Non Photo Blue Lead (or Non Repro Blue Lead) is a bit of a legacy item as far as art reproduction is concerned. The benefit of its use would be that you wouldn’t have to erase, because the camera taking a photo of your black and white inked illustration wouldn’t be able to pick up that color of blue (Xeroxing either). We can use this tool today with scanning in our work, it just takes an extra step. Above is a before and after of an image with the non photo blue lead on the left. On the right, I just dropped the saturation of the cyan channel down to 0 and bumped the lightness all the way up, and poof, it’s gone. There’s a few other ways to do this, but the point is there is still a reason to do this today (though most artists now print their non photo blue layouts). In this round-up I am comparing 5 different non photo blue leads, and seeing which is king.
I’ll have to edit this whole thing one day, but I recently found these Prismacolor Col-Erase Light Blue Colored Pencil #20068 and they blow everything else here really out of the water. If you are on the lookout and don’t mind a wooden pencil, go ahead and pick this up and try it. It has the right shade, isn’t as shiny and waxxy, not too hard a lead while not too soft either. It’s as close to perfect as I think it can be as a non-photo blue pencil today. The rest of the original post follows:
Above is a photo of the non photo blue lead I’m looking at today. This list goes as follows:
- Pilot Color Eno Neox Erasable Lead - 0.7 mm - Soft Blue
- Prismacolor Col-Erase Colored Pencil - Copy not NP Blue
- Uni Color Lead - 0.5 mm - Mint Blue
- Uni NanoDia Color Erasable Lead - 0.5 mm - Mint Blue
- Prismacolor Premier Turquoise Graphite Drawing Leads, Non-Photo Blue, 2mm Below is a set of results, which I looked at a few things:
- Color Swatch: This is a simple low pressure to high pressure application onto the page
- Erasing: I ran an eraser though the middle of another swatch to see how much would come up * The last three are a swatch with either Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, Platinum Carbon Black, or Sakura Pigma Micron Pen ink marked on top, and finally the bottom mark is me erasing the swatch with the ink on top. And here are the results:
|Lead Name||Color Swatch||Erasing||Pentel Pocket Brush Pen Ink||Platinum Carbon Black Ink||Micron Pen Ink|
|1. Pilot Color Eno Neox Erasable Lead - 0.7 mm - Soft Blue|
|2. Prismacolor Col-Erase Colored Pencil - Copy not NP Blue|
|3. Uni Color Lead - 0.5 mm - Mint Blue|
|4. Uni NanoDia Color Erasable Lead - 0.5 mm - Mint Blue|
|5. Prismacolor Premier Turquoise Graphite Drawing Leads, Non-Photo Blue, 2mm|
Prismacolor Col-Erase (#2) is by far the worst. I see Arthur Adams using this thing all the time, and I’m not sure how he does it. He might just press down harder, but I can barely get the thing to make a mark. I’ve purchased 3 separate pencils over my lifetime and they all are like this. Made me think all non photo blue lead was like this for a very long time.
The next worst I would say is the Uni .5mm Nano Dia Color (#4). It seemed like a lot harder of a lead, and just not as easy to work with. The Uni .5mm Color Mint Blue (#3) somehow just feels better to me, seems to be a bit softer, make a bit darker of a mark, and still can erase relatively well. If you like .5mm lead, I’d use this.
If you aren’t married to .5mm, I would go with my favorite of the mechanical pencil sizes, the Pilot .7mm Color Eno Neox (#1). Since the lead is thicker, it seems to not break nearly as easily, which you will run into with most colored leads. It’s also the softest lead and easiest to make a mark with on the page, which I value a lot since I have a lighter hand. The Prismacolor 2mm Turquoise (#5) line isn’t a slouch either, and I tend to use that for really broad base shapes when starting up a drawing, but it’s pretty hard to erase, and also, ink on top of it if you were to erase, nearly disappears.
Which brings me to a huge fault in nearly all blue leads: they are all super waxy, and if you erase them after you ink on them, you will most likely lose a lot of ink in the process. The wax produces a near resist layer on top of your paper, and when you start erasing a lot of the time you’re going to lose at least some of the ink. As you’ll see with the Prismacolor 2mm lead, some of the lead marks come through more than the ink after erasing.
Overall, if you have to just try one of these, I suggest the Pilot Color Eno Neox 0.7 mm Soft Blue Lead. It’s an all around great performer, and a great place to start with non photo blue leads.