Monday, May 25, 2009

Blue Lead Fade Testing

Back in early April “Jiahe” commented on my post “The Great Blue Challenge” that he had used Pilot Color Eno blue lead and that it had faded rather quickly. I was initially surprised at this, and my surprise turned to embarrassment when it was pointed out that the lead container carries a warning about fading, as shown below.Jiahe then challenged me to do some fade testing (or light fast testing) on the various blue leads that I had, and I reluctantly accepted.

So, firstly, the blue leads that I have.

In order, left to right:
Pilot Color Eno
Uni ~ish (“Mint Blue” is the colour selected for this test)
Uni Color
Staedtler Mars Micro Color
Faber-Castell TK Color
Pentel (PPB)
Pentel Ain
Maybe someday a pencil company will spell colour correctly? .i.e. my lead refillsI scribble-coloured a rectangle of about 5cm long and 1cm wide for each lead, and then cut the paper into three long strips so that they could be stored separately but re-assembled back together. The strips were labelled “sun”, “some” and “dark”, and were exposed as below:

“Sun” = taped up in a north facing glass window (remember I’m in the southern hemisphere) to get a good dose of sunlight throughout the day. The window glass is untinted and does not have any anti-UV or other treatments, but it is autumn so some days are nice and sunny, but others overcast or rainy.

“Some” = put on the desk in my office at home. The blinds are mostly closed so there is not a lot of natural light.

“Dark” = kept in a closed cupboard, no exposure to light, but exposed to the air.

The Results (all colour photos below are clickable for high res)

Week 1
blue lead fade test 1Yarrrrr???!!! Where has Pilot Color Eno gone? The “sun” exposure has completely faded and disappeared. At first I did a double take – did I forget to colour in that part? Had I aligned my three test-strips of paper incorrectly? If you look really hard you can see some remnants, but for all intents and purposes Color Eno has completely gone. The “some” exposure has had a little fading, though not much.

There is a hint of fading on “sun” for Uni ~ish, but Uni Color has definitely changed. The “sun” exposure getting lighter and greyer, and “some” getting a little lighter. All the other samples are essentially unchanged.

Week 2
blue lead fade test 2Well the sun has done for Uni Color and it’s a goneburger. The “some” exposures for Pilot Color Eno and Uni Color are clearly starting to fade. Note that unlike Uni Color, Uni ~ish Mint Blue is holding up fairly well although the “sun” exposure is starting to show some fading. All the others are looking good.

Week 3
blue lead fade test 3Basically more of the same. The “some” exposure for Pilot Color Eno appears to be on its last legs.

Week 4 – Final Results
blue lead lightfast fade testFour of our blue leads showed little to no fading and have completed the lightfastness test with flying colours. Full marks to Staedtler Mars Micro Color, Faber-Castell TK Color, Pentel PPB and Pentel Ain. Fifth out of seven is Uni ~ish Mint Blue which has shown some fading for the ‘sun’ exposure, and a little fading for the ‘some’ exposure. Bringing up the rear, and a long way behind, are Uni Color and Pilot Color Eno. Pilot Color Eno 'sun' disappeared in week 1. Perhaps you artists out there can tell me of some use for special disappearing blue leads. Secret agents?

You will need to read my various blue lead postings to choose a lead for you that has the right combination of hue, lightfastness, strength, erasability, etc, but for me personally there is Pentel and then there is…nothing.

No, NO, NO! Don’t ask me to repeat all this for red, green or any other blasted colour. It ain't happen'n.


Anonymous said...

Wow, the difference in performance is incredible. Obviously the materials used are very different. I would've assumed (Especially in the MP industry) that one company would have just copied another!

Anonymous said...

Excellent. Thanks for posting this.

Seems like the Pilot Color Eno would be really great for sketching light outlines or frame lines the same way a non-repro blue pencil is. Though I'm not sure who would want to wait weeks for the results!

B2-kun said...

Most informative review. Guess it's always best to consider blue lead as non-permanent drawing media.

Tim m (portland) said...

Fascinating study David, really. I've bought several of those Uni Color leads and I'll be buggered if I'm going to use them now based on what I've seen here. I can't think of an application where I'd need a fading pencil mark.

Go on, do the other colours as well, we all know you secretly want to.

Hope all's well, I'll drop you a note offline soon.. it's been ages.

Anonymous said...

Lightfastness has always been a big issue with watercolour pigments, particularly prussian blue and antwerp Blue(PB27). I'm unsure of the relevance this has to coloured leads but Bruce McEvoy at may be interested in your research. You'd have great fun with RED. 2 1/2p

Glen Mullaly said...

Great work David! Since I use the Uni-Ish Mint Blue (along with an actual non-repro blue wood pencil) and I store my work away from light I hadn't seen the effect of fading. Fascinating though.

Keep up the neglected research!


Henrik said...

I can only join the choir. Excellent research! MAD style really. Thanks Dave

(We know you really want to test at least the red ones too :=) )

Redds said...

I used Pilot Color Eno, and have experieced fading when it was used in my sketchbooks. But now this being proven, I can use it liberally to draw the proportional and pose mannequins for figure-studying and character design, which I then overlay with either pen(although in this case I can just erase it) or pencil. Then I can leave it out in the sun, and take it in later to have a clean-cut, proportional character with an interesting pose and no sketchy guidelines :)

Gunther said...

Thank you for that very intersting study! I get the impression that the fading corresponds with the erasability, i. e. that the pigments that can be erased fade quickly. Unfortunately the eraseable uni colour are my favourite :-( Too bad that the ones by Faber-Castell and STAEDTLER break so easily.

Pawel Bartuzi said...

Excellent review, indeed.

Gunther, uni -ish leads erase very well too, so in my opinion they are a good alternative to the fading colour leads.

Eller said...

Fading blue pencil leads will be VERY useful for tracings of screentone. You can draw where you want the screentone to go, stick it to the paper and then just wait until the stupid lines disappear. So many manga artists will LOVE that effect of Pilot Color ENO. Thanks, you've just confirmed my decision to buy these leads. :D

Kiwi-d said...

Thanks Eller and Redds - I felt sure the fading could be put to some useful artistic purpose.

Anonymous said...

it isnt all bad for pilot eno actually, if you have pencilled a drawing and then inked it, stick it in the sun for a bit and all trace of pencil lines have gone! ace!

Anonymous said...

Blue Leads were developed to draw outlines onto draughting film to be traced over with pen. back in the days when we used to draw by hand before CAD draughting. the film would be passed through a dyline machine which used ultraviolet light make a copy onto paper. the blue pencil would not be detected would not be transmittted to the paper, they were intended, i always thought, as temporary constuction lines and never to remaiain permanent or be seen on the final product ? i thought they were only used for technical drawings, greta to see so many other imaginative uses are being made- great work - keep it up.

Anonymous said...

@Gunther: Actually, the Pentel PPB, which Dave tested against some other blue leads earlier, is one of the more eraseable blue leads, and it also does not fade in the light, as this test shows. I'm not sure about the Pentel Ain - there is one review of it on Jetpens saying that it's not very eraseable. I'm buying both to try them out. I'll let you know the results when they arrive in a week or so.

Wendell said...

This made me curious about the other colors of Pilot Color Eno and Uni Color. I got samples of all but the Eno Yellow and put them in the window for a month.

Completely faded
Uni: Orange
Eno: Blue, Violet

Significant fading
Uni: Blue, Red, Green, Pink
Eno: Green, Orange, Pink, Red

Little or no fading
Uni: Mint Blue
Eno: Soft Blue

For comparison, I also put some vintage colored leads and a variety of modern artist's color pencils and largely saw no fading.

Kiwi-d said...

Good to know, thanks Wendell.

XeroDesign said...

I've been looking around in your blog and have found some very nice and useful articles about colour leads. I'm just getting into the whole coloured mechanical leads thing and was alarmed by this article. I already ordered the Pilot Eno blue and green leads so I will be able to test this myself soon. I have a couple of questions though. First, is there a significant difference between the Pilot Color Eno lead you're using and the NEOX lead? I found a review on JetPens that said that the Pilot Color Eno Neox red lead was a better color than the regular red lead and also faded less. I was not able to find any further information on the difference between the two. The second question is where can I buy the Uni-Ish lead online? I was able to find only one website which was UK based and they would charge 10 Pounds for shipping to the US.

Thank you.

Kiwi-d said...

Hi Jari. Sorry, I can't help you re difference between Eno and Neox. Ebay might be worth checking out.

Wendell said...

@Jari: The Color Eno seems to be discontinued and I don't know whether the Neox Color Eno is any different. If you are able to test them, it would be interesting to hear. As for Uni-ish leads, I think the only two sources are Cult Pens and somebody on eBay in Taiwan.

XeroDesign said...

@Wendell: I wasn't aware that the Color Eno was discontinued. You can still find them on JetPens. I found the Uni-Ish seller on Ebay who is selling a set of 6 pencils with 2 leads each. I'd go to Cult Pens but they will charge me 10 Pounds for shipping which is too high for me. I think I will be ordering the NEOX lead soon and will run some tests with it. If I come up with something significant I will post it here. As per your suggestion I will steer clear of the Blue and Voilet :). Soft Blue will be a good alternative to Blue though. How bad was the fading on the Eno Green, Orange, Pink, and Red? Could you post an image?
I intend to use these pencils to add clarity to my Engineering notes and homework which for the most part will stay in a fairly dark place (closed notebooks...!) but I'm still concerned.

Uakari said...

A review came up since Jari posted where Lung wrote that the Pilot NEOX Color Eno lead is really better than the Pilot Color Eno lead:

"I recently used my old Pilot violet lead for penciling some comic pages for my cartooning class to grab the students attention. It proved to be reasonably smooth and erasable, but it has a tendency to break apart under normal sketching pressure. The packaging label also warns that its color might fade if exposed to light. Thus I decided to try a tube of Pilot Neox that by its looks and pricing seemed to be the upgraded version of the original Pilot Color Eno.

The Pilot Neox Color Eno violet lead was stronger than the original Pilot Color Eno violet 0.7 mm lead, for it did not break at all during these doodling tests. It also laid down a darker more saturated purple line quite smoothly. [...] Both violet leads were fairly erasable leaving just faint purple traces behind after erasing their sample color swatches with a stick vinyl eraser." said Lung.

Thus, NEOX seems to be stronger, not breakable, more saturated and reportedly its packaging label does not warn that its color might fade if exposed to light.

Various brands sell 0,5 and 0,7 mm color leads, but just some sell these in more than 3 colors like Pilot (standard and NEOX) and Uni (-ish and COLOR). However, what is the best of? The Pilot NEOX or the Uni -ish? Unfortunately, Pilot does not sell so tube which would contain assorted colors in front of Uni. Though, I still could not find any site like ebay where I could buy an -ish one.
( Any help, pls?

Finally, I found an item on ebay called "Pentel Hi-Polymer Color Leads 0.5mm - 6 Assorted colors", but it has to be fake:
After all, its seller already sold many and got positive feedbacks. Or did the feedbacks concern only for the shipping, packaging and contact?

Anyway, I'm planning to buy one tube from each brand (NEOX, -ish and the fake one) and come back with a review.

Thanks and regards,

Kiwi-d said...

We'll look forward to yuor follow up report.

Peter Hosey said...

Uakari: “… I found an item on ebay called "Pentel Hi-Polymer Color Leads 0.5mm - 6 Assorted colors", but it has to be fake…”

Aaactually, maybe not. It mentions that it ships via “Korea Post Service”. I looked at the full-size photo and saw the model number: CH205-6. Googling “pentel ch205” turned up a bunch of results, about half of which were in Korean.

So then I searched for “Pentel Korea”, opened the automatic English translation of Pentel's Korean site ( ), and went digging.

Guess what I found!

So it looks like Pentel *do* make 0.5mm color refills, but they only sell them through their Korean branch.

I wonder whether JetPens would be willing to start importing at least one item from Korea as well as Japan.

Anonymous said...

You can get them in Germany very cheap in 0.9mm
7 Pencils in 7 colors with 7 tubes of coloured lead for about 10 USD:

Anonymous said...

These leads (even though they are not graphite) are OK to fade if used for art as they are mostly used for preliminary loose lines followed by either another pencil (eg HB) for more definitive lines/drawing and or finally with archival india ink. Therefore, them fading is OK in that sense but I find the Steadtler blue sticks to be the best.

Anonymous said...

Color fading of dyes is very common. Pastels, prints made on most ink jet printers, water colors etc are all susceptible. Pigments however are generally color fast because they are based on solid particles of colored materials. The first time I ran into this was on a visit to Paris the Degas pastels in the Orsay museum are in a darkened gallery.

B. F. PRETZ said...

What I initially took from this was that some people, (myself included) might actually WANT the lead that fades, because if I draw in blue and ink over it, the ink is what I want to be seen.

But for archival purposes there is something years down the road that is lost. For instance, as a comic fan it's great to see original pages from years past and be able to see the blue underdrawing of the great artists. If the lead had faded, I would never get that, and in turn if I have fans 50 years from now, they may never get to see that.

Something to think about.

Thanks for the great article.