Are Prismacolors Right for You?

There’s been a lot of back-and-forth about Prismacolor pencils over the last several years. Some artists love them; some hate them. After all the debating, you have only one question. Are Prismacolors right for you or not?

Are Prismacolors Right for You

Last week, I shared reasons you might want to try colored pencils.

This week, it seems appropriate to answer some of the more common questions about Prismacolor pencils, and give you tips for deciding whether or not Prismacolor pencils are right for you.

A Little Bit of History

I started using Prismacolors back in the 1990s, when they were Berol Prismacolor. There was no better pencil so widely available (in the US at least) at reasonable prices. They were a high-quality pencil and problems like breaking leads, split casings, and off-center pigment cores were unheard of.

At least I never heard of them.

I had no problems with the pencils. They were perfect for the work I was doing, which was almost exclusively horse portraits.

Sometime since then, Prismacolor changed hands. Berol sold the brand to Sanford, which subsequently sold the brand to Newell-Rubbermaid. Manufacturing changed location and artists began having problems shortly afterward.

I used Prismacolor throughout all those changes, and to be honest, I had very few problems with them. One batch of Indigo Blue pencils were so gritty I couldn’t use them. Some pencils did break during sharpening or drawing, and there were a few that broke so much, they were useless.

I did discover (or maybe started noticing is a better way to say it) that quite a few pencils had off-center pigment cores, and I learned still later that sharpening problems often result from off-center cores.

More recently, I started finding pencils that were warped. Fortunately, I usually buy open stock from a local suppler, and learned how to check for warped pencils, so that problem was solved.

But overall, I’ve had relatively few problems with Prismacolor pencils.

Then came the spring of 2017.

The Case of the Fugitive Pencils

Early in 2017, I started hearing a word that aroused concern. Lightfastness. Specifically, the poor lightfast ratings of many Prismacolor colors.

I believe I mentioned that I was using colored pencils almost exclusively for portraits, right? Portraits people were paying a good amount of money for.

I’d also started doing landscapes, which I hoped to sell.

So it was discouraging to discover some of my favorite blues and greens, as well as a number of other colors, were fugitive. They faded over time, even in the best conditions.

How permanent were all those portraits I’d created? Would I start hearing from clients about disappearing portraits? It still gives me a twinge of concern thinking those thoughts!

So I went through my pencils, and sorted out all the fugitive colors. The pile of safe colors was almost the same size as the pile of fugitive colors, but I confess I erred on the side of caution. I threw out everything rated III, IV, or V.

I still use the other colors and I still love the way they go onto paper and the effects I can get. But I miss colors like Sky Blue Light, Light Cerulean Blue, and Limepeel.

But I refuse to use them for anything except sketching and filling in my monthly habit tracker.

All of That to Say This….

What does that mean to you?

It means that what I’m about to say is being said from the standpoint of personal experience. Nothing more, nothing less.

You want to know if it’s safe to use Prismacolor pencils or not, and I’m here to tell you it is.

Depending on what you want to do with your art.

Are Prismacolors Right for You?

So how can you know if Prismacolors are good deal or not?

You Color for Fun and Relaxation

If adult coloring books are your thing, are Prismacolors right for you? Absolutely. Go ahead and invest in that full set of Prismacolor pencils.

I don’t do very much in the adult coloring book line—I don’t have much time, to be honest—but I have read plenty of articles about the subject written by artists who do. Almost to the artist, they recommend Prismacolor because of the smooth color lay down, wide variety of colors, reasonable cost, and availability.

Are Prismacolors Right for You - Adult Coloring Pages

I recommend Prismacolors, too, and for all the same reasons.

In fact, when I doodle with a coloring page, I often use those fugitive colors.

You’re Crafty

You’re making greeting cards, scrapbooking, or doing other crafty things. Color permanence doesn’t concern you.

Color selection, ease of use, and price do.

Prismacolors are probably your best choice. There are over 150 colors. They lay down like a dream, and blend beautifully. You can get them almost anywhere in the United States, and in most cases they’re a good value.

Are Prismacolors Right for You - You're Crafty

They’re also artist-grade, which means pigment quality is high. That means you’ll get a lot more color per pencil than you’d get if you purchased student-grade pencils.

You’re New to Colored Pencils

You think you’ll enjoy colored pencils, but you don’t know. You’re not interested—right now—in making art for sale. You just want to draw.

You also don’t want to spend an arm-and-a-leg on something you may not enjoy.

But you want to try the medium with the best quality tools you can find.

Prismacolor is the answer. They offer students and beginning artists the best combination of quality and value around. Yes there are better pencils, but they’re more expensive.

Are Prismacolors Right for You - You're New to Colored Pencils

And there are cheaper pencils, but they’re lower quality. Even if you get them at a bargain basement price, you may soon find they don’t put much color on the paper or are a struggle to use for other reasons.

Prismacolor is, in my opinion, the only way to go if this describes you.

You Make Fine Art, but Sell Reproductions, Not Originals

The fact of the matter is, you often keep your originals yourself because you like them so much, or you give them to family members or friends. What you sell are reproductions.

Most reproductions are made with lightfast inks, so the lightfastness of the pencils does not matter. At. All.

Use every pencil in the set, lightfast and not-so-lightfast. Get top-notch photographs or scans of the finished pieces, and sell reproductions to your heart’s content!

Then give the original pieces to whomever you like, or hang them on your own walls.

Just make sure to advise friends and family to frame those works of art under UV resistant glass and never, never, NEVER hang the art in direct sunlight.

By the way, the same applies if you make art mostly to teach others.

So Are Prismacolors Right for You?

Prismacolor pencils are perfect for uses like those described above, as well as many others I didn’t touch upon.

In other words, if you don’t care to sell your originals, it doesn’t really matter whether they fade away with time or not. It seems a shame to me to put that kind of time into something that will fade whether you sell it or not, but it’s really up to you, the artist.

Are Prismacolors right for you? You’re the only one who can make that decision. Consider your type of art, your budget, and all the other options, then go forth boldly and make something beautiful!

6 Reasons to Try Colored Pencils

There are lots of reasons to try colored pencils for fine art or fun art. I started using them mainly because they’re easier to travel with than oil paints (and cleaner, too!)

But the longer I’ve used them, the more reasons I’ve found to recommend them to others.

6 Reasons to Try Colored Pencils

Today, I want to share six of the best reasons (in my opinion) you should try colored pencils if you haven’t already.

(Or to give them another try if you tried them before and weren’t sure they were for you.)

6 Reasons to Try Colored Pencils

#1: They’re Relatively Inexpensive

You can spend $4 a pencil if you want to, but you don’t have to. And if you’re just getting started, you probably shouldn’t.

For most people who want to try colored pencils, the basic Prismacolor pencils you find at Hobby Lobby or Wal-Mart are an excellent place to begin.

Reasons to Try Colored Pencils - Inexpensive

You don’t need the full set, either. A set of 12 gives you enough colors to try. You’ll be able to see how they feel to draw with, how they go onto the paper, and how they look when you layer various colors one over another.

And even if the colored pencils you’re looking at seem expensive, take a look at the get-started supplies for oil painting, watercolor, or acrylics!

#2: You Can Get Them Almost Anywhere

Most Wal-Mart type stores carry colored pencils in some form.

So do most office supply stores and even some print shops.

And of course colored pencils are a staple at most hobby shops, art stores, and crafting supply stores.

You can even buy them from eBay and Amazon if you don’t mind paying for shipping.

#3: You Don’t Need a Bunch of Special Equipment

No fancy easels, canvases, or dozens of brushes. No paint thinners or drying retardants, and no varnishes or fixatives.

Reasons to Try Colored Pencils - No Fancy Supplies

Just pencils, paper, and a sharpener.

What could possibly be easier?

#4: You Don’t Need Solvents or Other Toxic Materials

You can use a wide range of drawing techniques with colored pencils without using smelly or toxic solvents. Many artists, even advanced artists, don’t use any of those tools and they produce vibrant, real-to-life works of art.

You can use those things if you wish. They can be time saving tools if you decide colored pencil is your medium.

But if you’re just getting started, leave those things on the shelf.
Get an extra sheet or pad of paper instead!

#5: They’re Clean

Colored pencils are a dry medium. They go on the paper dry and they stay dry. You don’t need to worry about cleaning up afterward, unless you spill shavings out of your sharpener.

Reasons to Try Colored Pencils - Clean

I mentioned above that you don’t need toxic solvents or other materials to use colored pencils.

The even better news is that most colored pencils are also non-toxic to use. Just don’t eat them, chew on them, or suck them.

(Yeah, I know. You’d think that warning shouldn’t be necessary, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself with a pen or pencil in my mouth while pondering something or studying a drawing. NOT a good idea!)

#6: They’re Portable

This is the primary reason I took up colored pencils years ago. They’re portable. Because they’re clean and dry, you can travel with them and use them almost anywhere without worrying about leaving or making a mess.

I took them to horse shows and other venues, and was able to work on a piece while on site. They were a lot easier to travel with than the oil paints I’d been using for years.

That’s why I now use them almost exclusively. Even in the studio, they’re mess-free.

Bonus Tip: They’re Great for the Kids, Too

If you have kids and are looking for an art-related activity you can do together, there is no better medium than colored pencils.

Reasons to Try Colored Pencils - Kids

You and your budding artist can use the same pencils without worries about messes, unsafe materials, or the other cautions required with many other mediums.

And if you find colored pencils aren’t for you, turn them over to the youngsters in your household.

I’ve put together a list of Basic Drawing Lesson Materials & Supplies that you can download for free, then print it and take it shopping. It includes not only the items you need, but my recommendations on brands and size (when applicable.)

I hope you find it useful.

And I hope you also enjoy your adventure with colored pencils, no matter where on the journey you may be!

5 Colored Pencil Questions

Today’s colored pencil questions concern blending, color matching, and Prismacolor alternatives.

5 Colored Pencil Questions

Following are today’s questions.

Remember that if you have a question, you can always email it to me. I try to answer every email I get personally. Your question could be the inspiration for a blog post!

Answers to 5 Colored Pencil Questions

I’m not sure which pencils are blend-able, and don’t want to keep buying pencils that don’t achieve this. Help!

Most colored pencils are blendable, even if all you can do is layer them.

But the better the pencil, the more likely it is to be blend-able in ways other than by layering.

Most pencils can be blended with solvents such as odorless mineral spirits or turpentine. Different brands—and sometimes different colors—may react differently, so you need to test them on scrap paper first.

Most pencils can also be blended by burnishing.  You can use either a colored pencil or a colorless blender (a colored pencil without color) to burnish, and most of the pencils I’ve used can be burnished. It’s just takes more effort with some brands than others.

Is there a solution blender available that doesn’t have fumes? I’m asthmatic and very sensitive to odors.

Fumes and odors are not always the same thing. All odors are detectable by your nose. You can smell them.

But there are fumes that are odorless. So you can have an odorless solvent, and still have fumes. That’s why it’s so important to use any solvent with caution. Be smart!

Odorless mineral spirits and similar solvents are free from odors. Some are natural solvents, and some are not.

I’m not asthmatic or sensitive to odors, so can’t advise you from personal experience. So I suggest is you speak with other artists who are sensitive to odors and see what they recommend. Lisa Clough of Lachri Fine Art is one such artist, and I know from listening to her live streams, that many in her audience also use odorless solvents.

You might also contact Lisa and John at Sharpened Artist Podcast. They’re always looking for topics for their weekly podcast about all things colored pencil. If they haven’t already talked about solvents, you may provide the topic for the next podcast!

Beyond that, consult your doctor or healthcare provider.

I am tired of the Prismacolor Premier because of their fragility and high waxy content. Just too many problems to justify the expense. How are Derwent, Faber Castell in this regard?

If you want pencils that aren’t waxy, you may want to take a look at oil-based pencils. There aren’t as many brands to choose from, but there are three that I recommend. Faber-Castell Polychromos, Lyra Rembrandt, and Koh-I-Nor Polycolor. I do use Faber-Castell Polychromos, and have a set of Koh-I-Nor Progresso, and believe other Koh-I-Nor products are also high quality.

As for the two brands you named specifically:

Faber-Castell Polychromos

Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils are oil-based. They do contain a limited amount of wax, but the primary binder is oil. Usually vegetable oil. You will have no problems (or very few) with wax bloom or wax build up with these pencils.

I’m very happy with the Polychromos, and find myself reaching for them more than the Prismacolor pencils. They don’t have quite as many earth tones as I’d like (brown is my favorite color,) but most of the blues and greens are perfect for animals and landscapes.

They can be pricey unless you buy them from Dick Blick or some other online supplier, but the price is well worth it, in my opinion.


Derwent are wax-based, but not as waxy as Prismacolor pencils. I’ve heard very good reports about the Derwent Coloursoft and Procolour pencils, as well as the Artists line of colored pencils.

At the moment, the only Derwent’s I use are the watercolor pencils, so they may not be of any help to you.

However, they draw very well dry, so they’re good for traditional drawing methods. I’m very pleased with the set I have, which is only 12 colors. They’re well-made and feel solid in my hand. I’ve used them dry, and with water, and have been very happy with them.

They’re reasonably priced, too. I paid a little under $20 for a set of 12 at Hobby Lobby. Use the 40% off coupon, and they’re a great value.

My recommendation? If you can find any of these (or other pencils) in open stock in stores, buy a few and try them. What works for me and my methods may not work for you and your methods. So try as many as you can.

I have just started using pencils after years with oils. I like dramatic pictures so I’m using black paper. Once I’ve put in a starter coat of white for flower petals I’m getting resistance to later coats. I’m using Caran D’ache supracolour.

I can’t speak about Caran d’Ache Supracolour pencils, since I’ve never used them.

But the problem sounds more like a paper problem. If the paper is too smooth or slick, it will not take very many layers of color before you start to experience the type of resistance described in the question.

So the first thing I’d suggest is to try a different paper. I like Canson Mi-Teintes for colored pencil, but make sure to use the back. It’s the smoothest and behaves best with colored pencil unless you want a lot of texture.

Second, I’d ordinarily suggest that you use a harder pencil like Caran d’Ache Pablo or Prismacolor Verithin for the white under drawing. But Supracolour are a watercolor pencil, so they are going to be harder than other pencils.

In addition, you won’t want to layer Supracolour (or any watercolor pencil) over a traditional colored pencil, because it may not stick.

There are a couple of other things you might try.

Draw the Black Background

Since you’re using a watercolor pencil, paint the background with a combination of black and other dark colors. You’ll get a black background that’s richer than plain black paper.

Canson Mi-Teintes and Stonehenge papers both stand up well to limited amounts of water.

You might also try painting the white under drawing with white watercolor pencil. That will preserve the tooth, and that may solve your problem.

So the only other thing I can suggest is to try a very light coat of a workable fixative made for colored pencils over the under drawing, then try layering color over that. This, however, is a last resort.

I am a brand new color pencil person and have been working with Darrel Tank’s online classes. He does not offer much as regards color pencils and uses Prismacolor Col-erase. Is there a good tool for matching between brands?

Many manufacturers offer color charts for their colored pencil lines. You should be able to match colors with reasonable accuracy by comparing color charts.

Beyond that, my best suggestion is to find a store that carries open stock and physically compare the colors.


I hope my answers to these colored pencil questions have helped you. Or at least pointed you in the right direction.

Of course, the real answer to most questions about colored pencils (or any art medium,) is experimentation. Even if the experiments don’t work, the answers are much more likely to “stick” in your mind if you try for yourself.

At least that’s the way it works for me.

Want to learn more?

I also recently answered four reader questions in an EmptyEasel post.

Readers wanted to know whether or not they could use White Out or correction tape on colored pencil pieces, suggestions on the best illustration board, information on white specks left after spraying with fixative, and how to draw like an expert.

The Biggest Mistake I Made as a Beginning Artist

So what’s the biggest mistake I made as  a beginning artist?

I cannot tell a lie; I made a LOT of mistakes as a beginning artist.

Some of the mistakes were the normal trial-and-error stuff every self-taught artist encounters. After all, if someone isn’t teaching you, helping you avoid certain pitfalls, you have to find them for yourself.

Things like learning that you always paint fat over lean with oils, and that if you don’t let paint dry thoroughly, it may not stick to the canvas.

And things like its okay to use oils over acrylics, but never use acrylics over oils.

Some of my mistakes were pretty big, and a lot of them were pretty tough to swallow. Red face and apology sort of mistakes.

The Biggest Mistake I Made as a Beginning Artist

Then there are the big mistakes.

The kind of mistakes that hindered my progress as an artist and could have torpedoed my chances of success altogether.

The Biggest Mistake I Made as a Beginning Artist

The biggest mistake I made as a beginning artist was wanting to be the next Somebody.

I admired Fred Stone‘s stunning racehorse art and thought if I could be just like him, I’d have it made.

Guy Coheleach was another. Back in the 70s, I came across a two-fold, full sheet brochure filled with images of his wildlife work. I carried that thing around for years, poring over those beautiful paintings and wishing I could paint like that.

There were other artists, too. They all inspired me to create great art, but they also tempted me to create art just like they were creating.

Is there anything wrong with admiring the work of more established artists?

Absolutely not. Established artists give new artists a visible goal to work toward. That’s always a good thing.

Established artists also have a lot to teach those coming along behind them (something I’m learning more about every day.)

The fact of the matter is that I often recommend to new artists that they find an artist working in the same medium, the same style, and producing the kind of work the new artist wants to produce. Students should then learn how that artist works, what tools they use, their methods, and everything else there is to learn.

So what’s the problem?

The problem for most beginning artists—yes, including me—is that they start wanting to be the next Fred Stone, Guy Coheleach, or whomever.

There will only ever be one Fred Stone or Guy Coheleach. No matter how good I get, it will not be me!

So instead of working to become the next incarnation of the artist you most admire, strive to become the best YOU you can be. Learn everything you can from your role model, but work toward developing your own style.

No, that won’t guarantee success, but you have a great opportunity to become the best you the world’s ever seen.

Try to be someone else, and the best you can hope for is second-best.