Searching for the Blackest Black: Non Water-Soluble Drawing Materials

Still on my quest for the blackest black art materials! Next up is Part 3 of 4: Non Water-Soluble Drawing Materials.

This series has gone from two parts to three and now, to four! It’s been super fun to compare and contrast art materials. I now know why there are so many Instagram and Youtube accounts dedicated to comparisons and which have thousands of followers-myself included in that following, not to mention the thousands of hours I spend watching the videos…but I digress…

So we will now embark on this Part Three: Non-Water Soluble Drawing Materials. Like the Paint and Water-Soluble Materials comparisons, I used Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media Paper and Duralar Film, which are the two papers I use most for drawings. I chose to compare drawing materials that I had already narrowed down to the darkest ones in my collection. Again, I made short choppy strokes, a fluid line and a solid black rectangle. I comment first on the black-ness of the material, but I’m also interested in the smooth quality of the line. I’m a fluid draftsperson, I like things that flow and don’t grab at the paper or create too much texture-just my preference. The following list corresponds top down to the images below. I isolated each of the marks with the top being the Mixed Media paper and the second, the Duralar. Last, I include direct links to purchase each product from my Amazon affiliate store, Art Supplies I Love.

Stay tuned for Part Four of my Search for the Blackest Black, comparing the blackest black encaustic paints-this totally excites me!

BONUS!! Since most of these materials must be sharpened, here is the best Art Bite tip…This pencil sharpener is the best one I’ve ever purchased. It’s portable, sharpens pointed or blunt and apparently lasts a super long time without needing a new blade. The best part is that it sharpens to an extra long point, see the comparison below of my other studio pencil sharpener and this one.

  1. Scorched Fire Wood
    I started drawing with campfire wood a few years ago while teaching in Utah. I was looking for something to give to the workshop participants to draw with and there were old campfires everywhere, so walla..instant art material. It’s basically charcoal, but without binders and other things that make it easy to handle. You’ll get a variety of results depending on what kind of wood it is, how long it was burned, etc. The wood I used here is from my fire pit in Florida and is likely some kind of pine. It was super smooth and nice and dark on the paper, not so much on the Duralar. Like any charcoal, it needs a toothy surface to grab onto. If you try drawing with your own fire pit wood, made sure you use plenty of fixative!
  2. Posca Pen
    Hands down, the winner of the blackest black drawing material on both papers I tested. The pen is kind of a cheat because it’s actually acrylic paint and belongs in my paint comparison, but who cares. If you’re into paint markers, Posca pens are the best I’ve tried and I’ve tried A LOT of them so as to avoid paying for the expensive Posca. Like anything, you get what you pay for-Posca pens are smooth, luscious and you really don’t need a lot of it to get good coverage. They come in several sizes, so you can draw detailed and bold AND they come in a ton of rich colors, not just black.
  3. Prismacolor Ebony Pencil
    This is my go-to drawing pencil for all kinds of drawing. I can get a wide variety of shades from light to dark with just this one pencil. These pencils were originally made by Eberhard-Faber, then Sanford and now it looks like Prismacolor is making them. If you can get ahold of the EF pencils or even the Sanfords, you’ll find a slightly better and blacker pencil. I purchased a huge lot of the EF from Ebay and compared with the more recent Prismacolor, it seems that the more recent the pencil, the lesser the quality of graphite. It’s true that things in our modern age just aren’t made like they used to be.
  4. Generals Charcoal Pencil 557 HB
    You can’t beat Generals for anything charcoal, which is why four of their products have made it to this list. I love this particular pencil for drawing on paper, it’s extremely dark, smooth and doesn’t break or crumble when drawing or sharpening. Like any charcoal, it needs something toothy to grab so it didn’t do too well on the Duralar.
  5. Generals Carbon Sketch
    Believe it or not, this is a close second to Posca for the blackest black on both papers. It is the smoothest, darkest pencil I’ve ever had in my hand, it’s absolutely heavenly how it just glides over any surface. However, Heaven quickly turns to Hell when you try to sharpen it and sharpen it you must, as it’s extremely soft and loses it’s point very quickly and then breaks and breaks and breaks when you sharpen it. I’ve managed to be moderately successful sharpening it with a hand held sharpener, rather than an electric one. If you don’t lose your mind sharpening this pencil, it’s definitely worth it to draw with it, if only for a little while.
    **UPDATE An excellent alternative to this pencil is the Wolff’s Carbon Pencil, which is not to hard/not too soft and just right! Many thanks to @paddocknotes for the recommendation!
  6. Grumbacher Charcoal Pencil Medium
    Unfortunately, Grumbacher has discontinued this pencil, but I think you can still find it in sets under the Faber-Castell Pitt label. If you can find the vintage Grumabacher pencil on Ebay, they’re worth the extra work to purchase. They draw extremely smooth and dark on paper, maybe even slightly better than the General’s Charcoal pencil above. The charcoal is very firm and feels almost as smooth as graphite on paper, but an utter fail on the Duralar. I’m really in love with this pencil and I’m sad they’re not being made anymore.
  7. Primo Elite Grande #5000
    Made by General’s, their Primo line of charcoal pencils is as lovely as all of their products. Velvety smooth, dark and as heavenly as the Carbon Sketch above, it’s a little thicker than a regular pencil and easier to hold, it feels amazing in my hand. It draws wonderfully on both papers, but unfortunately suffers the same sharpening issues as the Carbon Sketch. Also, because it’s slightly thicker than most pencils, it won’t sharpen in most hand held sharpeners. However, I would choose this pencil over the other as it’s ever so slightly harder and doesn’t crumble quite as easily. Both are worth it, they really are heaven during the drawing process.
  8. Primo Charcoal 59 HB
    Like most of the General’s products listed here, the quality of this pencil is no exception. It’s also very dark, smooth and velvety as the others, but ever slightly firmer, making it easier to sharpen. The slightly harder charcoal, makes it slightly lighter on both papers. It’s still super dark, just not as dark as pitch like the others. If you don’t want to deal with the frustration of the softness of the other two, this one is just as good.
  9. Sharpie China Marker
    Unlike your usual everyday cheapie China Marker, this Sharpie China Marker is rich and black and ties for second in the line-up for the blackest black on Duralar, but only mediocre on the Mixed Media Paper. A china marker is what it is-a grease pencil-made to mark on difficult surfaces, so you’ll get an excellent black mark on smooth, shiny surfaces when most of the above pencils won’t cut it.
1. Scorched Fire Wood (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
2. Posca Pen (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
3. Prismacolor Ebony Pencil (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
4. Generals Charcoal Pencil 557 HB (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
5. General’s Carbon Sketch (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
6. Grumbacher Charcoal Pencil Medium (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
7. Primo Elite Grande 5000 (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
8. Primo Charcoal 59 HB (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
9. Sharpie China Marker (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)

Searching for the Blackest Black: Water-Soluble Drawing Materials

Next up in this series of searching for the blackest black is my favorite thing to discuss: drawing materials (water-soluble).

Next up in this series of searching for the blackest black is my favorite thing to discuss: drawing materials. I hadn’t realized I had so many before I embarked on this experiment so I actually split this part of the series into two posts: water-soluble this month and non water-soluble next month. The post after that will be comparing encaustic paint blacks from various paint makers…exciting!

Just like the black paint comparison, I don’t have every drawing tool ever invented, but I do have quite a variety. I am looking for the blackest black and that remains the first talking point, but I also comment on the draw-ablility of the material-the feel…the ease with which it makes marks. Is it an extension of your hand and seemingly makes marks you’re only dreaming about or does it fight you, seemingly having a mind of its own? Those of you who draw know what I mean.

For this comparison, I made 3 different marks-small, choppy strokes, a fluid stroke and a solid rectangle. Once again, I tested on Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media Paper and Duralar Film. I’m most interested in how water-based paints work on the Duralar, as it is what I paint on most often and I used the Strathmore Paper as a bright white comparison. I made 2 areas of marks of each material on each substrate-the first area is dry and the second is with water added. I made several passes with the water to see how it worked in layers as well as to see how soluble the material actually is. The following list corresponds top down to the images below. I isolated each of the marks with the top being the Mixed Media paper and the second, the Duralar. Last, I include direct links to each product to purchase from my Amazon affiliate store, Art Supplies I Love.

  1. Art Graf Tailors Chalk Black
    I was surprised that this didn’t score higher in the black range, with only getting to a medium-dark gray on both papers. Another thing I didn’t particularly like is that when water is added, it was difficult to obliterate the original stroke. I can attest to the fact that when a wet brush is applied directly to the chalk and the paint laid down on paper, it has a wonderful range of rich grays-from very light to dark.
  2. Derwent XL Graphite
    I have the set of 6 with the water soluble and non-water soluble graphite and water soluble blue, green, yellow and red ochre graphite-I highly recommend it. The water soluble graphite is gorgeous to draw on the Duralar, but when water is added it doesn’t get rid of the stroke and just beads up. On the mixed media paper, it is a dream when water is added with a range of rich lovely grays
  3. Art Graf Kneadable Graphite Drawing Putty
    I purchased this as a bit of a novelty and don’t use it much in the way its designed to be used as mine dried up. From the package, it’s got a texture like a kneaded eraser and like a kneaded eraser, can be manipulated into any shape, but you can draw with it like graphite. I like it as a water soluble graphite, its extremely rich and smooth, especially on the Duralar. As a black, it’s meh…more like a silvery gray.
  4. Lyra Graphite Pencil
    This is my favorite water-soluble graphite, I even bring it to classes for students to use for mark-making exercises. Make sure you purchase the water-soluble version as the non looks exactly the same. In doing this comparison, I was really disappointed in how it held up to the other water soluble graphites-it was much lighter in color and the stroke was difficult to mix away with water. I can say that when I dip this pencil in water and draw with it, it’s really quite lovely on Duralar.
  5. Caran d’ache Neocolor Crayon Black
    My favorite things to play with on the road, they’re incredibly velvety rich and become almost like paint when water is added. The black was really black on both papers without water, but when water is added, was sooooo disappointing! It’s so light with water that it becomes almost invisible on both papers. Yuck.
  6. Stabilo Woody Black
    Definitely the blackest black winner on both papers with or without water. I love making marks with this on anything, it’s strong and velvety smooth. The only thing I don’t like about it is that its so thick and only good for bold marks.
  7. Portfolio Series Oil Pastel
    This is an inexpensive set of water soluble oil pastels and pretty much you get what you pay for when water is added-hardly any solubility…but, hey…water and oil aren’t supposed to mix anyway. I do like these to just draw with when I’m on the road. They’re super smooth and sharpened to a point like a pencil, which is pretty cool and different for an oil pastel.
  8. Tombow Brush Pen Black
    If you follow me on Instagram, you know I’m in love with these pens and I’m actually using them exclusively for a sketchbook series. The black stays super black on the mixed media paper but beads up on the Duralar. However, when water is added on the Duralar, the beading stops and although its not black, the gradient is quite lovely. With water on the mixed media paper, the ink turns a dark turquoise blue, which is disappointing if you’re expecting black.
  9. Stabilo Aquarelle Glass, Paper, Metal Pencil
    The ‘skinny’ answer to the Woody, this pencil makes a range of delicate to dark marks on many surfaces (even encaustic!) with or without water. I use it all the time for sketching and it’s also in my backpack because I can get such a variety of lines and marks with it when I’m on the trail. In this comparison, it held up dark on both surfaces without water, but fades quite a bit when water is added. I do like the range of grays on both surfaces and don’t much mind the fading.
1. Art Graf Tailors Chalk Black (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
2. Derwent XL Water Soluble Graphite (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
3. Art Graf Kneadable Graphite Drawing Putty (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
4. Lyra Water Soluble Graphite Pencil (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
5. Caran d’ache Neocolor Crayon Black (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
6. Stabilo Woody Black (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
7. Portfolio Oil Pastel (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
8. Tombow Brush Pen Black (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
9. Stabilo Glass, Plastic, Metal Pencil (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)

Searching for the Blackest Black: Paint

My quest over many years has been to find the truest black paints and drawing materials, that are most rich, carbon and complete in its blackness. I test several water based black paints on two kinds of paper…see which ones yield the truest black.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m an art materials freak. Like most artists, I’m a collector of art supplies…anything that catches my eye…it’s a sickness. Over the years, I’ve been on a secret quest for the blackest black paint and the blackest black drawing materials. There are many methods to mixing black, the most common is to mix equal parts red, blue and yellow pigments. Sometimes when mixing black, the balance of whatever colors used to mix it is slightly off, resulting in a reddish, or most commonly, a bluish leaning. My quest has been to find the truest black, that leans least toward any color, that is most rich, carbon and complete in its blackness.

Like most of my posts these days, I’ve split this thread into 3 parts with this one focused on water-based paint, the next one on drawing materials and the third on encaustic paint-encaustic being the catalyst that started me on this quest.

I don’t have every black paint ever invented, so I focused on what I do have that interests me most to work with at the moment. When I promoted this post, I did receive a tip from the always helpful Helen Danelly about a new Golden Acrylic Paint called SoFlat Matte and oh boy, I will be spending some money on this paint! I wish I had had it for this comparison, so stay tuned for a post on this paint in the future.

For this comparison, I tested on Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media Paper and Duralar Film. I’m most interested in how water-based paints work on the Duralar, as it is what I paint on most often, so I used the Strathmore Paper as a bright white comparison. I made several kinds of marks (I’m partial to swirls) and in some areas, made several passes to see how the paint worked in layers. The following list corresponds top down to the images below, with the Mixed Media paper on the left and Duralar on the right…and of course, helpful links to purchase the products if you’re so inspired.

  1. Pro-Art Waterproof/Opaque India Ink
    This is a lovely ink, nice and thick, it doesn’t bead on the Duralar and is wonderful to dip found objects into it to make marks. It stands up to everything. It stayed true black, even when slightly diluted. You can’t beat the price either, it’s cheap, cheap, cheap. If you’re wondering why I didn’t use Sumi ink for this comparison, its because Sumi beads up on the Duralar.
  2. Golden High Flow Carbon Black
    This is a really nice paint that flows wonderfully from the brush and I get some really nice gradations when it’s mixed with a little water. It dries to a really dark gray with a slightly bluish cast, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a true black.
  3. Windsor & Newton Designers Gouache Ivory Black
    The winner so far on both papers, this gouache is dreamy creamy and really black-I barely notice any other color coming through. I didn’t use a lot of water so I could see the best black and straight from the tube, it has a slight blue iridescence. When mixed with water, some translucency comes through in areas, but the paint still retains its blackness. Keep in mind that not all gouache is the same and we all have our preferences, but I grew up on Windsor and Newton and whenever I try to skimp and purchase another brand, I’m woefully disappointed. I’ve also used Holbein, which is a close second only because it’s super expensive. Last, don’t confuse regular gouache with acrylic gouache-acrylic gouache is a different thing in that regular gouache dries matte and can be revived with water, acrylic gouache dries a bit shiny and is permanent.
  4. Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors Lunar Black
    I purchased this because it was highly recommended as THE best black watercolor out there and it’s the truth. It’s a beautiful rich black even when diluted with water and it makes the loveliest gradations on both papers without even trying. It has a very, very slight red/brown cast and I really only notice this relative to the other paints. Because it’s watercolor, it’s difficult to get a solid area even when layered, so that may be a problem if you want flat black color.
  5. Nitram Liquid Charcoal
    I was so excited when I saw this on the shelf at the art supply store. I love the velvety smoothness of charcoal and I was totally intrigued by the idea of such a thing in liquid form. It’s an interesting idea in concept, but it wasn’t what I expected. It’s rather gritty and the best color I could get from it is a dark gray. Straight out of the tube, with only a little water added, it’s nice and black but still not quite what I’m looking for in a black paint. The saddest thing about this product is that it flakes off of the Duralar, so I have little use for it.
  6. Golden’s Micaceous Iron Oxide
    I had acquired a free tube of this paint, so I decided to throw it in to the comparison. I’ve used it before thinking it would be a true black, but like the liquid charcoal it’s rather gritty and makes a nice subtle texture when it dries. It’s a beautiful dark gray with a slight pink iridescence. It can be quite translucent at the first layer with subsequent layers becoming more and more opaque. I didn’t have any of the Golden Black Mica Flake Paint, but I’m thinking this paint would be a good contestant for this comparison/competition.
  7. Kama Pigments Aqua Dispersion Carbon Black
    I have a few of these dispersion paints from Kama and they’re just fabulous. Aqua Dispersion pigments are highly concentrated pigments that are extremely rich and make your paintbrush almost seem like a magic wand. They’re supposed to be added to water or another paint binder in very small quantities, but like many art materials I don’t use them the way they’re designed. I love these pigments because of their richness and while I do dilute with a bit of water, I pretty much use them straight out of the tube…but a little goes a very, very lonnnnng way. This was my favorite black on the Duralar, it just glides across the surface and stays a rich black almost all the way across with some wonderful gradations and textures. On the paper, it was just as lovely, but dried slightly gray to almost black.
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