Saturday, June 16, 2007

Non-Reproducible Leads

Back at the beginning of the year I tried out Uni –ISH coloured leads and got rather interested in coloured leads. Far far away, Glen Mullaly, an illustrator from Canada read that posting and started thinking about mechanical pencil non-reproducible leads, and that maybe it was time to give them a go. Glen had previously submitted a guest article on his modified pencils, and I was interested in what he was doing with blue leads, so asked if he would write a guest article on the subject. He said "sure", so here we have it, Glens guest article.
Thanks Glen,

Feeling Blue?

Non-Repro Blue (or Non Photo Blue) was once a common tool used by editors, layout editors, animators and illustrators in the print industry. It was a shade of blue that was undetectable by film cameras shooting layouts and art for print use in black & white. This was useful since in pencil form it allowed for notes to be made right on the flats without affecting the image or, in the case of it's use by illustrators (like me!), it saved having to erase the underlying rough pencil sketch from an inked, finished illustration. For an artist on a deadline this could mean big time savings and so it was widely used by many in the magazine, cartooning and comic book fields. As the scanning of art took hold and the film camera faded from use in the print industry so did the non-repro blue pencil. But in recent years there seems to have been renewed interest as more and more artists have come to take advantage of improved scanning, imaging and printing technology to once again utilize the wonders of this invisible blue friend.

Many artists use a blue pencil for all their work. My methodology is a little different as I use a combination of light-table, regular mechanical pencils, non-repro blue mechanical pencils and non-repro blue ink-jet printing depending on the job. A typical pen & ink illustration (of a manageable size) might consist of these steps...

1. Rough, small pencil sketch on paper with regular H mechanical pencil.

2. Scan in, blow up sketch to full size and print out using ink jet printer. Use print out on my light-table as underdrawing to produce finished tight pencil sketch on new sheet of paper. If my rough sketch was tight enough I might skip this step and go directly from step 1 to step 3.

3. Scan in, use Photoshop to convert image to shade of non-repro blue (about 75% Cyan) and print out on inking paper. Depending on the job and the print size of the work I may do this in sections.
4. If my initial sketch was fairly tight I may go directly to inking (going over the blue lines with black ink) or if not I'll finish the sketch using my non-repro blue mechanical pencil (you knew I had to get to this eventually!!!) and then to inks.
5. Scan in image as either a bitmapped image (preferred) or grayscale. Then in Photoshop, after converting to grayscale (if necessary), by either adjusting the levels or using the channels I remove any traces of the lines left by the blue - and then I'm good to go. Whew!
6. Colour and finish.
As I said this is just how I approach some of my jobs, every illustrator will have their own preference.

Now to the leads......

Once I decided to start using blue pencil again I searched out my local art supply stores. Non-repro pencils are harder to find these days.
Many use the Prismacolor Verithin. But since I'm a mechanical pencil guy (see my previous post on customizing MPs) I had to find blue mechanical pencil leads.
I didn't turn up much. It basically came down to the Pilot Color Eno Soft Blue 0.7 and the Pentel Blue 0.5.

So I use them both!

The Pentel is the better lead, longer lasting, harder (rarely breaks) and best of all it's 0.5, my preferred size. Unfortunately it's shade of blue is darker than the standard non-repro blue so it requires a light touch (I'm usually pretty heavy on the the old MP) and it doesn't disappear as easily in Photoshop as it should.

On the other hand - the color ENO is the perfect shade of blue,'s much softer (it easily and often breaks) and only comes in a 0.7 size. So the choice is yours - 0.7 / softer but great colour, or 0.5 / harder and a little dark.

Hope this helps. If you've found other blue mechanical pencil leads out there that you like be sure to leave a comment and let us know! Here's wishing for blue skies ahead!
All photos and illustrations by Glen

You can see some of Glens stuff on his website and flickr.
See also this follow-up posting "The Great Blue Challenge"


jgodsey said...

learn something new everyday

Anonymous said...


Are you the same famous Glenn I know that reveiwed luxury fountain pens on ?

Glen Mullaly said...

Hi Anonymous,
Despite our similar first names, graying hair & beards, love of writing utensils and location in B.C we're not the same person.
That fellow's name is Glenn Marcus - my name is Glen Mullaly.
Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

I found these ones:

Glen Mullaly said...

Thanks anonymous. That art materials supplier has some very hard-to-find stuff ( like duo-tone paper! ) so I appreciate the link. The leads you pointed out are for 2mm lead holders, the really thick ones. I use .05mm or .07mm so these unfortunately wouldn't work for me.

Mark said...

Its funny at my work how many people still think non-repro blue still applies to modern copiers / scanners.

I prefer the UNI lead over Pentel myself because the UNI lead is eraseable. The pentel lead is basically a crayon so you can't erase it; with the UNI lead I can erase 95% of the marks. Sure would be nice to have a combination of the two, strength and erasability.

Glen Mullaly said...

Thanks for your thoughts Mark. Since I'm using blue lead to avoid the need of erasing I never really thought about but you're right, the Uni erases well and the Pentel only will if you're very light with it, as I am.
You should be happy you work with people who even know what non-repro blue is. Anytime I mention it to anyone I know who isn't a professional illustrator with a cartooning or comic book background they have no I idea what I'm talking about!

Anonymous said...

What I'm wondering is where I can find these leads? I've searched everywhere, even online and have turned up you have any sites you could recommend to finding these gems? Any help is appreciated! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Its funny at my work how many people still think non-repro blue still applies to modern copiers / scanners.

I prefer the UNI lead over Pentel myself because the UNI lead is eraseable. The pentel lead is basically a crayon so you can't erase it; with the UNI lead I can erase 95% of the marks. Sure would be nice to have a combination of the two, strength and erasability.

Wait mark, so they don't? Also why do you have to use photoshop to get the non-repo blue to disappear? I would have thought scanners were built on the same principles as traditional photography cameras ie the flashing bulbs to the scanning light? Are they not?

Why can't you just sketch in non-repo blue and trace over the lines you believe to be right?

Glen Mullaly said...

Anonymous #1...

I guess I'm lucky that my local art supply store ( 2 blocks away ) Island Blue Print, carries both of the blue leads I mentioned and they sell them both through their on-line store.

Check them out...

Glen Mullaly said...

Anonymous #2...

You're right, if you scan the line art as a bitmap with the threshold set properly you shouldn't have to play around with image afterwards. If you scan the art as grayscale however a little bit of the blue often comes through as light gray and you have to adjust the levels to clean it off completely.
The principle is the same as in traditional photography.

d.i.s said...

My friends scan their artwork and then use photoshop to remove the blue lines.

After drawing the image in non repo blue and cleaning up with normal lead.

Scan at 300dpi(for print quality only) and color.

In rgb mode channels highlight b and erase (it takes most of it cymk c channel works better.

then convert image to grayscale

removing color infomation usually you have a clean image with minor repairs needed

Glen Mullaly said...

In case anyone's interested I picked up an old stock pack of Staedtler Color blue leads (0.5, yay!) at an out-of-town office supply outlet last week.
I'm using it right now and think it's a little better than either the Eno or the Pentel. In fact it falls in between them in attributes, both in hardness and colour.
It appears to still be in production - here's a link to the Canadian Staedtler site, but I saw it at the German site as well.

Anonymous said...

Staedtler Germany don't produce nor sell non-photo blue pencils anymore. (said the person at Staedtler Germany over the phone)

The Monkey said...

Non-repro blue mechanical pencil leads and 2mm lead holder leads used to be quite common (as were highlighter leads). I used to be a buyer for an art supply store back in the early to mid 1990's, and mechanical pencils and lead holders have always been something of a fetish of mine. I'm sure one of my Koh-I-Noor Select-O-Matic 2mm lead holders is still loaded with a non-repro lead (and there's another with a yellow highlighter lead). I should also have in my Art Bin (actually a nice Plano fishing tackle box) a small stock of non-repro .5mm leads. Now I'm going to have to dig out the old bin and take inventory, because I hadn't heard that the things are no longer made. This really surprises me, because they were always useful for xerographic use.

Glen Mullaly said...

Non-repro pencils, non-repro mechanical pencil leads and non -repro 2mm leads for lead holders are three different kettle of fish. I hope people reading the comments above are aware of the differences. All three are still being produced : the mechanical pencil leads mentioned in the tests are, to the best of my knowledge, still available - at least here in Canada. Prismacolor Verithin are still widly available for the pencil lovers out there, and Sanford still makes the 2mm leads. There are probably others as well but all these are carried by my neighbourhood art suply store except the Uni and the Faber-Castell mech. pencil leads.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how often this site is checked but the website, shows the lead for non phot but how do u purchase it? i can't find a purchase button or anything. can anyone help?

Hello... said...

thanks for posting this about non repro blue leads. i'm returning to old ways and you're right; things are SO hard to find now!
thanks again,

Anne said...

Have you tried the Uniball 0.5mm? I saw it listed at JetPens (

Vikram said...

I asked my drafting teacher for some pencils (because I collect them) and he game me a box of unused Staedtler Mars Non Photo Blue pencils. I had no idea what they were for, but now I do! Thanks kiwi-d!

Anonymous said...

Hey there. I've got a few questions.

What paper do you prefer for scanning? I use Aqua Bee's marker paper because it is smooth, nice to ink on, and scans in almost completely white.

What 0.5mm mech pencil do you like the most?

Which art programs do you like to color/texture with the most?

Anonymous said...

Any of you guys know where I can get packs of wax for a hand waxing repro unit? got a great waxer real cheap but no Ammo! All the best Paul

Anonymous said...

what type of inks do you use? is it a camel brush & liquid ink or felt tip pens? (BTW you have a very steady hand!)

Glen Mullaly said...

Sorry to take so long to answer...

Keith: I usually use Hammermill bright white laser paper (the smoother of the two available). It's very smooth, very cheap (usually less than $10 Canadian for a ream) and very white. I stocked up on legal (8.5"x 14") and ledger (11" x 17") size reams on a trip to US three years ago. I can get 8.5" x 11" reams locally. And I bought a 1500 pack of folio size (24" x 36") years ago from the manufacturer that I cut down to suit any oversize needs I have such as for magazine spreads.

As far as mechanical pencils go - see this post I did...

And I use Photoshop for scanning and coloring. Much of my texture is hand made from my own painted gouache originals.

Glen Mullaly said...

Anonymous #2: I use this Zebra mechanical brush...

It's got a rubber tip (two actually!) and doesn't lose it's sharpness like felt tipped brushed do. It eventually actually gets TOO sharp, but I just swap out the tips. I refill the ink in the felt cartridges with Pental Pigma Pen ink because it stands up to heavy Graphic White use better than the original Zebra brush pen ink does.

So I basically heavily modify my mechanical pencils and my mechanical brushes. Of course I'd love to use a real brush, but I haven't got around to learning how yet - maybe once I retire!