Step inside the Faber-Castell factory for an exclusive interview with the manufacturers of the popular Polychromos pencils we all know and love!
Ever wondered how some of your favourite everyday items come to be? If only you could look inside the factory…
Luckily for you curious crafters, we’ve got exclusive access into pencil manufacturers Faber-Castell, as we take a wander through the production process courtesy of their marketing expert, Jo Bray. Learn about the history of Faber-Castell, where they find inspiration and the production process.
How did Faber-Castell begin?
In 1761, cabinetmaker Kaspar Faber established his own pencil workshop in Stein, Germany. He acquired a plot of land with a workshop that within a few years expanded into a flourishing manufactory. He was so successful at making pencils he was able to hand over the business to his son Anton Wilhelm in 1784. Today Faber-Castell is represented in more than 120 countries, owns production sites in nine countries and companies in 23 countries. The original site in Stein has been the headquarters of Faber-Castell for nine generations now.
What's your company mantra?
As a ‘companion for life’, Faber-Castell wants to encourage creativity from young to old, and inspire its customers to enjoy creative experiences with innovative and high-quality products. We want to do this in harmony with our environment and nature, so the core values of Faber-Castell include social and environmental responsibility.
Faber-Castell sanctioned an agreement that applies in all countries – the Faber-Castell Social Charter. It prohibits discrimination as well as child labour and further protects the employees against exploitation. Faber- Castell is also a pioneer in environmental matters. The 10,000-hectare forestry project in Brazil, one-third of which has been left untouched, ensures a sustainable wood stock for Faber-Castell and also neutralises the climate-relevant carbon footprint.
Do you have any fun facts about the company our readers would enjoy?
Count Alexander Graf von Faber-Castell (6th generation) developed a new range of top-quality pencils in 1905. The former army officer had them painted in green (the colour of his regiment), thus the well-known Faber-Castell green was born and is now famous worldwide with the Castell 9000 available in 16 different degrees of hardness and is our flagship product.
“There are many incredible works using our pencils – drawings of all sizes! We have even seen sculptures created with our colour pencils!” Jo Bray.
Where do you get your ideas and inspiration from?
We collect ideas for new products from all sorts of sources – mainly feedback and ideas from artists. We always talk to users when developing a product. We give prototypes to them and have them tested and altered. We also discuss the number of colours, the nib features and length with our consumers.
Tell us how you came about creating the Polychromos pencils?
Alexander Graf von Faber-Castell had the idea to develop a light-fast colour pencil (meaning the colour does not change even under heavy exposure to sunlight). Previously coloured pencils could not withstand such light. After many experiments, Alexander succeeded and in 1908 the Polychromos artists’ colour pencil was launched, and to this day, is one of the most well-known colour pencils worldwide.
What makes your Polychromos pencils such high quality?
Their excellent drawing features include soft colour laydown, brilliant colours and high pigmentation and results in the possibility to layer colours multiple times (very important especially when creating photorealistic works), plus excellent lightfastness (102 out of 120 shades have three stars light-fastness).
How are the pencils manufactured?
Pencils are produced on almost fully automated lines. The machines produce a row of pencils at a time from wooden slats. The main constituents of the lead are finely ground graphite, which is what makes the mark on the paper, and clay, which acts as a binding agent and gives the lead its shape and strength. The two are blended in precisely defined proportions, depending on the hardness required. Then the soft mass is extruded through a nozzle to form long strings.
These are cut to length, dried, fired in kilns, and immersed in a bath of oil to give a silky-smooth feel. The tree trunks (cut into little slats) have to be seasoned for several months until they are completely dry and will not warp.
Then fine grooves are milled into the slats. The leads are laid in the grooves, glue is applied, a second slat laid on top, and the two pressed firmly together. When the glue has dried, a planning machine cuts each double slat into individual pencils. These must now be painted (the pencils receive several coats of paint), printed with the name and grade, and in some cases dipped in paint, and finally sharpened.
Fun fact! A colour pencil needs a minimum of three days, and up to several weeks to be made!
How do you ensure the colours are so bright?
Our colour pencils are extremely rich in pigments. We only use high quality pigments and modern production techniques. They have a very good covering power, saturated and brilliant colours which guarantee superior lightfastness and colour intensity that lasts for centuries, helping artists to create timeless works of art.
What are your top tips for using the pencils?
Just play with the colours, use them, try them, test them! You will love them once you have them in your hands.
Enjoy the tour? Don't miss another factory tour with our friends at Tombow and learn more about Tombow pens!