Something I get asked a lot: What's better? Prismacolor or Polychromos?
Prismacolor Premiere colour pencils versus Faber-Castell's Polychromos. Hmmmmm. I feel like I'm stepping into dangerous waters here...
It's one of those debates that seem to go round in circles on art forums over and over. Which is better? Why? Artists declaring they LOVE Polychromos, LOVE Prismacolor, and wouldn't dream of using another brand... so what's the big deal? They're just coloured pencils right?
Let me show you what I found when I conducted a series of comparison tests on the two brands to shed some light on the issue.
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A brief introduction to Prismacolor and Polychromos...
Prismacolor is US based.
Polychromos are Europe based.
Prismacolor are wax based.
Polychromos are oil based.
Each brand comes in various tin sizes with various colours. Pricing wise they're quite similar, a medium tin around £50-£70 but shipping can really add up depending on where you live and which of the brands you're buying. For instance I find Prismacolor difficult to get hold of in the UK and I generally have to import them, which is expensive in terms of shipping costs. However, talking to my American friends, and other people around the world, they find Polychromos harder to find and more expensive to purchase instead. Both brands are easy enough to source online but it's a good idea to test out a small range of shades in each brand before committing to a big set so you can really try them out.
BONUS TIP: I recommend getting a range of greys and a black and a white in each brand if you really want to test and compare the behaviour of each. That way you can create a monochrome artwork without spending too much on supplies you may never use again.
The Pencil Lead Casing
Today im using the colour Ultramarine from both ranges. At this stage its interesting to note the casing on each pencil and how different they are. I find the Polychromos appear 'truer' to the colour mark they make, then the Prismacolor, which can be important when working. I like to know that the pencil I use is going to produce the colour I expect it to. If in doubt, of course, TEST IT on a clean sheet of paper.
Each pencil casing details the brand, colour name and its number. The Polychromos has a round base and the Prismacolour has a flat base. The Polychromos are easier to identify in a mix of pencils because of this design trait as their end is quite unusual. Unfortunately there are many pencils that look similar to Prismacolor and you may struggle to identify them against other brands, quickly.
Performance of the Pencil
They both sharpen well and retain their point fine without breaking easily however Prismacolor feel softer to Polychromos. Some have described drawing with Prismacolor as like drawing with kohl eyeliner, which I can understand. Polychromos feel a lot harder. With this in mind: Soft is good for blending but makes it difficult to get detail. Hard is good for drawing detail but can make streaky shading.
Now onto the marks themselves.
I've done a variety of shading 'weights' to show the difference between a light shade and a heavy shade, as well as blending with white and blending with colour.
With a light shading across standard copy paper you can see the Polychromos aren't as vibrant as the Prismacolor in pigment. The Prismacolor is a much richer, deeper blue. However the Polychromos covers the paper in a much more even way, getting into the tooth of the paper easier. The Prismacolour is 'clumpy' and leaves more white of the paper showing through.
When the pencils are applied and shaded heavier the Prismacolor's softness helps it become much more opaque, in less layers, and leaves a rich, heavy coverage. The Polychromos can achieve a similar coverage but with much more layering, and the hardness can create streaking, which isn't desirable. However this can be rectified by precise shading and a careful eye.
In a single stroke Prismacolor creates a strong but broken line. Polychromos create a lighter line (in terms of pigment strength) but the coverage is better and smoother.
Both circulation and straight lines techniques demonstrate how much softer Prismacolor is. The lead of Prismacolor needed sharpening more frequently so i also suspect that the pencils would be used up quicker too, adding to expense. Polychromos retained their point for longer.
Erasing them was fairly straight forward. Prismacolor left a sticky coloured residue that was dirty and difficult to remove so this could potentially stain work whilst erasing- however I note that other colours in their range fair better. Polychromos erased very well for a strongly pigmented blue, which are notoriously difficult to erase and the rest of their colours erase just as easily.
BONUS TIP: Prismacolor suffer from a problem called 'wax bloom' where the pigment shifts and bleeds in the artwork after time, which can be disastrous. Polychromos don't have this problem and are also very good in mixed media including watercolour and oil painting.
I couldn't help but be impressed with Prismacolor's blending ability, creating almost flawless areas of blending. New colours could also be mixed this way with a limited palette. Polychromos blended well, but with streaking still visible.
Intrigued, I looked into mixing Prismacolor white with Polychromos to see if I could mix the two brands. I loved the precision Polychromos offered, but the blending of Prismacolor was so much easier and quicker! This is what I found:
Yup. Prismacolor will also blend Polychromos... further tests revealed however that any further layering or working with Polychromos again over the top could cause problems. The Polychromos would either carve off the layer of Prismacolor or the Prismacolor wouldn't adhere to the Polychromos and would begin to streak and go patchy. Further experiments have suggested that Prismacolor should only be used on top or in selected areas to avoid clashing too much with Polychromos.
With practice over time I have been able to blend my application of Prismacolor and Polychromos so they remain compatible in the same artwork allowing me to enjoy the best of both brands.
Finally I get SO many questions about which brand is best and what size set beginners should buy and i always reply the same: get a small set of each, or even just black, white and red in each brand, and try each for yourself. They may be just colour pencils but when you draw for long enough you'll notice they FEEL different and LOOK different and you will naturally gravitate towards one type. Or like me, end up using both.