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  • Writer's pictureKonstantin

Prismacolor Vs. Faber-Castell - Which Is Better?

If you are into drawing, you have surely come across the two most renowned color pencil brands in the world: Prismacolor and Faber-Castell. In which case, you have certainly wondered where would it be best to put your money when looking for the finest results.

Which is better, Prismacolor or Faber-Castell?

Lightfastness alone makes Faber-Castell better than Prismacolor. This means the colors you apply with the Faber-Castell pencils are much more resistant to the effects of ultraviolet light, which is of capital importance if you want to draw professionally and sell your artwork because the color swatches are much less likely to be altered in time.

The truth is any art medium aspiring to the “professional” grade has to offer the best lightfastness.

Yet, while Prismacolor kind of “hides” the poor lightfastness of its product in their website (as opposed to including a real color chart in their box sets) for this very reason, it does not mean Prismacolor pencils are useless.

There are actually several reasons which may perfectly justify its choice over Faber-Castell. In this article, we shall weigh in the most important traits each brand has to offer.

Caveat: We will be focusing on each manufacturer’s premium brands, namely “Premier” by Prismacolor and “Polychromos” by Faber-Castell, not their cheaper student-aimed brands.

I. Manufacturing Traits And Commercial Value

Let us compare some of the apparent and not-so-evident differences between these two powerhouses.

1. Binder Medium

First and foremost, we should know that Prismacolor are wax-based pencils whilst Faber-Castell are oil-based.

This implies a very different consistency, initial saturation (color intensity), and performance (we’ll address the latter in a specific section).

2. Built

Prismacolors are barely decently built, you might even find some crackled wooden cases in brand new sets. The wooden cases are rather thin and their leads are not always well-centred, making them prone to breaking when sharpening (which means more waste).

On the other hand, Faber-Castells are real panzers, much sturdier, loaded with a thicker lead with a completely protected end. This certainly enhances the amount of pressure they can withstand.

3. Color Range

Prismacolors offer an astonishing assortment of 150 swatches, whereas Faber-Castell is behind with a nevertheless respectable variety of 120 nuances.

4. Lightfastness

As suggested above, this is the real difference when it comes to professional art media. One of the reasons Prismacolor offers a wider color range is precisely because it is easier and cheaper to manufacture poor light-resistance pigments.

Less than 20% of their pencils have an adequate lightfastness rating, whilst 80% of Faber-Castell’s Polychromos have a professional grade.

Besides, since Faber actually labels this on each and every pencil, you know exactly the pigment quality you are working with.

5. Price

For all these reasons, it seems only natural that Faber’s Polychromos cost more than twice as much as the Premiers. You can buy them individually or in sets.

The complete 120 Polychromos box costs a little less than 250 USD, while the full 150 Prismacolor set costs about 100 USD.

II. Performance

Figure 1: Analogue tones of Faver-Castell Polychromos and Prismacolor Premier (the latter is 50 years old and has a better lead than the current product). On a smooth white surface. their performance at sketching is very similar.

Now, we'll look at the most critical aspect when deciding which pencils to use:

Performance. Even though these tools look very much alike, they behave very differently on paper.

Therefore, while we are talking about color pencils altogether, each brand is, in reality, better suited for distinct drawing purposes. Keep in mind that the kind of paper you use will dramatically affect the results, thus, its choice is just as important as the pencils.

1. Covering

Figure 2: Two quick portrait sketches with Prismacolor (below) and Faber-Castell (above). Notice how the Prismacolor white stands out on this toned Canson paper, whereas the pink tone is barely noticeable. On the other hand, the Faber-Castell’s performance is exactly the opposite (an almost invisible white and starker pinks).

You will immediately notice a significant difference regarding the pencils’ covering power over white paper.

Since wax’s brilliance naturally grants pigments more intensity and its creamier consistency allows a quicker and more organic blending, at first sight, Prismacolors display a richer and more covering pigmentation.

Indeed, this makes them ideal for quick, more pictorial drawings conceived in a couple of layers.

However, wax also makes them more translucent, and this hinders their covering power over non-white backgrounds. Colored pencils are not really designed to perform on dark surfaces (that’s what pastel and pastel pencils are for), but it is nice to use them on light-toned paper.

Here, the more matt and opaque color of the Polychromos will prove more powerful. In any case, it is not as if Faber-Castell can’t reach the saturation of the Prismacolors. If you press hard enough you will notice how wide their pressure range really is, it just takes a little longer because they are harder, thus they release less pigment at a time.

2. Layering And Burnishing

The covering and binder difference makes it necessary to also plan differently for the way you will layer your drawing.

After the third or fourth layer, wax-based pencils stop pigmenting because the paper’s tooth is completely buried under the binder and the lead doesn’t really have anything to adhere to. For this reason, it is critical to carefully conceive a strategy where you already know how many and which colors you will apply in two or three rounds when using the Prismacolors.

Even more so if you intend to burnish, which means blending different colors by applying the utmost pressure in order to obtain homogeneous color layers.

The leaner nature of the Polychromos grants them at least twice as much layering than the Prismacolors, which allows for a wider correction margin and, in sapient hands, richer blends (you can put together a wider selection of nuances over a determined area), although this obviously implies more time and it can be somewhat of a puzzle because they don’t blend as softly as the Prismacolors.

3. Detail

This is one performance aspect where Faber-Castell is far superior. The hard leads they carry make them ideal for fine details, whereas the Prismacolor are too soft for these, and they tend to blur and smudge noticeably.

Generally speaking, we may go as far as to say the Faber-Castell Polychromos were designed to carry out very detailed drawings, very much in line with the German graphic tradition.

4. Wax Bloom

Wax bloom is the glare that may obstruct the appreciation of any particular drawing. It is very noticeable in burnished pieces done with Prismacolor. It can be very annoying, particularly when editing photos of your work. Personally, I find it to be a rather vulgar finishing.

Since the Polychromos are oil-based, this is not an issue with them at all.

III. What Kind Of Artwork Can You Do?

All colored pencils are a drawing medium but there are ways, such as burnishing, to push them towards a more pictorial performance. As suggested by their softer consistency, Prismacolors are better suited for this.

That said, these instruments are ideal for any kind of genre that naturally demands detailed visual descriptions, such as portraits, botanical studies, or still lifes. It is, of course, possible to draw anything you can conceive in terms of color masses or hatching, but they are at their natural habitat with close-up subjects.

IV. Related Questions

1. Which Colored Pencils Are The Best?

Pencil by pencil, the answer is Caran d’Ache Luminance. Although their color range is limited with respect to the hereby discussed brands (76 swatches), their mixed formula of wax and oil along with excellent lightfast pigments honors their name: The drawing actually seems to glow.

Given that the full 76 set is even more expensive than the 120 Polychromos set, we could certainly argue they are overpriced, however, once you realize how smoothly they blend and how vibrant your artwork becomes, you’ll start forgetting about the money you spent.

2. Which Is Better, Derwent Or Prismacolor?

I truly commend Derwent’s marketing department. It seems that every year they bring something new into the market whilst they are only relabeling the same subpar-quality supplies.

I give to the British brand the interesting color range they have developed. They have even launched a brand labeled “Lightfast” which I haven’t yet tried and might actually live up to their advertisement.

However, in all honesty, their strategy seems to rebrand virtually the same product over and over instead of producing one real top-quality product. For example, what is the difference between the Derwent Artists, Studio, Procolour, and Coloursoft? I’ve tried them all without noticing any significant difference. None of these are really lightfast.

Adding insult to injury, Derwent products are in the same price range as the Prismacolor, which makes it a no-brainer: Prismacolor every single day over any of the 25 pencil brands Derwent has been commercializing under different names for many years.

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