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Best Vegan Drawing and Colored Pencils and Why it Matters

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We think about veganism with our food and beauty supplies, but did you know that veganism is something we need to think about in the art world too? Believe it or not, there are a lot of art supplies that use animal products. But, there are some that don’t. There are a few brands that make vegan pencils. If you want to be sure to buy vegan pencils, keep reading for the ones to shop for.

All Faber-Castell pencils and certain Derwent pencils known to be vegan. Their pencils don’t contain any animal products, nor are they tested on animals, which make them a great choice for vegan art supplies.

The question of vegan pencils isn’t entirely straightforward. Before we dive into Faber-Castell’s and Derwnt’s vegan pencil choices, let’s talk about why most other brands DON’T offer vegan pencils….or, at least can’t guarantee it. 

A Big Factor in the Vegan Pencil Problem

We don’t know whether a lot of companies produce vegan pencils or not. It’s not listed anywhere (that I could find, at least). And when you read through the forums, customers have experiences where they’ve asked companies about their vegan practices and never got a response. 

I’m not sure this is a no new is good news situation…

If you were a company producing vegan products, wouldn’t you shout it from the mountain tops, or at least make it known? It’s a pretty big perk. Well, Faber-Castell and Derwent have, which is why we know that their pencils are vegan.

We just aren’t sure about the others.

Part of the problem could possibly be that the companies don’t even know themselves. Pencils, especially colored pencils, are made out of a lot of different ingredients that come from a number of different suppliers. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether every single supplier is being strict about not using animal products and animal testing. So, there’s a lot that we don’t know. 

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So, in this post, we’ll definitely talk about the Faber-Castell and Derwent options. Luckily, these are GREAT options. These two companies make VERY good products. We’ll also talk about all of the ingredients that make up graphite pencils and colored pencils so that we know how animals are possibly being impacted when non-vegan pencils are manufactured.

Why AREN’T Pencils Vegan? Understanding Pencil Ingredients

Before we can understand vegan pencils, let’s understand non-vegan pencils. First let’s start with graphite pencils.

Graphite pencils are usually cruelty-free if you’re talking about the lead core itself. The cores of graphite pencils, otherwise known as lead pencils, are made out of a mixture of graphite and clay that are mixed together with water and compressed (source). 

Neither graphite or clay are derived from animals. The only potential concern is if it’s tested on animals, but animal products are not within the lead cores themselves.

The worry with graphite pencils is the wooden casing around them. Sometimes, pencils are held together with casein glue, which can have animal proteins in it (source). In fact, the specific animal protein is one obtained from milk. Casein glue is especially good for binding wood, which is why it’s often used in pencils (source).

Colored Pencils have a LOT more ingredients than regular graphite pencils, which makes it more complicated when determining whether they are vegan or not.

First, let’s talk about the pigment. Pigments are really interesting given their long histories. Organic and inorganic pigments have been around from the beginning of the history of art. Cave people didn’t have access to fancy synthetic supplies, so they used whatever they could find. That makes sense.

rows of colored pigments

But, this means that a lot of these pigments are made from clay, earth, plants, and, you guessed it, animals. 

Here are a few examples of how organic pigments were made back in the day. When I say back in the day, I mean thousands of years ago (source):

  • Purple was made from the mucus of snails
  • Yellow was made from the urine of cattle
  • Red was made from ground up cochineal insects

These are called natural organic pigments, which are pigments directly derived from animals and plants. We’ve advanced since then though. After 1850, a lot of organic pigments became synthetic organic pigments, which are derived from coal tars and other chemicals (source). These tend to be easier to control than their natural counterparts.

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Next, let’s talk about the binding agents. These can be gums, resins, or waxes. 

Gum arabic is the most common type of gum used. It’s derived from plants, so we’re ok there in regards to veganism.

Resin is also sourced from plants, so we’re safe there as well.

gum arabic
Gum arabic

Wax is where we run into the problem. There are many different types of waxes, including beeswax. Of course, if your pencils have been made from beeswax, they aren’t vegan. 

In comparison to pigments, it’s a little bit easier to determine whether a binder is vegan or not. There are quite a few common choices in this area, and beeswax is the only one that isn’t vegan. Again, the problem is that a lot of companies aren’t talking about where they are sourcing their supplies from and the methods their suppliers are using. So, even though beeswax and soy wax are very different, we can’t know what ingredients various companies are using unless they publicize them.

Ok, so the last ingredient in our colored pencil cores is an extender. These extenders are also known as fillers and are usually made from kaolin, talc, or chalk. 

Extenders serve a really important purpose in colored pencils by making the lead sturdy. The more extender you have, the more rigid the pencils will be. The less extender you have, the more buttery the pencils will be

Alright, so what’s actually in kaolin, talc, and chalk that make up these oh so important extenders?

Kaolin is a clay derived from kaolinite, which is a hydrated aluminum silicate mineral (source). Basically it’s clay. It’s vegan. 

Talc is a powder derived from metamorphic rock (source). So, it’s vegan.

kalonite
Kaolinite. Yep, this rock turns into clay!

Chalk is something we’re all familiar with. But, do we know where it comes from? Well, chalk is derived from limestone (source). So, chalk is vegan too.

As you can see, extenders are primarily made from rocks and earth materials, which means that we don’t need to worry about them being vegan or not. Of course, whether they are tested on animals is a different story, but the ingredients themselves are not derived from animals.

We already talked about wood when we talked about graphite pencils. Colored pencils have the same problem. A lot of times, they’re held together by casein glue, which has milk proteins in it. 

I have to say it again before we move into a review of the brands that have claimed to sell vegan pencils. There’s a lot we don’t know about where pencil ingredients are sourced. Sometimes, the companies don’t know themselves! 

So, we’re going to talk about some choices by brands that have clearly stated they are vegan friendly. These are also the same brands acknowledged by PETA. There may be others out there, but they haven’t made themselves known.

Let’s dive into our vegan options!

Where to Buy Vegan Pencils

As we’ve been talking about, there are two brands that carry vegan pencils, graphite and colored.

Vegan Faber-Castell Pencils

Faber-Castell only uses animal products in their beeswax crayons, which are, well, made from beeswax. They also use feathers and seashells in some of their kids craft kits, but they’re all naturally fallen and not proactively plucked or taken. They’ve also confirmed that their pigments and binders are not derived from animals. 

It’s also very important to note that none of their products are tested on animals.

Pencils aside, Faber-Castell is a great choice for vegan friendly art supplies. 

Pencils specifically, Faber-Castell does not make them from animal products, nor do they test them on animals. If you want to be sure that your pencils are vegan friendly, Faber-Castell is a great choice. Luckily, they’re also great pencils! So, you can be vegan friendly while also using high quality products. 

Here are some GREAT choices from their product line:

Faber-Castell 9000 Pencils

woman holding small faber-castell pencil

Ok, so I REALLY love Faber-Castell pencils. Maybe a little too much. Clearly, I have a hard time letting them go. Even though I can easily buy a new set, I get attached to each pencil and hold onto them until they’re nothing but little stubs. 

These are really nice graphite pencils that aren’t overly pricey given their quality. I LOVE blending with the softer pencils and making crisp, clean lines with the harder ones. They’re just really good and doing what they’re meant to do.

Here’s a fun excuse for a history lesson. The name Faber-Castell comes from the founder, Countess Ottile and Count Alexander von Faber-Castell. Pretty cool, right? After their marriage in 1898, they started the Faber-Castell brand that we still know, love, and use today. 

These specific 9000 series of pencils were invented by the Faber-Castell’s in 1905 and are considered classics of the brand. So, when you’re using one of these pencils, just think about how you’re honoring a history that dates back over a hundred years to royalty. No biggie (source).

Awesome history aside, these classic Faber-Castell pencils have survived the test of time for a reason. They’re great pencils! From the softest to the hardest, the leads in these pencils are sturdy, don’t break easily, and blend really nicely. 

If you’re going to go for it, get the 15 pack. It comes with the whole range of pencils: 8B, 7B, 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, and 2H. PLUS, a really cool Faber-Castell pencil bag, an eraser, and a metal pencil sharpener. It’s a great deal. 

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Ok, so the 9000 series is what I suggest for graphite pencils. Here’s where to turn for Faber-Castell colored pencils.

Faber-Castell Polychromos Pencils

The Polychromos pencils are beautiful colored pencils! Remember how we said that you can have your cake and eat it too by having vegan friendly products that are also high quality? Well, just take a look at the Polychromos pencils!

Faber-Castell’s Polychromos pencils are oil-based, so they blend and glide really well on paper. They’re also thicker than other pencils, which really give them a sturdy and unbreakable feel. 

Be sure to read the section below about Derwent’s Coloursoft pencils to understand the differences between oil-based and wax-based colored pencils.

These Faber-Castell colored pencils also rank really high in lightfastness. Lightfastness describes how resistant the pigment is to fading. The higher the lightfastness the better – the longer your art will last without succumbing to fading.

Noted from the video, which you should definitely watch for a great in depth review of these pencils, this Polychromos line rates very high in lightfastness at 3 stars. At this level, Faber-Castell says that their colored pencils should be vibrant, without fading, for over 100 years. Sounds good to me! Now, whether I’ve ever created any work that anyone would want to keep for 100 years is a different story… 

Every pencil has a different rating and some fall to 2 stars, but overall, they are high in lightfastness.

The colors are really bright and vibrant (watch the video), the leads are thick at 3.8 mm, and the lightfastness will ensure that your art lasts for a long time. These Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils are a high quality choice that will last you a long time.

I know I’m on the Faber-Castell train, but Derwent has some amazing options too. Let’s dive into them.

Derwent Vegan Pencils

Derwent has quite a few vegan products spanning pencils, pastels, watercolors, and inks. You can see their full list HERE.

Of course, the graphite and colored pencils we’re about to talk about are vegan as well. As with the Faber-Castell pencils, these Derwent pencils are very high quality and will not only help you support vegan practices, but also help you produce amazing artwork.

Here are some GREAT choices from their product line:

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Derwent Graphic Pencils

Derwent verifies that their B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, 4H, 5H, 6H, 7H, 8H and 9H pencils in their graphic pencil series are all free from animal products. These are really great pencils that won’t break the bank. The lead is smooth, sturdy, and gives you the glide that you need.

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And, Faber-Castell isn’t the only one with a long and exciting history. Derwent has been making pencils since 1832. They’re actually made by The Cumberland Pencil Company in the UK (source). You can actually check out this awesome video about how they make their pencils today. After watching this, does anyone else now have a new dream of working in their quality control lab?

Obviously, Derwent takes a lot of pride and care in making their pencils. As a result, they’ve ended up with a high quality product line. If you’re interested in Derwent as your vegan friendly pencil option, these graphic pencils are what I suggest. 

Derwent Graphitint Pencils

I had to include these graphitint pencils because they are really cool. They’re also a neat mix between typical graphite pencils and colored pencils. I’ve played around with my fair share of tinted pencils and really love the subtle effect they can have, especially if you’re using colored paper. 

If you don’t have a lot of experience with them, graphitint pencils are basically graphite pencils with a hint of color. Depending on the color you choose, this tint can either be more dramatic or more subtle. For example, a yellow tinted pencil would stand out more than a dark brown one would. 

derwent graphitint pencils
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These Derwent graphitint pencils are really high quality. They’re thick and have sturdy leads to ensure long-lasting use. They’re also watersoluble, which means that you can add water to switch up the effect. Check out the video to see a great, in depth review of these pencils and how beautiful they are on paper. This will also give you a better idea of the exact color that each pencil produces. 

For me, I like to use graphitint pencils individually instead of as a set, specifically the brown one. I like the overall tint and vibe it can give my image without having to worry about mixing colors. It’s basically a great way to add a fun pop of color to a portfolio of pencil drawings.

So, if you’re a fan of traditional pencil drawing, but you want a way to switch things up a little bit, I would DEFINITELY suggest that you check out these graphitone pencils from Derwent.

Derwent Coloursoft Pencils

For our grand finale, we’re going to talk about Derwent’s Coloursoft pencils. I think you’ve got the point by now – both Faber-Castell and Derwent create beautiful products. There isn’t a bad pencil in the bunch. Derwent’s Coloursoft line of colored pencils are no exception.

These are beautiful pencils! And, of course, vegan friendly too!

derwent coloursoft pencils
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Here’s a very important difference between the Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils and the Derwent Coloursoft pencils. The Polychromos are oil-based, while these coloursofts are wax-based. 

To be clear, there isn’t a huge difference between oil-based and wax-based pencils. You’ll notice it, but it’s not like the difference between acrylic and watercolor paints. Wax-based pencils are a lot more common, so if you haven’t taken a deep dive into the colored pencil world yet, assume that you’ve used wax-based pencils in the past. You would likely have to specifically seek out oil-based colored pencils.

When it comes to look and feel, oil-based colored pencils have a more, well, “oily” look than their wax-based counterparts. This means that they tend to look a bit more shiny and flowy – sort of like a painting. If you want to see the difference, check out the video with the side-by side comparison. It’s a subtle difference, but you’ll see how the oil-based pencils look just a little more glossy. 

Another important thing to keep in mind is that oil-based pencils are nearly impossible to erase. Once you’ve laid them down, they’re there for good. It’s also more challenging to add white highlights to the top of them. If either of these things are important to you, you’ll want to go with these wax-based Derwents over the oil-based Faber-Castells.

In general, it’s nice to have a mix of oil-based and wax-based pencils. As the artist in the video notes, he likes to switch between them in one single piece of artwork. This can give you a lot more control over the effects and overall artist vibe you’re going for. 

If your budget allows it, grab a set of these Derwent Coloursoft pencils as well as the Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils. You’ll have fun experimenting with both of them and determining why, when, and where you like to use oil-based vs. wax-based in your work. 

Alright, back to the Derwent Coloursoft pencils. As I said, these are beautiful pencils. Check out the reviews for them on Dick Blick and see the amazing work that artists have done with them. Stunning!

These are really smooth, really vibrant colored pencils that will take your art to the next level. When a lot of us think about wax-based colored pencils, we think about our elementary school Crayola days. I love Crayola in certain situations, but these Derwents really step up the colored pencil game. These aren’t your every day elementary school colored pencils! 

As far as lightfastness, these pencils score a 4, which means that they’ll last you a long time without fading. 

These are great, fundamental, staple pencils to have in your artist’s toolkit.

The Moral of the Vegan Pencil Story

As artists, we put our hearts and souls into every single drawing we do. They’re labors of love. 

Shouldn’t our materials reflect that? 

We live in a world where we need to be increasingly aware of how our products are made. There’s just so much we don’t know about how the products we know and love are manufactured and we need to do a bit of digging if vegan or ethical practices are meaningful to us.

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Luckily, Faber-Castell and Derwent are clear winners in this space. Not only are they vegan friendly, they create very high quality products that all of us can use throughout our careers. They’re also companies that have neat histories and really take pride in what they do.

When you grab any of the pencils on this list, you can feel assured that you’re getting high quality materials that will do your artwork justice, as well as honor your desire to support vegan products. 

And if you want a quick, easy, and fun way to learn how to use your new pencils to their greatest capacities, check out Skillshare.

They offer a big discount on a year membership, which is an amazing deal. Their classes are led by experts in the field who not only are great artists, but great teachers as well. Each class is broken into bite-sized lessons that are fun and easy to get through. So, check it out.

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