About the company
Prismacolor pencils are now part of the Newell Rubbermaid company. Newell Rubbermaid acquired Sanford Brands in 1992. The Prismacolor brand has long been established in the US, since they are in available in almost every art, craft, drafting, and stationary store. Their wide availability and large selection of colors makes them the first artist quality colored pencil most US artists try. They are also very affordable. Currently they are being made in the USA and Mexico.
Primsacolor long ago set the standard for making a soft, creamy, thick cored colored pencil. It blends well and lays down color well.
However, Prismacolors are not without problems. First of all, older pencils come unsharpened, so most colored pencil artists are going to sharpen them in the nearest electric sharpener to avoid carpel tunnel. Most pencil sharpeners give this pencil a very long, sharp point, that tends to snap off when you use it. The cores break easily, and you can find pencils that are warped, and/or with off-centered cores. So try to buy these open stock, and make sure the core is centered in the wood. Also check to make sure the pencil itself does not bend. These were long made in the US, but now are also made in Mexico.
It is difficult to find lightfast ratings on their regular pencils, even on their website. The pencils have no lightfast ratings on them. However, The Colored Pencil Society of America provides lightfast ratings for it's members.
Prismacolor Premier Pencils have the largest range of colors for any colored pencil line in the USA. There are Japanese pencil lines that have more. Felissimo had 500 colors, and Mitsubishi had 240 in a collectors edition. Holbein colored pencils also have 150 colors. Prismacolors are very affordable, and artists have done some fabulous work with them. Since they are wax based, they can be used on the heated board (Icarus) to blend the colors. Many people use solvents to blend them, but since solvents tend to be toxic, especially when you use them day in and day out, we would rather blend these pencils with heat.
Prismacolor Premiers are available in open stock, in boxes, and in beautiful tins. The new 150 box is very sturdy, the pencils are arranged in color order, and are now presharpened. Once opened, the top can fold back to make an easel stand that props the box up slightly. There are three layers, each with two plastic trays that lift out. The plastic trays are flimsy and you end up juggling the layers around to get to the ones that are not on top. If the top two layers were put in firm cardboard that lifted out, they would be easier to place on your desk without spilling them. The cover art is by Ester Roi, who uses her Icarus Heated Board with Prismacolors and other colored pencils.
Prismacolor Watercolor pencils sadly do not even come close to the Premier line. They only have 36 colors, and they are hard to dissolve. It is a shame that the water-soluble line has been so neglected, since it would be amazing if you could get the 150 colors to match the Premier line. These pencils started out with a colored exterior to match the cores, then changed to a much nicer looking natural cedar exterior.
Prismacolor Verithins are really terrific for using for fine detail, since they are thin and hard and can get into small places that the much thicker Premiers cannot. Happily, the colors that are available match the Premier pencils.
Prismacolor Col-Erase Pencils- Not artist quality, but the easiest colored pencil to erase. Very useful for doing your initial drawing in. They erase easily, but use a good eraser, not the ones on the end of the pencils, which tend to get hard, and at best leave pink streaks on your paper.
Prismacolor Lightfast pencils quickly came and went. If you look at the parent companies website, you will see why. They have their latest stock price listed, and their history contains all of the dates they acquired companies right and left to grow bigger all the time. These were really nice pencils, but the bottom line is that they were very expensive compared to the regular Premier line. While we all scramed when we found out how un-lightfast many colored pencils were, especially the red colors, we were not quick to embrace the extra expense to fix the problem. Prismacolor was not alone in this- Derwent also introduced a line of lightfast colors that came and went fairly quickly. They were also more expensive. Caran d'Ache has a very expensive lightfast line as well- but if you look at their pigments, well, they are very expensive pigments! These were made in 48 colors.
Older Prismacolors are marked Berol, and these were much better quality pencils.
If you find Karisma pencils, these were made by Berol for the European market. They are beautifully designed, and while the company claimed they had the same cores, they were much less prone to breakage, falling out of the wood, etc. than their regular pencils. The exteriors are a beautiful natural wood, with the ends tapered very beautifully.