Today I want to talk about Prismacolor Premier Soft Core colored pencils.
I know, I know, I said I would never buy any. After learning all the problems with them due to quality control issues, I decided to stay away from them. However recently Dick Blick online had a huge sale. The kind of sale you simply can not pass up! The entire set of 150 pencils was only $57.49 instead of anywhere between $200 and $312.70. Who can pass that up? Not me.
Before I get started I want to get this out of the way. I am doing this review on my own. Neither Prismacolor nor Dick Blick asked me to review them. I purchased this set on my own and wanted to share my thoughts about them with you.
Now, on to the review.
Prismacolor Premier Soft Core colored pencil 150 set is the largest set offered by Prismacolor. They are also sold in sets of 12, 24, 36, 48, 72 and 132 pencils as well as a Manga Set of 23 and a Portrait set of 24. They are also available open stock.
Description from Dick Blick’s Website:
Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils are the most popular colored pencils we sell. Each colored pencil features a thick, soft core made from brilliant, light-resistant pigments to ensure smooth, rich laydown and color saturation.
The colors are easily blended, slow to wear, break-resistant, and waterproof. Each 3.8 mm core is enclosed in a round cedar casing that is lacquered to match the core.
Note — Manual sharpening is recommended for these pencils. Clogging can be prevented in electric sharpeners by periodically sharpening a graphite pencil to keep the blades clean.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty of what I’ve discovered about these pencils!
- The 150 set come in a box rather than a tin.
- The box is fairly sturdy and it has a magnetic closure (something I found kind of cool).
- The pencils are arranged in 6 plastic trays inside the box.
The plastic trays are pretty flimsy which means you have to be careful when removing them or else you’ll spill them. It’s not a very efficient way to store them as you will find yourself constantly removing and maneuvering trays to get to pencils you need.
Hint: If you don’t have anywhere else to store them I would suggest arranging the pencils you use the most to the upper trays.
Now on to the pencils themselves.
Quality Control Issues:
Since the company changed hands and moved the manufacturing to Mexico the quality of the pencils themselves have gone downhill. Not that Mexico is a bad place for manufacturing. I think it has more to do with the company who now own Prismacolor.
The issue many artists experience have to do with breakage. Both the wood casing and the cores. It’s become fairly common that the cores of the pencils shatter or break from the slightest fall. Also problematic is the cedar casing either being split or splitting when sharpening. There have even been instances of entire cores sliding out of the cedar casing!
Core breakage, especially when sharpening can be caused by several things. If the pencils are dropped it can shatter the core. You may not notice this until you attempt to sharpen it. A main cause of core breakage is due to cores which are off center. That is a direct manufacturing issue.
As I swatched my pencils, I took note of the number of off center cores. I wasn’t nit-picky about it, I only counted the extremely obvious off centered cores. Out of 150 pencils, 73 have off center cores. That’s nearly half of the set!
Why should we care if the cores are off center? Because when you are trying to sharpen them having the core off center can cause the core to break more easily. While you sharpen and while you draw you will be putting pressure on the core which won’t be evenly centered on the core itself. It’s not a good situation. By knowing the core is off center I will be careful how I sharpen the pencil, I may need to use an exacto knife to carefully whittle the casing from the core.
I am happy to say my set did not have any pencils with split casings. Since the set is so new, I have not yet run into any problems with the casings while sharpening them.
When it comes to sharpening Prismas there have been many recommendations. Derwent’s battery operated sharpener came highly recommended. The problem with that is Derwent has recently updated their sharpener with a new version. I can’t get one here in the United States yet, and I have no idea if it will work as well with Prismas as the older version.
One of the artists I follow uses Prismas and strongly suggested using an Alvin Brass Bullet. It’s a handheld sharpener made in Germany and you can purchase replacement blades for it.
I have to say I am seriously in love with this sharpener! I am very gentle with my Prismas as I sharpen but I truly believe the reason I’ve had no breakage so far is due to this wonderful little sharpener! I was sure to purchase a 3 pack of replacement blades when I bought the sharpener itself.
Here is part of the reason I avoided Prismacolor for so long. There are quite a few colors which are not lightfast, and many which are in the mid-range (which would be best avoided if selling the finished artwork).
ASTM D6901 Standards for Colored Pencils ratings: I – II (acceptable – highly lightfast/archival) III, IV, V (unacceptable – not lightfast)
Out of 150 colors
- 85 fall into the acceptable I – II range.
- 25 are in the mid-range of III. Some artists will use these colors in finished works for sale, but I say proceed with caution. Some of those colors may fade or change color within as little as 2 years. This level of colorfast rating is considered unacceptable for use by the Colored Pencil Society of America.
- 40 are in the IV – V range which is completely unacceptable for use.
So out of 150 colors 65 should not be used in a work you intend to sell to a client.
So what do you do with the non-lightfast pencils? You can still use them! You can create pieces of art which you intend to scan to make prints. As long as you don’t sell the original you’ll be fine.
To put these pencils to the test I decided to start a new wildlife piece. Rather than my normal Fabriano Artistico Hot Press Watercolor paper, I chose to use my new Strathmore 400 Toned Gray Mixed Media paper.
As I worked on my new piece I exclusively used my new Prismacolor Premier pencils and only the level I & II lightfast colors.
The colors laid down incredibly soft and creamy. They didn’t feel anything like my Faber Castell Polychromos or Blick Studio Artists’ colored pencils. They were much softer than the wax based Caran d’Ache Luminance. My Derwent Drawing colored pencils are also wax based and I have to say they are much softer and creamier than the Prismas. All in all they were wonderful to work with as I began to draw.
I was shocked at how bright the white pencil appeared on the toned gray paper. I didn’t expect it to be so opaque. I was also amazed by how lighter colors could be layered on top of darker colors with some success.
I did experience some minimal breakage on 3 colors. So far to me that’s not too big a deal. I’ve had occasional breakage with other brands as well.
Blending was done three different ways.
- First I used my normal Gamsol (Odorless Mineral Spirits). The pencil’s binder melted away and I was easily able to blend. My strokes quickly turned from pencil marks to looking very painterly. I truly like how they respond to OMS.
- I tried the Prismacolor Colorless Blender. I’ve used this with my other pencils on occasion. Naturally I was not surprised to see how beautifully and effortlessly the pencils blended with the colorless blender. I know I will be using it more in the future as I incorporate the Prismas into the mix with my other pencils.
- Blending with another Prisma. A few times, rather than use blenders, I used a lighter color Prisma to blend dark and mid-tone colors in the same color group. This worked very well. The pencils seem to merge colors with little effort and maximum effect.
I was hoping I would finish my wildlife piece before publishing this article, however my eyes got tired and I had to stop. It’s nearly finished, just some detailing left to do. Here is what I created with my new set of Prismacolor Premier colored pencils:
This Coyote is an 8 x 10 inch piece on 9 x 12 inch Strathmore 400 Toned Gray Mixed Media paper. I chose the coyote because of the variation of colors in the coat as well as the differences in fur length. I felt it would give me a good range of colors for testing.
When I put the Prismacolors in my shopping cart online, I did not expect to like them. When they arrived I did not intend to love them. However, after working with them I have fallen in love with these pencils and their many unique colors. Some colors totally broke my heart as they are gorgeous, but they are also not lightfast. Among the lightfast colors there are some incredibly unique and beautiful colors.
All in all, I can honestly say that if you can get these pencils on sale do it. I still prefer my polychromos, but these prisma’s are pretty darn nice! I can now see why so many artists put up with the quality control issues and breakage. It’s because these are seriously nice pencils for colored pencil work.
TIP: For the sake of making things easier on myself I did in fact rearrange the pencils within the box. I decided to pull all the lightfast colors and place them first, then put the non-lightfast colors after that. The lightfast colors take up the top 3 – 1/2 trays. Leaving the non-lightfast colors to the bottom.
Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend these pencils. As long as you stick to lightfast colors for anything you intend to sell, you’ll be fine. They have been a joy to work with the past few days and I look forward to using them in conjunction with my other pencils.
Until next time,