About the company
Prismacolor pencils are now part of the Newell Rubbermaid company. Newell Rubbermaid acquired Sanford Brands in 1992. The Prismacolor brand has long been established in the US, since they are in available in almost every art, craft, drafting, and stationary store. Their wide availability and large selection of colors makes them the first artist quality colored pencil most US artists try. They are also very affordable. Currently they are being made in the USA and Mexico.
Primsacolor long ago set the standard for making a soft, creamy, thick cored colored pencil. It blends well and lays down color well.
However, Prismacolors are not without problems. First of all, older pencils come unsharpened, so most colored pencil artists are going to sharpen them in the nearest electric sharpener to avoid carpel tunnel. We hear a rumor that there is a pencil sharpener in the UK that works well with these, but most pencil sharpeners give this pencil a very long, sharp point, that tends to snap off when you use it. The cores break easily, and you can find pencils that are warped. So try to buy these open stock, and make sure the core is centered in the wood. Also check to make sure the pencil itself does not bend. These were long made in the US, but now are also made in Mexico.
It is difficult to find lightfast ratings on their regular pencils, even on their website. The pencils have no lightfast ratings on them.
Prismacolor Premier Pencils have the largest range of colors for any colored pencil line in the USA. There are Japanese pencil lines that have more. One has 500 colors, and Mitsubishi has 240. Prismacolors are very affordable, and artists have done some fabulous work with them. Since they are wax based, they can be used on the heated board (Icarus) to blend the colors. Many people use solvents to blend them, but since solvents tend to be toxic, especially when you use them day in and day out, we would rather blend these pencils with heat.
Prismacolor Premiers are available in open stock, in boxes, and in beautiful tins. The new 150 box is very sturdy, the pencils are arranged in color order, and are now presharpened. Once opened, the top can fold back to make an easel stand that props the box up slightly. There are three layers, each with two plastic trays that lift out. The plastic trays are flimsy and you end up juggling the layers around to get to the ones that are not on top. If the top two layers were put in firm cardboard that lifted out, they would be easier to place on your desk without spilling them. The cover art is by Ester Roi, who uses her Icarus Heated Board with Prismacolors and other colored pencils.
There are 18 'new' colors; some are new, and there are some decos and neons that had been discontinued and are now being brought back.
18 New Colors:
1011 Deco Yellow
118 Cadmium Orange Hue
122 Permanent Red
1014 Deco Pink
1013 Deco Peach
132 Dioxazine Purple Hue
208 Indanthrone Blue
133 Cobalt Blue Hue
103 Cerulean Blue
105 Cobalt Turquoise
289 Grey Green Light
120 Sap Green Light
109 Prussian Green
1035 Neon Yellow
1036 Neon Orange
1038 Neon Pink
The older tins, make no attempt to arrange the pencils in color order at all, and the flimsy plastic layers do not hold the pencils securely. If you carry your set around, they are sure to roll around in the tin. They are also difficult to lay out on your desk. The company does seem to be arranging their pencils in color order now in newer sets, and sharpening the pencils. The company did however, introduce one of the best wooden boxes ever made for their 132 colors (as long as you leave it sitting on your desk), because it has 3 shelves that allow all of the pencils to be seen and taken out easily. You don't have a removeable tray that you have to find a place to put somewhere. The other pencil lines come in cardboard boxes.
When Prismacolor was trying to market their pencils in Europe, they made a pencil called Karisma, which was absolutely gorgeous on the outside, and had the same cores on the inside.
Prismacolor Watercolor pencils sadly do not even come close to the Premier line. They only have 36 colors, and they are hard to dissolve. It is a shame that the water-soluble line has been so neglected, since it would be amazing if you could get the 150 colors to match the Premier line. These pencils started out with a colored exterior to match the cores, then changed to a much nicer looking natural cedar exterior.
Prismacolor Verithins are really terrific for using for fine detail, since they are thin and hard and can get into small places that the much thicker Premiers cannot. Happily, the colors that are available match the Premier pencils.
Prismacolor Col-Erase Pencils- Not artist quality, but the easiest colored pencil to erase. Very useful for doing your initial drawing in. They erase easily, but use a good eraser, not the ones on the end of the pencils, which tend to get hard, and at best leave pink streaks on your paper.
Prismacolor Lightfast pencils quickly came and went. If you look at the parent companies website, you will see why. They have their latest stock price listed, and their history contains all of the dates they acquired companies right and left to grow bigger all the time. These were really nice pencils, but the bottom line is that they were very expensive compared to the regular Premier line. While we all scramed when we found out how un-lightfast many colored pencils were, especially the red colors, we were not quick to embrace the extra expense to fix the problem. Prismacolor was not alone in this- Derwent also introduced a line of lightfast colors that came and went fairly quickly. They were also more expensive. Caran d'Ache has a very expensive lightfast line as well- but if you look at their pigments, well, they are very expensive pigments! These were made in 48 colors.
A few years ago, when Prismacolor introduced their new, attractive on the outside tins, the thin plastic layers that held the pencils in place allowed the pencils to rattle around in the tin. We recently found some brand new tins of Prismacolors, that have shrunk dramatically in size, while actually allowing more pencils to be stored. The old tin is on the left, the new one on the right.
Once you open the new tin, you see that the pencils are now stacked in the tin, one on top of the other, much tighter than the old tins. However, the pencils still manage to roll around a bit in the tin!
Inside the old tin:
Inside the new tin:
The top plastic tray has no pencil sharpener, but room for extra pencils and colorless blenders:
You might notice something else about the new tins.....First of all, there is a large notice which says 'Notice! New improved look in progress! Same Prismacolor Quality!'
What is this NEW LOOK? Well, first of all the pencils are already sharpened. Which is really nice if you have 132 new pencils that need to be sharpened! But take a closer look....these pencils were all lined up evenly on the bottom....and look at how unevenly they are sharpened! Some are very blunt, some more pointed...every other major colored pencil maker manages to get all of their pencils sharpened to the same degree!! Not to mention that some are sharpened from the wrong end- so the numbers and names are the first things to disappear. After this photo, We tried to get a sharp point on ours- even using the Prismacolor hand-held sharpener, and some of the pencils had breaking and crumbling leads that caused at least 1/3 of the pencil to disappear- before it had ever been used once!
The other difference is that the lettering is changing from Gold font to Silver font, with the color names also being printed in French. The new pencils bear the stamp of Mexico for the country of origin, the older ones say USA. Our tin had the pencils mixed- some old, some new. The new (silver font) pencils at least in our tin do not seem to have a bar scan code, so we still might be finding those nasty gummy labels on the pencils at some stores. Unless they make totally seperate pencils for open stock, which we doubt.
At the top of this picture is an old pencil, and at the bottom a new one.
If Prismacolor is actually trying to improve their pencils, they might try replacing the fugitive colors with more lightfast ones, and putting lightfast ratings on the pencils. And they could try sharpening them the same amount, printing the pencils with a much more readable black lettering rather than metallic. Oh, and arranging them in color order, gluing the core to the pencil better and coating the core with a break-resistant coating, which companies like Faber-Castell do. And while we are dreaming they could throw in a colorless blender with each set so new colored pencil artists know that they exist, and get used to using them. A little 'how to' booklet would be nice too.
The smaller tins are much nicer in our opinion, and making a stab at sharpening them is appreciated. If Prismacolors cannot be made in the USA, then making them in Mexico will help out our close neighbors and save a lot of fuel, as opposed to making them in China. But the success of the many German, UK, Swiss, and Japanese companies at making quality art pencils shows that the USA deserves to have a least one art-quality pencil manufactuer.
Prismacolor Art Stix
Note that the neons and decos have been discontinued