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Review: Prismacolor Premier Lightfast

Sun Jan 28, 2007, 11:39 AM
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Review by robertsloan2

Prismacolor Lightfast 48 by robertsloan2 is my color chart for the new Prismacolor Premier Lightfast set of 48, which is the full range in Prismacolor's latest invention. Watch for the tins with a bright Mayan or Aztec styled mask design on a silver background! There is another 24 color Prismacolor Lightfast set that is no more than a collection of regular Prismacolors chosen for being the 24 most lightfast in the normal range for Prismacolor Premier (which is what we used to know just as Prismacolor Colored Pencils, before they started distinguishing them from Prismacolor Scholar).

There is a color chart on the back of the tin listing them by color number for reordering, but I made my own on paper so that I could have some idea how well these colors scan. The color dots as always are not entirely accurate, but they come pretty close. ASTM-approved lightfast rating is listed on every pencil, either a I for greatest lightfastness or a II for acceptable lightfastness. The set includes a Lightfast colorless blender with a different formula than the Prismacolor Colorless Blender -- it's the Lightfast binder without any pigment.

What is the most important thing to remember about these Lightfast pencils is that they are not as soft as Prismacolor Premier. They are closer to the hardness of other artist grade colored pencils such as Cretacolor Aqua Monolith or Derwent Studio/Artist or other brands. They lack the supersoft creamy texture of Prismacolor Premier, but are still within the "soft" range and quite softer than Verithin. They're about halfway between Prismacolors and Verithins.

They do hold a fine point the way Verithins do, which is pretty handy if you're looking to keep an entire artwork on archival materials such as 100% cotton acid-free Arches watercolor paper with artist grade watercolors for underpainting. You don't need to go beyond them if you don't have a need for colors not included. Oranges will mostly be mixed, because there isn't a pure bright orange in the set. A nice orange down in the earth tones, but not the super-bright oranges found in most sets, you need to mix the warm yellow with the various reds to get the orange range.

It's a bit trickier getting dark pinks, but naturally I ran into that gap with my current piece where I used Winsor-Newton Opera Rose to underpaint some coral and needed a hot pink for medium-value highlights that won't lose the searing brightness of the Opera Rose (it comes out like red or dark hot pink highlighter when used at full strength). Hard to mix that with reds and a lighter pink, but I'm getting somewhere with it and stubbornly using only the 48 color set. The palette is designed for mixing and uses traditional pigments and hues of traditional pigments. Presumably I might get that hot pink effect mixing white over one of the reds, but I'll need to do some testing on side scraps to actually know what mixture will create it.

The range is nice and strong on greens and blues, it's a good landscape set with a fine variety of earth tones too. It's the floral range that may take some serious mixing and layering to get the results you want. They do mean "Artists' Palette" -- there are warm and cold versions of the primaries and some secondaries, lots of greens and blues but even more earth tones. Not much in the way of grayscale, you're supposed to get that by pressure and mixing, I think. Half of the colors in this range only came out last year anyway, the first version of this set was only the 24 color Premier Lightfast set that got so easily confused with the original Lightfast set of 24.

The tin is a double-layer non-hinged tin with the usual styrene trays inside. There's a bit over half an inch of space between the ends of the trays and the end of the tin, presumably so that you can lay out the trays to see the colors on the lower tray when they're stacked. This is fine if you keep your set perfectly flat on a desk or drafting table and never move or drop it. As with many Prismacolor tins, I suggest padding it with a layer of white flannel or felt to keep the pencils from jumping out of their grooves, and in this tin, roll a bit of cardboard or cut a piece of foam to make the bottom tray slide toward the top and stay visible under the upper tray.

As usual for Prismacolor, the colors are not organized chromatically, so you'll wind up doing that yourself. ASW added a bonus item with this set, a 72 pencil Easel Case made of padded nylon over a stiffener, cleverly designed so that pulling a cord snaps it up into a prism shape with 36 pencils on a side.

What I found about the Easel Case is that it's great if I unsnap it and lay it flat on my lap, since both rows of pencils are easily visible and held in place by elastic bands. That's even more convenient for drawing in nontraditional areas like sunk into a deep recliner or sprawled on a bed or the floor or a sofa. The case turned out to be extremely convenient -- and having 72 slots, can also hold the first 12 New Colors along with the 2006 New Colors with your Lightfast set, if you already have 120 colors in a 120 color pencil case. Just handy for those of us that need to have every color Prismacolor makes at hand all the time especially if doing anything large.

I love the pencils and trust the lightfastness rating on them. Because they aren't as soft, they also aren't as prone to Internal Breakage as normal Prismacolors.

Manganese Violet was the big pleasant surprise of the lot. Its barrel is enameled a very light violet, the point looks almost black, but is very transparent so the color comes through much more like the barrel of the pencil. I used it heavily in my current reef piece for shading over pthalo blue watercolor and am happy with its transparency. Opacity of different colors varies more than with regular Prismacolors, and I am still discovering which colors are the most transparent.

None of them seem like close matches for other Prismacolors, so this is an additional range for the Prismacolor addicted. If you want the softness of Prismacolor Premier though, I'd suggest burnishing layers in more traditional Prismacolors or with the old Colorless Blender, at a slight loss of lightfastness. Not all the colors in the old range fail to be as lightfast as these, some of them rate very highly.

The least lightfast colors were the purples and pinks in this set, along with some reds and blues.

If you aren't sure whether to invest in the largest set, consider a smaller set of Lightfast pencils to test the softness and how they handle on your preferred archival papers. These are much more expensive than regular Prismacolors even online, the individual replacements at Blick are $1.69 and I didn't see them listed at ASW. So I hesitate to use them on less than fully archival substrates.

ASW is currently offering the 24 color set as a bonus when you get the 120 color Prismacolor Premier set though, this doesn't include either New Colors tin but it would give you a total of 144 colors if you're planning on getting the large set and want to try these before investing in the largest set. In sets, they're about $1.41 per pencil, so the sets are a good bargain at Blick -- even more when you find them on sale.

Unfortunately, ASW does not have the customer service levels that Blick does, and I'm still waiting for my 2006 New Colors set and a chance to try Black Raspberry for the first time. They sent the 2005 New Colors by mistake and also instead of two wirebound field books, two hardbound Basic sketchbooks (that were cheaper) in the same sizes. When I phoned in the mistakes, they sent someone to pick up the mistaken items, so I didn't get any freebies for my trouble out of the delay and the phone service people were rude as well, one of them insisting that I'd gotten the catalog number wrong (when it's posted on the website as the one I used) and then turning it over to his manager, who insisted the wrong items be returned because they're having trouble with their picking company that takes things out of the warehouse. I understand mistakes happen sometimes, Blick makes them just as often. But Blick will usually let you keep the mistaken items and always apologize, sometimes send a coupon or some other way of making up for it and expedite the replacement order.

ASW in the past didn't even notify me when they ran out of Derwent Inktense pencils and just didn't charge me for them, thus leaving me waiting for weeks without any other way of finding them. So their service just isn't as reliable, but the prices on large sets of colored pencils are still unbeatable and they haven't screwed up anything that big yet.

I have not done any extreme lightfastness testing yet on the Prismacolor Premier Lightfast colored pencils, but I do trust the testing authority to rate these materials and appreciate having the specific ratings printed on each pencil as well as in a list on the folder that came in the tin. They are a high quality set that suffers from being a smaller range than Prismacolor Premiers, and does have a different texture. Be sure to invest in high quality archival paper or board if you want to get started on these, because it seems a waste to use them on cheaper papers and watch them yellow with age. I'd at least use acid free drawing paper or board with them.

Crescent No. 1 Cold Press Illustration Board is a 100% rag content archival board, 40 ply thick (3.3 mm thick) and comes in 22" x 30" or 30" x 40" sizes. I'm ordering a full size sheet next month to use for completely archival works since it's so thick it'll stand up to very wet underpainting.

Arches watercolor paper in sheets, pads, blocks or rolls is expensive but often on sale at both Blick and ASW, other brands also produce 100% rag content fully archival watercolor paper but I haven't tried it. Later on I will be testing the other artist brands one sheet at a time, but not on my upcoming order. It makes a very good substrate for colored pencil work with an underpainting, since even the smooth Hot Press is very absorbent and dries flat if you use a block or stretch the sheet.

For something lighter, that is still acid free and might make an interesting drawing surface -- if you're careful about underpainting and/or leave a wide margin, Blick also has the Canson Montval 200 Watercolor Pad on sale for $19.98 -- it has 100 sheets that are 9 1/2" x 12 1/2" size on a very thick pad. I'm thinking of using it primarily as a drawing pad and for watercolor pencil techniques, but I might actually invest two or three more dollars in this pad when I get it. It's cellulose paper, but acid free and decent watercolor paper, only 95lb so I wouldn't use heavy allover washes.

But if I take this thick pad to a copy shop like Kinko's and get them to bind the other three sides leaving a one inch space for slitting the sheets off, then what I wind up with is a supersize, superthick watercolor block that would stand up to much wetter techniques and have enough sheets that it lasts a good long time. Most watercolor blocks have 15 to 20 sheets, and this is probably about comparable to the quality of my Canson Montval watercolor blocks -- acceptable to use with archival media like the Prismacolor Premier Lightfast pencils.

It could be pretty handy and that's a lot of paper to have around in case I happen to get an idea or botch an attempt at rendering it. I'm going to give that giant pad a try and find out whether it is the bargain it seems, certainly it'd be a long time before I used it up!

That's all for now. If you think of any questions about the Prismacolor Premier Lightfast colored pencils, please note me at robertsloan2 and I'll come back and edit the answers into this review for future reference. Enjoy -- and watch out for sales that offer these as freebies, they are a good freebie!

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January 28, 2007


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