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.

Carrie,

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

Cassandra,

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.


Do you have a question about colored pencils or anything related to them? Raise your hand and ask a question by clicking the button below. I will answer your question directly (even if I have to tell you I don’t know.)

4 Replies to “Old Prismacolor Pencils vs New Prismacolor Pencils”

  1. Decided to part with a few of my brand new sets of 1986 Berols, been holding them for 30 some years now, since Sanford just isn’t the same. Good article, as far as lightfastness goes, I know my Mom has had some drawings framed and hanging up in the living room since the 80’s and not one has any issues, there’s a pretty good test of time 🙂 Take care all

    1. Anthony,

      I hope that when you say you want to “part” with a few of those old pencils, you mean you’re going to use them!

      Your Mom’s experience is a good test. I would be interested in seeing them unframed, though. If there was any fading, it would be clear around the edges, where parts of the drawing may have been covered by the mat.

  2. I inherited my Aunts Sanford Verithin colored pencils. I have a set of 34- Possibly originally 36?
    My question is: How do these rank in terms of quality and softness in regards to other brands?
    Are they considered student or artist grade? And how much would they cost if purchased today.
    Finally, are there any open stock pencils in this line?
    I really don’t know how old these are.
    I appreciate your response!
    Thanks!

    1. Karen,

      Verithin Pencils are considered artist-grade pencils. They’re made by Prismacolor and have the same color names as the regular Prismacolor pencils of the era. The full set is only 36 colors, so you have an almost full set.

      What makes Verithin pencils different than regular Prismacolor pencils is that the pigment cores are harder and thinner than regular Prismacolor pencils. They lay down less color and many artists find them more difficult to use than regular Prismacolor pencils.

      When I use them, I usually use them for the initial color layers. For example, if I’m doing an umber under drawing, I often use Verithin browns. They shade the paper nicely, but don’t leave a lot of binder on the paper to gum up the paper’s surface texture. These days, I’m more likely to use Faber-Castell Polychromos at the beginning of a drawing because they lay down more color and have a better color selection than Verithin pencils.

      But you can use the Verithin pencils just like you would any other harder, dryer pencil.

      Dick Blick offers these pencils in open stock. Dick Blick also has a downloadable PDF of the Verithin lightfast ratings. Just click on the resources tab on the Verithin product page. It’s free and if you’re concerned about lightfastness, it will help you choose the colors that are best rated.

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