Writing in pencil is handy when you are jotting down notes, making calculations, or drawing sketches that are likely to need frequent modifications. This, because, unlike ink pens, pencils rely on graphite to adhere to the fibers of the paper to make a mark. As such, they are easier to remove with an eraser. However, what do you do when you don’t have an eraser?
Alternative ways to remove pencil marks replicate the action of an eraser. They use similar materials that can bond to the graphite on the paper through friction. Examples include rubber bands, “sticky putty”, bread, and hot glue.
This article will present you with alternatives to using a standard eraser. It will also explain the basic concept of how erasers work so that you may come up with your own creative solutions.
How Erasers Work
In order to understand how common household items can work as eraser alternatives, you should understand the basic principles about how standard erasers remove pencil marks.
- Pencils make their mark with graphite. Unlike ink, which relies on colored pigment suspended in a solvent of oil or water, it does not permeate into the fibers of the paper. Graphite particles stick to the fibers of the paper as the pencil point passes. Ink literally “dyes” the surface of the paper.
- Graphite particles adhere easily to surfaces. Graphite is a crystalline form of carbon. As such, graphite particles are very hard. This is why they can be picked up by rubber erasers.
- Abrasion allows the eraser to capture most of the graphite in a pencil mark. When pressure is applied to paper as you make your pencil mark, it tears through some of the paper fibers. This, technically, is where the graphite adheres. When you rub an eraser on paper, you are creating an abrasive action that helps lift the graphite out of the paper’s fibers.
This means that using any item with a surface that graphite particles can adhere to and that is soft enough so that its abrasive effect won’t tear the paper — will replicate the action of a standard eraser. The following items perform this function.
Similar to standard erasers, rubber bands are made out of rubber. This makes them a logical substitute for an eraser. To erase a pencil mark with a rubber band, follow these steps:
- Choose the widest rubber band that you have available. The wider it is, the easier that it will be to guide it over the area on the paper that you want to erase.
- Loop the rubber band around one of your index fingers. You will be applying pressure with your fingertip, so make sure the rubber band covers your fingertip as much as possible.
- Rub the pencil mark that you want to be erased. Start with minimal pressure and moderate rubbing. Increase both as needed. Be careful not to rub too hard to avoid tearing the paper.
- Avoid making direct contact on the paper with any exposed area of your finger. The skin on your finger has natural oils. If these come into contact with the paper, it can smudge the pencil mark requiring a larger area to be erased. Additionally, moisture on your fingers can transfer to the porous paper fibers making the process of picking up the graphite particles with the rubber band more difficult.
Here is a short video showing this process in action:
Adhesive “Sticky” Putty
Adhesive putty is a pressure-sensitive adhesive. This means that it relies on pressure to create a bond between two items. It does not involve a chemical reaction. Therefore, it is a dry process and does not require water, solvents, or heat to adhere to.
The adhesive properties of the putty make it well suited for picking up the graphite particles of the pencil mark.
To use adhesive putty as an eraser, all that is required is to tear a small piece off and shape it into the form of a small ball. This could range in size from the size of a marble to a ping pong ball. Then, you simply rub the pencil mark until it is erased.
The principle behind this process is similar to that of kneaded erasers, such as Faber-Castell erasers, used by pencil and sketch artists. They are made from putty that picks up graphite. However, they are mainly intended for the gradual removal of pencil marks — to help in subtractive drawing techniques. They are not very good at removing complete pencil marks the way adhesive putty can.
Some examples of adhesive putty brands that can function as erasers include:
- Loctite Mounting Putty
- Bostik Blu-Tack
- Gorilla Mounting Putty
- Elmer’s Tac ‘N Stick
- Duck Brand Poster Putty
- Scotch Brand Adhesive Putty
Modern pencils and other graphite-based writing instruments pre-date erasers. A method that existed for erasing pencil marks prior to the invention of erasers involved using bread.
What worked then still works today. It requires the following steps:
- Take a piece of bread without the crust. The white inner part of a slice of sandwich bread or a dinner roll works perfectly. Old bread that has not gone stale works better than fresh bread for this.
- Roll up the piece of bread into the shape of a ball. As you roll the bread, make sure to compact it as tightly as possible. As if you were squeezing it to remove all of the air.
- Moisten the bread slightly. As you roll the bread into a ball. Add some water to it. Only a minimal amount of moisture is required. Don’t dunk the bread ball into the water. Preferably, dab some water on it as you roll it with your fingers. You only want enough water to make it pliable, not doughy — definitely not soggy. If the bread is pliable enough, it may not require water.
- Allow to air cure. After rolling the ball, let it rest for 5 minutes or so. You don’t want it to dry up, but you do want any excess moisture that might dampen the paper to evaporate.
- Rub on the pencil mark to be erased. The first few times that you use a bread eraser, you may want to try it on a scrap piece of paper to make sure that it doesn’t have excessive moisture. If it dampens the paper, let it dry for a few minutes more.
After you have made a few bread erasers, you will intuitively know the perfect balance between bread and moisture to make it work to maximum effect.
An eraser can be fashioned out of glue from a hot glue gun.
You can apply it directly to the end of the pencil opposite the point. Once it is allowed to dry for a minute, it will be firm enough to use the same way you use a normal eraser fastened to a pencil.
You can also apply a blob of hot glue to a smooth surface or on a sheet of wax paper. After allowing it to cool for one minute, grab the blob of glue and use it as a hand-held eraser.
Here is a video demonstrating this technique.
Replicating the function of an eraser with household items is possible. All that is needed is a substance that graphite particles can cling to and that is gentle enough not to tear the paper when you apply abrasive pressure with it.
As long as you keep those points in mind, you can experiment with other items in your house beyond rubber bands, adhesive putty, and bread that successfully remove pencil marks. Just remember, always test on a piece of scrap paper before putting it to use on a document or sketch that is meant to serve as a final draft.