There’s nothing worse than creating a beautiful pencil drawing that you treasure, only to find that it starts to fade overtime. For most art, there’s no doubt that it takes care and effort to make sure it lasts for many years to come. But, what about pencil drawings? Does graphite fade?
Graphite has a very high lightfast rating, which means that pencil drawings are not likely to fade overtime. That said, additives that are used in the manufacturing process can impact lightfastness so it’s important to check the manufacturer’s standards and production procedures.
If you’re an artist who loves pencil drawing, you’re in luck! No need to worry too much about fading. We’ll talk about what you DO need to worry about as far as pencil drawings are concerned, but first, let’s talk about why graphite is such a great choice when choosing an art medium that will stand the test of time.
Why is Graphite So Fade Resistant?
Graphite has a maximum lightfast rating that prevents it from fading when exposed to light overtime. With a maximum lightfast rating, pencil drawings are expected to last for more than 100 years. That said, it’s important to protect pencil drawings from other harms, such as smudging.
Graphite is composed of carbon. It actually shares its chemical composition with diamonds, though the outcome is obviously very different (source). Carbon is very stable, which means that graphite is as well.
To make a drawing pencil, graphite is mixed with clay. The exact ratio of graphite to clay is what determines the hardness of each pencil type (9B, 6H, etc) (source). Clay is just another type of mineral that is also fairly stable. No worries there.
But, what about fading?
When we talk about art fading overtime, we’re usually talking about lightfastness.
Graphite and Lightfastness
Lightfastness is a term that describes how quickly pigments fade when they are exposed to sunlight. Graphite pencils have black pigments, which tend to have the highest lightfast ratings in comparison to other colors.
The lightfast rating for graphite is consistently high. You won’t find a lot of variation there, as all graphite is made from carbon with the same chemical composition. There’s no changing the science there!
That said, it’s still important to check the lightfastness rating of your graphite pencils. Why? Well, pencils don’t contain only graphite. They also have any number of binders and additives to hold them together.
Depending on what a manufacturer uses to build their pencils, you may be disappointed to find that those elements don’t have a high lightfast rating. Whomp whomp.
That’s why you’ll still want to make sure that your drawing pencils have been tested for lightfastness and come with a high lightfastness rating. Most reputable art companies will assign lightfast ratings to their products. If you’re buying from a company that doesn’t, it’s worth it to shop around for companies that do.
Even though I’d be surprised to see pencil drawings fade overtime, a company that takes lightfastness seriously is a sign of a company that takes their products seriously.
One of my favorites options is the Faber Castell 9000 Graphite Pencils. They come with a 3 star lightfastness rating, which is their highest standard. That’s as lightfast as you can get, with fade resistance for 100+ years (source).
Faber Castell is one of my favorite pencil making companies. I’m a bit obsessed. Their pencils are high quality, but won’t break the bank.
In general, you won’t have to worry about your graphite pencils fading. I would still get high quality ones but, overall, any graphite drawing pencils will be fade resistant Instead, what you should worry about is your paper.
Make Sure to Buy High Quality, Acid Free, Archival Paper
If you want your pencil drawings to last for many years to come, you want to make sure to use high quality, acid free archival paper.
Acidic paper doesn’t age well. In fact, the speed with which paper ages is in proportion to how much acid is in it (source). So, the more acid that you have in your paper, the faster it will turn yellow and brittle.
Anything acidic has a pH between 0-7. Acid free (alkaline) paper has a pH above 7 and is generally said to be archival (source).This is what you want for your drawing paper, or all of your paper, for that matter.
If you buy acidic paper, it doesn’t matter if graphite is fade resistant or not. Your paper would probably start aging before your graphit ever would. So, make sure to buy acid free paper as a way to preserve your art.
Of course, graphite isn’t indestructible. Even though it won’t fade on the right type of paper, you still want to be sure to take care of it.
Always Protect Your Pencil Drawings
Even though your pencil drawings are unlikely to fade overtime, you want to protect them from smearing, crumpling, or becoming soggy. Make sure you store your drawings in a dry, clean, and safe place where they won’t be damaged.
Smearing and smudging is one of the most likely hazards that your pencil drawings could experience. Consider using a fixative when you’re done with each of your drawings, and making sure that they aren;t rubbing up against any other papers.
Smearing and smudging is its own, in-depth beast. Read my entire guide for protecting your pencil drawings from smudging to learn more.
You also want to make sure that your pencil drawings aren’t stored in a way that they could be exposed to the elements. Keep them away from moisture, extreme heat, or any other environmental factors.
Making sure that your art lasts for years and years to come is a huge priority. You didn’t spend so much time creating it just for it to fade away and become discolored. Luckily, you don’t need to worry about your pencil drawings fading. As long as you use a high quality, acid free paper, and store your drawings properly, you shouldn’t have any worries about your pencil art surviving the test of time.