Derwent Graphitints Fading!

October 9, 2008


Graphitints sketch on prepainted 300 lb. Hot Press Watercolor Paper.

I love drawing with colored pencils. Several years ago when Derwent came out with an new line, Graphitints, I tried them as soon as I could get my hands on some. I loved that each pencil’s color was muted by the addition of graphite. The subdued palette was a delight for nature sketching. Equally exciting was the water-soluble character of the pencils. Touch them with a wet brush and more vibrant color emerged; easily spreadable like watercolors.

The peregrine falcon above was drawn with a mixture of wet and dry techniques. (It is on hot press 300# watercolor paper that was pre-painted with acrylic ink; that’s the pinkish background you see. That background is waterproof and lightfast.) You can see additional examples of wet and dry usage of these pencils throughout my visual journal selections
on my website, but I have gathered a few specific examples in Graphitint Journal. I was particularly fond of using these pencils in life drawing.

During that first bout of usage in 2005 I did my usual color chart blending tests, both for dry and wet usage. For some reason, however, I didn’t do my typical lightfast test, something I always do with a new medium that doesn’t come with an official rating (and even then I do it sometimes).

Several months ago an artist friend Kate Johnson posted news that she found her
Graphitint journal sketches, which were never exposed to light, were fading! I immediately looked at sketches and drawings I’d made in 2005 when first using these pencils. I couldn’t see any noticeable difference with my eye. However, Kate’s results were so dramatic, I immediately did a color fading test.


Lightfastness test for Derwent Graphitints. The portion on the left is the same pencil as the right, however, the portion on the right was exposed to sunlight.

I scribbled swatches of color across a sheet of watercolor paper. I tore the sheet in half. I wet a portion of each color bar so there was some washed color exposed as well as dry color. I put half the chart in a folder in my flat file and the other half was taped to a window for 60 days. Of course this isn’t a scientific test because I can’t tell you how much light the test sheet was exposed to. During the two months it was tacked to the window glass we had rainy days and sunny days. It was fall in Minnesota and the light comes at a different angle and intensity, which I understand as an artist, not a scientist. And yes this is more light than a drawing, framed under glass and displayed in a room, away from sunlight would receive.

Yet when I do this test with art supplies rated as archival by industry standards those supplies come out still vibrant. So it’s a test that works for me.

As you can see from the chart, the results were shocking and startling. I typically expect blues to evaporate, but the red range was hardest hit, totally disappearing. My chart isn’t tidy. Some pencil identification numbers (e.g., 07, 13)  float closer to the next color bar than the one to which they actually belong. I have placed the two charts together so that you can read across and see the damage. I have also put bold asterisks at several points to help you read across the chart with a particular color, e.g., 01 at the bottom. It’s my hope these markers will help you orient yourself.

I’ve decided to stop using these pencils because of the complete fading that resulted in my test. You could argue that when used in a journal or sketchbook, away from light, the fading won’t be dramatic. Kate’s experience belies that. If you do decide to work with these pencils I recommend that you scan your work immediately and deal with your digital image as your original (backing up as needed).

People who belonged to my update list (used before I started this blog) will know that I did not overlook a lightfast test with Derwent’s Inktense Colored Pencils when they came out. Something in the company’s write up about that product made me suspect it was fugitive in quality (references to illustration, as opposed to art, that type of thing). At any rate, I did do a test and the colors failed miserably. If you are using that line of pencils for your art please make digital “originals.” 

Years ago I walked into my favorite art supply store looking for some boards to paint on. Greg, the knowledgeable staff member who helped me, jokingly asked, “Roz, does everything you do have to last 500 years?” Greg was a great help to me that day, as he has been on many days since, not just because he made me laugh and gave me good advice. He made me think about the whole archival situation. Do I want to worry about longevity issues or make drawings and paintings; and where is the line of comfort for me between the two? It’s something we all have to come to grips with on our own.

In general I use archival materials and lightfast media, but I will use non-archival materials in my journals. The fade rate for the Derwent Graphitints and the Derwent Inktense is just too fast for my comfort level. I’d rather put my time into using something else.




  1. Reply

    Thanks for the excellent analysis of this medium. You are right, it doesn’t have to last for 500 years, but this is just too much fading to be practical. I’ll bookmark this new blog post-haste and put it in the blogroll on my site, too. Congratulations on getting this up and running. Along with Kate Johnson and Laura Frankstone and Katherine Tyrell we have yet another outstanding resource to appreciate and to be inspired by.

  2. Reply

    Hi! Roz: Washing clothes and taking a little time out to say WOW! I love that sketch. Very quickly! I too, like longevity in my work. I have seen artist live to have the owners come and complain. They are respected local artist. I have a theory on Graphtints. They are Graphite based. Graphite in itself last a long time. But it is also a lubricant. If the pigments in the Graphitint are not in the same viscosity range I believe the pigment or dye put with them is simply sliding off the Graphite. The InkTense are simply inks. All those elaborate drawings with pens are going to fade and quickly. Just like the Dr, Martins Ink intensified colors for Commercial art. If not stored in a file cabinet on archival paper the work fades. The graphitints fade even in a file cabinet. That is why I think the pigment is simply crawling away from the graphite. Got to go! Wonderful start.
    Sherrie Roberts

  3. Reply

    Looks great, Roz! Welcome to blogging! I’m looking forward to seeing your words and images together.

    • Roz
    • October 9, 2008

    Karen, You are my first comment on my blog! Thank you for your kind comment and for the visit!

  4. Reply

    Well, you are starting out with a bang, aren’t you, Roz? Thank you for sharing this important information.

    While I don’t think that anything I do has to last 500 years, I think I’d be disappointed if it didn’t last for my lifetime. My mom is 95 so asking it to last another 50 is not outrageous.

  5. Reply

    I am SO happy to see this blog! I’ve been long hoping you’d start one, Roz. You have so much information and expertise to share and you’ve been so generous in other forums in doing just that. Now the whole world can benefit and be educated and charmed by what you have to say. Congratulations on your new and wonderful venture! And thanks to Karen, too, for her own generosity and for sharing her inspiring art life and artworks with the rest of us.

  6. Reply

    I am so excited that you put up a blog! I have bookmarked it and will return regularly.


  7. Reply

    I’m delighted to see that you have started a blog and will follow your entries with interest. You made me happy that I never bought the two types of Derwent pencils.

  8. Reply

    Yay! So glad you have a blog to share your wisdom and beautiful artwork. I’m appalled by the results you and Kate had with these pencils. How can manufacturers sell a product that they know has such a short life span without indicating that on the package. It’s like writing with disappearing ink! Sheesh!

  9. Reply


  10. Reply

    How wonderful to have this as a resource, Roz, thank you! I know how busy you are and how much time blogging takes, but as you say, perhaps you can consolidate your communication efforts here.

    I can’t wait for post #2!

    • Roxane
    • October 9, 2008

    Those results are stunning. Almost makes me sick to think that I recently invested in a set of these.

  11. Reply

    It’s wonderful that you’ve started blogging Roz, I always hoped you would! Very interesting and beautiful first post, thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.

  12. Reply

    Great painting and post! I had posted a similar but not so thorough lightfastness test on my blog in September. I didn’t wet them before testing and didn’t keep them in the light for as long, but still had appreciable fading. Such a shame – they really are lovely pencils.
    Great to see your new blog and I’ll be follwing it to see what you’re up to.

  13. Reply

    Very cool new blog Roz…and welcome to typepad! I love the banner, (they won’t let me have one since I’m a “basic” member…darn it). Gorgeous sketch, but now I’m glad to know about the fading…I was thinking about buying some. Everything is SO tempting when they’re in their perfect little tins at Blick. -Lynn

  14. Reply

    Thanks for the info, though it is a bummer because I love the Inktense pencils.
    Oh well, I suspect I will still use them, Da Vinci I’m not!
    Happy days,

    • Sandy
    • October 10, 2008

    Oh Roz, thank you for this new blog, I can see this will be a fountain of information, and inspiration – I book marked it and will be back daily!!! Thank you for sharing so much so often!!

  15. Reply

    roz, i’m so glad you set up a blog! i’ve enjoyed your posts on the journal group – you are so generous in describing the process and experimentation behind the evolution of your beautiful drawings. it looks like your blog will continue along the same lines.

    would you mind sharing what kind of hot press paper you use? it’s my favorite paper for illustration because the ink tends to sit on top of the paper – which is great for lettering. i’m planning to order some online (it’s not easy to find where i live) but would like to try something other than the arches block, which is all i’ve been able to find in the stores here. if you have any suggestions i’d be grateful.

  16. Reply

    This is awesome! Beautiful and this eye looks so real!

  17. Reply

    Roz, love the new blog! Congratulations. Am looking forward to reading it at least once a day! Faith

  18. Reply

    Came to your blog via. Making a Mark. Thank you for the info on Inktense. I bought a set of these to use on textiles, because they are quoted as being permanent after being used wet on fabric – I will try heat setting them!

    • Roz
    • October 12, 2008

    Kay, Thanks for stopping by.

    I’ve never seen any info from Inktense pencils saying they were permanent after use on wet fabric.

    What the Derwent said in the materials I received was that the pencils were waterproof after DRYING 24 hours.

    The ability to become waterproof was actually one of the marketing comments that made me want to try them. However, I don’t wait 24 hours between each application of color so that was definitely a bust.

    And the waterproof aspect doesn’t address the lightfast/fading issue.

    I’m not sure how your source was using the word “permanent.”

    Before you use Inktense on a really important and time intensive project I hope you do a use and lightfast test. I think that whether you heat dry them or not you’ll find that when exposed to light, on paper or fabric, they are going to fade. Exposure to light will still fade the colors, even if they are now waterproof because of the time lag or heat setting.

    But KEEP ME POSTED!!!!!!!!!! Hey, miracles can happen.


  19. Reply

    Roz, I just got set up online here in Bali and saw that you had started blogging. This is so wonderful, as your knowledge, experience and advice have always been so inspiring. I will be back ofetn.
    By the way you would love it where we are staying temporarily—birds of all sorts (in cages) wonderfully cared for by a young man and chickens running around the entrance and across the lawn to the beach. Such is life in Indonesia.

    • JPQ
    • June 30, 2009

    Thanks for this test. now i know i never again buy them.:(

    • Stacey
    • January 18, 2014

    It’s true that graphite is a lubricant, but I doubt that it’s making the colored pigments slide off. For one thing, both the graphite and the dye are “glued” to the paper with a binder such as clay or gum Arabic. Some pigment may come off if it is rubbed (by a finger or another sheet of paper), but even pure, unbound pigment won’t just fall off the page just from being mixed with graphite. It can be difficult getting new layers to go over graphite, but that will happen when they are applied, not over the course of months.

    It’s worth noting that there is a difference (or there’s supposed to be) between “fadeproof” and “lightfast” – fadeproof means that it won’t fade in the dark, just from being exposed to air and such, while lightfast means it won’t fade when exposed to light. You’ll find this distinction most when looking at pens or markers.

    A complicating factor is that, although we can know for certain that some pigments are never lightfast, even the more durable pigments will vary in their lightfastness from source to source and batch to batch. In other words, without doing a test yourself, you can be sure if a pigment will fade, but you can never be sure if it won’t.

  20. Reply

    Roz, as I’ve probably mentioned, I had Graphitints fade in a closed journal. Not thrilled…

  21. Reply

    Kate, YES! You did mention this. I mention this at the start of paragraph 4. Your startling comment on facebook (or maybe EDM list?) had me rushing to hang up my chart, when previously I’d just given them a pass because I grew up with Derwents.

    So when I came to start this blog, it seemed natural to start in the way I meant to continue—with comments about things that I’m wound up about and one of those things is art materials.

    And it has always made me exceedingly happy that my art hero (YOU) provided the alert for me to look more closely at these pencils. You are an amazing artist and I love that you love materials and process and that you share this knowledge through your books and online work.

  22. Reply

    hi Roz, my experience was equally distressing… the graphtints bled thru to the following page and everything seemed to to go to the pink end of the spectrum…. not impressed and they have stayed in a drawer ever since. I’d be happy if they faded cause at the moment they are just bright and furry with bleeding! Maybe if I exposed them to light (they are in a closed journal)

  23. Reply

    Deb, Kate Johnson, who first alerted me to the fading issues with these pencils, had her drawings fade to a sort of pink too.

    But I don’t know anyone who had them bleed through the paper. What type of paper were you using?

    The trouble with dye-based inks is that they can fade even without being exposed to light. They just break down.

    It’s very sad because I did some lovely work with them, but it was easy to give them up.

  24. Reply

    heya Roz, the paper was a reasonably heavy weight cartridge in a bound sketchbook, which peeved me no end as they bled through to other drawings.

    oh well, such is life.

    On another matter, I’m very keen to visit my own version of your State Fair, our Royal Exhibition. Fondly called the ‘Ekka’ by all, it has all the animals, birds, sheep dog trial etc. Can’t wait now I’m all fired up by the Roz enthusiasm!! I have a new sketchbook ready to go and I shall leave the graphtint’s at home.

  25. Reply

    Bleed through is a pain and disappointment. But if you know in advance and still like the paper you can at least work on every other page.

    I hope you go to the Royal Exhibition. It sounds like a great time! Be sure and let me know.

    • Brian Riker
    • July 11, 2020

    I wonder if Derwent has changed these to improve lightfastness? Their chart has changed for Graphintint pencils to increase the rating over older examples I found on other blogs. I have used them and found them really good so far, but not long enough to test lightfastness. I found a blog that did a 3 year test, and they were much better then the one you did.

    1. Reply

      Brian, I don’t know. I haven’t been using them so I haven’t been paying attention. I haven’t seen any other lightfastness tests on these from other bloggers, just what I did, so I can’t comment on that. One thing that was concerning to me was that a friend used them in her journal and found that in a matter of months they had faded in a closed book. That indicates the use of a dye in the pencil lead instead of or in addition to any pigments. That’s concerning. Before I started using them again I’d want to make sure they weren’t using dye. For me it’s all sort of moot because I really only use them when I go to life drawing and because of the pandemic I can’t go to life drawing. I wish you the best with your work and its longevity. Thanks for writing.

        • Mai
        • January 15, 2021

        Very useful information, even years later. Thanks for sharing.

        1. Reply

          Glad it’s helpful! Thanks for reading.

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