Why Animators Use Red Pencils

Why do animators use red pencils?In the world of art and creation, some things don’t seem to make sense at first. However, as you learn about certain things more in-depth, everything becomes clearer. One of those questions that people often ask and get surprised by is ‘’Why do animators use red pencils?”

Well, the reason behind it very logical and simpler than one might think. Continue reading to find out the reason why red is a common color that animators use.

Why do animators use red pencils? There are multiple reasons behind it. Red pencils are usually used as visual guides. They indicate actions, movements, and distinctions. Red pencils can also be used to showcase required changes or fixes in the animation.

So, for example, if you were to put a big red arrow pointing down would mean that either the character is going to move in that direction or that camera should be moved in that direction.

Nowadays, many animators start off their sketches by using just red pencils to map everything out. It’s not an accident that the color red in particular was chosen as the color for performing these actions. Actually, there’s a whole science behind it. Keep on reading to find out more.

The Science Behind Using a Red Pencil

Red is a color located at the end of the visible spectrum of light, next to orange and opposite of violet. That means that it is very bright and dominant in comparison to all the other colors on the color spectrum. Its wavelength is about 625-740 nanometers.

The higher the wavelength is, the color is more visible to the human eye. Since rod cells in the human eye are not sensitive to red, the color red is also used to aid in adapting night vision in low-light. As you can see, this color is very special and has many different uses.

Animators love using red because it’s very contrasting to all the other colors and it’s easy to be noticed by the human eye. Besides being great when used on its own, it’s also great to use when you want to draw over other animation drawings.

Another reason that animators like to use red is the fact that red lead is usually smoother and glides better in comparison to other color leads. It’s a bit waxier than the rest, so it moves very smoothly on the paper – you can easily make smooth and consistent strokes when using red.

Also, red pencils are not reflective like black lead pencils with graphite. Sometimes that reflection can cause issues in registering the animation, so going with red is usually a safer bet. Drawing is already lengthy and complicated, so why make it harder and less convenient?

To get back to our previous point, animators often use red pencils to sketch out separate elements in the drawing.

For example, by using a red pencil, you can differentiate the background from other elements, or you’d use red on the character to separate it from the background, midground, or foreground.

In the digital world, especially in 3D software, red represents keyframes. They’re symbolized with a bright red line on the timeline. You can also notice blocked out red cells that are used to highlight the most important pose in the character movement spectrum in a series of sketches.What are red pencils used for?

Which Red Pencils Are the Best for Animators?

There are certain conditions that define whether a pencil is of great quality or whether it’s suitable for animators. First of all, a good pencil for animation must be waxy so it would be able to run smoothly on the paper.

Another advantage of having a waxy texture is the fact that it’s less prone to smearing, unlike traditional graphite leads. A lot of animation papers used have a slick texture to it, so regular leads usually smear and make a mess.

On the other hand, a waxy pencil just leaves a smooth, saturated, and consistent residue. When creating sketches for animations, you know that you’re going to have a stack of papers filled with drawings.

If you were to use regular lead, just by having those drawings stacked might result in them smearing and becoming messy. So, make sure to invest in proper tools to make your animation journey even easier.

Prismacolor Col-Erase

One cult favorite that stands out from the rest is Prismacolor Col-Erase. Why Col-Erase and not others?

  • They’re very reliable – People have been using them for a very long time and they have always proved to be above standards.
  • They offer special animation packs that have 4 different colors, including red that’s most commonly used for construction lines.
  • Their consistency is waxy
  • They come with a dedicated eraser embedded onto a pencil.

They are a bit steeper in price, though, but they’re definitely worth it. Another downside is the fact that they are rated low on the lightfastness spectrum, meaning they’re likely to fade over time.

Another brand to consider is Holbein Artist.

  • These are premium colored pencils made out of high-quality wood and leads.
  • The pencil core is made out of a combination of fat, oil, wax, and outstanding pigments.
  • Their red pigment is as amazing as all the other colors, giving you smooth lines, waxy texture, and solid colors.

Bear in mind that the prices of these pens are ridiculous; hence not many artists can afford them. However, if you do want to invest in a superb quality kit, then definitely go for this one.

Lastly, another highly regarded brand in the animation community is:


  • They have a long history of creating wonderful art supplies, and colored pencils are no exception.
  • They are in the mid-range when it comes to affordability, but the quality is outstanding.
  • Faber-Castell colored pencils produce rich and bold colors and their application is seamless.
  • They also have one of the best red color pigments on the market.
  • The red you see in the pencil core is the very same color you’ll get when you start drawing – what you see is what you get.

Since they’ve been around for such a long time and maintained their spotless reputation, they definitely know how to create a perfect pencil.

Additional Questions

Do colored pencils fade? That depends on the quality of the pencil. Some are able to last for decades, while others might fade in a year. Most artist grade pencils are tested for lightfastness, which is basically how long will it take for them to fade out. So, make sure to carefully check a pencil’s lightfastness when buying your tools if you want a long-lasting pigment.

Are Prismacolor pencils lightfast? Even though Prismacolor pencils are of great quality, one downside to using them is the fact that some of their colors are considered to fade rather fast in comparison to many other brands. Red scores very low on the lightfastness spectrum, while others, such as blue, score high. So, it depends on the preferred color.

Why do animators use blue colored pencils? Because there’s a version of blue that is called non-photo blue. That particular shade of blue that is not detected by modern copiers or cameras, making it very convenient. If you’d like to find out more about why animators use blue pencils, then you can read our article here.

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