Why most pencils are yellow

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/11/01/why-most-pencils-are-yellow.html


So popular was its yellow pencil that the company actually changed its own name to Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth

And from Wikipedia:

It was founded in 1790 by Joseph Hardtmuth of Austria. In 1802, the company patented the first pencil lead made from a combination of kaolin and graphite

Never heard of it. I guess they’re not that big of a company? Seems like they’re still going though


That may have been a historical understanding, but the way it was quoted it seems to be being stated as fact. This is not correct. Graphite does not have the cubic crystal structure of diamond, and it has different electronic properties. They are both made of carbon, but to say diamond is graphite is wrong.


Well thank you, Boing Boing, that is indeed interesting! This is the sort of weird esoterica I love learning about and one reason I started reading Boing Boing regularly years ago. :slight_smile:


I grew up with Derwent Cumberland pencils which are not painted yellow, so I always find it odd that people expect pencils to be yellow.


Came to say the same thing - I think it’s only in North America the pencils are usually yellow. Growing up in the UK pencils were always green or blue.


Were they the red and black ones in the 80s?
My current Derwent drawing pencils are black but I can’t remember the brand of my school pencils.


Nah. Pencils are green.


I take it you don’t often while away a pleasant hour or three perusing Art & Drafting Supply stores? :slightly_smiling_face:

(I was puzzled the first time I heard of the Koh-i-Noor diamond, wondering why anyone would give a diamond the same name as a pencil company.:blush:)


I love art stores. Like the proper ones, not just hobby stores, and i like to find excuses to go check them out even if i end up not buying anything. Never heard of this brand ever.


When I was learning to print in school in Canada we had thick, red pencils that were also much shorter than most. I guess they were easier for kids to handle. In fact, looking back, I think those pencils might have had leads that were harder to break than usual, but they could tear up the paper something fierce.

Later on in life most pencils were, indeed, yellow.

(Did something change in the forums? This is the second time I’ve replied to someone’s post instead of the original topic post when I SWEAR I hit the right button. Maybe I’m just getting old.)


Let me get this straight. They signified the use of Russian materials with the Chinese imperial color and the name of an Indian diamond? I guess that’s one way to be multi-culti.


Sounds like it was definitely a harder graphite, i have drawing pencils that go from super soft to insanely hard (H8 or H9). I prefer the harder lead when sketching but the risk you run into is 100% what you mentioned, you can end up scratching or lightly tearing the surface you’re writing on. I tend to prefer lead hardnesses between H5 through H7 because i’m weird, most everyone else i know that draws prefers to use really soft lead.

There are also some fake graphite pencils, not sure what they use in those but maybe some plastic combined with graphite? But those can also be more resistant to breaking compared to regular pencils. In high school we used to take lighters to those and we’d bend the pencils to weird angles without it breaking since it didn’t use real wood either.


I am 95% certain this is what we had, but I remember them being fatter!

Maybe it’s just because my hands were tiny.


Huh. How curious.

Sorry for the mischaracterisation, then.

I mostly know them for colored pencils, mechanical pencils, and a wide variety of specialty erasers. But they make all sorts of things.

Oh, and they’re Rotring’s US subsidiary manufacturing Rapidograph technical pens and inks.

(And, yes, proper art stores. :grin:)


Probably i’ve just happened to go to stores that just didn’t stock them. It’s also entirely possible they had them but because i wasn’t aware of the brand i just have no memory of having encountered it. I think both are just as likely to have happened. Though i think i would have for sure remembered the weird brand/company name

Personally i’m fond of Staedtler Lumograph pencils and have them in all or most of the hardnesses they offer. For inking pens i’m obsessed with the metal Copic Multiliner inking pens, and i have these in 4 pen nib sizes :slight_smile: It’s been a while since i’ve used them so i probably would need to replace the nibs and ink cartridges by now.

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Well, coloured pencils aside, mainly (but by no means most) brown

Not that a random Google image search is anything other than anecdote.

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The ones that are slightly rubbery about their imposture are unpleasant; but unadulterated graphite is a bit of an oddity in contemporary pencils.

The advent of synthetic graphite at least deals with the fact that usefully large deposits of graphite nice enough to just saw into sticks and use are quite rare; but going with fired graphite/clay combinations allows you to get the full spectrum of hardnesses, in fairly precise increments.

Thankfully certain adulterations are rather less common than previously. “Sure, pencils would be way better if they could inflict necrotic wounds that are hard to heal.” said nobody ever except the Nazgûl.


pencils, REAL pencils, are grey–


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Yeah, you all want me to join the “Which pencil is best” fight, but I won’t be drawn.

(Edding fineliner pens for the win though.)