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Imported from Geneva in Switzerland, Caran d’Ache Pencils are marketed in a range of individual brands.

Caran d’Ache are one of the newer brands in Europe having been founded in 1915 as a manufacturer of writing instruments.

They have built up a strong reputation for quality in the years since.

The Company produce a wide range of art media and continue to develop new lines.

The wax based dry point pencil is brandedPABLO and comes in 120 colours with a good selection of natural shades - ideal for landscapes.  They are medium soft and are very close to Polychromos in feel, but harder than Derwent Coloursoft.  

They tend to be more expensive than other brands across the board and distribution around the UK is not evenly spread.

They may not be easy to find, but as a Landscape Artist, This brand tends to be the first box I go to for landscape subjects as the colour range suits my style of work and the pencils handle well.

To see the Penciltopics standard chart of the Pablo colour range - completed from the actual pencils, see Caran d’Ache Pablo set colour chart

There is a very good ‘all rounder’ in the Caran d’Ache brands in SUPRACOLOR SOFT’, a soluble pencil with a soft feel which works well both as a dry point and an aquarelle. This also has the same 120 colours as Pablo.  

If you could only afford one good full set with a wide number of options, this brand would be a good choice.  

One good point with the Supracolor pencils is the fact that when the dry pigment is wet, the colour becomes more intense (in common with all aquarelles ) but this brand has very little colour shift so the colour you put down remains the colour you wanted.  

The Supracolor make a very good choice as a dry pencil too.

Single replacement pencils are readily available over the internet.

A colour chart of the full colour range for Supracolor completed from the actual pencils is shown at the foot of this page.

This is not in the standard format of the colour comparison charts featured elsewhere on the ‘PencilTopics’ site as it was completed some years ago when I first tried out the full range of Caran D’Ache Supracolor. It does show the effect of adding water to the dry colour.  In the meantime If you wish to see the colours in the Comparison Chart format, the Pablo chart is valid for Supracolor used dry.

In summer 2013 MUSEUM AQUARELLE PENCILS were introduced into the UK.  Soft, highly pigmented and lightfast. These have been sampled. These are softer than Supracolor, but contain more pigment and therefore produce strong colour effects.

Fuller Reporting is below the detailed section on Supracolor lower down this page.

A lightfast non soluble pencil,  LUMINANCE 6901’ is a blend of some waxes but mainly oils first came on sale in the UK during 2008.   the number relates to the American ASTMS standard for lightfastness.  

This is a dry point pencil with a high pigment level  All the colours are lightfast, but the set of 76 colours has 38 Brights ( reds yellows blues etc ) and 38 Earth colours, many of which come in twins or triplets of shades of the same colour, so you don’t actually get 76 unique colours. The idea of having two or three shades of a colour is helpful to the artist, however, and the collection is a good one.

The recommended retail price (RRP) for Luminance is around twice that of other quality pencils so there is some sales resistance because of the cost.  They retail at around £2.30 per pencil, RRP, but there are offers from time to time which are worth taking up. Single pencils are available to replace used ones.   The white Luminance is possibly the softest and best white dry point pencil I have come across and it will keep on working long after other brands have given up.  Most useful for highlights and when working on black or dark papers.  

I don’t try to use other brands on top of Luminance, though.

Overall, very good soft  pencils,  but expensive.   

UPDATE   Luminance pencil design has been improved in 2012

with a fresh appearance to the pencil. The new design carries

the colour at the extreme top of the pencil, down the sides a

little way so that the colour can easily be seen as the pencil

sits in the box or on the table top.  

The lettering on the pencil side is still printed in illegible silver

but you don’t get everything perfect in one go !


As at August 2010 the position over lightfastness in coloured pencils has been complicated by the withdrawal of the Prismacolor lightfast range and the fact that the only other brand meeting ASTMS 6901 are the Talens Van Gogh pencils, now marketed as part of the Sakura group and whilst still available, are only currently sold in sets. ( Aug 2010 ).   Cretacolour coloured pencils from Austria meet the terms of ASTMS D4303 which is not the same but a similar ASTMS Lightfastness Test done on the pigments rather than the pencils

If you wish to buy pencils that meet an ASTMS standard for non fading, then the choice is either Luminance, Cretacolour or a careful selection from the ranges of other manufacturers by reference to their detailed charts, avoiding low rated colours.

This reduced competition makes the position of Caran d’Ache very much stronger.

For the colour range of Luminance, see the standard colour chart of the whole set completed from the actual pencils

Caran d’Ache Luminance set

Also in the Swiss range are NEOCOLOR .  These are solid wax crayons in a wide range of colours and can be used with the pencils. NEOCOLOR 1 are non-soluble and come in sets of 30 with some extra metallics, but the big range are the soluble ones -

NEOCOLOR 2 - which come in 126 assorted colours as well as singly.

Neocolor 1 ( the non soluble one ) can be used on a wide variety of unusual surfaces and is stable once it has been polished to burnish the surface.  I have seen it used on wood and terracotta, and also over Matt Acrylic,  and appears to have its limits only on glossy surfaces.

For those who like a fine pointed, hard colour Aquarelle pencil, Caran d’Ache Prismalo is still available.

This is an old line, but still useful.  Price wise they are less costly than the lines shown above and they are available through Great Art at about the same prices as Lyra lines.

Other pencil brands from Caran d’Ache ( which may not be easily found ) include the original Museum line which has a range of 24 highly water soluble ‘leads’ which fit in a propelling pencil holder. The colour range is said to be lightfast to a high standard though I don’t have data. This  product has an advantage for those unable to sharpen pencils easily and though the colour range is limited, the basic colours are there and being soluble, there is the ability to mix colours which are not represented.  For most people, though, this line would be an expensive option compared to traditional wood cased pencils.

In 2011, The Company  launched a blender/burnisher for colour pencils based on the colourless core of the luminance brand.

This is a woodfree stick of solid material which can be sharpened in a blade sharpener and is very effective for blending laid down colour from wax and oil based pencils.  The sticks are sold as the Full Blender Bright in packs of two sticks 17cm long, and can also be used to glaze over artwork and are said to protect against UV light

I see (Summer 2012) ‘SWISSCOLOR’ water soluble  pencils on the market in bright red boxes.

These appear to be a good student quality range and priced lower than the softer Supracolor.  I believe the range extends to 40 colours.  They are priced at under £1 each in sets.  I wouldn’t select these for Artwork unless I couldn’t afford the Supracolor.

I suspect they may be a re-packaged version of Prismalo Aquarelles.

Availability of Caran d’Ache products is usually easier over the internet :

From the UK retailers, try  Ken Bromley Art Supplies  or  www.jacksonart.co.uk

The Geneva Head Office of  Caran d’Ache  is at    www.carandache.ch/

To compare colours from one manufacturer’s products to another

See the section of this site titled ‘Colour comparisons’

Latest revision November 2013

As noted above, some very pale colours do not show on this photo, which is balanced to give the truest impression of most of the colours. All the colours tested show on the original test sheet.  Some may show incorrectly in this old photo (like Apricot - which is not yellow).

This new member of the Caran d’Ache Artists range was introduced into the UK market in July 2013.

The pencils are of larger diameter than most in the Caran d’Ache ranges and are highly pigmented and very soft. The lightfastness ranges from 5 star to just the one colour of the 76 ( Dark Plum) which is rated 2 . The Blue Wool scale ratings run from excellent ( 5 = 100 years stability ) to  3 star on a very few other colours which are rated ‘good’.  

There are 76 colours in the full range and in a similar way to the marketing of the new pastel pencil colours, there is a starter set of a standard 12 colours which incorporates two each of the three primaries ( red yellow and blue ) giving the ability to mix virtually any colour from the 6.  In addition the remaining 6 are useful support colours.  A good box.

The next size selections are of 20 colours each in a box of Landscape colours and a box of Marine colours.

Buying both these boxes enables the artist to have a good selection with very few duplicates.  The remaining colours of the full set of 76 will be available in October 2013 through selected UK retailers as single colours.
Prices run at about £2.50 a pencil, which is good value for such quality - particularly compared to what the artist now pays for a very small tube of watercolour from a market leader like Winsor and Newton.

For the launch of the range, Caran d’Ache made up sets of 6 pencils - retailed for £9 in the UK -  for entrants into a launch competition. These 6 colours give the ability to achieve a good range of colours through mixing complementaries. See the mixing sample here

There are two reds, two yellows and two blues and some excellent work was done for the competition just using these 6 colours.

To see the top 15 pictures selected, follow this link  to the ‘Painters Online’ site

This chart of the full 76 colour range shows the vivid range of highly pigmented colours. The first sample in each line is of the dry colour. The second sample of each shows the effect of adding water and you will note there is no major colour shift as a result.

Caran D’Ache Supracolor

Range of colours in the full set and the effect of using water on the colours

Several years ago, I bought my first full sized box of Caran D’Ache Supracolor pencils

(This was before the Topics’ site was a mere twinkle in the eye)

and I set to with the pencils on a large sheet of 500gsm watercolour paper to draw out a full chart of the colours Dry and Wet.

I show a photo of that chart below and though it is not perfect as an example of all the colours, it does show how little most of the colours are affected by the addition of water.

The first examples in column One are of the colour dry.  

The second column shows the dry colour treated with a small amount of clean water to bring up a concentrated wash.  

The third column shows the affect of dragging a brush of clean water across a block of dry colour and producing a fading wash.

The colours in the central section of the first line (on the left) are a set of very pale colours and these do not show at all well in the photo. Be assured that the colours are there in the original, and the same sort of results are seen as in the stronger shades.

The Third colour down in Column 2 is Bordeaux Red. This is one of the few colours to show a step change in strength when water is added.  There are two or three other colours that also come up stronger, but it is fair to say that no colour takes on a different shade when wet - the colours remain faithful to the intention of the artist.

Note for example, though, Apricot in column 4 is not a yellow. In real life the colour is correct. Here the photo is incorrect.

The decision taken then and shown here, is that whilst many brands of aquarelle pencil show a marked change in some colours - either in colour or strength - when wet, The Caran d’Ache Supracolor pencils are remarkably stable.

In the last couple of months I have tested the Museum pencils on a couple of pictures.

The first was a commission and was quite large for a pencil work ( 18 ins x 14 ins ).

Museum was used for all the base work in this picture and Supracolor was used dry for some of the final detail.  I find the slightly harder Supracolor achieves detail better and it still gives the opportunity to soften the pigment with water if necessary.

The blue of the sky was made up into a wash, dropped into wet paper and managed with a paper towel.

The house outlines were drawn in with Supracolor, and then Museum colours were applied dry and washed into the 300gsm Fabriano 5 Watercolour paper with a damp brush.

Heavy dark shadows were applied at the end with Supracolor worked dry.

This little watercolour sketch ( Right)   ( based on a watercolour by James Fletcher Watson)  was done in just over an hour using mostly Museum pencils.  

The drawing was done with Supracolor  to ensure a fine light coloured line which would be absorbed by the later watercolour .

A small piece of Hermes P400 grit paper was used as a palette and dry pigment worked into the grit paper direct from the pencils.

This was then picked up from the ‘palette’ with the brush and mixed/applied just as traditional watercolour would be.

Final detail was applied with dry pencil

The Watercolour sketch pad is a 19cm x 20cm  400gsm paper from Hahnemuhle with a fine surface. Takes watercolour well both sides.

Of  the 76 colour set,  61 colours are rated 5 star based on the Blue Wool scale of lightfastness ( up to 100 years unaltered ) and are graded ‘Excellent Lightfastness’.  A further 9 colours are graded 4 star ( Very Good), and 5 are rated 3 star ( Good).  There is only one colour ( 106 Dark Plum ) rated 2 star ( Weak).

The star rating is shown on each pencil together with the colour number - but not the name of the colour.

Adding a colour name gives rise to manufacturing complications for a company selling in a wide range of international markets







An update on Oil and Wax content for Caran d’Ache non soluble pencils is covered in more depth in the topic

Wax or Oil?

This explains the chemistry bit in hopefully more and clearer detail