Non-photo (Non-reproducing) Pencils

Non-photo blue (or non-repro blue) is a particular shade of blue used by artists and graphic designers that somehow doesn’t show up on graphic arts camera film. It can also be easily scanned out of images with graphic editing software. This means that sketch lines or notes don’t have to be erased before an image is photographed and sent to be printed. I first heard about this magical colour in cartoonist Lynda Barry’s book Syllabus where she recommended the Staedtler Non-Photo blue pencil as a great tool for sketching. As I have been curious about this colour for awhile, you can imagine my delight when Santa put not only the Staedtler Non-Photo blue pencil in my stocking but a Caran D’Ache one as well. Strangely they are not the same shade, the Caran d’Ache a bit more turquoise and the Staedtler a little darker.

These European made pencils (Staedtler is made in Austria, Caran d’Ache, Switzerland) are both wood-cased and hexagonal in shape and come pre-sharpened. Aside from the colour, the main difference is that the Caran d’Ache has a thicker, softer lead and an eraser at the end. Both erased quite well with just a faint trace of blue left.  

I also happen to have a vintage Multilith Addressograph Multigraph Corporation non-reproducing pencil that I picked up at the ReUse Centre. I couldn’t find much information about this brown pencil. Addressograph-Multigraph were manufacturers of addressing and duplicating machines and must have also made tools needed in the business like this pencil. One of their brands was the Multilith, a small printing machine, similar to a letterpress, that used a form of lithography. The Addressograph and Multigraph companies joined forces in 1932 and were still a going concern in the 1960s but were unable to compete with changes that were coming in the industry. Basically, it was all over for them by the 1980s. The Multilith trademark was registered in 1955 but expired in 1996 so this pencil dates from somewhere in between.

So how did these pencils perform? All the pencil marks were easy to write on top of with a Sharpie, ballpoint, and HB pencil. The Multilith did not erase as well as the blue pencils but still erased better than a regular pencil crayon would have. A modern colour photocopier picked up almost all the marks made by them but using the black and white mode, fine lines made by the blue pencils are less distinct. The non-photo part must only really work using traditional copying methods.

If non-reproducing pencils were people they would be camera shy. The two non-photo blue pencils are neighbours on either side of the Swiss-Austria border. Similar in many ways (artistic and appreciate their alpine views), they love to yodel across the valley to each other. Despite changes in the world, they are still in the market. Unfortunately, life was tougher for the non-reproducing brown pencil. Not as attractive as its European friends, this American lost its job because it couldn’t keep up with technology.


4 thoughts on “Non-photo (Non-reproducing) Pencils

  1. Anonymous says:

    I have non-repro mechanical pencils I used back in the ’80s and ’90s. They were like other technical pencils of the era where the lead is thick and sharpened by a sharpener exclusive of the pencil. The leads were the same non-repro turquoise as your blog describes.

    Thank you for your blog, Margret, the information is fun and informative and, for me, sentimental much of the time.


    • Margret says:

      Did you have a whole set of sharpeners for all your pencils? I have a special sharpener for my Blackwing but I use it for others too. Glad you enjoy the blog!


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