Last September, flushed with excitement at the thought of doing my first Inktober challenge, I splurged on some new art supplies. Since I usually worked digitally, I thought it was a good opportunity to try out some different traditional techniques. One that I was really looking forward to was using blue pencil like animators and comic artists, so after doing a little research I picked up a pair of Caran d’Ache Sketcher Non-Photo Blue animation pencils. Though they were expensive (around $8 for a pack of two) I am so glad I did – they ended up becoming my favorite new tool of Inktober 2016!
Before we begin, a quick note: The main reason to using non-photo blue pencils is obvious: So that they will not show up in photographs and scanned images, or at least be easy to remove digitally. I’ve found that it is possible to photograph non-photo blue, but it shows up very faintly. All the photographs in this review were digitally enhanced to show the blue more vibrantly. So the color is a bit different than it is in real-life or in unaltered photos.
First, let’s take a look at the pencil itself:
As you can see, the pencil looks like a standard erasable colored pencil, aside from the fact that it says “Non-Photo Blue Pencil” on the side. The eraser it comes with is nice and soft, and erases the pencil well. The blue lead is fairly soft and doesn’t crumble, meaning that it is easy both to lay down a soft line with a light touch and a darker line with a heavier hand, without fear of those stray marks you get when a pencil breaks. The only downside to the nice, soft leads is that the pencil will be used up fairly quickly – something to keep in mind if you’re on a budget.
Color and Eraser Tests
Next let’s take a look at how the pencil performs:
On this page, I performed five tests:
- Varying how hard I pressed to vary the intensity of the color. There are actually three or four of the lightest lines there on the left, but they are quite faint and hard to see.
- Tilting the pencil on its side to create a wash of color. Again, I pressed harder to the right to deepen the color.
- Eraser test #1: With a deep wash of color, how well does it erase? I traced a line three times with the eraser.
- Basically #2 again, but with an eraser line. Again, I traced the eraser line two or three times. As you can see, the lighter the blue pencil is, the easier it is to erase.
- With a deep wash of color, I erased three lines. The top line was one stroke of the eraser; the second line, two strokes; the bottom line, three strokes. For a deep wash of color, one needs to erase more firmly and more times than a lighter line.
I tried to experiment with different things, but what I think this mainly proves is that the more lightly you press, the closer to a true “non-photo” blue it is. The harder you press, the more like a standard blue colored pencil it is. However, there is an advantage over colored pencil in that the Caran d’Ache pencil is easy to erase, which is good for me as I tend to press down hard, haha.
That page may be a bit hard to see, so here’s a close-up of the first four examples:
As you can see, the lighter the line is, the more likely it is to vanish when photographed or scanned. In the original photograph, the lines to the left in examples 1 and 2 were almost too faint to see. They are only visible now due to the digital enhancements.
And here’s a close-up of the fifth test, the eraser test:
Again, the three eraser lines are as follows: The top is traced only once, the middle twice, and the bottom three times. The harder you press, the more thoroughly you will have to erase. (For a light line, going over it once or twice is usually enough.)
The Sketch + Thoughts
Now the fun part! Here’s the picture we’ll be following throughout this series.
This piece worked up quickly in about two hours. I used the Caran d’Ache pencil for each step from the blocking out to adding the details. (Drat, I should have photographed each step. orz Next time!) I know some people only use blue pencil for the roughs and blocking out, but as I am not confident in my inking yet, I prefer to add details at this stage. Already you can tell how well the non-photo blue pencil erases / disappears, as the skeleton stage has been mostly erased. Can you tell that it’s there? No? XD
Inks lay fairly well over the Caran d’Ache blue pencil. Here’s the River sketch after inking (on the left) and after erasing the blue lines when the ink was dry (on the right):
Can you tell the difference? It’s subtle: The blue pencil lines are faintly visible on the left, and the black inked lines are clean, if slightly lighter, on the right. Though inks lay very well over the Caran d’Ache pencils, there is a slight waxy residue. If you need to erase, small itty-bitty specks of ink will disappear as well. However, it is not enough to both me, especially as you can’t really tell in the photograph. It’s a non-issue if you plan on digitally removing the lines, anyway.
I actually forgot to scan in the River picture before inking (oops), but I wanted to cover that as well. So I quickly made another sketch and scanned it in.
This picture hasn’t been edited at all, so as you can see, the blue pencil disappears very, very well when scanned. Only the darker shades are truly visible; the lighter lines are faint or have vanished completely.
To make the colors more visible, I actually had to darken the image:
As I said in the beginning of the post, the Caran d’Ache Non-Photo Blue pencils quickly became my favorite new tool last Inktober. They’re easy to use, lay down color beautifully, and erase so easily it’s hard to believe it’s a colored pencil at all! Though they are a bit expensive, I’d say that’s well worth the price if you can afford it. I would definitely recommend the Caran d’Ache brand to other artists.
Have you used non-photo blue pencils before? What is your favorite technique to use with them? Are there any other brands I should try? Let me know in the comments below! And don’t forget, I’ll be back with another review next Tuesday! See you then!