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Why are Pencils Yellow?

why are pencils yellow

Why are almost all school pencil brands colored yellow? When you think of a pencil, it is almost guaranteed that you are thinking of the traditional yellow #2 that you have been using since you were young. Now, why are pencils yellow most of the time? This might seem like a silly question but the story behind this is actually quite interesting.

In this article, we will be discussing why most pencils are painted yellow, and you might be surprised why manufacturers used this color.

The Reason Behind the Yellow Color of Pencils

yellow color of pencils

The biggest reason why pencils are yellow is that it is the color ancient Chinese emperors wore. You may think that it does not make sense but bear with me as I will explain everything.

A long time ago, the Chinese used a rather complicated social caste system. They used a type of color coding to signify where people belonged. To put things simply, within the regular populace, red has the highest rank, followed by dark blue, and green is the lowest rank. These are the colors used by government officials and civilians.

On the other hand, the Imperial family can use three official colors – reddish black, purple, and yellow. Other than the Imperial family, no one else is allowed to use these colors. In particular, yellow, one of the colors derived from the theory of 5 Elements, is the color of the emperor.

The Emperor is the only one who can wear the imperial color yellow. The reason is that yellow symbolizes the sun. Since there can only be one sun in the sky, the Emperor is the only one who can wear clothes colored yellow.

So, What Does This Have to Do with Pencils?

reason behind the yellow color of pencils

Way back in the 1889 Paris Expo, Hardtmuth Pencil unveiled its newest product, a pencil that is painted yellow. Back then, high-quality pencils only had natural polished finishes, meaning you can see the wood grain.

Manufacturers would paint their pencils to mask imperfections in the wood casings. Yes, painted pencils were already a thing back then but the typical colors were black, maroon, red, and purple.

However, Hardtmuth wanted to market the quality of the graphite their pencils use and not the wood casing. Back then, high-quality graphite came from English mines but when it ran out, a far superior graphite source was found in Siberia.

Hardtmuth chose to paint their pencils yellow because they sourced their graphite from China. Because it is the imperial color of the country, they used it to signify that their products are luxurious.

To further emphasize the luxury branding of their yellow pencils, Hardtmuth called this line “Koh-I-Noor”, which is the name of the yellow diamond in the British Royal Crown Jewels. The yellow pencil became quite a hit that the company would later rebrand itself to the name that they use until now, Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth.

Now, despite the fact that Koh-I-Noor was the first company to make and market the yellow pencil, Faber Castell and Dixon Ticonderoga followed suit soon after. It is quite ironic that the color that was once the symbol of royalty and the height of exclusivity is now considered mundane and common.

Nifty Pencil Facts

nifty pencil facts

  • Some countries do not use yellow pencils. In Brazil and Germany, most pencil brands paint their pencils green. In Australia, the most popular pencil color is red with black bands. Meanwhile, in most countries in Southern Europe, pencils are usually painted dark red with yellow stripes.
  • Although called lead, pencils do not contain lead metal. Pencil cores mainly use graphite. It is a popular choice for pencil leads because it is quite resistant to moisture and ultraviolet light.
  • Legendary late-night talk show host Johnny Carson loved to play with pencils during his shows. However, to prevent accidents in the studio, all the pencils he used are especially-made to have erasers at both ends. This was because Carson had a bit in his show where he would throw a pencil toward the audience after a punchline.
  • To prevent unfortunate injuries, the studio would have Carson throw the harmless, all-eraser pencils instead. The acclaimed author John Steinbeck liked to start each day with exactly 24 freshly-sharpened pencils, and that was just on average. When he wrote Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck reportedly went through 60 pencils a day.


It might seem like it is not worth it to learn the reason why are pencils yellow but there is nothing wrong with learning something new every day. In addition, if you are an avid pencil collector, there is no such thing as useless pencil trivia.

In addition, it is quite astonishing to learn about the obscure parts of the history of everyone’s favorite writing implement – the pencil.

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