How Long Do Colored Pencils Last?

How Long Do Colored Pencils Last?

For anyone who uses art mediums—from those who color for leisure and stress relief all the way up to professional artists—how long their supplies will last is an important factor. Many of the various types of art instruments have expiration dates that go along with the shelf life expectancy of each. So how long do colored pencils last and do they, in fact, expire?

How Long Do Colored Pencils Last

Let’s answer then, how long do colored pencils last? Compared to other artistic implements, colored pencils have a longer shelf life than most. There are some aspects of colored pencils that will make some last longer than others though. There are some things you can do to extend the life of them as well:

  • Look for quality, professional pencils
  • Sharpen your pencils correctly
  • Avoid wax-based lead
  • Choose your colored pencils for what you’ll be using them for
  • Store them properly

So the short answer is colored pencils have a very long shelf life, there have even been some discovered that were more than 100 years old and they still colored beautifully. The longer answer, however, is that your colored pencils may last for a shorter or longer time based on which ones you choose and how you take care of them.

Quality Matters

Look for quality, professional pencils if you want yours to last for a long time. While it’s true that the professional-level pencils will cost you more most of the time, it will almost certainly turn out to be worth it to spend the extra money. The reason is because if you care for them properly, you won’t have to buy another set for a very long time, if ever.

If you buy a low-quality set that costs less, there’s a good chance you’ll be buying another set in the near future. Having to purchase multiple sets over the period of time one higher quality set would have lasted you anyway will often end up costing you more.

Low quality pencils are typically more dry and brittle inside. This means the lead will break down inside the colored pencil. You’ll try to sharpen it and find that you can’t many times because of the break. Also, the lead tip of the lower quality options won’t stay sharp the same way it will on a high-quality, professional pencil. You’ll get pencils that last longer and allow you to make better-looking pieces of art throughout the life of your colored pencils if you choose to go with a high-quality option.

Sharpen Your Pencils Correctly

The way you sharpen your colored pencils will definitely affect how long they last. First off, always sharpen each pencil by hand. Don’t use an electric, automatic sharpener. The lead ends up getting caught up inside the sharpener and can destroy the sharpener and damage the pencil. You’re better off using a hand-held pencil sharpener where you can see the shavings coming through the blade and you can simply clear them away.

If you want to take it even further than that, you can start sharpening your colored pencils with a razor blade. Once you learn to do it properly, you’ll find you have much more control over the lead of the pencil, and you can make a much finer point to help give you more detail in your pictures.

Avoid Wax-Based Lead

True colored pencils come with either wax-based lead or oil-based lead. Saying whether one is better than the other should probably usually come down to what the user’s preference is. However, one thing you’ll see with wax-based lead is that it produces what’s referred to as wax bloom.

Wax bloom is what happens when the binding agent (the material in the lead that holds the pigment in it) is more plentiful than the actual color is. Rather than seeing a lot of rich color when you use the pencils, you’ll see more white space causing small gaps in the color. This means to get rich color, you’ll have to use more of the lead, thus leading to a shorter useful life.

The wax-based leads are also softer than oil-based leads are. This means that when you’re having to apply higher levels of pressure for certain parts of your work, there’s a greater chance that the pencil could just break. Many wax-based colored pencils won’t last as long as their oil-based counterparts.

Choose Colored Pencils That Will Fit Your Intended Use

Not everyone will be using their colored pencils for the same things. It’s best that when you’re making your choice for what pencils you are going to purchase, you opt for some that are meant for what your intended use is. For instance, there are some wax-based colored pencils that come in a variety of very vibrant colors that a professional artist wouldn’t even consider, but as they’re less expensive and non-toxic, they’re perfect for a child.

How Long Do Colored Pencils Last?

If you’re going to be using your pencils to create layered pictures that have lots of different textures and details, you shouldn’t choose the same pencils that a child will be using. You want colors that have a solid core that won’t break easily. You can go with Polychromos pencils with oil-based lead. These will likely be more expensive but they’ll serve your purpose better so they will end up lasting you longer.

Store Your Colored Pencils Properly

The way you store your pencils is one factor that will greatly affect how long they last for you. Colored pencils that are stored in a carrying case that has individual spots for each color will last the longest. The next best option is a box that doesn’t have separated spots. There is also the option of a pencil pouch or bag, however this isn’t nearly as protective as a box with slots for all the colors. The better protected the pencils are, the longer they will last.

You also want to make sure you don’t store colored pencils where it’s very hot or very cold. They should be stored out of direct sunlight and at a normal room temperature. If you ever find that your pencils have been left in heat or sitting exposed to light for a long time, look at the lead tip. If you see that it looks faded, sharpen it down to lead that was fully encased in wood where it wasn’t exposed. That should ensure you don’t start a project and find the color has been ruined.

A Word About Colorfastness and Light

As a note, you need to understand that not all colors will react the same when exposed to light. There is actually a rating system in place so that you will know which colors have a greater degree of colorfastness. It ranges from one to five (indicated in Roman Numerals) and is rated by the American Standard Test Measure (ASTM). Lower numbers indicate the color is less sensitive to light exposure, while higher numbers show you which colors are more at risk for fading.

There are similar rating systems used in other parts of the world. As a general rule, the higher quality pencils will be more colorfast and less affected by light exposure. However, it’s important to remember that it’s a generality that exists with some exceptions.How Long Do Colored Pencils Last?


Other than just using up the colored pencils altogether creating art, it’s possible your pencils could last as long as your life does. It will all depend on the quality of the pencils you buy, how good of a fit the type you buy is to what you’re going to use them for, and how you treat them, such as sharpening and storage. Colored pencils have one of the longest shelf lives of all art mediums, especially when you are attentive to the things mentioned in this article.

Some Related Questions:

1. Do colored pencils expire?

No, colored pencils don’t technically expire. There are things that might cause you to have to replace your pencils but it’s not something that there is an expiration date for. Your pencils could fade due to heat or sunlight exposure. You may also find that the lead is broken inside because it got dropped or something heavy was placed on top of it. These things are within your control though. For the most part, even if you haven’t used your colored pencils for a very long time, the most you’ll have to do to make them color as they once did is sharpen them down to a new section of lead.

2. Can colored pencils dry out?

Yes, your colored pencils can definitely dry out. If you leave them exposed to sunlight or if they are stored in heat, you may find the tip of the pencil is dried out. This makes it where the color transfer isn’t as good so the pigment looks faded. It also makes the lead much more brittle, which can ultimately cause the lead to break under even slight pressure.

In most cases, there shouldn’t be a problem after you sharpen away the dried out tip. However, in some cases, if the exposure was extreme, you may have to replace the dried out pencils.

Get the most out of your coloring tools with my free adult coloring eBook and signup for my email newsletter HERE

Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal or medical advice. Please consult a legal expert or medical doctor to address your specific needs.


Recent Posts