Friday, September 27, 2019

Product Review: Cretacolor Nero Pencil

Cretacolor Nero pencil

An item that was included in the Cretacolor pencil tin from my Amsterdam symposium swag bag was a Nero pencil. It’s available in five grades, and the tins I’ve collected have included various grades over the years. (Even though I cherish the symposium logo-embellished tins themselves, I do appreciate their contents, too.)

My Cretacolor tin from the Amsterdam symposium

What is the Nero pencil made of? Cretacolor’s product information says only that it “produces a shiny black, smudge-proof stroke. It is oil-based and, therefore, water-resistant,” without describing the rest of its contents. Blick’s website calls it a “deep-black pencil” and includes it in a group of “oil-bound charcoals.”

Compared with several pencils I have that are labeled charcoal, the Nero is much smoother and less smudgy. In application and darkness, it is closest to the Staedtler Mars Lumograph Black, which contains “a high proportion of carbon” mixed with graphite. I’m going to guess that the Nero is also a blend of graphite and carbon, but it’s a bit smoother than the Staedtler. My scribble tests below show smudging with a finger (left) and tortillon (right). (Edited: Parka refers to these as “oil-based charcoal” and compares them to graphite also.)

9/16/19 Pete (17-min. pose)
I’ve been using the Nero on and off at life drawing for the past few years, especially the extra soft grade, and I’ve come to appreciate its soft, dark line without the messy smudging of charcoal. However, because it doesn’t smudge as much, it also won’t produce the beautiful tonal gradient that charcoal is known for. Using a tortillon during longer poses, however, will smudge the line softly in a way that I find a more-than-satisfactory compromise if I can avoid charcoal’s mess.

Another benefit of the Nero pencil compared to charcoal pencils is that it can be sharpened quickly and efficiently with an ordinary sharpener, even an electric one. (Most charcoal pencils must be knife-sharpened to avoid breakage.) Look at the point I got on the Nero with my AFMAT electric long point!

Look at that point!

I like the Nero very much. Without the shininess of graphite or the messiness of charcoal, it has a rich matte black texture that makes it a lovely drawing pencil. So far, it’s the product I have used most from the Cretacolor boxes.

9/16/19 Pete (20-min. pose)

9/9/19 Shawna (10-min. pose)
Contents of the Cretacolor tin


  1. An excellent review and an extremely helpful comparison chart. Thank you!

  2. You use that pencil very well! Nice sketches!!


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