An amazing sketching tool:

The Pentel Multi 8 Colored Pencil

by Russell Stutler
First published December 2018, last updated May 2020

I discovered this amazing sketching tool by accident; I like to underline the text in my Bible, and my tool of choice is a colored pencil. A lot of people swear by Micron pens for marking their Bibles, but I find their lines too strong and distracting compared to the soft and subtle lines of a colored pencil.

The only drawback to using colored pencils is that you need to have one pencil for each color if you are using some kind of color system, and I like to carry them around so I can underline text away from home, which can result in a pocket full of pencils.

So I searched the web to see if some kind of multi-color pencil exists, and discovered the Pentel Multi 8 which is a multi-color pencil that has eight colors in one tool like those multi-color ballpoint pens everyone uses. Some vendors even market this tool as a Bible Highlighter.

What an amazing invention, which solves such a basic problem. And the amazing part is that this tool has been around for decades, and most people have never heard of them, and most shops don't carry them -- even here in Japan. So I had to get mine from Amazon. I did find them later at at a huge store called Yodobashi Camera which seems to have everything.

The pencil comes in a few different variations, with different combinations of colors including fluorescent highlighter colors, and one that comes with ballpoint pens included among the colored pencils.

The pencil leads and ballpoint pens are all 2mm in diameter which is the standard size of drafting pencil leads which have been around forever, so you can easily replace some of the leads with 2mm colored leads or even graphite leads from other makers.

There are even colorful versions with clear barrels so you can see all the colors easily, which seem to be aimed at kids.

I chose the adult-looking Pentel Multi 8 (PH802ST) in the photo at the top that comes with gray accents and a black clip. It came in a set with replacement leads and a lead pointer.

The pencil I got had six basic colors which are useful for sketching (brown, blue, green, yellow, orange and red), and there are two more colors which are not so useful for sketching or underlining in my opinion because they are so light (PPC non-copy blue and diazo non-copy pink).

So I replaced the non-copy colors with purple and black refill leads, which gave me all the basic colors in the color wheel in the photo to the left.

In the photo above, the eight color lead refills in the set are at the top, and the extra purple and black refills are at the bottom. Each pack has two leads in addition to one lead of each color in the pencil itself.

By the way, the only difference between these color lead refills and 2mm leads from other makers is the metal end which acts as a stopper to keep the lead from sliding all the way out. You can really use any 2mm lead in this pencil and snap it to the proper length.

After this pencil arrived, I knew this was exactly the tool I needed for all my Bible underlining needs.

Unfortunately this pencil does not have an eraser, but I stumbled on a great solution. Pilot (not Pentel) makes a multi-color gel pen called the Hi-tec-c Coleto, and they also make both a pencil and eraser unit for the pen. The eraser refills are 2.3mm in diameter and will fit in the Multi 8 pencil, so you can replace one of the leads with an eraser.

Since the eraser is light-weight and rubbery, it may not easily slide down into the writing chamber by gravity alone, but I found that if I take one of the metal ends from a stubby used-up lead (or snap one off from one of the useless non-copy leads) and put it behind the eraser, the added weight will cause the eraser to drop down easily.

Also, since the eraser is slightly larger than 2mm, I have to rotate the black end button so that the shiny silver strip is aligned with the clip so that the opening will be wide enough to allow the eraser to pass through. The purpose of this function is to allow the fatter metal part of the leads to pass through when changing leads. On pencils with a yellow end button there is a small word "REFILL" instead of a shiny silver strip.

I also carry a plastic Fresnel Magnifying Lens in my shirt pocket along with the pencil which I use as a straight edge so I can make straight underlines, and not obliterate what I'm trying to highlight.

It also comes in handy for reading small text such as those incredibly tiny footnotes in an ESV Bible.

This Pentel Multi 8 pencil is an excellent Bible marking tool, and of course I immediately saw its potential as a portable sketching tool.

Since I had never seriously sketched with colored pencils as far as I can recall, this was new territory. I didn't know if I would like colored pencil sketching compared to my usual ink or pencil and watercolor method.

I tried it out on the evening subway commute, and sketched a girl sitting right in front of me (I always stand on the subway).

I was surprised how easy and simple it was to sketch in colored pencils, and I liked the results, not to mention the speed in pulling out the tools to catch a quick sketch when the subject suddenly appears, which is what usually happens on a subway.

And because it is only one pencil and a notebook (unlike a brush and full watercolor set), nobody even suspects you are sketching. The model's boyfriend was sitting next to her and never noticed I was sketching her in full color.

I have discovered that colored pencils are amazing tools which can be used intuitively from the moment you pick one up and start using it.

Of course, a palette of only seven or eight colors will probably be too limiting for seasoned colored pencil artists who rely on dozens of hues to create breathtaking photo-realistic works of art! But for quick sketches with a bit of color the Pentel Multi 8 is perfect.

Now I can quickly produce full color sketches quickly with just one pencil in my shirt pocket and a small sketchbook in my back pocket. This has turned out to be my most portable and versatile color sketching kit yet. No juggling of brushes or palettes and paints, and nothing to clean up afterwards.

While sketch of the girl was done completely with colored pencils, the sketch of the sitting man to the right was drawn in ink and colored with colored pencils in a completely different drawing style.

I think there is a special magic when colored pencils are combined with ink sketches because the light, dry appearance of colored pencil strokes contrast nicely with the dark fluid ink lines. For the same reason, dry pencil lines look great when colored with wet watercolor.

The ink part was done with a Sailor Fude de Mannen fountain pen which has a fude nib (pronounced FOO-DEH) for line variation. And the colors are from the Pentel Multi-8.

You can get a nice comic book quality (which I personally like) by focusing on the ink lines for the the outlines and modeling (shading), and then coloring lightly with large areas of flat color. This seems to preserve the beauty of ink hatching.

For this sketch I used index cards for smooth ink lines and a flat coloring, so the look is practically the opposite of the sketch of the girl above it where I used relatively rough sketch paper and did all the modeling with colored pencils.

So this is another extremely portable sketching set up; just a jotter with index cards, a fountain pen, and the Pentel Multi-8 pencil. The ink in the fountain pen doesn't have to be waterproof since the coloring comes from dry colored pencils.

Now, you may have noticed that the pencil resting on the red sketchbook in the photo above no longer has the large gray areas covering the barrel as it did when I took the photo at the top of this article. That's because I removed them.

Since I swapped out some of the color leads, the labels no longer matched, and weren't as useful, and I really wanted to rearrange the colors and identify them visually rather than try to read the tiny labels. And, yes, I wanted to see how the mechanism inside worked.

So I sprayed the barrel with insect repellent which contained DEET which will remove paint finishes, but will also melt and fog up clear plastics if you use too much. I let the bug spray soak into the barrel by covering it for about thirty seconds to a minute with a tissue paper that also was soaked in the bug spray.

Then I used the same tissue to rub of as much of the paint as I could, which was really only a small amount, but I think it loosened up the remaining paint. I finished up by vigorously polishing the barrel with a new tissue and Simichrome which is a mildly abrasive polish which removes the remaining paint and can actually restore the shine and transparency to plastics which have been fogged up from bug spray or scratches. Everyone should have a tube of Simichrome around for various projects. In the past, I have removed the paint finish from plastic pens with Simichrome alone.

I succeeded in removing all the gray paint, but I learned a few lessons which I will pass on to you.

First, although the bug spray worked great on the hard clear plastic, it made surface of the soft black plastic clip become gummy and sticky. Fortunately I discovered this early, and was able to restore it by polishing away the sticky surface with Simichrome.

Also, bug spray can seep into the barrel from the space between the barrel and black clip, and it will stay there, looking ugly, and possibly softening the plastic inside.

But there is a way to avoid both of these problems: I discovered -- after the fact -- that it is possible to disassemble the pen so that you can work on the clear plastic barrel alone. The black plastic part can be separated from the clear plastic part if you wedge in the tip of a thin screwdriver where the black plastic and clear barrel meet and give it a twist, forcing the black plastic to slide out of the barrel. Be careful because the barrel can easily crack. I know. Make sure to note how the parts relate to each other before you remove them (you may want to rotate the black end button so the shiny silver strip is aligned with the clip so you will remember later). Also, I recommend removing all the leads before attempting to disassemble the body because the leads will break very easily.

Yes, it was a hassle. Most people would not even think of attempting such a thing at the risk of ruining their nice multi-color pencil, but I'm glad I did (although I don't think I would want to do it again). You may wonder why I didn't just buy a clear version in the first place. Well, I didn't think of it at the time, and I really didn't like that yellow end button. Mine is completely clear and has a nice black clip and end button. But if I ever lose or break this one, I will definitely buy the clear one with the yellow end button next time.

Now that I have observed the inner workings, I can offer a tip for using this pencil more effectively. The mechanism uses gravity to pull down the leads into the proper writing chamber, so if you make sure that the color you want is on top (when holding the pencil fairly horizontally), then it will naturally drop into place. Before I knew this, I had trouble with colors dropping down smoothly and had to resort to shaking the pen. It's also a good idea to keep the color on top (again, while holding the pencil horizontally) when returning it to its original storage chamber; it just goes smoother that way. Also, don't be in a hurry to change colors, because the whole thing will jam if one lead accidentally falls halfway into the empty chamber while you are quickly rotating the barrel.