The most basic name for this marking tool is grease pencil. It looks like a pencil, you draw or write with it like a pencil, but its core is made of a soft, greasy wax, commonly wrapped in paper rather than encased in wood
Whether you’re currently involved in arts and crafts or liked to draw as a kid, you’ve probably come across a grease pencil at some point in your life. Known by many names such as China Marker, wax pencil and chinagraph, a grease pencil is a unique tool that on first glance seems like a cross between a pencil and a wax crayon.
Even if you haven’t seen one in years, you’d recognize it instantly: it looks like a pencil with a large waxy nib surrounded by layers paper. Do you remember pulling the string to unwrap the paper and expose the core? That’s how you “sharpened” a standard grease pencil – and that’s why they are sometimes called pull-string pencils.
What’s with all the different names?
The most basic name for this marking tool is grease pencil. It looks like a pencil, you draw or write with it like a pencil, but its core is made of a soft, greasy wax, commonly wrapped in paper rather than encased in wood.
The most popular alternate name for these products is china marker. This doesn’t mean they originate in China but rather that they are commonly used to mark smooth, shiny and non-porous surfaces like China or porcelain.
Another name you might encounter is chinagraph pencil, which is used primarily in the U.K. Many of these terms are interchangeable, which can get confusing. You can find wax pencils, china marker pencils, chinagraphs or grease pencils, but they essentially refer to the same thing in most cases.
What are china markers/grease pencils used for?
Grease pencils are most often used for marking a variety of surfaces in commercial and industrial applications. They work best on smooth or polished surfaces – everything from glass to PET (blow molded) bottles to polished stone, ceramics and metals like brass or stainless steel.
Common commercial uses include writing prices on porcelain dinnerware like plates, cups, and jugs, or writing on glassware. China markers are also used to mark a variety of media such as vinyl records, analog audio tape, and photographic contact sheets. They are also frequently used as a marking tool in the construction industry since they don’t normally damage the surface they are applied to, and can be used to mark wet surfaces.
Finally, china markers or grease pencils are often used in the art world, especially for homemade arts and crafts projects. They can mark paper surfaces, and work well on paper with a glossy finish.