Pencil Review: Blackwing Red & Blue Pencils

Somehow, I managed to miss the first two releases of the Blackwing Red & Blue colored pencils. The first version was a special edition red/blue combo pencil and then they released the full red and blue pencils in sets… maybe last year? Either way, by the time I went to order them, they had sold out of both of those editions. But somehow, this spring I was able to get a box of each the Red & Blue pencils ($15 per box). The box sets each include 4 pencils in a vac-form plastic tray in a slipcase sleeve.

I found it quite difficult to get the pencils out of the vac-form tray. So much so, I was worried I would end up scratching the finish on the pencils because they were wedged in there so tightly. In the end, I did get them out but why did the tray have to be quite so snug?

The pencils have a matte finish coating on the barrels making them easy to hold. Both have gold ferrule and bright white eraser caps.

As you will see in the next photo, the inclusion of the erasers may be more for looks that usability.

I tested the red and blue pencils on two different paper stocks (kraft and Col-o-ring paper). Both papers are the type of paper I would use for sketching or drawing with a bit of tooth. The pencil leads are soft and creamy with good color. As a result of the softness, the point retention is only okay.

I often draw with a blue pencil as they are consider “non-repro” and ink can be applied over. Then artwork can be scanned and the blue (or red) can easily be removed in Photoshop. Animators often use red pencils where illustrators and commercial artists favor non-repro blue.

I compared both the blue and red with some of my favorite red/blue pencils as well as a few standalone colored pencils specifically used by illustrators for this type of work.

When comparing the blue pencil from Blackwing to the red/blue combo pencils, none of the red/blue combo pencils actual feature a non-repro blue color. Instead they tend to have a deep Prussian Blue.

Both the Staedtler and Col-Erase pencils have much firmer cores making the point retention better and the lines smoother and less likely to be affected by paper texture.

The standalone pencils from Prismacolor Col-Erase and Caran d’Ache Sketcher are more comparable. A box of 12 Col-Erase are under $12 ($1/pencil) which is much more cost effective than the Blackwings. The Caran d’Ache pencil is comparable in price at about $6-$7 for a set of two pencils but even Caran d’Ache is CHEAPER than the Blackwings. Go figure.

With the red pencils, all three Japanese red/blue combos have a much warmer, tomato red. I tend to use the Col-Erase Vermillion most often (as you can see by how stumpy the pencil is) which is similar in color to the Japanese red/blue pencils but I do bounce back and forth with the Carmine which is a cooler red. That said, the Prismacolor Verithin Red in the metallic red/blue pencil in the photo above is closest in color to the Blackwing Red but a much firmer core designed for point retention and fine detail.

As previously mentioned, I’m likely to recommend the Prismacolor Col-Erase Carmine or Vermillion over the Blackwing for cost, firmness and point retention. The Carmine is available in a box of 12 on Amazon for less than $12, which is a GOOD deal.

Due to the softness of these pencils, the line widths got pretty thick pretty fast. I am not inclined to switch from my Prismacolor Verithins or Col-Erase which are a bit firmer. They don’t really erase any better than the Blackwings, despite what the name might lead you to believe.

While the aesthetics of the Blackwings remain top-notch, $15 for 4 pencils ($3.75 each) is getting pretty ridiculous. A Primsacolor Col-Erase (in oh-so-handy Carmine Red or Cyan/Non-Repro Blue) can be purchased, open stock, for about $1.50 (more than half the price of the Blackwings).

So, while I really wanted to try these, I will not purchase any more of them. They are just too expensive and not as useful as other brands for what I use red and blue pencils to create.

DISCLAIMER: Some items included in this review were provided free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review.

This review also includes affiliate links. The Well-Appointed Desk is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. Please see the About page for more details.

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5 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Glad you were able to get some! But I agree — ridiculous price and ridiculous (non-functioning) eraser.

  2. If you want an easier time removing a pencil from the package – from the looks of it the black holder can be bent along the spine from the back which will make the distance between the protrusions that hold a pencil larger.

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