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They Chose the Right Name -- "Premier" -- When They Named These Pencils
on April 18, 2010
There are many excellent colored pencil brands available today, with some of the premier labels being Caran D'Arche (Switzerland), Conté (France), Faber Castell (Germany), Talens (the Netherlands) and Koh-i-noor (Czech Republic). Each pencil brand has its own loyal following, and it is certainly true that the performance characteristics of each leaves a unique "signature" on paper (i.e., the experienced eye can sometimes tell which brand of pencil was used for a piece of artwork by examining luminosity, reflection, depth of color, and other characteristics). I have used all these brands myself, having brought back from Europe entire sets from various manufacturers, and often in different sub types ("artist," "student," and so on). Some also have added touches that really make a pencil set shine, including rounded triangular shafts with subtle inlaid grips, bonded coatings between the lead and the pencil wood to minimize lead shattering, and soft textured surfaces for improved gripping and comfort. Some sets are even now beginning to adhere to the lightfastness specifications as developed by the Colored Pencil Society of America.
So, what should we think about a set of American made colored pencils when they are competing with these premier brands, some of which have been in business for centuries? The answer might be surprising to hear. After using all these brands for an extended period of time, I can say that these Prismacolor "Premier" pencils easily hold their own against the world's best colored pencils.
What are the characteristics of the Prismacolor "Premier" pencils that make them so good?
1. Smooth, silky, and rich lay down of color
2. Little smearing, even when laying down dense patches of color
3. Ability to blend colors as needed
4. Wide range of available colors (now over 130 distinct colors)
5. Relatively inexpensive (by comparison to other premium brands)
6. Availability of the Prismacolor "Verithin" pencil sets, which duplicate the colors of the "Premier" line pencil by pencil (matched by color codes), but in an extremely hard lead that permits a high level of sharpening for detail work which will not quickly wear down (these are sold separately)
At first glance, it might seem that these Prisamacolor pencils are expensive, but when one reflects on the fact that some of the more "esoteric" (for lack of a better word) pencils can run upwards of $3 - $4 per pencil, the Prismacolors are nothing short of a bargain. (If you hunt long enough, you can even find the large set of 120 pencils that comes in a two-tiered wood case with lining to house your collection and you'll still be paying far less per pencil than other high end brands.)
But the proof is certainly in the putting. Get one of these in your hands, and lay down some color on a sheet of paper and see if you don't experience the very thing I am describing here. These are rich and smooth leads with an almost creamy feel. That's not to say you can sharpen them up to a needle point: you can, but you just must be careful not to press too much when doing so in order to keep the point from breaking. You can also use these in a duller point to lay down large swaths of rich, deep color. (Again, pairing this set up with the "Verithin" set, which uses a much harder lead, can be very helpful for detail work.)
Are these pencils perfect? No. There are a few issues, some minor, but nevertheless relevant for this review:
1. Lead shattering used to be an issue for the company. My first set had no less than 10% of the pencils shattered all the way down to the end, rendering all those colors useless. This is either manufacturing problems, or some improvement in the cases in which the pencils are transported and sold is required to further reduce shock from transport. It is an unacceptable result when purchasing a large pencil set. (The problem seems to have been addressed by 2013, since none of my newer sets have had this problem.)
2. Along those same lines, it would be wonderful if Prismacolor could look into a similar technology such as Staedler uses in its colored pencils, which is a coating of inner material between the lead and the wood to reduce breakage. I've never had a single Staedler pencil break on me yet. Not one.
3. The triangular shaped shafts of both the Faber Castell and Staedler pencils is, in my view, a superior design than the round-shaft format of the Primscolors, which allow for greater control and improved comfort.
4. The Prismacolors do not use any type of friction coating on the outside of the pencils to help improve grip. Both Staedler and Faber Castell do (and using slightly different approaches), and this adds immeasurably to their performance characteristics.
5. The printing on the shaft of the Prismacolor to identify color name and code can be almost illegible, with blurry, imprecise lettering. In some lighting conditions, the markings are nearly impossible to read. (The newest post-2102 editions of the Prismacolors seem to have addressed this issue.)
6. The Prismacolors are not "finished" on the end with any type of cap or closure, and the pencils also arrive unsharpened. (Compare the Faber Castells, which both come fully sharpened and are mounted in a manner that makes them resistant to any type of breakage during transport. The Faber Castells, too, as most other brands, have a nice finishing cap on one end of the pencil.)
Let me be clear. These minor quibbles all fall away once you get one of these Prismacolors in your hand and experience how they perform. These are simply a delight to use, and many artists swear by them. After using them myself, I can see why. I remain extremely impressed with the best of the pencils Europe produces, but these Prismacolor pencils deserve to be counted right among them. If they ever addressed all the minor quibbles above, they might vie for a role as a de facto standard with one or two of the other most expensive brands three times their price.
Five stars for performance. Five stars for price. Five stars for fun. And five stars for rich , creamy, deep color!
Note: Although these pencils come in many set sizes (i.e., 16, 32, 48, 72, 120, and 132 colors), I recommend the 72-color set. This gives you a wide range of colors, and does not run you into issues with the larger sets where you have multiple colors so close to one another you cannot easily see the difference. Of course, if you want the beautiful wood case, you'll need to get the 120-color set that is sold in the wood case (a bit difficult to find). But the 72-color set is for me a "sweet spot," and you can often get these on sale at terrific prices. And, I'm sorry to repeat myself, these are terrifically fun to use because of their lay down characteristics.