Old Prismacolor Pencils vs New Prismacolor Pencils

Prismacolor has been around for decades. For years, they were the only brand available, so a lot of us have old Prismacolor pencils still in our pencil boxes (or tins, tubs, cups, or whatever.)

Are those old pencils still good to use?

That’s what one reader wrote to ask.


I was reading “Are Prismacolors Right for You?” and have a question.

I have an enormous stash of Prismas, all purchased prior to 2017, probably mostly 2005 thru 2010.  Though I do know there are questions of lightfast issues with specific colors (smugly pointed out to me by a somewhat accomplished oil painter,) do the issues you discussed in this article apply to the early pencils also?

I assume they mostly do not.  I had not experienced a problem with them during the time I was using them.

Recently, I bought a large set of Pablos and Derwents on recommendation which I like but the Prismas lay down beautifully and have a much different feel to them which I am used to and like.

I am not sure what to begin to replace them with.  Any suggestions?

I’ll continue to use the Prismas as your article suggest but for resale or commissions I will need something different.  I really hate to give them up. Thanks for your reply.

Cassandra Farris
Old Prismacolor Pencils vs New Prismacolor Pencils


Thank you for your question!

What a fortunate artist you are! All those vintage Prismacolor pencils! Wow!

Giving Up on Prismacolor

Let me address Cassandra’s last comment first. There’s no reason for any fine artist to give up on Prismacolor Colored Pencils, even when doing work for resale. I, too, have purchased better pencils such as Faber-Castell Polychromos, and Derwent Watercolor Pencils, but still also use Prismacolor. The simple fact is that there is no pencil better at doing what Prismacolor does best.

A lot of artists do tire of issues such as cracking wood casing, breaking pigment cores, and gritty pigment cores and they choose not to use Prismacolor. But that’s a personal choice. I can completely understand giving up on a tool that causes such constant irritation!

Not all artists have experienced those kinds of problems on a regular basis, though. I didn’t think I’d ever had a problem with cracking wood casings until I saw the photo below, but that’s only one instance. It happened so long ago that I don’t remember the circumstances.

Old Prismacolor Pencils - Cracked Wood Casing

I don’t use the fugitive Prismacolor colors, but I don’t use fugitive colors in any brand if I’m planning to sell the art. For sketching, class work, or other “non-permanent work,” I use every color in every set!

So no, Cassandra, you don’t have to give up your Prismacolor pencils.

Now to the remaining questions.

Old Prismacolor Pencils vs New Prismacolor Pencils

Lets look at this question on two levels. First, the lightfast issue that Cassandra asked about. Then I’ll follow up with comments on general quality control issues.

Are Old Prismacolor Pencils Lightfast?

I don’t know whether the older colors are more lightfast or not. My gut reaction would be that some of the colors are probably less lightfast because of advances in the pigments used.

However, I don’t know that colored pencils were even being tested for lightfast issues back in those days because colored pencils weren’t then considered fine art materials. That happened more recently, with the “boom” in colored pencil popularity.

I also point to the fact that Caran d’Ache developed the Luminance line of pencils at the urging of the Colored Pencil Society of America. That group was calling for lightfast colored pencils. Luminance was the first response. Since Prismacolor existed at that time, it’s reasonable to conclude that they were not lightfast.

If you happen to have any of the old tins, you might look to see if there are color charts in them. You’re most likely to find the best information on the color charts.

You might also contact the Colored Pencil Society of America directly. I’m sure someone there would be able to either help you or point you in the right direction.

Are Old Prismacolor Pencils Higher Quality?

Prismacolors have declined in quality with every sale from one parent company to another.

They were first introduced as Eagle, then under the Berol name, then Sanford Prismacolor. In their earliest incarnations, I believe they were a high quality pencil. At least I don’t remember ever having unusually high instances of breaking pigment cores or any of the other problems associated with the pencils of today.

It does seem to me (based on personal experience) that every time the brand changed hands, there were sacrifices to quality. That seems to happen with a lot of products.

The issues I mentioned in my previous post don’t even apply across the board with Prismacolor pencils these days. A lot depends on the batch from which your pencils come, and perhaps where they were made. The distance they travel in shipping also may have a bearing on “quality control issues” because the pencils are made in more than one location.

About Replacement Colors

As far as finding replacement colors goes, you might try replacing individual colors with a sample of different brands. If you want to stick with the smooth lay down you get with Prismacolor, try Luminance, Blick studio, or most other wax-based artist grade pencils.

If color is your main concern, look for brands that have more lightfast versions of those colors.

Thanks again for your question, Cassandra! I know you’re not the only colored pencil artist in search of this information.

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