrancy.

What was the first use of colored pencils?

For decades, colored pencils have been used for “checking and marking.” A colored pencil is used to make marks, corrections, or annotations on a document that has already been printed.

When was the first color pencil patent?

The patent history of the first official patent of colored pencils was documented in 1937 when Berol Pencil Co., Inc. patented them.

The patent describes their invention as “a writing implement which comprises a wooden shaft having an outer coating composed of a plurality of layers, each layer containing particles of pigment.”

When were colored pencils originally used?

The modern lead-based colored pencil history can be traced back to 1812, when French author and educator Hyacinthe Latrobe documented what is believed to be one of the first uses in history. 

“The colored pencils are a beautiful invention,” he wrote. “They may be used for writing and drawing with equal facility. The color should not come from the wood of the pencil but from some preparation which shall produce neither dust nor shavings to soil or interfere with elegance. They were invented by an artist in Paris who called them.

When were artists’ pencils first made?

The early 20th century was when artist-quality colored pencils were produced and became widely available.

Faber-Castell began producing artist-grade colored pencils in 1908, followed by Caran d’Ache in 1924 and Berol Prismacolor in 1938. Other notable companies include Bruynzeel-Sakura, Cretacolor, Derwent, Koh-i-Noor Hardtmuth, Mitsubishi (uni-ball), and Pentel Arts.

When were colored pencils used in school?

It wasn’t until the late 20th century that artist-grade colored pencils became widely available to students, teachers, and artists at affordable prices.

Although history is not clear on when exactly Colored Pencils were first introduced into schools or classrooms, history does tell us since when Colored Pencils have been used in classrooms.

How did the history of colored pencils affect society?

Colored Pencil history has had an important impact on society by allowing people to communicate better.

We are able to share dreams, ideas, and emotions through the use of colored pencils.

What types of pencils are there?

Today, there are many types of pencils that people can choose from depending on their needs.

Types of colored pencils include:

  • Artist-quality pencils made with high concentration dyes and pigments
  • Student/craft quality which is less expensive but still offers solid pigment core
  • Pastel pencils containing a wax or oil binder instead of the synthetic polymer found in wax-based colored pencils. They are soft and creamy but do not blend as well
  • Watercolor pencils have a waxy binder which allows for intense color laydown without making them fragile or brittle

How are colored pencils made today?

Today, pencils are made using synthetic polymer binders that provide flexibility and allow for layering.

Let’s show you with these videos the rather complicated process rather than try to explain it in words.

How Faber-Castell makes pencils
How Derwent pencils are made

About the author 

Charlotte Rivington

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