Barb Sotiropoulos

Does Lightfast Really Matter?

You may not have heard of the word before but whether or not a particular brand is lightfast or not, is a hot topic in the colored pencil world. This singular quality has enough power right now, to, in some cases, be the ultimate deciding factor in whether or not someone purchases a certain brand of colored pencils.

What is lightfast and what does that word even mean? 
Lightfastness is a property of a colorant such as dye or pigment that describes how resistant to fading it is when exposed to light. (Wikipedia)

Most colored pencils are graded based on the ASTM (American Standard Test Measure) or the Blue Wool Scale. These ratings assign a particular color a number or Roman Numeral that indicates the approximate length of time the pigment will resist fading. Some companies will use a star rating as well and give an explanation on whether it indicates, poor, good to very good or excellent lightfast ratings.

Cool, so why is this so important?
If you’re a professional working artist, the quality of the products you use should be your top priority. There are many factors to consider however in saying that. One of them, of course, is making sure that when you’re selling originals that you are not selling work made with fugitive colors. Some tests have indicated it can take as little as two years for some colors to fade. It would be awful for you to charge a client hundreds if not thousands of dollars just to have the quality of their piece degrade in as little as 2 years. 

That said, there are additional measures you can take to help preserve the integrity of your artwork long term including using UV fixative sprays, Museum Quality or UV glass and also making sure the art is not hung in direct sunlight.

Are there any exceptions?
At the end of the day though, how much does this really matter? In what context does it matter?UK based Derwent has created a specific line of professional-grade colored pencils specifically called “Lightfast,” so would that alone not suggest the importance of this attribute? It’s used in marketing language all over colored pencil packaging as well. Would that not also indicate that we should be drawing our attention to it?

The answer to this is not as straight forward as you might think. On a recent episode, host of the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast, John Middick and I discussed this topic at length.  As a general rule, yes it is important. However,  if you are just starting with colored pencils or the price of the professional-grade products is a barrier for you, then I think it’s ok to use what is available to you. No, not all colored pencils are created equal, but if a brand is affordable, generally has great performance reviews, but maybe lacks lightfast information or high ratings I personally believe it’s ok to use them to practice or use in sketchbooks or for a piece you don’t plan to sell the original of.

For more on this topic and to hear the discussion John and I had you can listen to the episode below.

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