Thursday, June 24, 2021

Non-Photo Blue: A Timeless Tool

The barely visible under-drawing
was done with a Staedtler non-photo blue pencil

Back in the day, graphic designers and printers used “non-photo blue” pencils. Certain shades of blue could not be detected by camera film, so rough drawing lines or notations could be left on the art and would not appear in the final form. Modern scanners can see that blue, so non-photo blue pencils are not effective in the same way anymore. However, image-editing software can be used to manipulate the contrast or hue of the blue so that it can be made invisible digitally. Non-photo blue pencils still have life – but in a different way.

I’ve never worked in graphic design or printing, and I don’t use sophisticated image-editing apps, so I had no practical use for non-photo blue pencils. Coincidentally, two teachers both recommend the non-photo blue pencil, so I was tickled that this old-school tool has yet more life – this time in an analog way.

My first influence is cartoonist Lynda Barry, whose how-to books I have been voraciously devouring of late as I work to develop my imaginary drawing skills. She specifically recommends the Staedtler non-photo blue pencil.

The second influence is Gage Academy instructor Kathleen Moore, whose class I just finished in drawing nature with colored pencils. She, too, recommends a non-photo blue pencil.

Both artists use a blue pencil for lightly sketching the initial line drawing before inking (in Barry’s case) or using colored pencils (in Moore’s case). Their reasons are similar: While not invisible to modern cameras, non-photo blue lines are so subtle and pale that they tend to magically blend and disappear once the final medium is applied. In addition, lightly applied pale blue pencil is easily erased. Moore demonstrated another practical reason: If an initial drawing is made with graphite, almost all of it must be carefully erased before applying colored pencil. If any large particles of graphite remain, they could smudge, muddying the colors.

To learn more about non-photo blue pencils, read my review of five brands I tried at the Well-Appointed Desk.

1 comment:

  1. I knew the pencils were used that way back in the day, but I've never had any experience with them. They do sound like they could be quite handy.


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