I’ve been using them alone and in combination with other pencils long enough! It’s time for my Faber-Castell Polychromos Review.
My New Polychromos Pencils
This spring, my husband purchased a 120-pencil set of Polychromos for me. He was in favor of buying the premium set in the wood box because that’s just the kind of person he is. I was more interested in the pencils themselves, so he agreed to the 120 pencils in the tin. We made our purchase through Dick Blick, but Polychromos are also available from other suppliers, online and off-line.
Faber-Castell Polychromos Review
The pencils arrived well-packaged. The tin itself was enclosed in a cardboard box that I store them in. The tin has actually been out of the box only a few times. Even when I use them, I open the cardboard box, then the tin, then arrange the trays of pencils so they’re all available.
When I’m finished, the tin and box and all gets put away, so the pencils remain in good shape.
The pencils are well-made, and balanced. They feel good in my hand: Solid and straight. They even smell good (for pencils.)
Pigment cores are centered in the wood casing, and so far, I’ve had no problems with breakage.
Polychromos pencils are oil-based, so they’re harder than most wax-based pencils. If you currently use Prismacolor (as I do,) you’ll notice the difference the first time you put a Polychromos to paper.
Faber-Castell rates their colors on a scale of three. Three stars is best ranking, one star the worst. Of 120 colors, two carry a one-star rating, and sixteen carry a two-star rating. The other 102 colors are all top-rated.
Even better: The rating is printed right on the pencil.
Like many other artists, I’ve always thought of Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils as very expensive. I’m now rethinking that idea.
Yes, Prismacolor pencils are about half the initial purchase price, but if you buy a full set of 150 (retail about $313,) and then toss the fugitive colors (roughly half the colors,) you end up spending $313 for 75 pencils. That calculates to about $4.17 per usable pencil.
A full set of 120 Faber-Castell pencils retails for $323. Even if you discard the poorest rated, you’re still going to have 102 pencils, or $3.17 per pencil.
Initial cost is not the only factor. I’ve drawn enough drawings on enough different papers to discover Polychromos go further than Prismacolor.
How much further? I don’t yet know that, but judging by the amount of pencil used and the number of drawings completed, the prognosis is that they’ll last long enough to make the initial investment pay off.
UPDATE: At publishing time, Dick Blick had a full set of Prismacolor for only $72.09. If cost is your primary factor, you won’t be able to beat this price with any other pencil. However, my opinion is that quality control issues and lightfast issues still make Polychromos a better value.
Faber-Castell pencils are available in a total of 120, including a beautiful selection of colors well suited to landscape and animal drawings. The “earthy” greens and blues are ideal for the type of work I do.
There are also enough bright, vibrant colors to satisfy floral artists and others.
The only thing I wish there were more browns. Earth tones are among my favorite colors, though, so no matter how many I have, I never have enough!
If you’ve always used wax-based or soft pencils, Polychromos pencils will feel “scratchy” the first time you use them.
Color lay down is not quite as swift as with softer pencils, but they do hold a point much longer, and—as I already mentioned—you can do more drawing before having to sharpen them.
They blend very well with dry blending methods (colorless blenders, burnishing, tortillions.) I have yet to try blending with paper towel or cloth, but that’s primarily because I’ve been drawing on sanded pastel paper. For that application, a stiff bristle brush is ideal for blending.
And Polychromos excel on sanded pastel paper (more on that in a future post.)
To this point, I’ve used Polychromos pencils in combination with Prismacolor pencils and Koh-I-Nor woodless pencils. All three brands work well together. For best results, use the softer pencils to lay down color more quickly, then draw details with the harder Polychromos pencils. But there really is no “right way” to combine them.
The bottom line is that the Polychromos pencils have done everything I’ve tried to do with them.
Do I recommend them to other artists? Absolutely!
Are they worth the additional cost? Absolutely.
You may not switch to them exclusively, but it’s my opinion that you will not regret giving them a try.
Since I understand budget limitations, buy a few of your favorite colors open stock, or buy some of the smaller sets.
Then do everything with them that you do with whatever brand of pencil you currently use.