Are Prismacolors Right for You?

There’s been a lot of back-and-forth about Prismacolor pencils over the last several years. Some artists love them; some hate them. After all the debating, you have only one question. Are Prismacolors right for you or not?

Are Prismacolors Right for You

Last week, I shared reasons you might want to try colored pencils.

This week, it seems appropriate to answer some of the more common questions about Prismacolor pencils, and give you tips for deciding whether or not Prismacolor pencils are right for you.

A Little Bit of History

I always like to provide a little background for discussions like this, because background can provide insight into present day problems. Don’t worry. It’s going to be brief and personal.

I started using Prismacolors back in the 1990s, when they were Berol Prismacolor. There was no better pencil so widely available (in the US at least) and at reasonable prices. They were a high-quality pencil and problems like breaking leads, split casings, and off-center pigment cores were unheard of.

At least I never heard of them.

I had no problems with the pencils. They were perfect for the work I was doing, which was almost exclusively horse portraits.

Sometime since then, Prismacolor changed hands. Berol sold the brand to Sanford, which subsequently sold the brand to Newell-Rubbermaid. Manufacturing changed location and artists began having problems shortly afterward.

I used Prismacolor throughout all those changes, and to be honest, I had very few problems with them.

One batch of Indigo Blue pencils were so gritty I couldn’t use them.

Some pencils did break during sharpening or drawing, and there were a few that broke so much, they were useless.

I did discover (or maybe started noticing is a better way to say it) that quite a few pencils had off-center pigment cores, and I learned still later that sharpening problems often result from off-center cores.

More recently, I started finding pencils that were warped. Fortunately, I usually buy open stock from a local suppler, and learned how to check for warped pencils, so that problem was solved.

But overall, I’ve had relatively few problems with Prismacolor pencils.

Then came the spring of 2017.

The Case of the Fugitive Pencils

Early in 2017, I started hearing a word that aroused concern. Lightfastness. Specifically, the poor lightfast ratings of many Prismacolor pencils.

I believe I mentioned that I was using colored pencils almost exclusively for portraits, right? Portraits people were paying a good amount of money for.
I’d also started doing landscapes, which I hoped to sell.

So it was discouraging (to say the least) to discover that some of my favorite blues and greens, as well as a number of other colors, were fugitve. They faded over time, even in the best conditions.

How permanent were all those portraits I’d created? Would I start hearing from clients about disappearing portraits? It still gives me a twinge of concern thinking those thoughts!

So I went through my pencils, and sorted out all the fugitive colors. The pile of safe colors was almost the same size as the pile of fugitive colors, but I confess I erred on the side of caution. I threw out everything rated III, IV, or V.

I still use the other colors and I still love the way they go onto paper and the effects I can get. I also still miss colors like Sky Blue Light, Light Cerulean Blue, and Limepeel.

But I refuse to use them for anything except sketching and filling in my monthly habit tracker.

All of That to Say This….

What does that mean to you?

It means that what I’m about to say is being said from the standpoint of personal experience. Nothing more, nothing less.

You want to know if it’s safe to use Prismacolor pencils or not, and I’m here to tell you it is.

Depending on what you want to do with your art.

Reasons to Use Prismacolor

So how can you know if Prismacolors are good deal or not?

You Color for Fun and Relaxation

If adult coloring books are your thing, then by all means invest in that full set of Prismacolor pencils.

I don’t do very much in the adult coloring book line—I don’t have much time, to be honest—but I have read plenty of articles about the subject written by artists who do. Almost to the artist, they recommend Prismacolor because of the smooth color lay down, wide variety of colors, reasonable cost, and availability.

Are Prismacolors Right for You - Adult Coloring Pages

I do, too, and for all the same reasons.

In fact, when I doodle with a coloring page, I often use those fugitive colors.

You’re Crafty

You’re making greeting cards, coloring in adult coloring books, or doing crafty things. Color permanence doesn’t concern you.

Color selection, ease of use, and price do.

Prismacolors are probably your best choice. There are over 150 colors altogether. They lay down like a dream, and blend beautifully. You can get them almost anywhere in the United States, and in most cases they’re a good value.

Are Prismacolors Right for You - You're Crafty

They’re also artist-grade, which means pigment quality is high. That means you’ll get a lot more color per pencil than you’d get if you purchased student-grade pencils.

You’re New to Colored Pencils

You think you’ll enjoy them, but you don’t know. You’re not interested—right now—in making art for sale. You just want to draw.

You also don’t want to spend an-arm-and-a-leg on something you may not enjoy.

But you want to try the medium with the best quality tools you can find.

Prismacolor is the answer. They offer students and beginning artists the best combination of quality and value around. Yes there are better pencils, but they’re more expensive.

Are Prismacolors Right for You - You're New to Colored Pencils

And there are cheaper pencils, but they’re lower quality. Even if you get them at a bargain basement price, you may soon find they don’t put much color on the paper or are a struggle to use for other reasons.

Prismacolor is, in my opinion, the only way to go if this describes you.

You Make Fine Art, but Sell Reproductions, Not Originals

The fact of the matter is, you often keep your originals yourself because you like them so much, or you give them to family members or friends. What you sell are reproductions.

Most reproductions are made with lightfast inks, so the lightfastness of the pencils does not matter. At. All.

Use every pencil in the set, lightfast and not-so-lightfast. Get top-notch photographs or scans of the finished pieces, and sell reproductions to your heart’s content!

Then give the original pieces to whomever you like, or hang them on your own walls.

Just make sure to advise friends and family to frame those works of art under UV resistant glass and never, never, NEVER hang the art in direct sunlight.

So Are Prismacolors Right for You?

Prismacolor pencils are perfect for uses like those described above, as well as many others I didn’t touch upon.

By the way, the same applies if you make art mostly to teach others.

In other words, if you don’t care to sell your originals, it doesn’t really matter whether they fade away with time or not. It seems a shame to me to put that kind of time into something that will fade whether you sell it or not, but it’s really up to you, the artist.

Have a question about Prismacolor pencils I didn’t cover? Click here to ask me by email.

4 Replies to “Are Prismacolors Right for You?”

  1. I agree, Prismacolors are great but have limitations just like all brands of artist grade colored pencil. The ‘fugitive’ phenomenon is not unique to Prismacolor, every line of colored pencils have some colors that are more likely to fade, blues and purples are often prone. The only line of artist grade colored pencils developed that specifically addresses this issue is the Caran D’ache Luminance line, all 72 pencils have a high lightfast rating. However, there are only 72 colors and once you have used the 150 range of Prismacolors, that can seem very limiting. The Luminance line have exceptional colors for skin tones, which is perfect for portraiture. Derwent ‘supposedly’ listened to all the complaints about their latest pencil, the Procolour, introduced in 2016. Derwent is launching a new 72 set of lightfast pencils this July. I think they are going after the Luminance market. As of yet, I have not seen any reviews of the latest Derwent product. Cheers!

    1. Liz,

      You are quite right. There are no “perfect” products in any business, and that’s especially true of art supplies. Almost every line of pencil has colors that are fugitive, so it’s up to us, as artists, to find those colors that are fugitive and to either remove them from our color collections or use them with caution.

      I learned about the Derwent Lightfast pencils yesterday, while listening to Lisa Clough’s livestream for the week. She mentioned them coming out in July and I’m sure she’ll do a review when she gets them. I don’t know when that will be, but I fully expect she’ll get a full set before they’re available for purchase anywhere. I look forward to that.

      Carrie

  2. Carrie; I read into one of your other articles after reading this one that the quite costly Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils are quite opaque and lay down well over darker colors. One problem I often encounter is after I color a drawing I often can’t see the thin white lines of like a window frame or even letters I printed in white. Sometimes I try using a white ink pen or thin white paint marker but still don’t get the results I’m looking for. Would I be better off to invest in a few of these Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils instead.?Do you have a picture example of when you’ve used these? Thanks!

    1. Richard,

      The best way to get the results you’re looking for is by preserving those light values from the start. For larger shapes that you want to remain white or very light in color, outline them, then shade around them.

      For very small marks, such as lettering or thin lines, you might actually have better results by impressing the marks into the paper before you start shading.

      Luminance are more opaque than most other colored pencils, but they are not completely opaque. I don’t know of a colored pencil that is.

      Unfortunately, I haven’t used Luminance very much, and have only the white pencil. I have tried to make white marks over other colors with it. Although the marks are brighter than doing the same thing with a Prismacolor White, they aren’t totally opaque.

      Carrie

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