How to Sharpen Colored Pencils

There is a right way to sharpen colored pencils…Seriously?

If you are a colorist who likes to use colored pencils in your adult coloring then sharpening your pencils is a critical part of your adult coloring “must have” skills.

If you’re anything like me, then sharpening a pencil is easy, right? You hold the pencil in your dominant hand (left or right), the sharpener in the opposite hand. You insert the pencil into the sharpener and then you turn the pencil in the sharpener until you have the desired point on your lead. Simple huh? That’s how I’ve sharpened my pencils since I was a little thing. I have many years (decades even) of sharpening expertise up my sleeve, so don’t try to tell me I don’t know how to sharpen my pencils “the right way”! Or, as my elders would have put it … ”I’ve sharpened more pencils in my lifetime than you’ve had hot dinners (blah, blah, blah!)”.

Well, apparently, the way I’ve been getting a point on my colored pencils isn’t the best way! Who knew?!

Now that I’m the one paying for these things and not my parents, I’m coming to realize that they are the “tools of my trade” (well my hobby at least). I have begun to see my colored pencils as an “investment”, and there’s some serious money tied up in these little colored sticks of wood, let me tell you! This means I should learn how to take the best possible care of them. If there’s a better way to sharpen my pencils to make them last longer, then I should learn how to do it.

But before we talk about how it should actually be done, we should consider what type of sharpener we should be using.

What type of Sharpener should you choose?

Sharpeners, like colored pencil brands, are a personal preference. It’s best to find the right type to suit your style and budget. You will need at least one though, to keep your pencils in peak coloring condition.

There are a few different types of sharpeners available which can be broadly categorized into 2 groups. Using an analogy, I’ve called these two groups “analogue” and “digital”. See what I just did then…showing off with my high-tech skills now LOL 🙂 !

For Analogue read “manual hand held sharpener i.e. you do the work” and for Digital read “battery or electronically operated i.e. a machine does the work”.

In the Analogue group are:

  • Basic Manual sharpeners – a small sharp metal blade encased in plastic or metal with either a single hole or with two holes of different sizes.
  • Manual sharpeners with a built-in shavings container, again generally with either one or two holes
  • Manual crank operated with multiple holes
  • Knife or razor blade
  • Sandpaper
  • Cosmetic sharpeners – similar to a basic manual colored pencil sharpener but designed for the softer core of a cosmetic pencil.

In the Digital group are:

  • Battery operated sharpeners
  • Electric sharpeners

From the research I’ve done, the majority of colorists, although not all, prefer to use manual sharpeners over either battery or electronic sharpeners. Even though I am basically a lazy person and if I can get a machine to do it for me I usually will, in the case of choice of sharpener type, I choose to use a manual sharpener. The reasons for this choice mainly come down to two things:

  • cost i.e. manual sharpeners are usually cheaper, and
  • control over the level of point you can get on your colored pencils i.e. you can usually see what is happening while you sharpen your pencils

I feel I should point out that even though a knife or razor blade can be used as manual sharpeners, I definitely don’t use either of them. My fingers are too important to me – I need them to keep coloring. I use a few purpose built manual sharpeners which you can see in the photo below:


Essential things you need when sharpening

  • a sharp blade
  • if you have artist quality or even kids jumbo size colored pencils then a sharpener with two holes, one larger than the other, will be important
  • Something to catch the shavings, this doesn’t need to be built into the sharpener, it could be your waste paper bin, an old box or even a tissue spread on your desk to catch the shavings

How do I know when it’s time for a new blade or sharpener?

A good way to tell if the blade in your handheld sharpener is still sharp is by looking at the state of your pencil shavings.

Pencil Shavings

If your pencil shavings are coming off in long strips then your blade is still sharp. The shavings on the left of the photo below are from a sharp blade.

If, however your shavings are coming off in very thin, broken looking pieces, like the shavings on the right-hand side of the photo, then the blade is dull and it’s time to replace the blade or the sharpener.

Check out a really creative use for all those tiny leftover colored pencil stubs and shavings!

The “right” way to sharpen your colored pencils

Finally, what you’ve all been waiting for…the “right” way to sharpen your colored pencils.

  1.  Take your colored pencil and hold it in your non-dominant hand (the one you don’t write with)
  2.  Hold your sharpener in your dominant hand (the one you do write with)
  3.  Place the colored pencil into the hole in the sharpener. If you have two holes in your sharpener, use the larger one as this can give you a better point
  4.  NB this is the most important part hold the colored pencil still and turn the sharpener. The reason this is so important is that this puts far less stress on the wood casing thus better protecting the colored pencil lead and preventing the core from breaking in the sharpener.

Read about my favorite manual sharpener. 

Tutorials and Demonstrations

The table below has links to You Tube videos and website articles that demonstrate and describe the best way to sharpen your colored pencils. I have found these ones helpful in my quest to learn the best way to maintain my “tools of the trade (oops, hobby) 🙂 .

Video Link / Weblink Presenter Video Length Overview
How to Sharpen Colored Pencils by Colorit Colorit Coloring Books 2:02 This video gives a clear demonstration of how to sharpen colored pencils using a manual sharpener.
How to Sharpen Coloring Pencils CherTheFire 6:11 In this video Cher Kaufman demonstrates the best way to sharpen your colored pencils. She also has some tips on how to care for your colored pencils and sharpeners.
How to Sharpen Colored Pencils Teach Kids Art N/A This article outlines some key tips for sharpening your colored pencils.
how to sharpen a colored pencil Art is Fun! N/A In this article artist Thaneeya McArdle describes the various types of sharpeners available and how best to use them for sharpening colored pencils.