You hear them touted by professional artists as having exceptional quality.
But seeking them out in the art store left you near fainting (I know I nearly keeled over) due to sticker shock, lol!
It took me years to justify to myself spending the money on these because I was afraid they weren’t worth it.
What is so special about these pencils that cost about double the price of Prismacolor, another well-known professional brand? Are they worth it?
In this article, I review of Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils and answer those questions.
Comparing Apples and Oranges
To see what is so special about something, we naturally would compare it to something else.
So, we may compare Polychromos to say Prismacolor, another professional brand colored pencil.
But to compare Faber-Castell Polychromos to Prismacolor colored pencils is like comparing apples to oranges.
Some people may like oranges; others may like apples.
Still, others may like both for differing reasons and may decide to use one or the other, depending on mood or what they are trying to accomplish.
[For information on Prismacolor, another brand I do like, you can check out my post on them here.]
Of course, apples and oranges are both fruits, juicy and sweet but have fundamental differences. And so do the colored pencils.
One of the biggest differences is that Faber-Castell Polychromos (made in Germany), is a vegetable oil-based colored pencil while Prismacolor is a wax-based colored pencil.
Most colored pencils are made of pigment held together by a wax binder.
But the Polychromos pencils, being oil-based (they do still contain wax as a binder, but very minimally) are different from their wax-based counterparts.
It’s important to know how those differences play out to decide if they are right for you. Read on…
Let’s Talk About the Color
You know how sometimes you grab a pencil color you need by looking at the barrel color…
…only to find out as you apply it, the color does not seem to match the way the barrel looked? Annoying, I know.
Notice the photo above; you can see without a doubt the barrels do indeed match all the color swatches I made.
No surprises with them. What you see matches what you get.
Plus, take a look at how vibrant the colors are and each swatch is only one layer!
The intensity of the colors is hard to beat with other brands.
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The Visuals and Tactiles
As soon as I opened the package of my Polychromos 12-pack, I knew I was looking at quality.
What struck me right off the bat is that they are a thicker pencil overall with thicker cores (3.8mm to be exact).
Ah-ha, more pigment = more bang for the buck! And who doesn’t want that?!
The barrel is round and made of cedar wood.
Each pencil has the brand name; rolling it over shows the color name and color number, too.
It feels heavier in your hand, and right there just feels like quality.
The pencil sets come in a nice metal tin, and you can get up to 120 colors.
You can get the 120 set in a sturdy, very classy-looking wood box, too, that opens/expands to two levels.
The wood box is very nice looking, but just know that this set is almost twice the price!
[If you are really into history, here is a link where you can read all about the company Faber-Castell.]
OK on with the “nitty-gritty”.
Working With These Gems
The minute you begin working with these, you will notice they are less creamy than Prismacolor, for example.
This may not be something you will like, initially, if you’re used to the super-buttery feel of Prismacolor.
This is because this pencil’s core is harder and stronger.
However, they are still softer than most less-expensive wax-based brands and still feel softer to me overall.
If I don’t directly compare to Prismacolor, they feel smooth and buttery to work with.
In working with these, the harder core means it may take you longer to build up layers which could be a disadvantage, yet layering is very easy with these.
And the harder core being stronger minimizes breakage. I have not yet had breakage with these pencils.
I “played” with the polychromos on this coloring book page (yes, I do color; see my post “Adult Coloring Books“ to find out why).
Above is a pic of the result. I had a blast doing all the gradients, layering and blending.
I might add, the coloring book I used was a cheaper dollar store one with thinner paper–hardly what you should use for paper when working with colored pencil.
But I must say, the paper posed no problem for these pencils.
Two more things about these that delight me:
—I noticed that as I completed multiple layers and burnished with them, I had no “crumbs” that tend to slough off of the wax-based pencils.
—and I sharpened less.
This is a time-saver and distraction-blocker when you don’t have to stop and sweep away the crumbs and/or sharpen your pencils!
Blending is fine with these and very easy.
Just look at the smooth beautiful gradients achieved!
it really feels as if the pigment is gliding around and flows into the tooth of the paper better; a huge advantage!
Is White a Problem?
I have read that working with the white color Polychromos is not as good as the white in other wax-based brands; that it is more translucent and therefore doesn’t cover as well.
Take a look at these two photos of a leaf and apple that I rendered on black paper.
I laid down white first, layered over the color then added white on top of the color.
I was not dissatisfied at all. It worked adequately for me, and I’m pleased overall with the results.
—I am very used to the original premise of leaving the paper white when needing to have white in the art, as you really cannot use a white in colored pencil on top of color and have it look white in the way you can with opaque oil paint for example.
So, for my technique for rendering in colored pencil, the Polychromos white works just fine.
If you do wish to tint a color to make it look slightly lighter, the white works fine for this too.
Other True Advantages
Ok, if you haven’t gathered by now, I have become a big fan of these pencils.
But wait…there are more advantages.
–Not only are the colors very vibrant, but they are highly lightfast and acid-free.
—102 of the 120 colors are rated at the maximum lightfastness and fade-resistance–100+ years!
–Having only a minimal amount of wax, you can say goodbye to the dreaded “wax-bloom” forever. It’s a non-issue with these pencils.
–Smudgeproof. The company says they are smudgeproof!
Seems to be true as I was all over that coloring like white on rice and not a single smudge!
In full disclosure, though, I made a swatch and deliberately applied pressure to try to smudge it, and it did smudge a little.
But I mean, who would do that, right?
–The company says they are water-resistant as well.
I haven’t tested this, but it makes sense when you think about the old adage that oil and water don’t mix.
–For anyone who worries about toxicity of art materials, you’ll be happy to know that the pigments are all non-toxic as certified by a board-certified toxicologist.
–I think I mentioned this, too, but you can go longer without sharpening than say, Prismacolor.
Ok, so are these pencils perfect? Well, no.
In addition to the white pencil translucency problem and more layering required, here are a few more disadvantages.
— I can’t get through this article without addressing the cost of these pencils.
Not gonna lie.
They are not only pricey, they are very pricey. Are they worth it? My opinion, yes; or I wouldn’t have purchased more beyond my original 12-pack.
[My birthday is around the corner; hoping to get a bigger set. 😉 ]
Plus, remember they do have more pigment in each pencil with their thicker cores, making them last longer. Even so, we do tend to wear certain colors down faster than others. In that case, Polychromos are sold individually.
–They don’t seem to fit in my double or single-hole, hand-held Kum sharpener. But their website recommends the Grip Trio Sharpener.
Since sharpening is the single, quickest way to using up pencils, I recommend something I heard on “Lachri Fine Art’s” you-tube video here.
The artist explained that if all you wish to do is just refresh the very tip of the point to super-sharp, you can just glide the point on 300-grit sandpaper a few times to restore a fine point.
Definitely going to try that!
Thumbs Up Recommendation
I believe these pencils do live up to what people say about them and are worth every penny.
A Polychromos 12-pack is roughly $25. Not too bad and it’s a great way to start.
Or you can hint about them to family or friends who wonder what to get you for your birthday or holiday present 🙂 .
If you do try them, please comment below what you think of them and/or I’ll try to answer any questions you may have.Remember, your email address will never be shared!
Thank you for reading and have a Polychromos day!
P.S. If you liked this article, please share! Much appreciated. 🙂