Most people assume they know all there is to know about erasers. But there are different types for different jobs and you are more likely to get the result you want if you use the right tool. After testing different types of erasers, different brands and different methods I have discovered a few things that might help you get the most from this small but important drawing implement.
After thinking about the following questions I set out to see if testing would help me sort out the differences between erasers: What rubber removes coloured pencil? Do all rubbers work equally well when ‘drawing’ into charcoal with a rubber? What’s the best rubber to remove the graphite sketch from a finished watercolour painting? Why do some rubbers smear and make a mess? Why do some rubbers damage paper? Is there a rubber that will remove a graphite line in a drawing without lightening the ink line on top?
How will you be using your eraser?
An eraser removes dry medium from a surface (usually paper) but how you will be using it determines which type you will need. There are a number of things to consider when choosing an eraser.
Will you be using your eraser for:
- creating highlights in subtractive drawing techniques, often with charcoal
- removing mistakes as you start seeing your subject more clearly and your proportions start being more correct
- removing your pencil sketch from underneath your finished watercolour or ink drawing
- tidying up small areas and edges
- removing some layers of colour to fade an area or so you can apply more on top
- cleaning up a whole sheet of dirty paper
- Also – what kind of paper and media will you be erasing?
Kinds of Erasers
All erasers work by being sticky. All types leave some sort of residue of the material it is made from- powder from the genuine rubber, vinyl from the plastic or oil from the putty. The residue usually isn’t a problem but occasionally you might find that it interferes with a drawing or painting process, so just be aware of it.
The two basic types:
1. Putty Rubbers
Kneadable putty erasers work by absorbing colour, they do not wear away. They can be very soft or quite stiff, but are not abrasive.
- This type of rubber is the best choice for erasing highlights in charcoal or pastel because plastic and rubber erasers leave pieces that can smear the drawing when you rub them away, but a putty rubber collects the charcoal or pastel inside itself without leaving any crumbs to brush away.
- As the graphite, charcoal or colour lifts off the paper and sticks to your eraser, you’ll need to fold the eraser in on itself (the ‘kneading’ part of kneaded eraser) to move the dirty bits away from the surface of your rubber so the eraser won’t add marks to your drawing. You may need to tear it apart and put it back together to clean it if it is a stiff one.
- The usual method for using a putty rubber is to press and lift. The colour sticks to the putty and is removed without rubbing. They can be moulded to any size and shape you need for removing large areas or small details.
- The makes of putty rubber vary a lot in softness- from very soft and melty to super stiff almost like a hard rubber eraser.
- One source said a kneaded eraser is made from carbonated rubber and vegetable oil. So that might mean that the ones that feel particularly oily or soft might just have more oil. If you knead them thoroughly the oil seems to become distributed better throughout the rubber and they work much better. A bit of oil is left on the paper when you use these rubbers. You can see this if you brush charcoal over an area that you have pressed with a putty rubber, the charcoal will stick in that area (see the eraser shield photo of dark dots). I also tried rubbing the putty rubber on an area and painting a watercolour wash over the top. The stiffer putty rubbers left marks that accepted more watercolour, so there was a dark patch in the centre of the wash. I expected the opposite, that if it is oil it would leave a greasy mark that would repel water, so that was a surprise. And the ones that were softer (seemed oilier) didn’t do this with the watercolour, another surprise.
- Some makes come in little boxes to keep them clean and to prevent their oil from transferring to other things.
- Kneaded erasers are not very good for completely erasing an area. If you need to completely erase an area – first use a kneaded eraser to lift as much graphite as possible to prevent inadvertently pushing dark graphite farther into the paper, then use a firmer eraser to finish erasing completely.
2. Erasers That Make Crumbs
This group includes rubber erasers, gum erasers and vinyl/plastic erasers that all remove colour from the paper by picking up the colour and shedding parts of themselves. Each has a different hardness.
a. Rubber erasers (they used to be made of natural rubber and now some are synthetic rubber)- middle in the scale of firmness. A few contain abrasives like pumice – but those are usually just the rhomboid-shaped school erasers. The abrasives are designed to erase biro ink. They feel a bit powdery to the touch and this bothers some people a great deal. It’s not always easy to tell some synthetic rubber erasers from plastic erasers if they don’t say anywhere, in that case I go by the powdery feel.
b. Gum erasers (also called art gum erasers) – Designed to crumble very easily as they collect up the graphite so they do less damage to the paper. But since they crumble away they don’t last as long. Very soft.
c. Plastic/vinyl erasers – the firmest eraser. The most popular eraser, these modern erasers usually give the most complete removal of graphite. If you are like me the word ‘plastic’ made me think they wouldn’t work well, I mean I can’t erase with any of the other plastic items on my table, right. But I forgot two things: plastics come in a huge variety of formulae and also ‘plastic’ can means ‘pliable’ as in ‘the plastic arts’ meaning sculpture. Many plastic erasers come with paper sleeves that you can use to hold the rubber. ‘Dustless’ means that the eraser residue particles clump together for more complete removal, leaving fewer tiny particles that are actually still on the paper but you don’t see… until you take a close-up photo. They can be heat-moulded into many shapes, both for finger grips and for sharp edges that allow the erasure of fine lines.
In addition to the ‘block’ shape of most erasers there are specialty shapes as well as a few special tools:
- Pencil and pen erasers for fine points (also called click erasers, detail erasers, barrel erasers) this style allows you to precisely pinpoint even the tiniest mark and remove it completely. They usually contain plastic erasers.
- Electric erasers- These battery-powered tools spin the eraser on your paper and crumble away fairly quickly so the refills come in multiples. The advantage is that that you can erase precisely where you want and it is very gentle on the paper. They usually contain plastic erasers.
- Specialty – fibreglass pen, cleaning cushion with eraser dust for cleaning up a whole sheet of dirty paper, erasing knife or razorblade and more
Why do so many erasers state they are ‘phthalate-free’?
Phthalates are a chemical additive that makes plastic pliable (like a squeeze bottle) instead of hard (like the keys on your keyboard). There is more and more evidence that this chemical group affects the human body in negative ways as phthalates interrupt the hormonal system. Many brands of erasers have stopped using them. These plasticisers are in many plastics we use every day, I think they are of particular concern in rubbers because rubbers crumble and this must help expose more of the chemical to the air and skin.
Brands that do not contain phthalates:
Factis (all styles)
Faber-Castell (most styles)
A few others, we have tried to make a note of it on all the product descriptions on the website. Some don’t say.
- Most erasers have more tack, are more pliable and less likely to tear the paper if they are a bit warm, so it can help to hold your eraser in your hand for a few minutes before using it.
- For clean, smudge-free results, resist the urge to brush the eraser crumbs off with your hand as this can cause unwanted smudging and blowing the crumbs off can add dampness to the paper. Instead a good habit to get into is to lift the paper and shake the crumbs off. A drawing broom/drafting brush can be really useful.
- With all erasers remain aware of how hard you are pressing. Accidentally rubbing too vigorously can cause your paper to buckle and crease.
- Erasers aren’t only for removing mistakes they can be used as tools for creating art. For one of the most common subtractive drawing techniques you cover a piece of drawing paper completely using a graphite pencil or block; charcoal or charcoal powder; or graphite powder. Then with an eraser you create the highlights of the image. You can always re-fill any areas where you’ve over-erased.
- Using a craft knife you can cut a rubber into the size or shape you require for your drawing. Some artists prefer a sharp edge to their eraser.
- Erasing Hard or Soft Pastels – Most erasers work to remove pastels (hard and soft) but many people have had mixed results. If your surface is very textured you may have trouble and if your paper is very soft you will need to be careful. Many people find that a putty rubber works best, again using a press and lift action.
- If you intend to erase small exact areas you might wish to try an eraser shield. A great little device, that is a good value in the drawing companion set.
- You can carve into firm erasers to create a printing stamp similar to lino cutting but with the carved eraser you can print just by pressing down, like a rubber stamp.
- Putty rubbers need to be kneaded before the first use to expose the porous inner surface which is able to pick the graphite up rather than just smear and to distribute the oil evenly, don’t skip this step if you wish it to work properly.
Interesting fact no. 1: the original eraser was a squashed up piece of soft bread. You can still use bread if you don’t have a rubber, just pinch out the centre of a slice.
Interesting fact no. 2: the rubber plant is named after the eraser, not the other way round. Joseph Priestley, in England in 1770, noticed that a piece of the latex material harvested from a tree worked extremely well for rubbing off pencil marks on paper, hence the name “rubber” was given to the material, the plant and in the UK to erasers.
Subtractive Drawing with a Rubber
Some beautiful drawings have been done using the subtractive method. For this you coat your paper with a layer of charcoal or graphite by rubbing a stick of charcoal or graphite all over or by brushing on charcoal or graphite powder. Then you create your drawing by removing the grey to expose the white of the paper.
In my tests with both rubbed-on charcoal stick and brushed-on charcoal powder the putty rubbers and rubber erasers performed equally well – the putty rubbers could be moulded into shapes to press on and the rubber erasers had sharp corners for fine control. A plastic eraser performed poorly, however. The charcoal acted as a lubricant, the plastic eraser slipped all over the surface and could not crumble away so after a stroke or two was slick with black and could not remove any more.
Erasing Coloured pencils
Many people find coloured pencils hard to erase and usually impossible to erase completely. They think the best you can do is lighten an area enough that you can colour over it. Most of the time plastic or rubber erasers smear it so it enlarges the problem.
But I found that if you use a two-step method you can erase coloured pencil quite thoroughly. I used Faber-Castell Polychromos Crimson thinking it would be a tough one to erase because it is oil and wax as well as red which is often a staining colour.
First- using a putty rubber, press and lift to remove as much colour as you can. All nine brands that I tested work well at this. Secondly- use a plastic eraser to finish erasing the coloured pencil. This includes the electric erasers, their tips are plastic erasers. All brands worked equally well. This two-part method worked well for light and medium applications of coloured pencil; very dark applications didn’t erase completely, though were better than expected.
Find out which eraser is right for you
Because erasers are inexpensive you can try a few to find out what is best for you, or have a selection of erasers in your tool box for different purposes.
I made test sheets that included hard (6H), medium (HB) and soft (6B) graphite pencils in two degrees of pressing down – light and heavy. I also included HB graphite with Faber Castell Ecco pigment liner .8 pen line to see if I could erase the graphite without damaging the ink. I also included light and heavy lines of Faber-Castell Polychromos Crimson coloured pencil. And finally some lightly applied HB lines with a blue watercolour wash over the top to see if the graphite could be erased without the watercolour being disturbed.
Kneaded Putty Rubbers
Putty rubbers need to be kneaded thoroughly before the first use.
My testing showed that the softer ones – Jakar and Faber-Castell – are easier on the hands and perform best by pressing and lifting, but overall they fail at some tasks such as removing graphite lines from underneath a watercolour wash. The stiffer ones hurt the fingers if you do a lot of kneading (every press or every few strokes you need to squish the colour that you’ve picked up to the inside of the rubber) and they perform best in a combination of press/lift and rubbing. A few performed better than others at press/lift to lighten coloured pencil (which can then be more easily erased with a plastic eraser or drawn over). All performed equally well at subtractive drawing in charcoal. The stiffer they got the better they performed on graphite lines though about half of the putty rubbers could not remove graphite under watercolour at all. Because they contain oil I also checked if they left greasy marks on watercolour paper that would act as a resist and cause watercolour to bead up on top. None of them did, they did the opposite – the stiffest ones felt like they abraded the paper and when washed over with watercolour the area that had been rubbed was a bit darker with watercolour.
Jakar Blue Putty Rubber, very large
First kneading: very smoothly, a bit like chewing gum, was easy to start, easy to knead, held together very well. Very soft. Second kneading of small piece next day: gooey, very soft.
How it performed: Not well. It lifted some graphite and charcoal by pressing on and pulling off rather than rubbing but didn’t lift loads. Except it was as good at lightening coloured pencil as other makes. It didn’t damage the watercolour paint but didn’t erase the graphite at all so was pointless. This was easiest to use but only performed well at subtractive drawing with charcoal and at the two-step coloured pencil erasing – if you are just doing that this might be a good choice. Be careful with storing it, it can become very sticky and adhere to other items in your pencil box and can be very difficult to remove.
Koh-I-Noor Kneaded Eraser in Plastic Case
First kneading: very difficult to start, hard, had to tear into pieces and put them back together again, eventually got smooth after a lot of twisting and tearing. Second kneading of small piece next day: fine.
How it performed: Was better when rubbed than when pressed and lifted. Best on the light lines of graphite, not so well on the dark. Fine on press and lift for coloured pencil lightening. Great on removing the graphite under pigment liner pens without lightening the ink. Removed the graphite under the watercolour with only slight lightening of the paint, might be the winner for that task.
Factis Putty Rubber
First kneading: very difficult to start, almost impossible like trying to tear a plastic eraser apart, eventually tore into pieces and put them back together again, never got smooth or held together, was a lot of work, I made a usable piece by kneading a small portion at a time. Second kneading of small piece next day: very hard still like hard rubber.
How it performed: Worked moderately well when rubbed or when pressed and lifted. Best on the light lines of graphite, not so well on the dark. Fine on press and lift for coloured pencil lightening. Fine on removing the graphite under pigment liner pens and didn’t lighten the ink. Removed the graphite under the watercolour with a bit more damage to the paint than the one above. Felt abrasive.
Faber Castell Putty Rubber
Great reviews: not crumbly, not oily, comes in plastic box to stay clean.
First kneading: very smoothly, was easy to start, easy to knead, held together well, got fuzzy at the edges. Soft. Second kneading of small piece next day: fine.
How it performed: Fine on light graphite lines and same as the others on coloured pencil. Fine on removing the graphite under pigment liner pens and didn’t lighten the ink. It didn’t damage the watercolour paint but didn’t erase the graphite at all so was pointless at that task. This was one of the easiest to use and performed well at subtractive drawing with charcoal and at the two-step coloured pencil erasing as well as some graphite erasing – if you are just doing those things then this might be a good choice.
Jackson’s Putty Rubber White
First kneading: a bit stiff, had to twist it to get it to move, held together like gum except when I stretched it more than 2cm then it would form fine threads that had little bits caught in it that fell out like snow, so I felt I was losing bits of the rubber. This was prevented by only using a twisting motion or pressing motion, not a stretching motion. Then it was fine. Second kneading of small piece next day: fine.
How it performed: Fine on light graphite lines and same as the others on coloured pencil. Fine on removing the graphite under pigment liner pens and didn’t lighten the ink. It lifted a bit more watercolour paint than the others but didn’t erase the graphite at all so was bad at that task.
JAS Grey Economy Putty Rubber
First kneading: a bit stiff, had to twist it to get it to move, held together like gum except when I stretched it more than 2cm then would form fine threads that had little bits caught in it that fell out like snow, so I felt I was losing bits of the rubber. This was prevented by only using a twisting or pressing motion, not a stretching motion. Then it was fine. Second kneading of small piece next day: fine.
How it performed: Fine on light graphite lines and worst on coloured pencil. Fine on removing the graphite under pigment liner pens and didn’t lighten the ink. It didn’t remove too much watercolour paint but didn’t erase the graphite at all so was bad at that task.
Winsor & Newton Putty Rubber, Medium (reviews are variable)
First kneading: the hardest one, almost impossible like trying to tear a plastic eraser apart, never even tore into pieces, never got smooth or held together, was a lot of work, I made a usable piece by twisting a small portion at a time. Second kneading of small piece next day: hard.
How it performed: Best one on graphite lines and same as the others on coloured pencil. Fine on removing the graphite under pigment liner pens and didn’t lighten the ink. It didn’t remove too much watercolour paint but didn’t erase the graphite at all so was bad at that task. Was very hard to knead between dabs and rubs.
Derwent Kneadable Eraser (two packagings)
First kneading: very difficult to start, hard, had to tear into pieces and put them back together again, never got smooth or held together, was a lot of work, I made a usable piece by kneading a small portion at a time. Second kneading of small piece next day: fine.
How it performed: Fine on light graphite lines, not good at dark graphite lines and not great on coloured pencil. Fine on removing the graphite under pigment liner pens and didn’t lighten the ink. Removed the graphite under the watercolour with a bit of damage to the paint.
Daler-Rowney Putty Rubber
First kneading: very difficult to start, hard, had to tear into pieces and put them back together again, never got smooth or held together, was a lot of work. Second kneading of small piece next day: hard.
How it performed: Fine on graphite, ok on coloured pencil. Fine on removing the graphite under pigment liner pens and didn’t lighten the ink. Removed the graphite under the watercolour with not too much damage to the paint.
Steadtler Rasoplast White Eraser (phthalate and latex free)
Staedtler Combi Mars Plastic Eraser White & Blue – (two sides – one for graphite and coloured pencils and the other for ink) (phthalate and latex free)
Faber Castell White Eraser with Black Swivel Sleeve, Small (phthalate free)
Faber Castell White Eraser with Green Swivel Sleeve – large (phthalate free)
Faber Castell Eraser KOSMO mini, White (PVC-free)
Three ‘dustless’ erasers
‘Dust-free’ means that crumbs clump together which can be good if you are having trouble removing all the eraser dust from your drawing, the teeny tiny particles can be hard to get rid of. But I found the trade-off not great – the rubber is very wobbly and the build-up of the clinging piece acts like a lump of rubber wobbling under the rubber that I had to ‘thump’ over.
Faber Castell Green Dust-Free Eraser (‘dust-free’ means that crumbs clump together) (phthalate free)
Faber Castell Dust-Free Eraser, Black (black and coloured erasers do not leave any colour from the eraser on the paper, they are dark so that they look less grubby when they are dirty.)
Faber Castell PVC Free Eraser, White with Red Sleeve (phthalate free)
Faber Castell White Vinyl Eraser (PVC-free)
Faber Castell UFO Eraser in a gift package
Derwent Dual Eraser, Twin Pack (pvc and latex free)
Caran D’ache Technik Eraser for Graphite (phthalate free) – non-abrasive, not for ink
Caran D’ache Design Eraser for Graphite and Coloured Pencils (phthalate free) – non-abrasive, not for ink
Caran D’ache Artist Soft Eraser – Recommended for Drawing Paper (phthalate free) – extra soft, non-abrasive, not for ink
Caran D’ache Triangular Eraser (phthalate free) – non-abrasive, not for ink
Maped Softy Eraser, Pack of 2 (phthalate free)
Rubber (natural and synthetic) Erasers
These are the ones that feel dusty to the touch. Some people find this annoys them very much and they will not use rubber erasers. It doesn’t bother me at all and I have found over the years my go-to erasers are rubber ones. My favourite after this test is the Jackson’s because it erased well, is easy to grip and has a good edge.
The tests showed that the dust from a rubber eraser is finer than from a plastic eraser, so it really helps to have a dusting brush to carefully remove it if you are worried about smudging your drawing.
Koh-I-Noor Combined Eraser – natural rubber – soft red side for erasing pencil marks and a hard blue side for erasing pen lines.
Koh-I-Noor Big Soft Elephant Eraser – natural rubber – oversized giant eraser, can be cut into many smaller erasers in the shapes you desire or makes a fun gift.
Faber Castell Latex Free Eraser, Red and Blue (two sides: one for graphite and colour pencils and the other for ink.)
Faber Castell Latex Free Eraser, Cream and Grey, natural rubber (two sides: one for graphite and colour pencils and the other for ink.)
Factis Softer Eraser, synthetic rubber
Factis Triangular Eraser, synthetic rubber
Daler Rowney Mystic Eraser, Medium, India rubber
Cretacolor Monolith Eraser, Small, natural rubber, soft
Cretacolor Monolith Eraser, Large, natural rubber, soft
Factis Soft Rub Gum Eraser
We just have the one make of gum eraser at this time.
Click Erasers and Eraser Pencils
Pencils with erasers inside that you sharpen
I like these but found the brushes on the ends weren’t very good, for a small area a soft paintbrush works better and for a large one a dusting brush is better.
Staedtler Mars Rasor Eraser Pencil (phthalate and latex free)
Faber Castell Perfection Pencil, Single Ended Eraser (soft for graphite, coloured pencils and charcoal)
Faber Castell Perfection Eraser Pencil, Single Ended Eraser, Set of 2 (soft for graphite, coloured pencils and charcoal) Great reviews, pinpoint detail.
Faber Castell Perfection Pencil, Double Ended Eraser, two hardnesses of rubber
Tombow Mono Zero Eraser Pen : Round Tip, White Barrel (plastic eraser)
Tombow Mono Zero Eraser Pen, Round Tip, Black Barrel (plastic eraser)
Tombow Mono Zero Eraser Pen, Square Tip, White Barrel (plastic eraser)
Tombow Mono Zero Eraser Pen, Square Tip : Black Barrel (plastic eraser)
Electric Erasers (battery operated)
Both of these require 2 x AAA batteries and both have great reviews.
These are great tools. The provide gentle yet complete erasing. It might seem silly, like how lazy can you be to need an electric eraser, but it is a better tool. It actually erases more precisely and with less chance of damaging the paper, you can hold it just barely touching the paper. The brands are quite similar in their results. Both of these use plastic eraser tips of a similar diameter. Both need to be refilled often during use as the soft plastic wears away fairly quickly. The Derwent has longer eraser refills but you need to stop and remove the carrier and pull the eraser forward to extend it, so it’s about the same amount of effort as replacing the jakar refill.
Specialty Erasing Tools and accessories
Faber Castell Round Eraser, Platinum-plated (comes in a gift box, for the artist who has everything)
Pentel 4 Eraser Refills for XP205 mechanical pencil end
Faber Castell Erasing and Sharpening Knife
Not suitable for erasing large areas where a rubber works better. But tiny little areas that are resistant to a rubber, perhaps it is a splatter of paint, a lump of some sort or a stain on the paper – a very gentle scraping will remove the lump or scrape away a very thin layer of paper so the stain goes. Also sharpens pencils like a knife.
Drawing Companion Set. A set of drawing tools for sharpening, blending and erasing. Includes a putty rubber and an erasing shield.
Very good value.
Faber Castell Perfect Pencil with Eraser + Sharpener (2B pencil with pencil extender, sharpener and eraser all in one)
JAS Drafting Brush / Drawing Broom
Removes crumbs more thoroughly with less chance of smearing.
I expected a few things:
- On rough or soft paper the graphite will tend to sink into the surface and be harder to lift.
- Softer pencils will deposit more graphite or colour, which means more to erase.- In fact I found the opposite to be true; if the mark is more likely to smudge – a softer (darker) pencil – then it is easier to erase.
- Harder pencils can make grooves in the paper which cannot be erased.- It turns out that the hardness makes it hard to erase even when lightly applied.
I learned a few things about erasers overall:
- The more easily a graphite mark will smudge – the more easily it will erase. So no matter how lightly you draw with a hard pencil (6H) it will be harder to erase than a soft pencil (HB or 2B). From now on I will use a lightly applied softer pencil for any sketching that I wish to erase after watercolour or ink have been added.
- Dark graphite and coloured pencil can best be removed by using two steps: press/lift with a putty rubber until no more will come off and then finish with a plastic or rubber eraser.
- In general plastic erasers are similar. Except the dustless ones that I find difficult to use because of the lump of crumbs that builds up underneath the eraser.
- Plastic erasers seem cleaner than rubber erasers because their crumbs are not as fine, the rubber eraser crumbs are so fine it is a bit harder to get rid of them all.
- An electric eraser is a great tool for gentle erasing but you go through tips really fast.
- I like the Mono Zero pin-point click erasers best of all the plastic erasers.
- It is hard to erase graphite under a watercolour without damaging it. The best advice is to draw very faint lines you can barely see and when painted over they won’t show. Or let the graphite lines show a bit as part of the painting.
- The firmest, but still usable (not hard as rubber so that you couldn’t ‘knead’ it) putty rubber was the Koh-i-noor. The softest but still usable (not gooey, so it won’t hold a shape) was the Faber-Castell. For most purposes of a putty rubber I would use one of these two. The Jackson’s and Derwent were also good putty rubbers.
My other conclusions are within each section of the article.
Click on the underlined link to go to the Erasers section of the Drawing Department on the Jackson’s Art Supplies website. Postage on orders shipped standard to mainland UK addresses is free for orders of £39.