How You Really Should Be Sharpening Your Prismacolors

By Nicole Tinkham

Have you ever had your colored pencil lead break off right in the middle of a project?? We hear it all the time and know how incredibly frustrating it is. Not only do you have to stop everything you’re doing to fix the problem, it’s also such a waste of a really good pencil! If you’re a Prismacolor pencil fan, you know just how vulnerable they are. You may think all hope is lost and your only option is to deal with the breakage, but there is actually a correct way to sharpen colored pencils that will help! Here’s how you should really be sharpening your Prismacolors.

Our favorite — The very basic handheld sharpeners


Why we love them: They’re small, simple, inexpensive, and portable.

Tip: Don’t put a lot of pressure while sharpening! This could cause the lead to break. Instead be very gentle. It may be easier to sharpen the pencil vertically versus horizontally.

Check your sharpener: When your pencil shavings are short little bits, it means your sharpener blade is dull. Be sure to have nice long shavings when you sharpen. Sometimes the blades are replaceable and with others you’ll just have to buy a new sharpener.

 Go old school — Knife

Using a knife is a quick and easy way to sharpen your pencils but one drawback is that it’s the most dangerous option. Be very careful when doing this and always sharpen away from you.

Tip: Rotate the pencil so you get a nice shave all the way around.

Super simple — Sandpaper


Another different way to sharpen colored pencils (or other drawing tools such as charcoal and pastels) that we love is with sandpaper.

What to look for: There are special sandpaper blocks made for the artist which are basically layers of sandpaper stapled together on a wooden block (see image above).

Why we love them: They’re so convenient, you can take them anywhere, and just tear off a sheet after use for a fresh new one.

Tip: Be sure to rotate your pencil as you run it across the sandpaper surface so it’s a nice and even sharpen.

Electric sharpeners are debatable

We love electric pencil sharpeners for graphite pencils but they aren’t our top choice for colored pencils. However, every artist is different and we do know some that use an electric sharpener.

What we don’t like: You don’t have as much control and sometimes it can be too much force for the delicate colored pencil.

Another drawback: The wax from the pencils will eventually clog the sharpener.

Hand crank sharpeners — DO NOT USE!

These classroom style pencil sharpeners were not made for colored pencils. Don’t even try them because they can destroy your precious colored pencils!


When your pencil lead is broken, you can leave it out in the sun for a few minutes. The heat will soften the wax lead and fuse the pieces back together.

Keep in mind that every artist is different so you may have to play around with a few options to see what works best for you. Some people have the magic touch using a handheld sharpener and others are really great at using the sandpaper method. Whichever you choose, always make sure to handle with care. Prismacolors are incredible colored pencils but so delicate. Treat them well and they’ll last awhile. We want to hear some of your top tips when it comes to colored pencils! How do you sharpen yours? How do you prevent the lead from breaking? Let us know in the comments 🙂

One thought on “How You Really Should Be Sharpening Your Prismacolors

  1. I didn’t know about leaving a broken pencil in the sun, which fuses the broken pieces together. Great tip, Nic!

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