I have loved Red/Blue editing pencils for ages. Every time I find a new one, I buy a few more. I have been delighted to see that many of my favorite online stationery shops continue to find new sources for red/blue pencils. There are several theories surrounding the original uses for red/blue pencils and I think many occupations found uses for the red/blue editing pencils. Folks in the publishing and editing world used the red for editing notes and then the blue for STETs, potentially or for the second pass of editing and proofreading. Map makers might use the colors to indicate land and water. But today, some people use the colors for bullet journaling for to do lists and other indications in their planners.
I use them for drawing as I can ink over the red or blue and then scan the artwork and drop out the R or B channel and VOILA! the pencil marks disappear. Also, the material used in a red/blue pencil is usually wax or oil-based rather than graphite so it tend not to smear as much as a traditional graphite pencil so for a lefty, it tends not to smear so much for me.
Some red/blue pencils are erasable, some are not. And then there’s the Caran D’ache 999 which is water soluble. BONUS!
The pencils I tried:
- Caran D’ache 999 Bi-Color ($2.80 each)
- Mitsu-Bishi Prussian Blue / Vermillion 772 ($1 each)
- Empire Pedigree Blue/Red 603 (I think this might be vintage!)
- Prismacolor Verithin Rouge et Bleu 748 ($1.10 each)
- Brevillier Urban Coloring Pencil (may be discontinued, part of the Creatacolor brand)
- Musgrave Hermitage 525 Thin Red & Blue Combination ($3.25 per dozen)
- Harvest Thick 725 Red & Blue Combo ($0.50 each)
- Kitaboshi Vermillion & Prussian Blue 9667 ($1 each)
- Charles Leonard Inc. 65045 Red/Blue ($4.99 per dozen)
- Mitsubishi Colour Pencil 2637 / ($6.50 per dozen) (same as the 2667 but are 7:3 instead of 5:5)
- Artesco BiColor (cannot find these online anymore)
- Tombow V.P. 8900 ($1.50 each)
The price range shows that some of these pencils are definitely more utilitarian while others are definitely more premium.
If you are looking for a firm point with rich color for writing or checking, I’d recommend the Prismacolor Verithin. The color is good and the point stays pretty sharp. The price is reasonable for a box of a dozen and they are readily available. If you want a softer point and budget priced, then go for the Harvest Thick 725.
After testing them, I cherry-picked out the ones I liked the best and, of course, they were the more premium pencils from mostly the Japanese brands. The Tombow 8900, the Mitsubishi 2637 and the Kitaboshi 9667 were my favorite from the Japanese manufacturers. These all come in about $1 per pencil individually but can be purchased by the dozen fairly reasonably on Amazon. I also love the Caran D’ache 999 Bi-Color, partially because of its water solubility though some might want to avoid it for that. I’m willing to pay $3 per pencil for these. They are creamy smooth and wet well. I’d compare it to the Swisscolor watercolor pencils. Its not quite a Supracolor but its pretty good.
I tested all the blue pencil colors and all the red colors together to show the variations in the shades of red and shades of blues. I liked seeing the wide variety of color. Some of the reds are warmer and closer to orange, others are more fire engine red. And in the blues, the colors range from an indigo to almost a sky blue. I know some of the manufacturers purposely chose warmer reds for the checking pencils to be less stressful on students in Japan. You may find that you like a warmer or cooler red or blue on your checking pencil.
Sometimes I just like to sketch with these pencils because I like the color combinations. It’s a bit like sketching with a Magic Pencil without the chaos factor. Then I can add in the water solubility of the Caran D’ache for a little highlighting and I have a super portable sketch kit.
The cat drawing was done with the Prismacolor Verithin which is definitely a much cooler blue and red color. The larger face is a combination of Caran D’ache and one of the Japanese pencils which all use warmer reds and blues.
Overall, if you like to annotate your writing, notes, or planner, you might find a use for a few red/blue pencils. If you like to draw, you might also enjoy tucking a few red/blue pencils into your travel kit as they make a fun, fast way to add color to your art or sketches. Not to mention, red/blue editing pencils are a part of stationery history and tradition.
Do you use them? If so, how?