Today’s post is a bit different. By reader request, I’m going to share with you a list of the Prismacolor colors I don’t use. Then I’ll list the Polychromos replacement colors.
Before I begin, however, I need to clarify one thing.
There are multiple reasons why I don’t use some Prismacolor colors.
The primary reason is lightfast issues. I want my work to last and since most of my artwork is either client work or intended for sale as originals, I choose not to use colors that are not proven lightfast.
But I don’t use many other colors—lightfast and non-lightfast—simply because I have no need for them. There is no place in most animal art and landscape for a lot of those gorgeous bright colors that appeal to the eye. I like seeing them in the tin, but I really have no use for them.
The same applies to Prismacolor and most other brands of pencils.
A lot of colors are also new colors, introduced by Prismacolor after I last purchased a full set. If a color is a fading color, I don’t buy it. No matter how pretty it is!
So the focus of this article is on the colors I would use if they were lightfast.
Prismacolor Colors I Don’t Use Because They’re Likely to Fade
Prismacolor colors are rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the most permanent and 5 being the least permanent.
I never use 4- or 5-rated colors for client work or for artwork I hope to sell or exhibit because my own tests on those colors show that they fade quite quickly. Even if artwork was displayed in ideal conditions (no direct sunlight, UV glazing, etc.,) those colors are likely to lose vibrancy over time. I don’t want to disappoint clients or buyers, so I simply don’t use those colors.
Following are those 4- and 5-rated colors, arranged by color family.
- Yellowed Orange
- Poppy Red
- Process Red
- Hot Pink
- Blush Pink
- Salmon Pink
- Dahlia Purple
- Parma Violet
- Imperial Violet
- Blue Violet Lake
- Violet Blue
- Lt. Cerulean Blue
- Caribbean Sea
- Blue Lake
- Pale Sage
- Apple Green
- Sunburst Yellow
- Pink Rose
- Clay Rose
- Mahogany Red
- Dark Purple
- China Blue
- Blue Slate
- Moss Green
- Tuscan Red
Some of the colors in the lists above were once favorite colors. The yellows and oranges were great for horses. Favorite landscape colors include Ultramarine, Lt. Cerulean Blue, and Limepeel. Tuscan Red also found it’s way into the majority of my work before I knew better.
The Colors I Don’t Use Because They May Fade
The following colors are all rated 3 on the lightfast scale. That means they’re not obviously bad, but they’re also not notably good when it comes to fading.
- Canary Yellow
- Pale Vermilion
- Peach Beige
- Seashell Pink
- Rosy Beige
- Greyed Lavender
- Copenhagen Blue
- Electric Blue
- Denim Blue
- True Blue
- Sky Blue Light
- Peacock Blue
- Cloud Blue
- Non-Photo Blue
- Light Aqua
- Light Green
- Spring Green
- Marine Green
- Celadon Green
- Muted Turquoise
- Putty Beige
Once again, I haven’t used all of these colors because some of them are new, and I won’t buy them. There are also a number of former favorite colors in this list, as well. Mostly landscape colors, this time.
I do use some of these when I can’t avoid it, but I usually look for a lightfast equivalent in another brand.
And that brings us to the second part of this article: the colors use I as replacements.
Polychromos Replacement Colors
Most of the time, I go to my full set of Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils for replacement colors. The fact of the matter is that Polychromos has become my primary pencil, and I fill in the spaces with Prismacolor as needed. Prismacolors layer beautifully over Polychromos on most papers, but are especially effective on sanded art papers.
Most of the time, color matches are not exact, and I have to mix colors. In those cases, I’ll list the colors I’m most likely to reach for.
When there are close or exact matches, I’ll tell you that.
Since this list could easily become long enough to fill a book, I’ll focus on my favorite Prismacolor pencils and their alternatives.
From the V-Rated Prismacolor Colors
Prismacolor Orange and Yellowed Orange were ideal colors for glazing over chestnut horses and/or for highlights and the lighter middle values on chestnut and bay horses. Orange was especially useful for drawing horses of many different colors.
Polychromos Dark Cadmium Orange is a perfect match for Prismacolor Orange. There are also three or four other oranges that are either lighter in value or darker in value that you could use.
Instead of using Prismacolor Yellowed Orange, try Polychromos Cadmium Yellow for a near perfect match.
I used Prismacolor Light Cerulean Blue a lot when drawing skies. It was one of my favorite colors for that purpose! Polychromos Sky Blue is slightly lighter in value, but very close in color. Light Ultramarine and Ultramarine could also be used as replacements if mixed with White or another light-value color.
Another oft-used blue was Prismacolor Ultramarine. Mixed with Burnt Umber, it made for great deep values when I didn’t want to use Black. Polychromos Cobalt Blue-Greenish is a close match in color, but it’s lighter in value. Indanthrene Blue is also a close match, but is darker in value.
Another all-time favorite color in this lightfast rating color is Prismacolor Limepeel. This was the perfect color for drawing warm greens that weren’t too vibrant. I used it a lot! Polychromos Earth Green Yellowish and May Green are both pretty good matches. Not exact, but close enough that I can use one or both of them in place of Limepeel and get the same results.
Prismacolor Apple Green was also a favorite landscape green, especially when I needed bright, fresh looking landscape greens. It was perfect for spring-time settings. The closest Polychromos matches are Light Green and Grass Green, both of which are a bit lighter in value than Apple Green.
From the IV-Rated Prismacolor Colors
I used Prismacolor Sunburst Yellow most often for drawing chestnut and palomino horses. It’s a perfect color for highlights and lighter middle values in horses of those colors. Fortunately, Polychromos Dark Chrome Yellow and Dark Cadmium Yellow are almost perfect matches.
The last color in this category that I bothered to replace was Tuscan Red. Tuscan Red is one of those colors that works in a lot of applications. It’s a good color for adding dark values to animals, and is also a good landscape color. Polychromos Caput Mortuum is a good match but somewhat lighter in value. I prefer Caput Mortuum Violet, which I’ve used both on landscapes and horse portraits. Caput Mortuum Violet is darker than Tuscan Red and a bit browner in shade.
From the III-Rated Prismacolor Colors
Canary Yellow is a great color for landscapes and animal art, though I used it more for base layers and accents. Polychromos Light Cadmium Yellow and Cadmium Yellow are almost exact matches. For a lighter value of yellow, try Light Chrome Yellow. If you need a darker value, Dark Naples Ochre might be a good fit.
Greyed Lavender was a color I used often for a variety of uses, especially creating the illusion of distance in a landscape, or for toning down some warmer colors. Interestingly enough, I didn’t bother replacing it when I stopped using it. I found other medium-light to light value colors to use instead. The specific color is determined by each drawing. If I just want to do a “smoothing out” layer, I usually use Warm Grey I or II. Ivory is also a great color for tinting and blending if you need a warmer result.
However, Polychromos Light Magenta is the closest match, though it’s a bit redder than Greyed Lavender. I’ve never used it, but it might work for you.
The blues I used most often from the Prismacolor line were Copenhagen Blue, True Blue, Sky Blue Light, and Cloud Blue. The last two were perfect for soft sky colors, as well as for adding reflected sky light to horses.
I haven’t done any clear-sky landscapes lately, so my guesses on the colors I’d use for a clear sky are just that: Guesses.
There are no close or exact Polychromos matches for these Prismacolor blues, but there is a good selection of blues. The blues I’d consider are, from light to dark, Light Cobalt Turquoise, Light Phthalo Blue, Middle Phthalo Blue, and Phthalo Blue. Mixing any one of these blues with White or a light gray would give me a wide range of blues to compensate for those missing Prismacolor favorites.
For a more purplish-blue, I’d use Sky Blue or Light Ultramarine.
The Prismacolor greens I used most often in the past were Light Green and Spring Green. Polychromos Light Green and Grass Green are good replacements for Prismacolor Spring Green. Polychromos Light Phthalo Green is the closest match to Prismacolor Light Green.
Prismacolor Colors I Don’t Use
Overall, Polychromos pencils are good substitutes for Prismacolor. They don’t match all of the Prismacolor colors, but all of their colors are fair to good in lightfastness. I use them without hesitance.
And as I’ve mentioned, the two brands work very well together. In my opinion you simply can’t go wrong by adding Polychromos pencils to your pencil collection (unless you just don’t like the way oil-based pencils perform.)
If you’re looking for a complete comparison, let me share a link I found by artist Claire Eadie. Claire did a complete color swatch chart showing all the colors in both Prismacolor and Polychromos colored pencils, and she has provided a PDF download of the chart. The chart was published in 2017, so it doesn’t include all the new colors for either line, but it does show many more color comparisons than what I included above. If you use colors I don’t use, it could just what you’re looking for.
Karen Hull also has a collection of comparison color charts for a wide variety of colored pencils. Her colored pencil conversion chart is a great tool and includes lightfast ratings. You can download that chart for free here.
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I didn’t know all these factors about colored pencils. Most card makers swear by the Prismacolor pencils. Guess they don’t expect their creations to last. I know that many people I send my cards to keep them forever so that wouldn’t work for me using something that would fade over time. Thanks for this very informative article.
This is really good. Was hoping to find a list somewhere of the colors to avoid, that fade. Thank you, Carrie. I am saving this article.
Thank you, Carrie! This was a very important article for me. I have been using Prismacolor pencils for about ten years (at least. I’m 64. Making art with colored pencils is pretty much the center of my life now that my son is 24. He even does his own laundry! And no, I didn’t tell him to do it. I have been blessed with the best husband and son an artist could have.) Okay, I’m calming down now.
Anyway, getting a personal note from you is like getting a note from my favorite musician, John Denver. Unfortunately, Mr. Denver died in a plane crash some years ago. You are my heroine now. Your article was very helpful. If you should publish a magazine, or write a book (oh, please, please!) I will spend the night at the bookstore door to get the first copy to make it to the shelves. (That’s just about impossible, though. My husband would never let me do that, but I would be in the front of the line when the store opened. :)) Thank you so much! Theresa Glover
What a way to start the day! Thank you for your very kind words and comments!
As a matter of fact, I do publish a monthly magazine. It’s called CP Magic! and I started published it in January 2020. You can “read all about it” at Colored Pencil Tutorials (my store.) Yes. Back issues are available.
I’m also delighted to here that this article was helpful to you. You can thank the reader who asked the original question.
Thank you again for your readership and for these very kind words!
I have a large set of Berol prismacolors (120). I just recently pulled them out again. Do they also fade?
It sounds like you have a full set, since the number of colors back then was about 120. So I’m assuming they are in a tin or box of some type.
If they are, is there a color chart in the box? It’s possible (though unlikely) that the color chart would include lightfast ratings.
I did a bit of research and discovered that Berol sold their colored pencil line to Sanford in 1996. That was before colored pencils started gaining popularity as a fine-artist tool, so it’s quite possible no lightfast tests performed.
If that’s the case, then the only way to find out which colors are lightfast and which are not is to make color swatches and expose them to sunlight for a few weeks. It won’t take you long to discover which colors fade and which do not.
A good rule of thumb is that the earth tones are pretty lightfast no matter what brand of pencil you use or how old the pencils are.
The bright colors (what I refer to as jewel tones) are usually the first to fade, with purples and pinks being the quickest to fade noticeably.
I’ve recently come into the possession of even older colored pencils (Eagle brand!). I don’t have a full set, but I am doing some lightfast testing on them right now. That doesn’t help you now, but I will be posting on them when the tests are finished.
In the meantime, there’s no reason why you can’t do your own lightfast color swatches.
And if you are doing adult coloring books or craft style art (greeting cards and so on,) there’s no reason not to use these pencils.
I hope that helps!