Lianne Williams

Portrait Artist & Illustrator

All you need to know about Faber-Castell Polychromos colour pencils

Product & Book Reviews, Colour PencilsLianne Williams26 Comments
All you need to know about Faber-Castell Polychromos Colour Pencils

Everyone knows that I'm a big fan of Faber-Castell's Polychromos colour pencils, ever since I first started using them in November 2012, and since then i've used them in pretty much everything i've created after that point.

Being a total nerd (and not the cool kind, the proper kind) i've decided to gather all the information i know and can find on them, and create one epic Polychromos post with the very grand title of 'All you need to know about Polychromos'.

Please note, I am not affiliated with Faber-Castell and all information presented here is my own opinion or research unless stated otherwise. This post contains affiliate link to Amazon associates where I receive a small fee from every purchase made via that link.

Polychromos History

According to the Faber-Castell website Polychromos were created in 1908 shortly before the companies 150th anniversary in 1911. Faber-Castell is one of the worlds oldest industrial manufacturers and is the worlds leading manufacturer of pencils. 

Polychromos means 'Many colours'; originally consisting of 60 different colours and achieving double that number of colours today. Polychromos were released under Count Alexander Faber-Castell who became one of the most notable leaders of the company, working from 1900-1927 after marrying the 'A.W. Faber' company heiress. Not only did he adopt his wife's surname, which was so unusal in that time it required royal approval, but they also changed the company name to a joint name of Faber-Castell, and created the recognisable green logo with the jousting knights.

The original 60 colours from the Polychromos range. (Thank you to Faber Castell for providing me with this image).

The original 60 colours from the Polychromos range. (Thank you to Faber Castell for providing me with this image).

I did contact Faber-Castell directly with a list of some specific questions I had and they were incredibly kind enough to answer. Thank you so much to the Faber-Castell marketing team for their time.

Here's a transcript of the answered questions from my email:

What were the original colours in the 1908 Polychromos sets and have any colours been upgraded to different pigments as time has gone on? Have any colours been discontinued and why?

Please find attached a colour chart of the original 1909 colours. As you can see, the range was much smaller back then.

The original recipes for the production of our pencil leads are not existent any more. This is mainly caused by changes on the market and different pigments being offered by our suppliers. Most of the pigments we use today have become available on the market only after 1909. This why almost all of the recipes have changed over the years.

What decisions went into choosing the colour ranges in the different sets? Who makes these decisions and what were their aims in choosing the sets colours? (ie why those specific colours in the 12 set- are they the core colours and most versatile for instance?)

Decisions about the colour ranges are made by the Art & Graphic marketing department at Faber-Castell Stein. We work together with external artists to make sure we can fulfill professional expectations and needs. We pay a lot of attention to our customer’s remarks and suggestions and try to integrate them into our product development process. We also refer to market studies in that context.

Will there ever be more colours made?

At the moment, we don’t have plans to extend the existing range of colours.

Do you recommend mixing Polychromos with other brands or wax based pencils? Do you have any advice on this?

It is very well possible to mix Polychromos with other brands because they are very tolerant towards other materials.

And if there's any interesting facts or figures about Polychromos i'd appreciate that as well such as how many are sold each year worldwide, whats the most solid individual colour, where are they most popular, famous artists who use them, any awards they've won etc.

Unfortunately we cannot publish any of our sales figures. The most sold individual colours are black and white. Polychromos pencils are widely spread, therefore we can’t say that there are countries in which it is especially popular. But generally there are countries in which artists products do especially well, such as France, South Korea and Japan.

Well-known artists who used Polychromos are for example: Karl Lagerfeld (*1933 German fashion designer), Daniel Hechter (*1938 French fashion designer), Ferdinand Alexander Porsche (1935 – 2012 German industrial designer), Tomi Ungerer (*1931 French graphic artist), Gottfried Helnwein (*1948, Austrian artist), Borsilav Sajtinac (*1943 French artist), Oskar Kokoschka (*1886 - 1930 Austrian artist), Slavomir Elsner (*1976 Polish artist), Nanne Meyer (*1953, German artist).

 

Polychromos Colour Pencils during the Manufacturing Process

Product Features

  • 120 colours available in sets of 12, 24, 36, 60 and 120 that match other products in the Faber-Castell range.
  • Smooth colour 'lay down' for easy blending and layering.
  • Oil based. (Soy Bean derivative)
  • 'Unsurpassed' lightfastness. 
  • Intense, permanent pigments.
  • Firm 3.8mm leads which make them easy to sharpen into points.
  • Secureall bonded to make them break resistant.
  • Water resistant.
  • Smudge-proof.
  • Suitable for different surfaces and mixing with other mediums including wax-based pencils.
  • Encased in California Cedar.
  • Manufactured in Nuremburg, Germany.
  • Available in sets or individually.
  • Environmentally friendly varnish coating on the casing.
  • Acid Free
  • Guaranteed customer satisfaction since 1761
Faber-Castell Polychromos, 120 set in a wooden display box.

Faber-Castell Polychromos, 120 set in a wooden display box.

Colour Details

* Reasonably Lightfast ** High Lightfastness *** Maximum Lightfastness

White*** Ivory*** Cream*** Light Yellow Glaze*** Cadmium Yellow*** Cadmium Yellow Lemon*** Light Cadmium Yellow*** Light Chrome Yellow*** Dark Cadmium Yellow*** Dark Chrome Yellow*** Cadmium Orange*** Orange Glaze*** Dark Cadmium Orange*** Light Cadmium Red** Scarlet Red** Pale Geranium Lake*** Deep Scarlet Red*** Permanent Carmine*** Deep Red** Middle Cadmium Red*** Dark Red*** Madder*** Alizarin Crimson** Pink Carmine** Rose Carmine*** Light Purple Pink* Fushsia** Magenta*** Light Magenta* Pink Madder Lake** Middle Purple Pink** Crimson* Manganese Violet* Violet* Purple Violet* Blue Violet* Mauve** Delft Blue*** Dark Indigo*** Indianthrene Blue*** Helioblue-Reddish*** Cobalt Blue** Ultramarine** Light Ultramarine*** Smalt Blue*** Cobalt Blue-Greenish** Phthalo Blue*** Middle Phthalo Blue** Light Phthalo Blue** Bluish Turquoise*** Prussian Blue*** Helio Turquoise*** Cobalt Turquoise*** Light Cobalt Turquoise** Cobalt Green*** Deep Cobalt Green*** Hooker's Green*** Dark Phthalo Green** Chrome Oxide Green Fiery*** Phthalo Green*** Emerald Green*** Light Phthalo Green** Light Green*** Grass Green*** Leaf Green*** Permanent Green** Permanent Green Olive** Pine Green*** Chrome Oxide Green*** Juniper Green*** Olive Green Yellowish*** Green Gold*** May Green*** Earth Green Yellowish*** Chrome Green Opaque*** Earth Green*** Caput Mortuum*** Caput Mortuum Violet*** Burnt Carmine*** Red-Violet*** Light Red-Violet** Dark Flesh*** Medium Flesh*** Light Flesh*** Cinnamon*** Venetian Red*** Pompeian Red*** Indian Red*** Sanguine*** Burnt Ochre*** Terracotta*** Light Yellow Ochre** Naples Yellow*** Dark Naples Ochre*** Brown Ochre*** Raw Umber*** Bistre** Van Dyck Brown*** Nougat*** Burnt Umber*** Burnt Sienna*** Walnut Brown*** Sepia*** Warm Gray VI*** Warm Gray V*** Warm Gray IV*** Warm Gray III*** Warm Gray II*** Warm Gray I*** Cold Gray I*** Cold Gray II** Cold Gray III*** Cold Gray IV*** Cold Gray V*** Cold Gray VI*** Payne's Gray*** Black*** Silver*** Gold*** Copper***

White*** Cadmium Yellow*** Dark Cadmium Orange*** Deep Scarlet Red*** Magenta*** Light Ultramarine*** Phthalo Blue** Emerald Green*** Light Green*** Burnt Ochre*** Walnut Brown*** Black*** Light Yellow Glaze*** Dark Chrome Yellow*** Pale Geranium Lake*** Dark Red*** Helioblue-Reddish*** Ultramarine*** Dark Phthalo Green** Earth Green Yellowish*** Venetian Red*** Raw Umber*** Warm Grey V*** Warm Grey II*** Cadmium Yellow Lemon*** Light Cadmium Yellow*** Dark Cadmium Yellow*** Permanent Carmine*** Madder*** Pink Madder Lake** Purple Violet* Delft Blue*** Indianthrene Blue*** Prussian Blue*** Deep Cobalt Green*** Pine Green*** Juniper Green*** Olive Green Yellowish*** Chrome Green Opaque*** Red-Violet*** Medium Flesh*** Sanguine*** Naples Yellow*** Van Dyck Brown*** Burnt Sienna*** Cold Grey II** Cold Grey IV*** Deep Cobalt Green*** Cream*** Cadmium Orange*** Middle Cadmium Red*** Rose Carmine*** Middle Purple Pink** Mauve** Dark Indigo*** Cobalt Turquoise*** Cobalt Green*** Leaf Green*** Pompeian Red*** Dark Naples Ochre***

White*** Cream*** Light Yellow Glaze*** Cadmium Yellow*** Dark Chrome Yellow*** Phthalo Blue** Cadmium Orange*** Leaf Green*** Dark Cadmium Orange*** Ultramarine*** Pale Geranium Lake*** Rose Carmine*** Middle Purple Pink** Magenta*** Light Ultramarine*** Helioblue-Reddish*** Cobalt Turquoise*** Cobalt Green*** Dark Indigo*** Emerald Green*** Earth Green Yellowish*** Light Green*** Walnut Brown*** Raw Umber*** Dark Naples Ochre*** Burnt Ochre*** Venetian Red*** Pompeian Red*** Black*** Middle Cadmium Red*** Deep Scarlet Red*** Dark Red*** Mauve** Dark Phthalo Green** Warm Grey II*** Warm Grey V*** 

 

White*** Light Yellow Glaze*** Cadmium Yellow*** Dark Chrome Yellow*** Phthalo Blue** Dark Cadmium Orange*** Ultramarine*** Pale Geranium Lake*** Magenta*** Light Ultramarine*** Helioblue-Reddish*** Emerald Green*** Earth Green Yellowish*** Light Green*** Walnut Brown*** Raw Umber*** Burnt Ochre*** Venetian Red*** Black*** Deep Scarlet Red*** Dark Red*** Dark Phthalo Green** Warm Grey II*** Warm Grey V***

White*** Cadmium Yellow*** Phthalo Blue** Dark Cadmium Orange*** Magenta*** Light Ultramarine*** Emerald Green*** Light Green*** Walnut Brown*** Burnt Ochre*** Black*** Deep Scarlet Red*** 

Where to Purchase

There are several distributors of Faber-Castell Polychromos colour pencils in the UK such as Jackson Art, SAA and Hobbycraft. International artists may find locating Polychromos in their area a challenge as Faber-Castell is a strong European brand, but they are expanding, and Amazon and eBay usually offer shipping to a wide variety of locations. Below are some general prices for Polychromos. These prices are right as of Feb 2016.

 

Tips and Tricks

  • Most of the colours can be erased or lightened with an eraser.
  • Generally all red colour pencil leads are slightly more brittle then other colours so be more delicate when sharpening.
  • Polychromos black works great in graphite drawings. Try mixing primary colours to create a richer black in colour drawings.
  • Baby Oil and other blending solvents can be used with Polychromos to create interesting blending and painterly effects.
  • Superglue the stub of a very short pencil to the tip of your new pencil and then when dry you'll be able to get more use out of your old pencil before sharpening down into the new pencil.
  • It's not necessary to fix Polychromos with a fixing spray as they dont get wax bloom like other brands such as Prismacolor, as theyre oil based.
  • Colour pencil artwork can be described as a drawing or a painting depending on what it looks like in its finished state. It's not the medium that determines the description, but the finished appearance. If it looks like a drawing, its a drawing. If it looks more painterly, its a painting.
  • Laying down white first allows deeper pigments to be laid down on top smoother and lighter. Its also a great blender used over the top of colours.
  • Polychromos can be used safely for sketching under oil paintings and the lines fade away when the paint is applied.
  • Polychromos can be used with other mediums including wax based pencils and paints, but there may be some resistence when using other mediums over the top of Polychromos.
  • You don't need to have every colour. The 24/36 set is excellent for beginners and i recommend learning how to layer and mix your own colours to understand the full versatility of these smaller sets.
  • Faber-Castell Polychromos are NOT the same product as Lyra Polycolors. The names are quite similar but that's it.
  • Polychromos have a firmer, finer lead then some other brands and can therefore feel 'hard' to some. However they lay down flat areas of smooth colour when applied properly AND allow neat fine marks when sharpened meaning theyre very versatile.
  • There are a small number of extra colours not included in the full 120 set including a light blue, a light lilac and a smoky black which has been discontinued.

Useful Resources: 

Faber-Castell USA, Faber-Castell UK, UK Colour Pencil Society, Color Pencil Society of AmericaColored Pencil Studio, Polychromos Pencil Artists Facebook Group, Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies.