Questions About Old Prismacolor Pencils

Questions About Old Prismacolor Pencils

Today’s post is the result of a recent reader email. The reader had questions about old Prismacolor pencils. She has what sounds like a nice collection of Prismacolor pencils and other old colored pencils and wanted suggestions for replacements.

Here’s the question to get us started.

My collection of Prismacolors (hard and soft) span from 1989 to yesterday. I also have the pastels, and some of the art sticks, etc. [and] have standardized everything to this brand. I have had no issues with any of my older pencils. But do I really need to be concerned and looking for a second brand of pencil? Currently, I still have a set of oil based Design Spectacolors from 1991. Have never figured out what to replace them with. Any suggestions? Sherry

Questions About Old Prismacolor Pencils

If you’re happy with the performance and quality of Prismacolor pencils, there’s no need to look for a replacement brand.

I’ve been using Prismacolor pencils since the late 80s and early 90s, and have had very few problems. One or two pencils with a split wood casing, and one small batch of Indigo Blue pencils that were gritty enough to scratch paper.

I also have a few pencils that are not perfectly straight.

Most of the time, when leads break, it has been because I dropped them. When that happens, I warm them in a sunny window for a day or two and everything is good again. In the northern hemisphere, a south-facing window is best.

For more tips on fixing broken pencils, read Broken Prismacolor Pencils: How to Repair Them.

My biggest concern is the lightfastness of many of the colors, but that’s easy enough to deal with. I just don’t use those colors. I don’t even keep them with the rest of the colors.

To replace the Prismacolor colors I don’t use, I use Faber-Castell Polychromos. Adding those pencils to my collection also gave me a bigger variety of browns.

But I see no reason to stop using Prismacolor pencils if you really like them. Depending on the type of art you do and what you hope to do with your original drawings, you could even continue using all the colors.

Tips for Getting the Best Quality Prismacolor Pencils

I usually buy replacement Prismacolor pencils locally and as open stock. That way, I can check the pencils for problems before I buy them. The main things I look for are off-center pigment cores, warped pencils, and cracked casings. Those are all things to avoid. I go into more depth on the reasons why in a post called Why Prismacolor Pencils Break so Often.

The illustration below shows some of my old Berol Prismacolors. You can see how the wood casing broke apart when I sharpened the peach-colored pencil. That’s because the casing was split.

Note the crack extending from the broken wood up the length of the pencil. This pencil is essentially unusable. The pigment cores in Prismacolors are so soft that putting any pressure on this pencil will break the core.

Looking for problems like this is what makes buying open stock in person so helpful.

If you prefer buying full sets, then I recommend Dick Blick. They have a great return policy if you happen to have problems with your purchases. They will even exchange open stock pencils if necessary.

Design Spectracolor Pencils

As for the Design Spectracolor pencils, I did a little research and discovered that they were once made by Berol, the same company that once made Prismacolor. Berol eventually purchased that line of pencils, and the line was discontinued in 1999.

You can still find them on places like eBay and Etsy, but I think you could just as easily use up the colors you have, then simply replace them with the Prismacolor pencils. From what I read, it sounds like they are a lot like Prismacolor pencils in performance.

If I were in your place, I’d replace those Spectracolors with more Prismacolors!

If you can’t find exact color matches, then you could look through other brands of pencils for similar colors and replace the Design Spectracolor with those brands. For pencils that behave like Prismacolor pencils, look for artist quality, wax-based pencils. Otherwise, any brand will work.

I Hope I’ve Answered Your Questions about Old Prismacolor Pencils

In short, there’s no reason not to use all of the color if you’re not planning to sell your original work. Even if you do want to sell original work, the lightfast colors are perfectly suitable.

But you can also add pencils from other brands to your color to improve color selection. All the brands and types work well together.

Thank you again for your question, and happy drawing!

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9 Comments

  1. Dan O. Murray

    Carrie, would you share with us the Prismacolor pencils you do not use and the Pol-Chromos pencils you use to replace Prismacolor pencils.

    Is there a good source for open stock Poly-Chromos pencils? None of local art stores offer them.

  2. Mari McConnell

    I am trying to find a replacement for prismacolor indigo blue. It isn’t lightfast in their watercolor pencils. I ordered a FC durer dk indigo but it was much duller and not as blue as the prisma wc. The prisma indigo is a lovely color for shadows, but I am afraid to use it in saleable art. I have found FC durer subs to replace the other non-lightfast prismas that I use. Wonder if indanthrene blue would work? Thank you!

    1. Mari,

      Thank you for your comment and question.

      I have used Faber-Castell Dark Indigo instead of Prismacolor Indigo Blue as you describe, combining it with earth tones to create dark shadows. You are correct in saying the two blue colors are not exactly the same, but I have been able to get satisfactory results.

      Indanthrene Blue is a much closer match to Indigo Blue, so you might also give that a try.

      Take a look at Karen Hull’s website. She has color matching charts for several different brands of pencils. Those charts are very helpful in matching colors across several brands.

      Thank you again for your comment!

  3. Martha

    Hello Carrie, I’ve been trying to reply on the other post but I keep getting a “captcha expired” error, so I will put it here. (regarding Berol Prismacolor 120 set)

    thank you for the reply! My parents gave me the set as a gift in the early 90s. I was so stunned by the expensive gift. Now I’m learning off the internet decades later!

    The box I have has a fold down top. The front says “Berol PRISMACOLOR Thick lead art pencils”, “NEW complete 90’s color range” “120 color art pencil set”. On the back, “Berol PRISMACOLOR Art Pencils are available in the latest colors to meet the needs of today’s artist. Featuring thick, soft leads, containing brilliant, permanent pigments which are smooth, water-resistant, and lightfast. Colors can be easily blended on almost any surface including paper, vellum, wood and plastic film to form an infinite variety of hues and shades. Berol’s strict quality control standards assure consistency, color to color, year to year. Available in 120 colors.”

    Also on the back is a list of the colors with item numbers and names, a blurb about Berol Prismacolor ART STIX Artist Crayons, and one about Berol VERITHIN Colored pencils.
    I find it interesting that only the Verithins are named colored pencils. I can send you a photo if you are interested.

    1. Martha,

      I’m not sure what the problem is with leaving a comment on the Prismacolor Colors I Don’t Use post. I’ll have to look into that.

      Thank you for sharing the information on the box of old Berol Prismacolor pencils you have. The fact that the company used the terms “smooth, water-resistant, and lightfast” indicates to me that they were beginning to become aware of the need for colors to be permanent. If there are no lightfast ratings, however, it’s still unlikely that all the colors are lightfast. You just don’t know which ones are lightfast and which ones aren’t!

      Colored pencils are called “crayons” in many countries, so that’s not surprising. The Art Stix have no wood casings at all and other than being square, they look pretty much like a crayon. I used to have a full set, but I never liked them. I could never get smooth color with them. But that was because I didn’t know how to use them back then (nearly 20 years ago.) I believe they are a good product if you pay attention to the lightfast ratings, just like you would with the regular Prisamcolor pencils.

      Thank you for the updated information!

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