Coloured Pencils - Lightfastness


Are you concerned about the colourfastness of coloured pencils?
 Would you like to find out more - or even try your own tests?
This resources aims to help you find out more about the concept of lightfastness,
understand how coloured pencils are tested and
the relative lightfastness of reputable brands of coloured pencils suitable for artists. 

What this page covers:

Lightfastness is a major issue for all artists' materials and colours - including coloured pencils. In early 2008, I got a very big surprise when I tested my coloured pencils against the lightfastness ratings in the CPSA Lightfastness Workbook. 

On the right you can see all my coloured pencils which did NOT make the cut because they are NOT listed in the CPSA Lightfastness Workbook as having an acceptable level of lightfastness. 

These are the ones which were in use and the picture excludes those that were in reserve and those which I've left in their boxes. Overall, we're talking a LOT of pencils - and a lot of money which has been spent on them.

RETURN TO: Resources for Coloured Pencil Artists

What is lightfastness?
Lightfastness relates to the chemical properties of organic and inorganic pigments used to create artists' paints and colours. In essence it's about how fast colours lose their colour integrity.

Pigments are coloured powders and vary very significantly in terms of how lighfast they are.  Not all pigments behave in the same way and have to be treated differently when making up colours. Concerns for artists arise when art media use pigments which are not lightfast or where the lightfastness is reduced when they are weakened in strength - as in a watercolour wash or a pale tint of a colour. 

You can read more about pigments and how they relate to colour in Making a Mark: Colour - a materials perspective #1 - pigments and dyes

Why is lightfastness important?

'Fugitive' materials are those that will either bleach white or radically change colour in less than 20 years when displayed in a normal home environment. Archival standards require colours to last for a very long time.  Lightfastness is certainly not an issue which is unique to coloured pencils. All art materials are derived from the same basic sources and so it also applies to all other media used to produce artists' materials.

Why is lightfastness in coloured pencils important?

Historically coloured pencils were mainly used by illustrators whose work was not being produced with a view to longevity.  Hence lightfastness in coloured pencils was not a major issue.  However as illustrators have increasingly switched to the use of digital technology the market for coloured pencils has changed. Professional, semi-professional and amateur artists now make up a much larger proportion of coloured pencil buyers. 
Naturally, artists want to work with materials which will not deteriorate with age and coloured pencil manufacturers are beginning to understand that this is becoming a major issue in relation to product development.

What's the lighfastness standard?
ASTM International (originally the American Society for Testing Materials) has a published statement about lightfastness which is applicable to all artists' materials.  It has also developed a standard for coloured pencils ASTM D6901-06 Standard Specification for Artists COLORED PENCILS   which includes requirements about lightfastness and how this can be tested.  A further standard has also been published for use as a method which is simple and uses blue wool cards to enable tests without instrumentation in a comparatively short length of time.  This is the one used by the Colored Pencil Society of America for its lightfastness workbook results.

In November 2003, CPSA identified the benefits of the new standard of lighfastness for coloured pencils as follows
Major advantages of this new colored pencil lightfastness standard are:
  • Artists choosing lightfast colored pencils as their medium can now work with confidence in knowing that their art will not fade. Public awareness of this fact will increase their artworks value and profitability.
  • Collectors are becoming increasingly aware of the archival aspects of their artworks. Their interest is in the artís lightfastness of medium, and the archival quality of the surface. Colored pencil art now ranks high in longevity of the medium, which is the ultimate asset for the collector.
  • Museum Conservators search for methods to make artwork last through the ages. As colored pencil is a viable fine art medium, it is imperative that ASTM D6901 addressed the issue of lightfastness. Brilliant works created by contemporary masters using colored pencil will be safely preserved because materials used were in compliance with the standard. This option is far better than salvaging a faded piece of work.
  • Prices for colored pencil art by renowned artists will command the same as for other mediums because of the advent of this lightfastness standard.
  • Retailer advantage lies in their ability to stock and sell quality higher-priced colored pencils that comply with ASTM D6901 to artists wanting their finished art to last.
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RETURN TO: Resources for Coloured Pencil Artists

Coloured Pencils - Lightfastness (Tests)
Detailed standard
Simple 'blue wool' standard
ASTM D4303-06 Standard Test Methods for Lightfastness of Colorants Used in Artists' Materials
This is a highly technical method that describes the ways in which pigments used in artists' paints (any kind of artists' paint) can be tested for relative lightfastness. It requires the use of color measuring instruments and instrumentally monitored exposure equipment. It details the preparation of test specimens and controls, describes the four types of simulated daylight exposures used in the method, and details how the test results are to be evaluated in order to place products on one of five lightfastness Categories.
The ASTM apply this standard when testing the lightfastness of all different types of artists materials and it forms part of the composite standard for each type of material. For example these are the latest standard specifications for:
STM D5383-02(2003) Standard Practice for Visual Determination of the Lightfastness of Art Materials by Art TechnologistsThis practice covers a method for exposing specimens of colored art materials indoors to sunlight coming through a closed window. A card containing eight Blue Wool References is exposed simultaneously. Blue Wool References 3, 6, and 7, are used as controls in determining when to remove test specimens from exposure and rate them. Test specimens are rated by assigning each specimen the number of the Blue Wool Reference that shows the same amount of color change.
This practice may be used to indicate art materials that will change color within a few months or years in normal indoor exposure and those that will remain unchanged for a period of years. It is not rigorous enough to verify that materials will remain unchanged for more than fifty years in a home or office environment. A major consideration in developing this method was to keep it simple and short enough to be preformed without instrumentation in a comparatively short length of time.
ASTM D6901-06 Standard Specification for Artists COLORED PENCILS
ACTIVE STANDARD: Pages: 5, Price: $ 35.00
This specification establishes requirements for composition, performance, and labeling of artists' COLORED PENCILS. It covers vehicles and additives. Requirements are included for identification, lightfastness, and consistency. COLORED pencil specimens are exposed to both natural daylight through window glass and simulated window glass-filtered daylight radiation to determine the lightfastness rating for each pencil.
CPSA: Lighfastness standard achievedThis CPSA press release (7.11.03) announces the achievement of a standard for testing the lightfastness of coloured pencils.
A statement by CPSA about the work they have been doing with the ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials), colored pencil manufacturers and art conservators towards the development of a standard of lightfastness for colored pencils.
return to top of page CPSA Product research - Lightfastness Workbook - Version 5 (available from March 2008)
Now Available! for CPSA Members only
VERSION 5 LIGHTFASTNESS TEST RESULT WORKBOOK available NOW Including new test results for 2005-2007
- Prismacolor Premier Lightfast
- new Prismacolors
- Caran d'Ache Neocolors
- Derwent Coloursoft
- Derwent Graphitint
- Derwent Inktense
CPSA Lightfastness Handbook Version 6
Now Available! for CPSA Members only
Version 6 now includes new results for the following:
  • Caran d'Ache Luminance 6901,
  • Cretacolor Karmina,
  • Cretacolor Marino,
  • Staedtler Ergosoft,
  • Staedtler Ergosoft Aquarelle,
  • and Staedtler Karat Aquarelle
  • Updated information about brands tested
  • Corrections and additions ot color listings
  • Complete list of all pencils tested by brand
Blogging about Lightfastness Tests
Making a Mark: How lightfast are your artist grade coloured pencils? I tested my coloured pencils recently against the ratings for lightfastness in the CPSA Lightfastness Workbook Version 4 - and got a VERY BIG SURPRISE. A lot of my pencil stock are NOT listed in the CPSA Lightfastness Workbook as having an acceptable level of lightfastness. Overall, we're talking a LOT of pencils - and a lot of money which has been spent on them.  Which is why you need to consult this book
handprint : doing your own lightfastness tests The technical specifications, testing equipment and coding schemes that make industry lightfastness tests look difficult shouldn't scare you from doing tests of your own. Testing paints requires no more skill than making a small painting and framing it
Bet Borgeson: Checking Colored Pencils for Lightfastness All art media, including oil and watercolor, have colors that fade or change with exposure to ultraviolet and visible light. This easy five-step test procedure can provide a better understanding of which of your own colors are resistant to light, without needing expensive test equipment or kits.
How to Do a Simple Lightfastness Test for a Paint Color An explanation of how to do a simple or basic lightfastness test to see how stable a paint color is. (The basic approach is also applicable to coloured pencils)
Making a Mark: Colourfastness in coloured pencils Results of a lighfastness test conducted in Brazil by Lucio Rubira
Sarah Longrigg's lightfastness experiments on black paper This is an example of what one artist has done and records her results for Caran d'Ache, Derwent, Faber Castell and Schwann Stabilo. The colours have been used on Canford black paper, framed, and exposed in a window for a minimum of 2.5 years

Making a Mark reviews......

Coloured Pencils - Lightfastness (Brands)
Prismacolor Premier Lightfast Colored Pencils - these pencils appear to have been DISCONTINUED in 2010 - they are no longer listed on the Sanford Prismacolor website relating to Coloured Pencils
Making a Mark: Prismacolor Premier Lightfast Colored Pencils List of new lightfast pencils and links to which pencils are in which set
Review of Prismacolor Premiere Lightfast Colored Pencils An independent unsponsored review of Prismacolor Premier Lightfast Colored Pencils by Bet Borgeson, artist, author. 
Caran d'Ache Luminance 6901
Caran d'Ache > Products > News - Luminance 6901 (lightfastness certified to ASTM standard) Luminance 6901 -
- Every shade has been formulated using finely-ground pigments chosen for their purity, intensity and resistance to UV.
- a chromatic range which comes in sets of 16, 38 or 76 colour pencils.
- Certified lightfastness and use of FSC wood.
- 61 colours classified in the best category (Lightfastness I) under standard ASTM D-6901.
- Cut from California cedar, the Luminance 6901 colour pencils carry the FSC label, a guarantee of logging that is environmentally-friendly and socially and economically endurable.
Derwent Graphitints
Roz Wound Up: Derwent Graphitints Fading! A blogger comments about Graphitints fading
return to top of pageIt's understood that these may have been reformulated since they were first produced.  the difficulty for the consumer is that pencils don't come with a vintage when you're buying them from loose stock in a shop!

RETURN TO: Resources for Coloured Pencil Artists