Do Colored Pencils Go Bad? How to Make Them Last a Lifetime


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There’s nothing worse than spending money on nice art supplies only to find that they’ve dried out, gone bad, and expired once you sit down to use them. This is definitely something you have to worry about with paints, but what about colored pencils? Do colored pencils go bad?

Colored pencils do not go bad or expire. That said, the lead can dry out at varying rates depending on the type of colored pencils you have. It’s also important to store your pencils in a safe and cool place that is away from direct sunlight so that they last as long as possible.

Different types of art supplies require different types of attention and care. You won’t want to treat your watercolors in the same way you treat your colored pencils. 

Luckily, colored pencils are pretty low maintenance as long as you take some basic precautions. 

You’ll also want to make sure you buy the right kind of colored pencils if you want them to last as long as possible.

Let’s dive into the lifespan of colored pencils and the various types you can buy for maximum longevity. Then, we’ll talk about general colored pencil best practices you should keep in mind to make sure you get every last colorful stroke out of your colored pencils.

rainbow colored pencils

How Long Do Colored Pencils Last?

As long as colored pencils are taken care of properly, they can last for many years. There’s no need to worry that they will expire or go bad. Buying high quality colored pencils will give you the best chance of preserving your pencils for as long as possible. 

In general, colored pencils can last anywhere from 2 to 5 years. When kept in a cool, dark place and stored correctly, colored pencils can last even longer (10 years or more). 

I’ve even read about an artist who had her colored pencils for 25 years and they were still in good, working condition!

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If you use your colored pencils enough, even only a few times a year, you will likely sharpen them down to nubs before they would ever dry out or go bad. Colored pencils are fairly tough as far as art supplies go!

As with all art supplies, you get what you pay for. If you want to have the best chance of your colored pencils lasting a lifetime, it’s a good idea to invest in some high quality ones like Faber-Castell or Prismacolor.

Faber-Castell even has vegan colored pencils if that’s something that’s important to you!

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And Prismacolor is the brand of colored pencils that the person who has had her colored pencils for over 25 years uses.  Those are some long lasting pencils!

How Can You Make Colored Pencils Last Longer?

Colored pencils can last for many years. There’s nothing inherent about them that will cause them to go bad or expire over that course of time. The biggest hazard to the lifespan of your colored pencils is how you take care of them.

Let’s talk about a few things you can do to make sure that you get as long a lifespan out of your colored pencils as possible.

Keep Your Colored Pencils Away From Direct Sunlight

The more direct sunlight colored pencils are exposed to, the faster the lead will absorb moisture and dry out. This is why it’s important not to store your colored pencils in a place that receives direct sunlight such as a window shelf or on top of an easel.

Keep your colored pencils out of direct sunlight and keep them in a cool, dark place. Colored pencils won’t melt like crayons when you leave them in the sun. The impacts are more subtle.

If you have a bad habit of keeping your art supplies in a hot place like a car or if they have direct sunlight exposure, they may not last as long as their counterparts who live in a cool, dark place.

You’ll know if your colored pencils have dried out if you find that the color appears faded when you use them. Even though graphite has a high lightfastness rating, which means that’s it’s unlikely to fade overtime, that applies for art you’ve already created.

Make sure that your pencils themselves don’t dry out before you even create your work. You might also notice that the lead is brittle and hard to use. This is especially challenging if you want dark and vibrant colored pencil colors.

No fun, right? Yeah, do your best to keep your colored pencils out of the sun.

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Keep Your Colored Pencils in a Dry Place

While heat and sunlight are bad for your colored pencils, moisture can be just as bad. Don’t store your colored pencils in a humid place, like the bathroom. If your colored pencils get wet for some reason, make sure to dry them off completely.

At this point, you might be thinking that colored pencils are high maintenance to take care of. Keep out of heat and sunlight, but keep away from moisture as well? Let me grab my vacuum-sealed colored pencil chamber!

Don’t worry; it’s not complicated. 

Staying away from sunlight, heat, and moisture is good practice for ALL of your art supplies, colored pencils and otherwise.

Keep Your Colored Pencils Out of Harm’s Way

Store your colored pencils in the original box, or in a reinforced pencil box, that you keep in a safe place. Make sure that your pencils aren’t at risk for being knocked over or damaged on accident.

Colored pencils are fragile and can be easily knocked over or misplaced. 

To the best of your abilities, store your colored pencils in a place where they are out of harm’s way.

Even though colored pencils look pretty standing up in a cup, this is a recipe for disaster. Not only are your colored pencils more likely to be knocked over, they also are more likely to come into contact with sunlight or moisture.

As long as you store your colored pencils in a safe place, you’ll be good to go.

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Sharpen and Use Your Colored Pencils Evenly

When sharpening and using your colored pencils, try to wear down the tip evenly. If you sharpen or draw on one side of your colored pencil more than the other, you might find that your colored pencil wears down more quickly and unevenly.

It’s also important to prevent your colored pencils from breaking as much as possible by sharpening them carefully and not pushing down on them too hard as you’re using them.

Colored pencils are pretty freakin’ awesome. They don’t go bad and are easy to take care of as long as you prevent them from getting damaged or drying out. They’re also super beautiful and fun to use. 

As long as you take proper care of your colored pencils, you’ll be able to use them for years to come.

Diana Fitts

Diana has been an artist for over 25 years and has training in drawing, painting, digital drawing and graphic design. Diana's latest obsession is digitally drawing with Procreate and creating t-shirt designs with Canva. Diana has experience selling her art across a number of platforms and loves helping other artists learn how to make money from their art as well.

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