What I Used for Inktober 2016: Caran d’Ache Sketcher Non-Photo Blue Pencils

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.

The Pencil

First, let’s take a look at the pencil itself:

Close up of a Caran d'Ache Sketcher Non-Photo Blue Pencil.

I’ve already used up most of the eraser. . . TT-TT

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:

Caran d'Ache Blue Pencil Test Page

On this page, I performed five tests:

  1. 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.
  2. Tilting the pencil on its side to create a wash of color.  Again, I pressed harder to the right to deepen the color.
  3. Eraser test #1: With a deep wash of color, how well does it erase?  I traced a line three times with the eraser.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

Caran d'Ache Blue Pencil Tests Close-Up

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.

Caran d'Ache Blue Pencil River Sketch Editing Comparison

I’ve included a comparison of the original photo and the edited version, with white balance adjusted and colors enhanced.

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? 😄

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):

Caran d'Ache Blue Pencil River Sketch Inked Comparison

Inked using the item we’ll review next week, the Prismacolor Premier .005 illustration marker!

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.

Caran d'Ache Blue Pencil Review Cloud sketch edited

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:

So you can rest assured that the blue lines vanish easily, and any that remain you should be able to edit out.  🙂

Last Thoughts

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!

Sketches and Ramblings

Work is going slowly this week. I don’t have any finished pieces to share, so here’s a page of sketches I shared on Twitter:

(This is probably a good time to mention that I usually post daily sketches on Twitter.  They just seem to fit better on Twitter vs this blog.  But maybe I should do like a  weekly round-up of sketches?  A sketchdump?  What do you think?)

Art is a funny field.  Each piece takes a long time, and I only want to post something when it’s ‘done,’ so if it’s still in-progress, it’s hard for me to share. . . On the other hand, there’s this sort of pressure to “post weekly at a minimum” and I produce more sketches than anything else, so on weeks when painting is going s l o w l y, I end up posting sketches anyway.  In that respect, I wish I had a style that lends itself better to quick, finished paintings – or maybe that’s not dependent on style, but rather workflow.  So in that case, I just have to keep on drawing and the speed will come.  With practice.  Yeah.

Then there’s the fact that I love both writing and drawing.  I enjoy both, but I haven’t yet reached a balance where it feels like I’m doing enough of either.  When I’m drawing, I think about all the stories I want to tell, and when I’m writing, I’m thinking about the pictures I want to paint.  And of course, most of my stories are longer-term projects and aren’t “done” yet, so I can’t share those with you in the meantime.  It’s not frustrating exactly, and I’ll probably find a balance one day; it’s just that I wish there were more hours in a day so I can do ALL THE STUFF instead of just part of it, haha.

Oh, even though I said I can’t really share story-stuff with you guys. . . I’ve been revisiting my NaNo project this week & trying to work out some of the kinks.  I think the basic plot is okay, just need to flesh out my characters a bit more. . . and figure out a good logline. . . . Anyway, I should have a few things to share soon!  Like, working title and characters’ names and so on.   So look forward to that!

Header for Cloud’s Blog WIP

cloud-header-sketch-watermarkedLast Thursday I shared a sketch for my new header design.  Today I’m happy to show you a sketch for Cloud’s new header design!  \(^o^)/  And again we have a nice gradient background, so the sketch isn’t so monochrome; I think even a splash of color helps bring an image to life.

Just like Strike A Spark’s design features comic!River, the new header for Cloud’s World Of: features comic!Cloud!  I think her design turned out very cute, and somehow more elegant than River.  Maybe because her hands look a little better. . . ?

By the by, Cloud helped me with the concept for both our headers.  That’s why they match, which I am ridiculously happy about!  \(^o^)/

I’m hoping to finish up the coloring on both pieces within the next week or so.  It largely depends on whether I can continue working around that bug.  For now, plugging in an external keyboard seems to have fixed it, so we’ll see~ !

Gemstone Challenge, Day 14: Onyx and Sardonyx

A sketch of a mysterious cloaked woman.  By River. The final theme of the Gemstone Streak Challenge was Onyx.  Before yesterday, I thought that all onyx was black, but apparently onyx comes in many colors! And it also has streaks, like tiger eyes.

Besides the standard black, the variety of onyx that caught my eye was sardonyx, or red onyx.  So this piece was inspired by those colors.  The setting is the dark of night (for onyx), and her dress, the gems on her cloak, and the fairy lights will be red (for sardonyx), I think.  We’ll see how it goes when I do the color test. ^u^

Thanks for following along with me as I tackled this challenge!  It was a lot of fun, and I hope you enjoyed it as well!

Gemstone Challenge, Day 13: Tiger Eye

A digital painting of a woman modeling a tiger-eye pendant.  Made with GIMP 2 by River.

Day 13’s theme is Tiger Eye.  I intended to stop after doing the sketch, but I was having so much fun that I kept going until I finished the flats!  I had fun painting the tiger eye pendant and trying to capture the way the colored bands seem to glow within the gem.


  • GIMP 2
  • Wacom Intuos 3

Don’t forget to check out the Gemstone Streak Club page!  There are a ton of creative submissions – over 70, last I checked – and everyone is doing such a wonderful job.

See you all later tonight for the final theme, Onyx!

Gemstone Challenge Day 12: Turquoise Amulet

A pencil sketch of a child wearing a protective turquoise amulet and bracelet.The birthstone of December, turquoise has also been known for its protective qualities.  I imagine that it’s the perfect gem to create an amulet for those you love, so today’s sketch is of a child wearing a turquoise amulet and bracelet.  They were given to her by her parents and grandparents to protect her when they could not.

Unfortunately, my hand became a little cramped today, so we’re back to posting the pencil sketches.  I’m still planning to complete the Gemstone Streak Challenge, but I’ll probably stop at the pencil sketches for the last two themes as well.  After my hand’s had the chance to rest up, I’ll go back and ink and color them.  It should keep me busy for a little while. ^u^

Today marks the end of the monthly birthstones!  Tomorrow’s theme is Tiger Eye.  I’m looking forward to it!

Gemstone Challenge, Day 11: November’s Child (Sketch) for Topaz

She said that topazes always reminded her of Autumn, when the maple leaves fell.  It was her favorite season.

She said that topazes always reminded her of Autumn, when the maple leaves fell. It was her favorite season.

Another sketch day. . . .  This piece is more melancholy than most of my works, though I like to think that there is a good side to it as well.  I don’t know if I’ll finish this piece, but I already have a color scheme I’d like to use! Haha.  It goes like this: A cool blue for the wallpaper, either natural wood or painted white for the table, orange for the topaz ring (naturally), and bright red for the maple leaf.  That way, the ring and leaf will hopefully pop!  And I want to color the portrait nicely as well. ^u^

This was inspired by/created for the Gemstone Streak Challenge.