Audible Sigh of Relief: Derwent Drawing Lightfast Test

March 29, 2009

Left: Lightfast test for Derwent Drawing. (A) is the control, (B) is the exposed portion of the test. I'm relieved to say there was no visible fading.

After being burned badly by Derwent Graphitints I decided to test one of my favorite Derwent products which I had always just trusted: Derwent Drawing.

These thick colored pencils with a muted color range and elegant clear varnished barrels, were first introduced in a set of 5 or 6 (it's been so long I really can't remember; the Dick Blick site says they were first introduced in 1986; I found them after reading an article in Step-by-Step Graphics on illustrator Peter de Sève). The set contained the essential drawing colors such as Ivory, Chocolate Brown, Sanguine, White, Yellow Ochre—you get the idea.

I always loved these pencils because they were drier and less waxy in their feel and application than regular wax pencils. They still had a waxy binder so it wasn't like using pastels (which I can't use because of allergies and asthma). They were always a happy drawing medium for me. Something that married well with watercolor. The black made an excellent pencil for sketching Emma and Dottie (black and white Alaskan Malamutes). When I photocopied those sketches to use as transfers for making carvings the lines were always crisp and clean. If I scanned those sketches and turned them into bitmaps they retained their pencil stroke quality when printed out in photocopier artist books.

Their one drawback is a direct result of their main appeal. With the drier, less waxy feel and softer application smudging became more of an issue. I rarely use these in my journal unless I am only working on one page of a page spread. Some smudging on the opposite page always occurs.

But the fun of working with these pencils (if at heart you long for a softer pencil) far outweighs the smudge issue. 

Imagine my delight when several years ago Derwent decided to enlarge the color selection of this pencil line beyond the traditional earth tones to include blues and greens and even a lighter yellow. I bought a full set of 24 colors immediately and worked with it whenever I could. On those occasions when a less muted color was needed I found that they melded well with my other wax colored pencils.

Then a couple years ago Derwent started making some of the colors in stick form (like the Prismacolor sticks or Conte sticks). As far as I know the only way to get the sticks is to purchase the "Derwent Drawing Collection 24" which contains 13 of the Derwent Drawing pencils, a 4B Derwent Sketching (graphite pencil), a kneaded eraser, a sharpener, and 8 of these wonderful sticks. You are still short some of the wonderful colors of the full 24 color range so you might want to buy a tin of 24 pencils or buy missing items from open stock.

(Note: originally open stock on this line was sent to stores as "tubs" which were a collection of colors that couldn't be ordered individually. This made getting the color you wanted from open stock frustrating and hit or miss. I don't know if this has been changed. Happily I tend to use all these colors equally fast so I just get a new tin of 24 as needed.)

When I compared the exposed sample to the control sample I let out an audible sigh of relief. There's no reason for me to give up this pencil line. I can continue to enjoy the wonderful range of colors and the delicious workability.

Note: after this post went up I had several questions about my comment about Derwent Graphitints so I inserted the link to my October 9, 2008 post on that pencil line so people could find it easily.

    • Pearl
    • March 29, 2009

    Have you lightfast tested any other of the Derwent pencils? I’m curious especially about the Derwent watercolor pencils.

  1. Reply

    I use Derwent Drawing mostly for drawing people as I find the colour range works well with a quasi-classic drawing approach.

    Very difficult to find in open stock though!

  2. Reply

    What’s the problem with graphitints?

    • Roz
    • March 29, 2009

    Pearl, if you click on “Derwent” in the categories list you will find a test and review about Graphitints which are watercolor pencils of a sort. They are very fugitive as are the Derwent Inktense (they are so fugitive you don’t want to get near them!).

    As for the regular Derwent watersoluble colored pencil line I have not tested that. I did use it a fair bit with other lines, in the late 90s early 0s but I don’t like the wash out when working with it. I prefer Faber Castell Albrecht Durer Aquarelles. I only use both for sketching so I haven’t done a lightfast test. I should probably do one on the FCADAs because I have some projects in mind for finished art.

    I’ll keep you posted.

    • Roz
    • March 29, 2009

    Katherine the Derwent Drawing are perfect for life drawing situations because of their color range as you mention.

    I’m disappointed to hear it is no easier to find open stock of these pencils in the UK than it is here!

    What is the purpose of sending little self-contained tubs of preselected colors to vendors? It doesn’t make any sense to me. How do they know what colors people really want?


    • Roz
    • March 29, 2009

    Julie, click on “Derwent” in my categories list and scroll down to the third post Oct. 9 (my first blog post actually). It reviews Graphitints, and shows a shocking lightfast test.

    These pencils are very fugitive. So fugitive in fact that I gave them to friends (who knew the score) in life drawing rather than give them to my 6-year-old-niece. She deserves better art materials.

    I don’t even recommend them for journal work based on friend’s experiences.

    • Andy Newton
    • June 10, 2010

    The posts above include some rather harsh comments about lightfastness in certain ranges of Derwent pencils. If the issue is considered in more detail then conclusions can be more positive.

    Derwent now publish Blue Wool lightfastness ratings for all their pencil ranges. See click on any type of pencil listed at left of page, then at the bottom of the main body of the page for that type of pencil click on “Colour Chart and Lightfastness Ratings”.

    The published charts show that the types of pencil criticised above do indeed contain fugitive colours (Blue Wool 2 or 3 for example), but also many lightfast colours (Blue Wool 5 to 8 say).
    Selecting only the most lighfast colours is therefore an easy task. Rejecting an entire range of pencils because it contains some fugitive colours is unjustified. The fugitive colours are manufactured because some customers value those hues – but not for wall hanging display!

    Each step in the Blue Wool scale doubles (or halves) the light exposure time to a given degree of fading. So comparing a BW3 pencil with a BW7 pencil, the BW7 pencil will last 2x2x2x2 = 16 times longer for the same fading.
    All the Derwent “Drawing” pencils are BW7 or BW8 – as confirmed by the test result (sigh of relief) at the top of this page.

  3. Reply

    Andy, I’m sorry you feel that reporting on my lightfastness tests was harsh. I can only report on what happened. If you read the other posts relating to the Derwent lines with which I have problems (Graphitints and Inktense) you will see that the ENTIRE RANGE of pencils in those lines faded.

    That’s not a matter of one or two colors not making the grade.

    I want to love Derwents, as they are the pencil of my childhood, and in Derwent Drawing, at least I can be confident that the pencils colors won’t fade, hence this article.

    I hope you will see from these related posts that I am being fair. If I were being harsh I would simply dismiss Derwents because two of the company’s lines failed so badly.

    Instead I prefer to look at every line and see what happens. And report on that so that people can be made aware.

    I appreciate you sending a colour chart lightfast ratings link for Derwent so that people can go and look up individual pencils across their lines.

    Sadly, not all colored pencil consumers are savvy to the fact that some pencils might be in a line, suitable for art that is not made to last—such as some illustrations which are made for the moment, digitized, and the originals not saved. The company doesn’t announce this on their boxes of pencils so people new to colored pencils or who don’t work in the profession, won’t understand this and will be disappointed when their work, which they were making to hang on the wall, fades.

    That’s the purpose of posts like this—to provide information to artists who might be new to all this or new to the medium. Advertising copy can be misleading, or simply leave out details that new adopters might need to make a reasonable choice with their limited art dollars. As an instructor in colored pencils it’s my job to point these things out to people.

    I’m glad that Derwent now publishes the lightfastness ratings for their pencil ranges (I seem to remember someone else wrote in about this link on another post), but I would be even happier if Derwent (and all colored pencil companies for that matter) published this information on their packaging all the time—as soon as they launched a product. (I know that some colored pencil companies do this.)

    I would like to see ratings right on the pencils themselves (like tubes of watercolor paint show) so that users of colored pencils don’t have to look at charts at all, but can simply look at the pencil barrel they hold in their hands and make an instantaneous decision.

    I hope people will consult the list on their website until that happens.

    Also in the meantime, it’s hard to see how “conclusions can be more positive” about a pencil line when ALL the colors in that line fade and all the advertising promotional material for that line (like Graphitints for example) talks about making art for wall hanging. Ultimately the companies are responsible for what they put out into the world, and the advertising they use to promote it. I know my posts on Derwents have been fair and accurate with a clearly defined scope.

    If you read my posts again carefully, you will see that I am not rejecting an entire line because “it contains some fugitive colors.” I am rejecting the lines I reject because ALL of the colors failed. That’s not subtle.

    I am still a happy user of Derwent Drawing. And I’ll continue to purchase and test any other lines the company produces in the future, always with the hope of finding a quality line with lightfast qualities.

    Again, thank you for providing the link to their lightfastness charts.

    • Andy Newton
    • June 11, 2010

    Roz – Your June 10 2010 comments above make complete sense.

    Sharing any more information that we can glean about pencil permanence must be helpful. As you say, the advertisements and pencil tin packaging often does not help us much.
    So here is one more link and recent experience to share:

    In May 2010 I bought a Derwent Artists “Burnt Carmine” pencil from open stock. Its texture was so different from other Derwent Artists colours that I asked if this was correct at the Derwent enquiry page here:

    (I set the “Area of interest” field to be “Products”.)

    Would there be any response? Web based enquiry forms often lead to nothing more than one automated reply…. but in this case, two days later by email…

    Hello Andrew,
    It certainly sounds like you have acquired a rogue pencil. We take our quality very seriously here at Derwent, so if you wouldn’t mind, could you send the pencil back to us so that our lab can test it to find out what problem has occurred in the production process, and I will send you out a replacement.

    All sorted in a few days, and top marks awarded to Sarah Taylor, Product Manager, Cumberland Pencil Company!

    So given this example of care over product quality and good customer communication, what about your lightfast results that were so different from the published Blue Wool levels? (Sixteen of the Graphitints are rated BW7 or BW8 should be virtually bulletproof.)

    An enquiry to Derwent would certainly be worth doing, with a link to your well documented test at

  4. Reply

    Andy, I am thrilled to hear how responsive Derwent was to your enquiry about your “rogue” pencil! Thank you for your excellent suggestion and the link to their enquiries form.

    • Annna
    • October 11, 2010

    I think that most water soluble pencils have at least some issues with light fastness. For example F.C’s Albrecht Durer pencils are based on the same pigments with the same colour range as their Polychromos pencils and although many A.D. pencils are light fast, they generally have lower light fastness than the polychromos in a lot of pencils, especially the red/violet shades. A Faber Castell rep said they don’t yet know why this is the case, but the watersoluble binder affects the lightfastness. Faber Castell have a one-, two- or three-star lightfastness rating system and these are printed at the end of the pencil, very useful.

  5. Reply

    Anna, I used F.C. Albrecht Dürer line for watersoluble colored pencils too and while there are issues with any of these it holds up in ways that the Graphitints and Inktense don’t. Again, if there is clear labeling and up front advertising then people won’t be disappointed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close Cookmode

Pin It on Pinterest