Review of Sanford Prismacolour Non-photo blue pencils

WARNING: Comic talk ahead!

I wanted to write a short review of the ‘non-photo’ blue pencils I have been using lately. I’m doing this so that if you have to order these things through the mail or don’t want to waste money trying and buying these things then hopefully this review will point you in the right direction.

There are three pencils that I have come across. There are other types and brands, but these are the ones I have had experience with and I think may be the most commonly used in comics.

1-Sanford col-erase non-photo blue. (pictured)

This pencil’s lead is quite hard and hardly shows up on the paper. This is good if you only want faint marks as guidelines and not so much an actual finished drawing. There is an eraser on the end that actually works to a certain degree. Although it’s really only for peace of mind as you don’t need to erase the pencil after inking anyway. I found this pencil too light to do actual finished or rough outlined drawings with. But if you were wanting a pencil to use in conjunction with a photocopier this may be a better option.

2-Sanford Verithin non-photo blue. (pictured)

A lot softer than the col-erase non-photo blue and would be better for a more finished drawing approach. Although I find this lays down too much of a waxy coat and makes inking with my tech pen difficult and clogs the pen. I imagine it would work better with brush or dip pen but I haven’t tried this as yet.

3-Sanford Col-erase light blue (not pictured but looks the same as the col-erase non photo)

Although not officially non-photo it does the same as the non-photo (the blue’s light enough not to show up in copies) this one puts down a slightly darker line than the col-erase non-photo and it’s softness lands in between the Col-erase and verithin non-photo pencils.

I was initially pointed to the possibility of using this pens from Jessica Abels and Matt Maddens great book on comics ‘Writing pictures and drawing words’. I find that you can get a much more finished drawing out of the light blue as opposed to the non-photo, and would definitely recommend it as the best one to draw with for inking.


I ended up settling on the light blue col-erase pencil. I enjoy the darker line it lays down and it’s not too hard not too soft lead. From the tests I’ve done the line seems to disappear as easily as the non photo blue in Photoshop.

I usually just use the ‘threshold’ option in ‘Image>Adjustments’ in photoshop. I have seen that you can take out the blue by going into ‘Image>Adjustments>hue&Saturation’ then from the drop down list (default is ‘master’) choose either blue or cyan and increase the brightness. The blue will then disappear. But from my tests I have not found this to be any be any better than the threshold option.

I have also found that a gentle erasing helps, especially if using the light blue instead of the non photo. You don’t have to get rid of all the blue, just knock the blue back a little.

My advice: Buy one of each and try them out, they’re $1 each. Go crazy and blow $3 on your art.

Update: I later went on to discover Pilot Eno colour mechanical pencils, I still use and enjoy the light blue col-erase, and sometimes I even use a H pencil for similar light effect when penciling. I have found the soft blue and green Eno pencil leads to be good for comic work, especially if you like the fine point of a mechanical pencil.

Why use non-photo blue pencils?

  • The light blue colour does not show up when scanned and edited correctly in Photoshop. It also shouldn’t show up in a photocopy but a more sensitive copier may pick it up
  • If the blue doesn’t show up then there is no need for erasing…
  • Ever ripped a page erasing lines, ever gotten sick of the pile of eraser dust at your feet, ever dirtied a page from excessive overdrawing?
  • The blue pencil doesn’t smudge as much as regular grey lead pencils.

-It looks nifty 😉 This is the reason I’m leaving the blue in for the web versions of my latest comics, I’m hoping this also helps differentiate them from the B&W versions that will be collected in book format.

Example of my drawing process. Click on comic to read more.

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