This blog post is part of a series of going more in depth about colored pencil tools and specifically the ones I’ve mentioned in my free eBook, ‘The Best Tools for The Colored Pencil Artist

First off, let’s talk a little bit about sharpeners. Yay….?

The reason why, is because understanding the make-up and science behind the tools, selections can easily be made on what to use and what’s a definite no.

Sharpeners fall into 2 categories: Blade and Helical.

Blade sharpeners are what we all used in school, and probably what you’re using now. They can be as simple as the one pictured, or they can come with a reservoir attached to catch the shavings. Depending on the angle of the blade, you can get a sharpen with a very small amount of core exposed, or a little longer.

For a very long time, this is the only kind of sharpener I used, In particular the General’s one. I couldn’t really complain, it gave a decent core length and point and didn’t cause breakage. But all that time I did feel like I was missing something. The pencils just wouldn’t get sharp enough. And that brings us to helical sharpeners.

Helical sharpeners are a bit more complicated that a simple blade. Unlike with a blade, the pencil remains stationary while the crank moves the rotating spiral sharpener. The spiral grinds against the pencil and shaves the wood casing away resulting in a much longer and finer point. The result is pencil dust, not shavings.

Because like most people I wasn’t entirely aware of the helical model, my pencils would never sharpen as much as I wanted them to. I couldn’t get the kind of detail I wanted because with the blade model would sharpen to a much shorter and fat exposed core, which meant the point wouldn’t last very long. I was left with a blunt core no more than a few strokes in.

But the game changed when I finally bought myself a Derwent Super Point Helical Mini. I bought the mini to test out, and once this one starts to give in I plan on getting the larger one.

The point and core length with this one is no joke. I was incredibly surprised that with this amount of thin core exposed, there was little to no breakage, even with pencils as soft as Prismacolors. Now, this may be because I’m naturally quite light-handed. But with a core this thin, common sense is if your press too hard especially right after you sharpen, the tip will break.

If this helical design works with Prismacolor Soft Cores, then you know for harder leads its a dream. I tested it out on Arteza pencils (which in my opinion are too hard for very blendy work) and they worked great for detailing. I had a problem with Arteza pencils breaking a lot and I was not a fan of them at first, but this sharpener finally put them to some good use.

Another plus side is that because the exposed core is so long, there is a lot less time spent sharpening. Because you only really want to use this kind of sharpener when you’re going for light base colors or details, you end up rarely needing to sharpen at all.

So yes, the helical design is a game changer if you haven’t used it yet, but don’t going tossing out the blade ones. Just like you need different shape brushes for different parts of a painting, you need a different shape core for different parts of a drawing. I love the tip the helical gives off, but if you’re trying burnish, a super fine point wouldn’t be such a good idea. Burnishing requires you to press a little harder and a blunt tip can come in use. Depending on if you’re burnishing/blending vs. going for light layers/details, use the appropriate sharpener.

If you’re used to grasping the pencil quite close to the lead, (which I don’t recommend when the exposed core is short) Then you’ll enjoy being able to grasp the pencil much closer to the tip with a helical sharpen. You actually gain much more control this way, which is a relief!

I recommend learning how to use this sharpener properly. Make sure you are holding the pencil in place as you sharpen, or else the pencil can rotate in the aperture and start to shave that area and it’ll make you’re pencils very ugly! My pencils are my prized-possession, so this is a huge NO.

So if you’ve been wondering how on earth professional colored pencil artists get such fine detail, its because the pencil is sharper as a pin. Since I’ve gotten a helical sharpener it’s been a whole new ball game and my pieces are finally getting the fine detail I want.

I highly recommend the Derwent Super Point Helical, but if this is not available to you, other helical sharpeners should work just fine.

If you’d like a full list of products I recommend for colored pencil artists, check out my free eBook below.

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