Japanese Colored Pencils

The following article discusses Holbein and Mitsubishi colored pencils. It was submitted by a reader in Japan.

by ehtohunlimited.com

Mitsubishi 240

I came across the Colored Pencil Studio while searching for info on the infamous 240 Mitsubishi set of pencils. This set has been very enticing news since its release by the Mitsubishi Pencil Company in Japan to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The website Mitsubishi dedicates to this 240 limited edition series is even more of a lure for those of us who pine over art supplies. There you can see full graphic representation of each colour and interactively scroll through the various colour groups in the set. There is also a story on how they came up with the very descriptive names such as Kurocha (black tea), Oyster White, Olive Oil Yellow and Wabisabi (very hard to describe but it is a feeling of melancholy loneliness and quiet simplicity). With such descriptions and matching colours who can resist. The main detractor however for most are:

1. The price, the price, the price

The cost is approximately 52,000 yen or 639USD. Granted it is limited edition (only 5000 sets) and the colours and packaging are gorgeous but how do you justify costs like that if you are a student or non-pro?

2. Lack of open stock.

That brings me to the next issue. If there were open stock available readily then perhaps it could be considered but unfortunately that is the down-side of limited edition and its prestige. I think if bought them not only would I be choosing between paying rent or buying a box of crayons but I would also only be looking at their beauty as I would know there would be no replacement.

However they are lovely and still I can't help but pine. Be sure to try out their online colour gallery at the link below.

Holbein 150

I ultimately decided on buying this set from Holbein. It is equally lovely and though it seems small by Mitsubishi's limited edition, there are really very nice colours that seemed special to this brand. You can buy this set in a wood box set (458USD) or a cardboard set (334USD). Due to the price difference I ended up buying the cardboard box set but wish now that I had gotten the wood box option. I discovered that it is not so easy to use that many pencils without some kind of drawer or layout system.


I am still getting to know these Holbein pencils but they are very soft and opaque and spread in a very painterly or pastel-like way. This is opposite to the Mitsubishi singles that I have tried. Mitsubishi is more transparent and vivid in usage.

I love both these pencils brands as they are so opposite but can be used well together to get the most of each brand. Each brands artist pencils have thick leads and bold colours and even look the same at a glance. However the one you choose to get depends on the effects you like and your method of working painterly blending (Holbein) or transparent layering (Mitsubishi). I am now considering the much more affordable and easily portable 100 set of Mitsubishi's (149USD) to use along with my Holbeins.

In addition

As an affordable substitute for Albrect Durer pencils I purchased the 60 set of Mitsubishi Watercolor Artist pencils (95USD). They are really smooth, vivid, leave no crumbs on the paper and can easily substitute true watercolours.

You can find these sets by ordering direct from Japan via ebay. If you have a good translator engine or help to read Japanese you may be able to order from art supply stores like Yumegazai or Sekaido. If you have friends in Japan you can order through Amazon Japan. Holbein on Amazon Japan. Mitsubishi on Amazon Japan.

Comparing Blenders and Burnishing Tools

We compared two methods of burnishing in the following chart, along with the results of 3 blenders, 2 solvents, heat, and water to blend colors.

We compared the following Brands:

  • Prismacolor (wax based)- Row 1
  • Derwent Coloursoft (wax based)- Row 2
  • Caran d'Ache Luminance (wax based)- Row 3
  • Faber-Castell Polychromos (oil based)- Row 4
  • Caran d'Ache Pablos (oil based)- Row 5

We compared the following Burnishing methods

  • White Prismacolor- Column 1
  • Derwent Burnisher- Column 5

And the following Blenders, in Pencil Form

  • Prismacolor Colorless Blender - Column 2
  • Lyra Splender Blender - Column 3
  • Derwent Blender - Column 4

We also tried two solvents

  • Liquin - Column 6
  • Odorless Mineral Spirits (OMS) - Column 7

as well as HEAT to blend using an Icarius Art Board - Column 8 Note that heat only works well with WAX based colored pencils, but we included the oil based ones just to see.

and compare the results with blending water-soluble colored pencils - (Column 9) with water brushed on

  • Derwent Reformulated Watercolor Pencils (Right Row 2)
  • Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolor Pencils (Right Row 4)
  • Caran d'Ache Supracolor II soft Water-soluble Pencils (Right Row 5)

We selected colors from each brand close to Lemon Yellow and Scarlet. We applied first yellow with a light, medium, then heavy touch and followed with scarlet red and similar touches. The left side of each column (except the heat one) has the dry pencil, and the right side has the dry pencil with the blender/solvent/heat/or water on it.


For burnishing, we liked the look of the Derwent Burnisher, which burnishes pretty well without adding a white film over the top of the colors.

For dry pencil based blending, we also liked the Derwent Blender.  The Derwent blender seemed softer then the other two, although it was a bit more crumbly on application. It blended both wax and oil based pencils well. The Lyra Splender was our 2nd favorite.

We have issues with the use of toxic solvents. Since we have not found Zest-it in the US, we used Liquin and OMS, both of which are toxic and can irritate eyes and skin. The OMS do not have an odor, but has the same issues about breathing vapor as Liquin (and turpentine, etc.) have. We applied both solvents with a q-tip, which leads to waste. Neither should be used around pets or children. The Liquin produced a nice, blended, painterly surface that looked nicer than the OMS surface, which seemed to remove too much pigment. The Liquin surface is perhaps a bit better in looks than the Derwent Blender surface, but to us the difference is not worth the screaming headache the Liquin fumes caused, or the health risk.

The water-soluble pencils had some good results. The Derwent ones did not look as nice as the Derwent Coloursofts blended with Liquin or the Derwent Blender, but the Faber-Castell and Caran d'Ache watersoluble results were comparable to using Liquin. In fact, we liked them overall better since the Liquin in comparison seemed to over-blend all three pressures (light, medium, and dark) to the same overall look. If you control the water on water-soluble pencil work, you can achieve much the same results as with solvents on traditional pencil. Add more water for more blending, and use a dryer brush for less blending.

We used an Icarus heated art board, at the highest setting to try blending with heat. There did seem to be a bit of blending going on with the oil based pencils, but it works best of course with wax-based pencils. In order to try to use the same techniques that we used on the other blending methods, we just used one pass with the yellow, then the red with various pressures. In general, it would have taken going over the colors more to really blend them well with heat. The heated board works best when colors are close to the paper-saturation point. However, it certain speeded up laying down the colors rather drastically. The Luminance pencils in particular seemed to work best with the heated board, and got close to blending.

DO try your own experiments in your studio! This is a great way to learn more about colored pencils!

Comparing cores to use in pencil holders.

Here are the Koh-I-Noor Polycolor leads (non-soluble) to the left, and the Caran d'Ache Museum leads (water-soluble). They have the same diameter, so they can share the same lead holders. The sets complement each other since one can be used dry, and the other wet, they are wonderful to use in combination and are very portable. the Caran d'Ache lead holder has a sharpener for the leads under the cap. The Museum leads are longer by about an inch, and are totally watersoluble. So save your shavings and melt them with water to paint with or to use as 'splatter' sprinkling them over a wet surface.