Caran D’Ache Luminance 6901
It is claimed that these are the best coloured pencils in the world with the highest lightfast rating you can get. They are named after the highest international standard: ASTM D-6901. They are certainly the most expensive pencils I own. Husband thinks they should have come with their own security. I have the tin box of 76 and these are wax-based pencils.
The tin is pretty standard, a little more stylish than some of the Derwent tins. But the trays are metal too and they make removing the pencils, individually and per tray, very easy indeed. The pencils themselves are lovely to look at. Plain cedar with a light varnish, detailed and ringed in silver to match the tins. The colour information is at the end of the pencil and the colour is on the end-stub.
The pigments are strong and lay down very smoothly. They are easy to blend and layer very well. I love these pencils and while there is a very standard collection of colours, there is nothing standard about the design, feel, build, or quality of these. Truly the Rolls Royce of pencils and your go-to collection for reliability.
Nearly every single art instruction book recommends these pencils. This is for a number of reasons: they are relatively cheap in the artist’s grade pencil shop, they are super-soft and super-blendable and in most places (not here in the UK though) you can get them very easily and in open-stock. Prismacolours are wax-based pencils.
I ordered mine from eBay, but you can get them at a wonderful site as listed in my Links. I have the box of 120.
Now, the pencils are good: strong pigment, buttery soft and very easy to blend. I can see why they are the number 1 choice in books. Cost are cut in the presentation though. The pencils look bog-standard. The writing is mismatched (possibly a reflection of these being readily available in open-stock leading UK stockists to create their own collections for sale), they smell a bit odd (sickly sweet) and they come in plastic trays that interlock to fit into the very standard tin. If you don’t interlock these just so, then you can’t get the lid on.The pencils are self-coloured, matching the core.
But…and it’s a big BUT, we are concerned with the core and the Prisma’s core is a delight. Particular favourites are Clay Rose and Black Grape.
For all-round wonderfulness, these oil-based pencils (so you don’t get the dreaded wax bloom) are my favorite coloured pencils. They tick every box. I have the box of 120. The tin looks great; in the traditional dark green of Faber-Castell, the trays, though plastic but felt-backed, lift out aided by elastic pulls. The pencils are self-coloured in the colour of the pencil, ringed and detailed in gold and have chunky cores. Most have a high lightfast rating. The colour laydown is perfect with strong pigments and they layer very well. The range of reds, pinks and purples is lovely. I can’t fault them. And currently Cowling and Wilcox (see Links) have 50% off this spectacular set. You couldn’t get a better box, if you only buy one set, I’d recommend this.
Lyra Rembrandt Polycolour
I love the Lyra Splender so I had to try the Lyra Rembrandt Polycolors to see if they were as good. I have the 72 tin: standard tin, plastic trays, cardboard pull out handles – but it does come with 2 Splenders. The pencils themselves are slim, wooden shaft and matching tip to the colour pencil. The detailing is black and the pencil information is on the latter half of the pencil.
The pigment is strong and most of these pencils have a high lightfast rating. They lay down smooth and their colour is dense. They blend well. I can’t really criticize these in anyway, such a little workhorse are they. At 72 in the range though, they could be wider, but I’d be hard pushed to see what they are missing over other ranges like Faber-Castell Polychromos at 120. Great choice of colour, great blendability. What more could you ask for?
Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer
I love these pencils just as much as I love Faber-Castell’s Polychromos. They are thick, chunky and a pleasure to hold. The packaging is the same as the Polychromos and the pencils are thick-cored, self-coloured, gold-detailed and have hexagonal barrells. Again, I am fortunate to have the 120 box and you can see that covers pretty much every colour and shade that you would want.
But these are watercolours and you get to play with them a little more. The same strong pigment, the same laydown quality, but with the added joy of being able to add water to obtain painterly effects. Perfect for applying a solid base colour and painting on the top with dry pencils.
The first Derwent coloured pencils, developed in the 1930s and appropriately the first Derwent pencils I am going to mention. These stalwarts are round-barrelled, feature a wide core and come 120 colours. My box also is the fancy-schmancy wooden box that Derwent do so well. These are wax-based pencils and are great for blending and layering. These are your workhorse pencils. Any complaints? Only minor ones. Sometimes the casings are poor – crumbly varnish, inconsistent livery, and sometimes, just sometimes, the pencils are tricky to sharpen. Use a battery-operated sharpener for less problems. The Magenta is a stunning colour and the range of greens are lovely for botanical work.
Bruynzeel Sakura, Design
Dutch company Bruynzeel merged with Japanese company Sakura in 1997 continuing a history of 60 years in making fine art pencils. These are the Design coloured pencils coming in range of 48 colours. They come in a very nice drawer system box, made of extremely hard cardboard (it feels as if the box is layered over a metal structure) and the drawers handily store 12 pencils each. The colours are very bright, more so than you get in your more traditional ranges and the colour laydown is very buttery, very creamy and yet they still retain quite a hard solidity. No information as yet regarding the lightfastness.
Caran D’Ache Pablo
Caran D’Ache’s Pablo pencils are water resistant and come in a range of 120 pencils. Unfortunately I could only afford the box of 80, but those are more than enough to suit my needs. Pablos have a high lightfast rating and what most sellers call an “excellence luminance”.
The pencils have hexagonal barrels and are self-coloured with gold detailing – much like the Albrecht Durers and Polychromos. The main difference with the Pablos is the core – it is much harder than the other Caran D’Aches and they sharpen to a very hard, fine point making them perfect for botanical drawing or subjects with very fine detail.
Caran D’Ache Supracolor Soft Aquarelle
Soft like Prismas, Caran D’Ache’s Supracolour Soft Aquarelle’s have a high pigment quality, are highly lightfast and come in 120 colours. They are quite subtle colours and have a very delicate water wash which can be built nicely.
I find these to be very natural, earthy colours, which makes them good for landscapes. I have the wooden box of 80 and unlike most wooden boxes the tray doesn’t lift out but slides up as the box opens. It’s rather slick.
Derwent Signature was an expensive range specially designed by Derwent to be highly lightfast. The finest pigments were selected and Signature was the result.
Then Derwent stopped making them. Maybe the high cost? Maybe they didn’t have a market for very lightfast pencils? I don’t know, but I have heard in some quarters that they weren’t as good as they were meant to be. Yes, highly lightfast but there were problems with the casing, the livery, the binding method. You can still get them on eBay and they are still expensive but I like them. They are very creamy, with a dense colour laydown and a nice range of blues and green.
Only 24 in the range?! Yes, but like the sonnet these force the artist to play, to adapt and invent creating wonderful landscapes and portraits. Derwent’s Drawing pencils are the softest pencils you will find – a cross between pencil and wax pastel, they lay down like cream and have the yummiest muted colours. They fast became a favourite with landscape and portrait artists on their release.
Coffees, chocolates, earthy reds, moody seas and cloudy skies – these are the things that Drawing dreams of. They are also great for fur as they are soft and dense and natural. They all carry a lightfast rating of 8 (BW) except for the Ink Blue at 7 – which means your paintings will be around for quite some time.
I really like Derwent Watercolour pencils despite their headache-inducing livery. Turquoise! They don’t feel as smooth as the Albrecht Durers or the Supracolor Soft Aquarelles, they are definitely more rough and ready when it comes to laying them down, but they make you feel a bit looser when painting, a little more free and relaxed creatively. They have dense pigment, which does make it a little more difficult to dissolve with water, but you get some really interesting effects.
The colour range is nice and bright, much more subtle than the Derwent Inktense range, and they come in 72 colours. The downside? Well, the darker end of the range, the blues and greens have a lightfast rating of 7/8, but some of the pinks, yellows and violets are only 1 on the scale – so this must be a consideration when creating, especially works you want to sell or commissions.
The introduction of this range was big news. Vibrant, jewel-like colours, they brought about a revolution in the coloured pencil world. When water was added the pigments became ink-like, they were permanent too which meant once diluted they would stay on the page and couldn’t be lifted off. They came with an outliner pencils too which was water-resistant – no bleeding!
The outliner is lovely – like a graphite pencil but oh-so smooth. Handsome livery too – dark royal blue with gold detailing. High lightfastness on the darker end of the range with 3/4s at the lighter end – something to consider. And they can be used on fabrics like silk. The pinks and purples are eye-poppingly decadent.
Sanford Prismacolor Verithins
Prismacolour, as I have said, are the go-to choice for most coloured pencil artists. But sometimes they can be too wide a core, too smooshy for fine, detailed work. So, we have Prismacolor Verithins, which are exactly as they say, very thin. Thin, hard cores that are perfect for detailed work like botanical paintings.
You get the same bright, blendable colours with dense pigment laydown, but in a finer, ore controllable point, much like…
…these. Derwent’s thin, hard-cored pencils which are great for botanical paintings and fine, detailed work.
They come in 72 colours and I have to say this, in the interest of fairness, they are not the most lightfast pencils you could buy. Some 8s, but a lot of 4s even in the darker side, and a lot of 1s especially in the light pinks, violets, yellows…be warned.
The Studio line is hexagonal barrelled giving you a better grip, which you’ll need as these hard, fine pencils are great for detailed work. For a hard pencil, they are surprisingly creamy and smooth, especially over cold-press support. It’s almost linear, the surface, which makes covering it a little hard work. But a few layers of these Studio pencils and I got a lovely warm cover of beautiful colour. I can say that the Studio pencils blend seamlessly. I got a smooth and warm transition of colours.
I’m cheating again, these aren’t really pencils, not in the traditional sense of a pigment core surrounded by a wooden (always cedar these days) barrel. Have a look -
These babies are all core. No wood. Derwent claim that this delivery gives you 4 times more usable material than a traditional coloured pencil. They come in 24 colours and can be used wet or dry. You can peel back the paper cover too and use them in broad sweeps.
Not bad lightfastness – mostly 7s and 8s, but there are a few 4s and 5s and the Burnt Carmine, which is a lovely colour indeed is a 3.
Lyra make chunky pencils for younger artists which are just as loved by us old ‘uns. I have the Skintones collection as, well, kind of obvious really, they are great for skintones. The chunkyness of them means that you are not fiddling with large areas of skin trying to keep your pressure even and undetectable. You can paint quite quickly and freely and these Skintone pencils build and layer very well creating believable, warm skins.
On a silly note, they do make you feel like a crazy kid again drawing away without a concern.
Most people call them a “must” for portrait artists. But ‘most people’ are selling them.
Derwent claim this is the UK’s softest coloured pencil and it certainly is very soft indeed, not quite in the same league as Prismas, but pretty close. They come in 72 colours and very handsome round-barreled, dark burgandy livery.
They lay down very dense, intense and buttery pigment. Derwent do say that they sharpen and hold a fine point. This is a bit of a stretch, they do sharpen well but they blunt quite quickly and need to be sharpened quite often, especially on any kind of textured paper.
of the Derwent range in that they hover around 7/8, but in the lights (yellows, pinks, violets) you will find 2/3s. So be careful!
Derwent Signature Watercolour
Like the Derwent Signature coloured pencils, these were discontinued. Possibly due to the high cost of the pigment and the various complaints rumoured.
I have a set of 40 that came without the original box but the seller kindly packs them up in Derwent wraps for you. I say “kindly”, I am sure I paid for them too.
Derwent Signature watercolour pencils feature some nice muted shades and have a delicate wash when water is added. They lay down dry quite thick and with a very waxy feel. I noticed doing my colour chart that they struggle with textured paper and will probably like a smoother paper or board.
No lightfastness information unfortunately but it is supposed to be very high – hence the high cost – hence the ‘out of production’.
Caran D’Ache Prismalo
Available in 80 colours, Caran D’Ache’s Prismalo is a watercolour pencil range with strong, break resistant 3mm cores. Like other artist ranges from Caran D’Ache, they are extremely lightfast with strong pigments. When water is added they have a subtle wash of colour. The pencils shafts are self-coloured and are hexagonal for an easy grip. I find them to be very similiar in feel to Faber-Castell’s Albrecht Durer coloured pencils, less chunky and densely pigmented, but subtle and solid.
Bruynzeel Sakura, Design Watercolour
Packaged in the same sturdy drawer unit, the watercolour version of these pencils is as pleasing as the coloured pencils. They are very light with dense, smooth laydown of pigment which has a solid wash when water is added. It is a bit of a effort to dissolve the pigment though. I like the banded colour tip and wooden shaft – they look much more expensive than they are. Again, no lightfastness information as yet, which will be a consideration with some paintings.
Derwent Watercolour (New Livery)
I spoke before about the headache-inducing livery of the old Derwent Watercolour pencils. Turquoise indeed. But those clever people over at Derwent have reissued their Watercolour pencils with a new livery and with a new, creamier formula.
Certainly doing my wee colour chart for the new box, I found them to be much creamier, almost like Prismacolors in their butteryness. And I like the smart, dark blue jackets. The colours are essentially the same, just with a much denser laydown of colour. One tiny, itsy complaint though. I don’t know what happens in production but some of the pre-sharpened tips have a dark blue stain that needs worked off before you even begin to do any painting. It messed up my colour chart and my first play with these pencils. Grrr.
Lightfastness is fairly good, mostly 6-8s, but again a good handful at 1-3 which will have implications for your work.
A surprise purchase this. Usually to get Prismas you have to shop on eBay or 1Buy1Pencils, but a trip out during my work day to a card craft shop that I didn’t even knew existed and I found Prismas on sale. In a shop. Without fanfare. I snapped them up.
Ok, it was just a wee tin of 12, but still. Just as creamy and dense as the Prismacolor Premiers but with the added delight of dense colour washes when water is added. They do come in 36 colours but this set will do me for a while. I am hoping to add and use them to other watercolour sets.
Koh-i-Noor Hardtmuth Polycolor
You won’t quite believe the price of these artist grade coloured pencils and you will snap them up. It’s shocking how cheap they are in price but how nice they are in quality. The colours are as bright as jewels and the pigments laydown densely, creamily and without a scratch or glitch. The pencils themselves resemble Faber-Castells, banded, detailed in gold and thick, hexagonal shafts.
Koh-i-Noor also do a watercolour version which would be quite an interesting prospect as I would expect solid washes of colour.
These are oil-based pencils and the company claims excellent lightfastness.
Koh-I-Noor Hardmuth Progresso Woodless
These woodless pencils are very popular with pencil artists because they are very unlike the traditional coloured pencil. They are without wood casing and the entire pencil is just solid, pigmented, core. That means that you get very little waste, more pigment and useable material for your money. They are very heavy in your hand which feels very reassuring. They have dense, rich pigments that go onto the paper confidently and thickly. Great for backgrounds, less so for fine detail. They come in two hard plastic trays that slot into a cardboard holder. The trays are great, they hold each pencil independently and would be great for storing current working pencils if only they were a little longer. No lightfastness information at the moment.
Cretacolor are an Austrian company making artist grade art supplies. It is claimed that they are “highly pigmented” and “extremely lightfast”. I have the set of 36 pencils. They have thick cores and hexagonal barrells. They come in an oddly-coloured livery which is very matt but the end caps are the pencil pigment. When you first receive them, the pencils are stored top-to-tail but this drove me nuts and I had to rearrange them more traditionally. These are decent pencils, good shades, smooth laydown and dense coverage. Some of the shades are a little too ‘out there’ – not really found in nature and this makes me think that these pencils are more suited to design, decorative art rather than botanical or wildlife studies.The pencil cores are hard though, tips snap under pressure and they do seem a little scratchy and streaky – so go easy.
Cretacolor’s Marino pencils are their watersoluable line. The colours within are found in the Karmina range. These are round-barrelled however and have a metallic blue finish, with the pigment end caps. One thing these feature over the Karmina range, is that they have the lightfastness rating on the side of each pencil – differentiating between I and II mostly. Like the Karminas, the cores are hard and the use of the pencil is a little scratchy. When water is added they retain good colour and dissolve quite well.
Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth Mondeluz
I quite liked the Koh-I-Noor Polycolour pencils and I remembered thinking they would be good watercolour pencils, so when I saw a set of 36 on eBay for a reasonable price, I had to buy them. First things first, they come in a horrific cardboard box reminiscent of the crappy boxes you would get in some cheap shop that your mum would buy you to keep you amused on holiday. By the time I received my pencils, the box was torn in 3 places. Anyway, it’s the pencils that matter and these look like bog standard coloured pencils. Hexagon barrels, self-coloured livery and chunky feel. But when you lay down the pigment, it is dense and creamy. And when you add water, well they just dissolve into thick, painterly washes. Lovely. They just burst with colour. These babies are getting rehomed as soon as I get a nice box.
Koh-I-Noor Giaconda leads
I don’t know very much about these, but they were on offer from the same eBay seller that I bought the Mondeluz pencils from and at £3 I couldn’t resist finding out what these were like. 6 leads – really, pencil cores in metallic shades. They come in teeny wee plastic box and are well protected. I don’t know what I’ll do with them but they are interesting. Hard leads, smooth coverage and nice metallic sheens.
Dick Blick Studio
These are heralded as a great and inexpensive alternative to Prismacolors in the USA. Not that Prismas are terribly dear over there anyway. In collaboration with the Coloured Pencil Society of America, Dick Blick created these pencils that claim to be as soft and lightfast as premier, artist-grade pencils. They come in 91 colours, I have the box of 72, and have thick cores; 3.8mm leads.
I found them very bright and very smooth. I would need to see them perform in a work, but I think I may prefer them to the Prismas. They don’t seem quite as buttery which is a good thing as I find it difficult to get real detail with Prismas unless I am sharpening after every stroke. Not bad Dick Blick. And thanks to WthrLady on Wetcanvas for sending this box to me.
ETA – having now seen them perform (see “Cherries”) I am pleased to report that these pencils are very good indeed. I see no fault in performance, they layer and blend like the best of your pencils. Plus, they have a firmer core than Prismas, which means less sharpening and better for detailed work. The only fault is the darks – there’s not the choice that the Prismas have and you will have to work hard to obtain darks in your painting -
Royal Talens Van Gogh
There was some discussion on WetCanvas about the origins of the Royal Talens pencils these days and whatever set you buy, wherever it is made, may affect the quality and feel of them. Mine are labelled Royal Talens Van Gogh though made in Indonesia.
They came in a bog-standard silver tin. I have the tin of 36 and certainly you get a nice selection of colours, plenty of blues and purples. The pencils are round-barrelled and feel chunky and weighty in your hand.
I found the pencils to be quite firm and a little bit scratchy. They do go down quite nicely after a few strokes but after you have built up a good number of layers then the pencils seem to start to score at the layers rather than build. They reminded me of Derwent Studio pencils in that they’d be good for lighter layers and detailed work. On softer, smoother surfaces you have to tread carefully. They also demanded a harder blender to fill those gaps ans I found the Derwent Burnisher to be more than up to the task. I think these pencils would be great for sketch work and foundation layers.
Prismacolor Premier ArtStix
These are sold as the same core as Prismacolor Premier coloured pencils, only woodless and in square sticks. For the artist, these promise to be good for broad sweeps of colour or smaller areas if you use the edges and points. I thought they may be good for backgrounds; quicker and easier. Plus, I have been having trouble with my Prismacolor pencils snapping and not keeping their core so anything to make big areas less frustrating is a bonus.
I didn’t know quite what to expect with these. Would they be as soft as the Prismacolor pencil cores? Would they snap? Would they behave like art block or hard pastels? Would they crumble and dust?
Well, they feel firmer and less smooshy and buttery than the pencils.
For my swatch card, I worked them back and forward and they didn’t crumble, snap or dust. They are surprisingly creamy and they don’t mess up your hands. The box of 48 contains a good selection of colours though as this is the biggest box you can buy, you are not going to get all of the 132 colours that the pencils offer. I think Prisma have done well to cover most colours that you are going to need. The silver and gold…hmmm…could have been left out in my opinion but someone may find a use for them. I am looking forward to playing with these.
Derwent 30th Anniversary Watercolour Pencils
During my recent visit to the Cumberland Pencil Museum – have I mentioned that I went there recently…for my birthday? – I picked up a tin of 12 watercolour pencils that were released in 2011 to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the Pencil Museum. They were on sale, and really, how is a girl to resist? Forget cupcakes and shoes, a sale on art supplies is enough to make me giddy and get Mr. S. to open his wallet.
The pencils are fashioned in the retro style though they contain the most up-to-date formula. They look like proper, old-fashioned pencils rather than the double-dip ended, navy blue livery of the ones we use and love today. They are encased in a tin with a retro style pencil drawing of what is, presumably, Derwent Water.
The cores are the soft, buttery, melt like paint when water is added ones that we know well. You get a good selection of colours.
I didn’t really need these and I don’t use watercolour pencils that often but they are beautifully packaged and actually, I think will fit quite well into my Derwent Carry-All to use out and about.
Caran D’Ache Museum Aquarelle
Caran D’Ache have recently released new coloured pencils – Museum Aquarelle. They come in 76 colours though only the full range is available in singles. Currently, the collections available are 12 Basics, 20 Marine and 20 Landscape. I bought the 12 Basics from Ken Bromley for £27.99 – so you can tell immediately that these are high-end, high-quality and lightfast materials.
Back to the Museum Aquarelles though. The collection of 12 came in a beautiful square box with foam top and bottom and grooved to hold the pencils. The pencils themselves are gorgeous.
They are chunky and weighty. They have a black matt livery with a generous colour-dipped tip. In the collection of 12 you get 2 options for every colour group – I was disappointed not to get a white though, I may buy that separately. On the hexagonal barrell, Caran D’Ache helpfully have added the lightfast rating – this collection is 3 to 5 stars – the only ‘fugitive’ pencil being the cobalt blue.
I love the chunky cores in these too. The cores are soft, dense and chunky – chunky enough for you to get stuck in and carried away with your work without fear of damage lending to a more expressive feel to your work rather than detailed.
When you add water to them, they dissolve instantly and the wash is thick and creamy thinning out to a nice wash. The ‘fugitive’ blue is a little wishy-washy as you can see in my swatch, but the rest are good. The dry pigment is thick and dense, solid laydown. I use rough watercolour card for my swatches and these pencils coped admirably though filling the tooth with the chunky cores would take a lot more work.
Derwent Coloursoft Fashion
Derwent brought out a limited edition box of 12 new Coloursoft colours under the banner of ‘Fashion’. They come in lovely tin with an illustration by Niki Pilkington:
When you hear ‘Fashion’ you think gawdy, temporary, bright, pretentious…well, at least I do but then I am not the most fashionable person you’ll ever meet. I mean, I like clothes…and for public safety I wear clothes, but I don’t slavishly follow their creation. I believe Victoria Beckham makes dresses…I digress. But this collection’s palette is, happily, lovely. Muted, earthy and rich. The Magenta is pleasingly shocking but the rest are muted and very natural. I think they’ll complement the existing Coloursoft range nicely and will add an extra dimension.