Do Colored Pencils Expire?

Getting your hands on art supplies is not that difficult because the real ordeal is to make them last for a very long time. People use art mediums for a multitude of reasons. Some people are professional artists who require top-grade art supplies to make art while others do art for leisure and stress relief purposes.

Regardless of the reason or purpose of art, it is important to know how long will your art supplies last.

Most art supplies out there come with expiration dates and the dates vary from product to product based on the manufacturer as well as a couple of other factors.

These expiration dates also go hand in hand with the shelf life expectancy of each product. So the question remains that how long do colored pencils last and do they come with an expiration date?

How Long Do Colored Pencils Last?

How long do colored pencils last? Do colored pencils expire? These are all tricky questions commonly asked about colored pencils. The truth is that there is no absolute answer to these questions.

Colored pencils are considered generally decent in this department. They usually come with a longer shelf life when compared to other artistic mediums such as acrylic paints.

However, where most colored pencils last longer than others, their shelf life expectancy depends upon a variety of aspects that cannot be merged and become a one-size-fits-all explanation for all colored pencils.

There are many factors that allow some colored pencils to last longer than other colored pencils. Moreover, there are also some tips and tricks which you can employ to extend the shelf life expectancy of colored pencils.

Before beginning to buy colored pencils, look for high-quality, or professional pencils if you’re an artist, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy from a high-end brand.

Moving on, there is a correct way to sharpen pencils so make sure you buy a sharpener that sharpens your colored pencils in the right manner. You should also know the purpose you’ll be using your colored pencils for and store them properly when you’re finished using them.

It was discovered that colored pencils have a very long shelf life. There have been instances where historians discovered colored pencils that were more than 100 years old and still had a beautiful pigmentation and application to them.

The most generalized answer for this is that the shelf expectancy of colored pencils depends upon how you use them and how often you use them, and how you take care of them.

Table of some top colors pencils

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How Does Quality Effects The Shelf Life of Colored Pencils?

Colored Pencils
Colored Pencils

If you’re a professional artist who needs to make a living out of their artwork, then it is recommended that you look for quality before everything else. High-quality professional pencils are designed with techniques and materials that allow them to last for a very long time.

However, it is without a shadow of a doubt that artist-grade professional colored pencils tend to be on the pricier side compared to regular ones. While it can’t be denied that you’ll be spending a little more on these pencils, but in the end, it will turn out to be worth it for the quality and shelf life you’ll be getting in return.

In addition to that, if you look after your artist-grade pencils regularly and store them in a proper place, you will not have to spend money on another set for a very long time. On the other hand, if you invest in low-quality pencils, there are chances you’ll have to keep buying a new set every now and then.

If you decide to opt for a high-quality set instead, you’ll be saving a lot of money, time, and effort. Buying multiple sets over a short period of time is not a very cost-effective choice, and it fails to offer the quality that is often desired by artists and professionals.

Additionally, low-quality pencils are designed for casual purposes and consist of a brittle core inside them. This also leads to increased chances of lead breakage inside the body of the pencil.

Have you ever encountered standard pencils or colored pencils that keep breaking upon application on paper no matter how many times you sharpen them? That is a sign of poor lead quality and decreased durability in pencils.

Moreover, the tip of the lead is usually dry in lower quality pencils and requires to be sharpened more often, disrupting the flow of the user. With professional pencils, the quality of the lead is commendable and allows for smooth application and blending.

Using high-quality artist-grade colored pencils gives you more room for experimentation and allows you to create better-looking artworks for a very long time. The high quality is also a testimonial to the increased shelf life of colored pencils which makes them a very popular and preferred option among artists and professionals.

Using the Correct Way to Sharpen Your Pencils

Do Colored Pencils Expire
Colored Pencils

Another factor that is often brushed aside is the way you tend to sharpen your pencils. Did you know that the way your colored pencils are sharpened determines their shelf life? Well, now you know.

The best way to sharpen your pencils is to use a manual sharpener. It is not recommended to use an electric, automatic sharpener if your plan is to make your pencils last for a long time. This is because the lead of the pencil tends to get trapped inside electric sharpeners which can destroy the framework of the sharpener and damage the pencil as a result.

That is why it is suggested to use a hand-held pencil sharpener which allows the user to control the movement of the pencil and identify where the shavings fall to remove them from the sharpener to make sure they don’t damage the blade of the sharpener.

After that, you can remove the shavings and continue sharpening. Another method of preventing pencil damage is to sharpen your pencils with a razor blade. However, if you choose to use this method, please make sure you don’t get hurt and ask for help if you’re inexperienced.

After you’ve found a sharpening method that works best for you, you will have more control over the lead of the pencil, and that will allow you to create more emphasized details in your drawings with the help of a much finer point. Learning to sharpen your colored pencils properly helps them last longer as a result.

Avoiding Wax-Based Lead

When it comes to high quality, only wax-based lead or oil-based lead are suitable for competing. This is because wax-based lead and oil-based lead come with true pigmentation, unlike the remaining ones.

There is no evidence that one is better than the other. In the end, it all comes down to what the user prefers and what they have in mind for the pencils. However, there is a catch with wax-based pencils. Wax-based colored pencils are said to produce wax bloom when they are used.

This wax bloom is created when the binding agents present in the lead surpass the quantity of the actual pigment in the lead. Wax bloom can be easily identified as a cloudy film over a drawing or color lay down.

This defeats the whole point of getting the beautiful richness of the actual color and instead, gives a hazy appearance to the pigment. Wax bloom creates white space causing small gaps in the color being applied on the surface.

This results in the user pressing harder on the pencil to get a richer color from the lead thus damaging the shelf life of the pencil in the process. That is also because wax-based leads are softer when compared with oil-based ones.

In addition to this, you will need to consistently apply increased levels of pressure on specific areas of your work to get the pigment there, which puts the pencil at a higher risk of lead breakage and overall short life. It is observed that most wax-based colored pencils usually don’t last as long as their oil-based contemporaries.

Choosing Colored Pencils According to Specific Purposes

Do Colored Pencils Expire?
Colored Pencils

Every person chooses colored pencils for their own personalized reasons. That is why manufacturers don’t make only one type of colored pencils but include a wide range of pencils for different purposes. It is highly recommended that you know what kind of pencils you want and for what purpose before you decide to buy colored pencils for yourself. You need to choose something that is produced to cater to your intended use.

There are wax-based colored pencils in the market that consist of a wide range of colors that a professional user wouldn’t consider buying, but the same pencils can be a great option for young children because they are non-toxic and don’t cost that much.

On the other hand, a professional artist might not have anything against wax-based pencils, but in order to create beautiful artwork with lots of different textures and details, they might want to opt for something that is tailored for use by professional artists, architects, designers, and builders.

As an artist, you will want to opt for colored pencils that come with a solid core and have great resistance to pressure. For example, Faber-Castell’s oil-based pencil series Polychromos is great for use by professional artists who like to experiment with higher forms of art and express themselves through colors. Because of their purpose, they might be a little on the pricier side but it’s all worth it in the end for an artist.

Storing Your Colored Pencils Properly

This is a very important factor when it comes to guaranteeing the shelf life of your colored pencils. The way you store your colored pencils plays a vital role that greatly affects how long they will last.

It’s believed that colored pencils should be stored in a carrying case that consists of individualized spots for each color pencil to ensure that they last for the longest. Moreover, colored pencils can also be stored in a box that doesn’t contain separated spots.

Also, they can be stored in pencil pouch or bags, but this way doesn’t guarantee very high protection as compared to the box with slots for every color. To make sure your colored pencils last longer, it is best to put them in a place that offers maximum protection.

Moreover, also be careful to not put your colored pencils in a place where it’s extremely cold or extremely hot. Also, store them away from direct sunlight and in an environment at a normal room temperature.

If you accidentally leave your colors out in direct sunlight or a very hot place, take a look at the lead of the pencil. Examine the area where it appears to be faded, then sharpen it down to the place where it was entirely encased in the wood where the sunlight couldn’t reach. This will make sure that your lead hasn’t been ruined by exposure to the sun’s rays.


In conclusion, it can be said that colored pencils do a pretty good job in the expiry department as compared to their counterparts. It’s possible that your colored pencils can last for as long as you live.

The shelf life of colored pencils is usually determined by the quality of the pencils you buy and how you treat them, such as the way you sharpen your pencils and how you store them. This also includes what you’re going to use them for. Colored pencils are considered to have one of the longest shelf lives of all art mediums there are, even more so if you keep in mind all the information mentioned in this article.

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