Colored pencil is most easily defined by its very name. The proliferation of new art materials, however, can make it difficult to determine exactly which products are truly colored pencils. The appearance of the material is not a deciding factor, nor is the technique used for application. Instead, the artist should consider the nature of the color-producing material it contains.
The part of the colored pencil that applies color onto a surface consists of pigments and/or coloring agents combined with a binder (wax, oil, water-soluble gum, or combinations thereof) and other additives. It is the ratio of binder to pigment that matters here. The medium of colored pencil falls about midway along a continuum of drawing materials that goes from very dry with minimal binder (e.g., soft pastels and pastel pencils) to softer with a higher ratio of binder to pigment (e.g., oil bars, oil pastels, water-soluble paint sticks).
Once a product qualifies as a dry drawing material, it must meet three additional requirements to be considered a CPSA-approved colored pencil:
CPSA-approved colored pencil materials must come in a solid, hard, dry form.
This includes regular wood-cased colored pencils, woodless colored pencils and sticks, and water-soluble pencils and sticks. It excludes materials at the soft end of the continuum, including materials that come in soft, malleable stick form, such as oil bars, oil pastels, encaustics, and water-soluble paint sticks.
CPSA-approved colored pencil materials cannot be brushed off.
This requirement excludes materials at the very dry, minimal-binder end of the continuum, including soft pastel sticks, pastel pencils, and dry (unbound) pigments. While it is possible (and recommended) to brush off stray crumbs of colored pencil left behind after layering colored pencil on a surface, the layer of colored pencil that was applied, when brushed, will be left completely intact and unaffected.
CPSA-approved colored pencil materials must dry completely.
Colored pencils, when used dry and without heat, will deposit one or more cohesive, blended layers of color that are dry to the touch and cannot be easily gouged or otherwise marked with the hand. It is permissible to manipulate the pigment layer(s) of colored pencils with water and other solvents or with heat, and colored pencils will once again be completely dry to the touch after the solvents have evaporated or the layers have cooled.