PLEASE NOTE1. Comments made here are personal and are not sponsored by the manufacturers2. The order of listing is entirely down to the date the initial reviews were done, and more recently reviewed brands appear towards the end of the list.3. The guide is designed to aid those who are new to the medium of coloured pencil, helping them select a brand and product that may be most suitable for their needs.4. Just because one brand suits one person does not automatically make it ideal for everyone.
DERWENT( The Cumberland Pencil Company )DERWENT market the biggest range of Coloured Pencil brands and are possibly the most active in producing new products. At the core of the range are the hardest of the pencils and some of the longest in their production, NOTE. Derwent tend to produce pencils 8mm across and many power sharpeners cut up to 7.5mm. ARTIST and STUDIO. These are most suitable on a hard surface paper like cartridge or a smooth (HP) watercolour paper. The formula enables a very fine point to be produced which aids getting the fine detail loved by Botanical artists. There are a good range of greens and landscape colours and some unique shades. Most colours match across the two lines, the only difference being that ARTIST is sold in 120 colours, round barrelled with a 4mm core, and STUDIO is sold in 72 colours, Hexagonal barrel, and 3.4mm core. The Pencils in these two lines were designed many years ago and there are a larger than average number with low lightfastness. They are good pencils, though, and a lot of professional artists still rely on them.See the Derwent site for official colour charts and ratings. www.pencils.co.uk COLOURSOFT are the Derwent answer to the American Prismacolor. A soft wax pencil in strong bright colours in a range of 72. The Earth colours are totally light stable but there are a few in the light shades ( e.g. Pink), to be cautious over the risk of fading. The relative softness of the core enables strong laydown of colour but there is a need to be careful over sharpening the point too fine - a fine point will easily crumble - oversharpening is wasteful.Development of many layers on hot pressed paper is easy and if you burnish the top layers you will achieve a polished, strongly coloured image.Whilst these pencils handle well, the 8mm round barrel does not fit in all power sharpeners and that can be inconvenient. A good pencil - particularly now the Derwent wax pencil colour range has been augmented by the new Procolour pencils ( below ).
Derwent PROCOLOURThis new line of wax based coloured pencils were launched in the UK mid July 2017. They have a handling feel with softness somewhere between the harder Artist range and the softer Coloursoft. The Procolour pencils will take a very fine point in a power sharpener and there is little or no sign of crumbling from the needle sharp tip when used.The colour range in the 72 Procolour pencils is slightly different from Coloursoft so a combination of the two brands will give over a hundred unique colours. Procolour are not quite as vibrant and a finished ‘all Procolour’ artwork will be recognisable by the more subdued but possibly more detailed finish against Coloursoft. I think it fair to say that these new pencils fit into a logical slot as a softer version of the Artists/ Studio pencil.There is such a large number of YouTube reviews on this new line that I recommend that you view several to get a good cross section of views. In my own view they are a good pencil, subject to the comment below on LF ratings.One issue raised by many artists commenting on this new line from Derwent, is the lightfastness level of so many colours.For a new pencil line promoted for ‘professional use’, I think that it is a shame that the opportunity was not taken to follow the example of other manufacturers and go for higher lightfast levels. I suggest that anyone using these ‘seriously’ would be advised to mark the lower LF numbers on the pencils with clear labling as I have done here.The alternative, if you have a full set of Coloursoft, is to remove the few low lightfast colours from the Coloursoft set and amalgamate all the Good LF colours (118 at my count ) to make one excellent set. Yes, you will lose some pale colours, but nothing that you can’t deal with using a layer of white or a bit of judicious blending. It is easy to see which are the softer and harder pencils from the colour of the pencil barrelI show here a shot of my amalgamated setAll these colours are rated LF Blue Wool scale 4 or above
I have had comment from a user of the current formula pencils who took them to Tunisia in temperatures of 30 degrees and found they were inclined to soften and break easily. I think that this could well be a problem for many of the softer cored brands. My suggestion is to keep all Wax and oil based coloured pencils in cool conditions if you are working in a hot climate - possibly a coolbag might help.See also the Penciltopics chart taken from the actual pencils and available as part of the colour comparison set from this siteDerwent Watercolour 2010 chart
In January 2014, I sorted out the pencils I use regularly into a new set of zipped cases and prepared a small card to remind me of the performance of the contents of each set. The card for Inktense is copied here to show the vibrancy of the colours.You will note the very strong colours involved and the high pigmentation. Most colours show up much stronger after the addition of water. The chart shows the first line of colours in their dry stateThe second line shows the addition of water first in concentration and then as a sweep of a small amount of the wet colour off into a paler, less concentrated form.This type of card is invaluable to keep with your pencils. Watercolour pencils tend to become much stronger on the paper when wet with water, so this guide will help you spot areas and colours to take care with.The paper should be a hot pressed watercolour paper, the pencil reference and colour name is written in, and then two rows of colour blocks are worked against the names.the first block in the set is left dry and the second one is moistened and then a little of the colour drawn out with the brush to give a wash.
In 2011 Derwent introduced a further new product in the Inktense group - Inktense Blocks. These are hard pastel like sticks with a flat overall shape designed to be used as either a drawing tool ( like pastel ) or as a source for wet pigment ( like a paint box pan colour). There are 24 colours available in sets of either 12 or 24. Pigment and handling are said to be the same as the Inktense pencils.ARTBARSIntroduced early in 2012, These are triangular shaped soft wax crayons containing a soluble medium and strong pigment content.I have not tested these and from the demonstration video shown on the Derwent web site, they appear to be more a craft than a fine art product. There are some interesting accessories ( this seems to be the current trend - to introduce a product and sell a number of associated tools and pieces of equipment ). DRAWING.This small range of 24 natural colours are all totally light stable. The wax based pencils are on the hard side and suit a hard surfaced paper. A long standing range in the Derwent collection with some good colours for portraits and animal studies.GRAPHITINTa water soluble coloured graphite pencil, There is a range of 24 colours. When dry colour is applied they are all shades of grey. The colour only really comes out when water is applied. The original formula was very low on fade resistance in half of the colours and the range was therefore not recommended, but an upgrade has resulted in only 4 of the colours now having a low blue wool scale rating. Very soluble and an interesting collection of shadow colours which will appeal to those looking for a different approach to colour. If Graphite ‘rocks your boat’ these pencils could be worth trying.METALLIC An interesting line of 12 reflective colours which do excellent work on dark papers.Best used alone - they do not need white underneath on black paper.All the new lines from Derwent are manufactured in a state of the art factory which operates to top environmental standards. The paint used to colour the wood of the pencils is environmentally sound and uses no solvents. This does mean, however, that some colour may be expected to leach from the barrel of the pencil on to your hand when used on a hot day.Derwent seem to be standardising on sets of 72 colours which will enable them to market pencils in standard sized tins and boxes. For the serious artist, this may reduce the colour choice if the older lines are totally withdrawn, as the main competitors are selling sets up to 120 colours in range.Derwent also make a Blender pencil and a Burnisher pencil - sold in a pack with two of each, an eraser and a small sharpener for around £5.50. The burnisher can also be used as a resist for keeping pale lines reserved. ( see techniques - working the surface - ‘protected’ & ‘burnished’ )Among Accessories marketed by this company, are a battery eraser, various sharpeners, pencil extenders and tools for manipulating the colour on the paper.
Derwent WATERCOLOUR pencils have been in production for many years and were last reformulated and replaced in 2009. The old design had Turquoise coloured wood and came in 72 colours. The more up to date design has a dark blue hexagonal barrel. If you come across any with grey barrels, these are a very old range and you will find them poor compared to the latest versionSome of the colours in the original line had very low lightfastness ratings. I liked the old turquise barrelled pencils which were medium hardness and handle well.The new line still has 72 colours ( some new ), a softer core and higher lightfastness levels. The Derwent website does now give details, There are still some poor ratings in some colours. I did use the current formula pencils for a step by step picture of Venice featured on the Topics talk group in the spring of 2017. This was done on cold pressed watercolour paper and the result was acceptable bearing in mind the surface. The colour range is good for landscapes with a good selection of greens and browns.When using Aquarelle pencils to make a watercolour type wash for backgrounds, Derwent Watercolour pencils have some colours that do not make a good wash - the pigment is possibly not as finely ground as some brands. This is only likely to be a problem at greater dilutions and is unlikely to create difficulties when using them as a dry pencil before adding water to the paper.If you wish to try Aquarelles ( water soluble pencils ) and notice sets of the old Derwent turquoise coloured watercolour pencils on sale at a good price, take advantage of the offer. You may see deals like ‘half original price’ and the old pencils are good, even if they are a little harder to the touch than the new ones. You may even get a fancy wooden box with them !!!! And you may also find they work well in Tunisia. INKTENSEhave been one of Derwent’s more successful innovations. There are 71 colours in the full set with a non soluble black outliner making 72 pencils in all. These are water soluble pencils which erase as a dry medium, but once washed in with water, are permanent on the paper. Don’t confuse permanence with Lightfastness, there are still a number of lower rated pigments here, though not too many. A good option if you work with bright or strong colours. A number of professional artists like them for underpainting the paper before adding dry colour. It speeds up the painting process a great deal. There is quite a major step up in colour strength when wet, and you need to know what the effect of water is going to be before you set out on a picture. I suggest you do your own chart showing the colours both dry state and also after wetting. The darker colours come up very strong ( see linked chart ) and only show differences when well diluted. I strongly advise that the first time you use them, you test the pencils and paper out first, and keep your pigment strength low on the paper until you are used to them. They probably have the highest colour strength of any aquarelle pencils.
Page last revised …. 16th July 2019
Derwent LIGHTFASTA new collection of OIL based pencils from this manufacturer.This is unusual for Derwent as they have for years concentrated on wax based pencils.The set was released in June 2018 in time for the Patchings Festival at Nottingham and presented an initial 36 colours all tested at ASTMS LF1 the highest lightfast level. We were told that more colours would be introduced as the testing of the extended range is completed. The price range as at September 2018 came in at £2.40 to £3 per pencil, so the lowest price found for the set of 36 at that time was around £90 against a RRP of £110. Offers have appeared since.I have not seen fit to buy any for testing - as you know I ceased doing that a year or more ago as I have several thousand coloured pencils in my collection and I don’t spend money on things I don’t need. Derwent, in common with other manufacturers used to send me samples for testing and comment. They no longer do so.The consensus of several opinions that I have read indicate that the Lightfast pencils handle very much the same as Polychromos so this new line will need to have a large colour range to meet the brand leader head to head and have some additional benefit from the LF1 and LF2 lightfast ratings ( Polychromos have a number of low rated colours ) The Derwents will also have a price hurdle to clear as well, as current indications are that the new line will be at least twice as costly to buy as PolychromosThere are a number of reports and reviews on the Internet and demos on You Tube and I suggest that if you are interested, you look through several and take a view based on a cross section of them. Bear in mind that some reviews are sponsored by Derwent.The opinion I read is that - putting aside the cost - these are a good pencil with a smooth lay down of highly pigmented colour. The colour is easily blendable on the page and possibly the few criticisms I read centre on the high price and the limited selection of colours in the original set of 36 which appear to have been chosen based on testing results rather than deliberate choice of a good cross section for use.A further selection of Lightfast colours have been released this Summer ( 2019) in time for the Patchings Festival at Nottingham, taking the availability up to the full set of 72 in common with other Derwent ranges. In addition there will be a further selection of colours included in the top of the range wooden box set which will have 100 colours available and should be released later this year.Lightfast coloured pencils have been a holy grail that artists in CP have wanted for a long time. Caran d’Ache brought out the most successful version yet a few years ago ( Luminance) and these were the best attempt so far at a pencil to meet the American ASTMS 6901 standard. Previous attempts by Prismacolor were dropped as unprofitable and the old Derwent Signature departed many years ago as they were too dry and scratchy ( the combination of pigment and binder at that time was not at all good ). Lightfastness is all very well but the pencil has to work on paper. Reviews of the new Derwent Lightfast pencils suggest that they are mid range softness and very smooth. In a brief test at the Patchings Festival this year in a warm tent at the Derwent stand on an unknown paper, I found the pencils too soft for my taste and layering unevenly. This may have been down to the heat or the paper, but those are the findings I have to report. At around £3 a pencil, I don’t intend to buy any to do a full test as I don’t need any. My recommendation - if you are interested in a lightfast pencil - is to read Ivor Harrison’s detailed review in the Art Gear Guide online where he compares Luminance and Lightfast in his studio conditions.If you are still interested, send for three or four single pencils from somewhere like Cult Pens or Pencils4artists at a total cost of around £15 - £20 going for basic colours you can always use - like a mid blue, primary red and a yellow and white. Do a comparison with a brand you know on paper you know and form your own opinion before spending serious money. .