Why Artists Sketch with Blue Pencils

Why do animators use blue pencil?Creating art is everything but plain and boring. As the world of art has been developing and growing, many new techniques have been introduced. Sketching with blue pencils isn’t new, though. It’s been around for more than a decade.

Using blue reached its peak during the Xerox copier era, and it’s been around since the 40s. Why then, one might ask? Well, there is a very simple explanation.

Why do artists sketch with blue pencils? One of the main reasons is the non-photo feature. There is a certain shade of blue that is not visible when ran through a Xerox machine. That means that all the messy sketch lines will be gone, and you will be left with a clean drawing.

Artists tend to make a rough sketch, to begin with, and then they layer it with clean black lines on top. Even though it’s more time-consuming than just going in straight with black, artists still prefer doing rough sketches to map everything out.

However, the non-photo feature is not the only reason why artists use blue to sketch. Continue reading to find out more.

Using Blue From an Artist’s Perspective

As we have touched on briefly before, artists use various tricks and techniques to enhance their drawings. Blue pencils are just one of many tricks art connoisseurs have in store. Let’s go a bit more in-depth about it.

When planning a sketch, they often use the non-photo blue pencil to draw the basic shapes, capture the posture, or sketch out the background. Then, once the basic layout is done, they take a regular graphite pencil and go over the blue.

Since non-photo blue is very light, it doesn’t interfere with graphite. The graphite almost seamlessly covers all the blue marks. And if there are any left, they can easily be erased.

In contrast, if one were to use black graphite pencils to map out the layout, it would be significantly harder to go over those lines again. The strokes wouldn’t be as clean, and the background would become messy and indistinguishable from the actual drawing.

The same goes for digital drawing. Once an artist is satisfied with the rough layout, they can easily remove the blue in the background by adjusting color channels in Photoshop. Then, they are, once again, left with cleaned-up black strokes.

When coloring digitally, it’s very important to isolate the white background. By doing so, artists can achieve great color holds and dimension. It’s also much more convenient because they don’t have to worry about “ghost” graphite lines appearing on the scan.

Even though most of today’s scanners will detect any color, including blue, by shifting to greyscale, and increasing the brightness and contrast, the blue lines will magically disappear.

Another important feature is that blue pencils aren’t as reflective as graphite. Reflection often causes issues in registering the animation, so using blue also solves that issue. You can also use blue to distinguish a character from foreground, midground, and background.

What Makes a Good Blue Pencil?

Every professional needs high-quality equipment in their toolkit. When it comes to artists, colored pencils are no exception. With so many different non-photo blue pencils on the market, the fact of the matter is that not all of them are decent.

So, what makes a good non-photo blue pencil?

  • Correct Color Depth
  • Saturation
  • Smoothness
  • Lead
  • Waxiness
  • Longevity

Correct color depth

This is very important because not all shades of blue have non-photo properties. If the color is too deep, then it will be visible after scanning. On the other hand, if the color is too light, you won’t be able to see your rough sketch underneath.


Saturation is always imperative when it comes to choosing a good colored pencil. Streaky and inconsistent lines are an artist’s worst enemy. Lead pigment must be high-quality. Otherwise, the sketches will look rough and unprofessional.


Smoothness is another significant aspect. If the lead is not soft enough, you will get brittle lines. Also, you would need to apply more pressure to get a better color pay-off. That breaks your natural drawing speed and leads to getting tired faster.

Lead quality

This is the most crucial aspect when choosing the perfect colored pencil. Lead is made out of wax, pigment, and binders. The proportions of each ingredient must be correct to yield the best results.

When it comes to waxiness, if a colored pencil is not waxy enough, the lines won’t be smooth, consistent, and saturated. On the contrary, if a pencil is too waxy, it will prevent you from being able to layer graphite or other colors on top easily.

What are blue pencils used for?


Longevity is what makes or breaks the final purchase. No one wants to invest in tools that won’t reach their full potential. Not to mention how annoying it is to have the tip break over and over again.

It’s a waste of time and money. That’s why you should always do your research before making a purchase.

Best Non-Photo Blue Pencils for Drawing, Sketching, and Animation

As we have previously mentioned, the pencil quality can have a big influence on the final result. That’s why you should always invest in proper equipment. Luckily, many brands were tested by artists, and some of them stood out.

These are some of the most popular non-photo blue pencils on the market.

1. Prisma Color Col-Erase Colored Pencil – Copy Not NP Blue

Prisma Color Col-Erase is a beloved brand that produces amazing colored pencils. The blue pigment is very light, making it perfect for sketching and underdrawing. It’s also very durable.

2. Caran D’Ache Sketcher Non-Photo Blue Pencil

This pencil is as soft as they come. Caran D’Ache’s non-photo blue pencil leaves smooth, consistent, and saturated finish. Since the lead is a bit softer, they aren’t as durable. Regardless, they produce amazing results.

3. Pilot Color Eno Neox Erasable Lead – 0.7mm – Soft Blue

The Pilot Color Eno Nox soft blue pencil is probably the most praised one of the bunch. The lead is thick, making the pencil last longer. Although the lead is thicker, it doesn’t have a negative impact on its softness. The lines will still be very consistent and saturated.

4. Staedtler Non-Photo Pencil

You can’t go wrong with this one. Staedtler is one of the oldest colored pencil brands on the market. Thanks to their experience, they produce some of the best tools one can find.

Staedtler non-photo pencil produces the darkest blue which adequately disappears when scanned. The pigment and lead quality are amazing. It is on the expensive side, though.

Additional Questions

Why artists use red pencils to sketch? Red pencils can be used as visual guides or for creating rough sketches. If you’d like to know more, you can read our Why Animators Use Red Pencils article.

Are colored pencils erasable? Not all colored pencils are, in fact, erasable. Unless specified otherwise, most of them can’t be fully erased. Prismacolor Col-Erase is one of the brands that produce erasable colored pencils.

Does blue ink photocopy? Most of the modern photocopiers will detect blue ink. However, if a shade is light enough, it might not copy that well. That’s why it’s usually a better choice to go either with black or dark blue.

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