The History of the Colored Pencil

After using this medium for more than a decade, I discovered that the history behind it goes back farther than I thought. I used to believe that they were relatively new, but that’s incorrect. The invention and development of these pencils goes back over 200 years.

The historical time line for the pencil companies is borrowed from this page ( , detailing many of the companies that went on to produce the high quality art materials known today. Among the familiar brands are Lyra, Derwent, and Faber-Castell.

During the early twentieth century, the colored pencil core was developed. It was made up of a combination of pigments or dyes and a binder.

The first iteration of the color pencil was undertaken in 1761, when a small factory in Germany under the name Kasper Faber, began making color pencils. This small factory would end up becoming the world famous Faber Castell company.

In the early 1920’s, the A.W. Faber Company began selling over 60 different shades of colored pencils for artists. They are still considered one of the best brands today.

In 1806, the German company Lyra was established.

In 1832, British company Derwent began manufacturing pencils.

In 1834, Staedtler produced their first colored pencils.

In 1890, L. & C. Hardtmuth Company of Austria-Hungary introduced their Koh-I-Noor brand, named after the famous diamond.

In 1924 in Switzerland, a company named Caran d’Ache was founded. One of the top brands of color pencils today, but very expensive.

In 1925, the Schwann Stabilo Company was established in Germany. One of the leading makers of colored pencils.

Either Derwent or Lyra was the first company to design and manufacture the watercolor pencil in 1930.

In 1938, Berol introduced Prismacolors. They are sold in small primary color sets, and the full 120 color set. They are one of the most popular brands today, and also the one I use for my own work.
Currently, they are manufactured by a company called Sanford.

At one time, these pencils were designed with the intent of making the world’s most expensive and highest quality pencil. The goal of highest quality was achieved, and thankfully for artists, they aren’t an extreme expense.

Today, colored pencils can be used on a variety of surfaces. Sketchbook paper, Bristol board, and Pastel paper all are great canvases for the colored pencils. I have on one occasion, seen someone use colored pencils on a sheet of plastic by using a heating element underneath the sheet to melt and blend the colors. It was interesting, to say the least.

It’s also amazing how far the pencils have come from their initial development to the wide array of not just colors to choose from, but also pencil sets that mimic watercolors, and oils. This medium can and has fooled some people into thinking they are looking at a painting, and not a drawing.

Well, it’s not just an artist’s techniques that does that, but also very much in the quality of the pencils.

See you all next week. 🙂