Nitram vs. Compressed Charcoal

There’s a stark difference between Nitram charcoal and compressed charcoal, and the differences can mean a big difference in your finished drawing.

Nitram charcoal batons and compressed charcoal do have one similarity- they both sharpen to a fine point- but the similarities end there.

One of the advantages Nitram Charcoal has over compressed sticks or pencils is that an artillery of erasure products isn’t needed.

Compressed Charcoal Basics

Compressed charcoal is made of charred wood dust and other materials in powder form. The charcoal powder is held together with a binder of gum or wax. It’s available in both sticks and pencils in various ranges of softness, depending on the ratio of powder to binder. The type of binder used will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and it’s a good idea to know what type of binder is used before purchasing.


The Disadvantages of Compressed Charcoal

Compressed charcoal is harder than willow and vine; hence, it can be sharpened to a fine point. It produces a darker black than willow and fine and because it can be sharpened to a fine point, it is useful for fine lines and detail. But compressed charcoal can be difficult to erase, depending on the binder. Some compressed charcoals just can’t be completely erased and the mistakes aren’t easily covered. A kneaded eraser may lift some of the color with repeated effort, but more often than not, some color will remain. Compressed charcoal laid down over graphite can be extremely difficult to erase. Pink Pearl erasers will lift some of the compressed charcoal, but excessive rubbing can loosen or tear the fibers of paper.

Another downside of compressed charcoal is that it can be awfully messy and, because of the binders, the dust can stick or cling to the drawing surface, and sometimes will transfer to other areas of the surface. This is due to the binder.

Another disadvantage of compressed charcoal is that it isn’t compatible with any wet media. When placing a wet media over compressed charcoal, the charcoal will bleed into the paint. Compressed charcoal can also discolor wet media so it’s not a good choice for using with watercolor, ink, acrylics, oils, or impasto pastes.

Compressed charcoal pencils also contain binders and have the same attributes as the compressed sticks.

With Nitram charcoal, there is no concern with excessive or clinging dust, and it works well with wet media. Nitram leaves behind much less dust than vine, willow, and compressed charcoal, one of the advantages for those with dust allergies. Less dust means less of a chance of residual charcoal landing somewhere on your drawing surface where you don’t want it.

Nitram can produce a rich, dark black that remains easy to erase. There is no oily or waxy feel to the batons and the charcoal glides smoothly on the canvas and removes equally as smoothly with a kneaded eraser. There is nothing more frustrating than to ruin a near-finished drawing with a misplaced line that can’t be removed.

With Nitram Charcoal, there is no need to worry about making an irreversible mistake.

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