Quick Tip: Prismacolor Pencils (UPDATED)

PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK. I MAKE NO CLAIM THAT THIS IS SAFE OR SMART TO DO. IF YOU DO THIS, YOU ASSUME ALL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE OUTCOME OF YOUR ACTIONS. IF YOU AGREE, FEEL FREE TO CONTINUE READING.

It’s all happened to us . . .  you sharpen, sharpen, sharpen, and the point of your thick leaded Prismacolor pencil keeps breaking. It’s frustrating, especially if you find that the entire batch is bad . . . So what do you do? (I’ll stop there at the risk of sounding like an infomercial)

broken

The answer is the microwave!

Yes, your microwave. Better yet, if you have one in your studio, you won’t have to take all your pencils home. The thing is, sometimes when you drop your pencil, or bang it around for a bit, or sometimes through no fault of your own, the entire lead of the pencil is shattered. The Microwave heats up the lead inside the pencil and essentially fuses it together. Now I haven’t done this for some time, so do so at YOUR OWN RISK, but I’ve found success in the past by popping it in there on high for as little as 3 -4 seconds. Any more and the outer coating of the pencil would bubble and crackle.  I also don’t know if you leave it in too long if the lead will then explode, but hey, proceed with caution.

Once nuked, your pencils should be good as . . . well . . . microwaved pencils can be :-)

UPDATE -> Sorry! by lead I mean the waxy core of a prismacolor pencil. Not a graphite pencil!

together

  • http://coroflot.com/bdavey brandon

    cool. i’ll try that out

  • http://coroflot.com/bdavey brandon

    cool. i’ll try that out

  • John M

    what the…I tried this and it blew up my mom’s microwave! -jk

  • John M

    what the…I tried this and it blew up my mom’s microwave! -jk

  • http://bradfordwaughdesign.com Brad

    Uh…heads up if your pencil has metallic printing.

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      Hmmmm I tried it and had no problems. Maybe left it in there too long?

  • http://bradfordwaughdesign.com Brad

    Uh…heads up if your pencil has metallic printing.

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      Hmmmm I tried it and had no problems. Maybe left it in there too long?

  • http://www.ecstewart.com ECStewart

    I need to try this! My cat is forever knocking pencils off my table causing me lament the experience within the wood shell casing.

  • http://www.ecstewart.com ECStewart

    I need to try this! My cat is forever knocking pencils off my table causing me lament the experience within the wood shell casing.

  • twocents

    Did you find that out by absent mindedly putting pencils in the microwave or on purpose? :-p

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      friend of mine told me . . . i didn’t believe him, then I tried it and it worked :-)

  • twocents

    Did you find that out by absent mindedly putting pencils in the microwave or on purpose? :-p

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      friend of mine told me . . . i didn’t believe him, then I tried it and it worked :-)

  • Mason

    cool! do u put it in before u sharpen it, or after it breaks?

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      I only do it after it breaks or I find that the pencil keeps losing its point. Then I’ll put it in and zap it for a bit then resharpen it.

  • Mason

    cool! do u put it in before u sharpen it, or after it breaks?

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      I only do it after it breaks or I find that the pencil keeps losing its point. Then I’ll put it in and zap it for a bit then resharpen it.

  • Mason

    ok sweet ill give it a try!

  • Mason

    ok sweet ill give it a try!

  • Tisi

    “the entire lead of the pencil is shattered”
    Ummm… How old are your pencils? I know that for all of MY life, we’ve had GRAPHITE pencils, not lead, due to the whole lead poisoning thing.

    You should really be more clear. Does this only work with pencils from forever ago or did you just use the wrong word every time?

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      Sorry! by lead I mean the waxy core of a prismacolor pencil. Not a graphite pencil!

  • Tisi

    “the entire lead of the pencil is shattered”
    Ummm… How old are your pencils? I know that for all of MY life, we’ve had GRAPHITE pencils, not lead, due to the whole lead poisoning thing.

    You should really be more clear. Does this only work with pencils from forever ago or did you just use the wrong word every time?

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      Sorry! by lead I mean the waxy core of a prismacolor pencil. Not a graphite pencil!

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  • ethan

    hi Spencer,
    I have to admit that I find your website incredibly significant in getting ID students (like myself) to dive into sketching. Your tips and tutorials are really great. I have recommended this website to many of my friends and colleagues.
    However, with this advice – microwaving your pencils – I believe you are asking for a law suit. These objects are NOT meant to be nuked and you should be a aware of the consequences your reader might experience. Trust me, someone’s pencil will catch fire eventually.
    If I were you I would delete this posting.
    I wish you all the best, and I am looking forward to see what you have to show next.

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      If you read through the post, you’ll notice the warning – proceed at your own risk. I make no claim that this is safe, nor do I assume responsibility for anyone’s actions, so if you overlook the warning, it’s on you. Thanks for the warning, and I hope you don’t catch on fire either. Hehe.

    • Fh

      Lawsuit for advice on site targeted at relative grownups…. Sounds soooo American…

    • srsly?

      So, you really believe that you can sue over bad advice on the internet? What has this world come to.

  • ethan

    hi Spencer,
    I have to admit that I find your website incredibly significant in getting ID students (like myself) to dive into sketching. Your tips and tutorials are really great. I have recommended this website to many of my friends and colleagues.
    However, with this advice – microwaving your pencils – I believe you are asking for a law suit. These objects are NOT meant to be nuked and you should be a aware of the consequences your reader might experience. Trust me, someone’s pencil will catch fire eventually.
    If I were you I would delete this posting.
    I wish you all the best, and I am looking forward to see what you have to show next.

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      If you read through the post, you’ll notice the warning – proceed at your own risk. I make no claim that this is safe, nor do I assume responsibility for anyone’s actions, so if you overlook the warning, it’s on you. Thanks for the warning, and I hope you don’t catch on fire either. Hehe.

  • Sarah

    Oh great tip I’ll have to try It out In case mine ever break! What’s best to sharpen them In hand held sharpener, Electirck sharpener, Or the kind they come with?

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      Personally, I use an auto-stop electric sharpener. That way the pencils aren’t wasted by over sharpening them.

  • Sarah

    Oh great tip I’ll have to try It out In case mine ever break! What’s best to sharpen them In hand held sharpener, Electirck sharpener, Or the kind they come with?

    • http://www.idsketching.com Spencer Nugent

      Personally, I use an auto-stop electric sharpener. That way the pencils aren’t wasted by over sharpening them.

  • Bluefly

    Great idea. It would be similar to leaving your pencils in the sunny window for a while. Of course you need to live where the sun shines and it gets warm. I had also heard that you can put them in the oven for a short time. (I don’t remember what temp and how long)
    Just to let others know, the companies who manufacture colored pencils all refer to the colored wax as lead.
    ” a. Any of various, often graphitic compositions used as the writing substance in pencils.
    b. A thin stick of such material. ”
    Which by definition could be graphite, charcoal, or a colored wax stick. The term in Spencer’s instructions is a generic reference to the center portion of a pencil and the casing is made up of wood covered by paint.

  • Bluefly

    Great idea. It would be similar to leaving your pencils in the sunny window for a while. Of course you need to live where the sun shines and it gets warm. I had also heard that you can put them in the oven for a short time. (I don’t remember what temp and how long)
    Just to let others know, the companies who manufacture colored pencils all refer to the colored wax as lead.
    ” a. Any of various, often graphitic compositions used as the writing substance in pencils.
    b. A thin stick of such material. ”
    Which by definition could be graphite, charcoal, or a colored wax stick. The term in Spencer’s instructions is a generic reference to the center portion of a pencil and the casing is made up of wood covered by paint.

  • http://thevoicedesigns.carbonmade.com Alex

    I’ve been reading through the various articles on the site and I have to admit that I found this particular advice to clearly demonstrate your skill at thinking outside of the box! Most manufacturers are pretty secretive concerning the exact formulation for their cores, which makes it difficult if not impossible to determine accurately with which brand this technique will work and with which it will not. Without being an expert on the topic, after some research, I determined that the average coloured core contains a significant portion of vegetable-based wax as the primary filler.

    If a core shatters, it is often, as others have indicated in previous posts, because the age of the pencil (or even its manner and place of storage) have left the core filler material brittle. This is indicative of a lower than desired level of moisture within the filler, which gives it pliability and even a measure of density. This led me to think of a few other methods that could also give some good results for your older pencils:

    - Temporary storage in a higher heat/humidity area, such as a bathroom

    - Using an iron on low heat/steam setting and rolling over pencils between towels

    - Using a re-purposed cigar humidor to store older pencils until they have regained their original moisture content.

    Just a thought… I have run into this problem only a few times in my life and I’ve always attributed the problem to improper storage (close to electric heaters) and UV exposure (clear storage containers, near windows). That can be an issue for some art shops too!

  • http://thevoicedesigns.carbonmade.com Alex

    I’ve been reading through the various articles on the site and I have to admit that I found this particular advice to clearly demonstrate your skill at thinking outside of the box! Most manufacturers are pretty secretive concerning the exact formulation for their cores, which makes it difficult if not impossible to determine accurately with which brand this technique will work and with which it will not. Without being an expert on the topic, after some research, I determined that the average coloured core contains a significant portion of vegetable-based wax as the primary filler.

    If a core shatters, it is often, as others have indicated in previous posts, because the age of the pencil (or even its manner and place of storage) have left the core filler material brittle. This is indicative of a lower than desired level of moisture within the filler, which gives it pliability and even a measure of density. This led me to think of a few other methods that could also give some good results for your older pencils:

    - Temporary storage in a higher heat/humidity area, such as a bathroom

    - Using an iron on low heat/steam setting and rolling over pencils between towels

    - Using a re-purposed cigar humidor to store older pencils until they have regained their original moisture content.

    Just a thought… I have run into this problem only a few times in my life and I’ve always attributed the problem to improper storage (close to electric heaters) and UV exposure (clear storage containers, near windows). That can be an issue for some art shops too!

  • Fai_v

    I just googled “prismacolor pencil keeps breaking” and this is the first site that came up! I thought that I needed to start searching for a pencil sharpening tutorial because my prismacolour indigo blue pencil kept breaking (its down to half the size now) while sharpening. I thought i’d switch to a prismacolor verithin and it kept breaking too! I’ve tried 3 different sharpeners and the same thing. Microwave, here I come!

  • Ruby <3

    IT WORKS!!!;] <3

  • C Blank

    Be careful doing this to premiers since they have a large bit of metallic printing on the end that will easily smoke…almost toasted my dorm’s microwave :P

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  • simon kim

    cool

  • mrsyeti

    Thanks for this! How long do you wait after you microwave, until you sharpen? Do you need to put the pencil in the refrigerator first?

  • Anonymous

    I never keep my pencil in refrigerator. Your idea help me to keep it in refrigerator, which will be best to use long time very easily. I just started to keep all beauty products in refrigerator after reading your post.

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  • Lesaun

    I tried the microwave suggestion, first time for five seconds, second time for ten seconds, and it didn’t melt the core I still had breaks…  any suggestions?

    • http://www.idsketching.com snugja

      Try different pencils. :-)

      Spencer

  • http://www.richberryblues.com/ Rich Berry

    I stopped having the problem of breakage after I placed them on a cookie sheet and placed them in the oven.  You must put the pencils in a cool oven, then start heating it up to 200. Once it hits 200 degrees wait 30 minutes, then turn off the oven, but leave the pencils in there until the oven has cooled off to room temp. You will see a little wax sometimes on the outside of the pencil, but I never have problems of breakage.

    • Johanne

      Didn’t they melt? I mean 30 minutes in 200 degrees is alot

      • Emberguard

        Maybe they meant 30 seconds?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1152090011 Emily Marlow

    Word of advice: Don’t nuke watercolor pencils or pencils in a mug. They must be lying flat. I just had a black pencil explode over all of my other pencils and stain the mug it was in. Going to go out looking for a cigar humidor now.

  • Low Budget Mofo

    I lived in a very hot part of the world for a about 15 months and my Prismacolors never broke. In fact they remained a very helpful soft consistency which lead to better blending. But the comment about storing them in a humid place concerned me because where I lived was a DRY heat so perhaps it’s just plain old heat that solves the problem. But I don’t mind being proven wrong either.

  • Low Budget Mofo

    ok I went and tried the hair dryer on high and BINGO that works but it just takes about a minute or three to bake them a bit (I’m not sure how long, I was baked a bit myself Wakka Wakka) But just observe the tip and look for signs that the wax is beginning to melt. I suppose as an alternative you could try a space heater if you don’t want to stand there holding a blow dryer.

  • Shirley P.

    Be very careful if you decide to do this! If your pencils have shiny metallic colored writing on the side, it will arc in your microwave! I would suggest using a hair dryer or a heater, but be responsible and don’t leave it unattended or laying on top of the heater, we don’t want fires!

  • Thomas

    Age may be factor, but I have used coloured pencils on & off for decades. 20 year-old Berol Prismacolor pencils I have still sharpen crack-free, and almost all the ones I have bought recently – I see Sanford took over the brand- are non-stop crack-a-thon in the same sharpener.

    The metal foil lettering caused arcing and charring even at low for me, and the wood barrel split on a test in the microwave – I’m going to try the oven, as I have a soft spot for Prismacolor.
    Still – the older ones have none of these issues, and it’s kind of sad when we have to go through these hoops just to get a coloured pencil to sharpen.

    • Thomas

      I should add – in spite of the barrel cracking in the microwave, the newer pencil did sharpen smoothly afterwards.

  • Katy

    I bought a new box of Premier Prismacolor Pencils from Amazon and quite of few of the leads break and break. So frustrating. I feel like I’m sharpening $$$ down the drain! I’m afraid of trying the microwave because of the metallic printing – I have arced a microwave before – a scary sight!
    Anyone actually try any of the other methods suggested and what were your results?

    • Emberguard

      Try leaving it in the sun or in a hot car. Prismacolour (and most artist grade pencils) are wax based, so any heat source will fix them.

  • Karri

    Be careful with dropping any Prismacolor pencils. The lead breaks inside causing continuous breakage while sharpening. The pencil must kept relatively still while sharpening. More breakage will occur if the sharpener is forcing the pencil to move back and forth. I’ll use an electric sharpener if the lead continues to break. Again, must gently insert pencil straight into the sharpener.

  • Emberguard

    Using the microwave is dangerous for wax based pencils if it has metallic lettering on them.

    A better solution is either the oven for a short time, or leave it in the sun/hot car