Sunday, May 20, 2018

Product Review: Faber-Castell Goldfaber Aqua Colored Pencils (Albrecht Durer Comparison)

Faber-Castell's Goldfaber Aqua pencils

The last time I poked around at the Daniel Smith Seattle store, I spotted a new line of colored pencils from Faber-Castell called Goldfaber (available in both traditional and water-soluble). Based on their pricing, I could see that they were on the low end compared to F-C’s premier pencil lines, oil-based Polychromos and water-soluble Albrecht Durer, but I was curious about how different they might be. Following my own sage wisdom about trying new colored pencils, I resisted buying all the colors and instead got the smallest assortment – 12 colors of water-soluble Goldfaber Aqua Pencils. (Unfortunately, I can’t provide a link to Daniel Smith because the paint manufacturer no longer sells products online except for paints, so the link will take you to I intended to put them head-to-head with Albrecht Durer pencils to see how they compared.

Goldfaber cores and barrels (left) are slightly smaller than Durer's
The Goldfaber pencils come in a typical hinged tin. The standard-diameter hexagonal barrel is a matte-finish gray with a glossy end cap indicating the core’s color. The core is 3.3mm, while Durer’s core is 3.8mm (and the entire Durer barrel is slightly larger). The Goldfaber wood is a lighter color and slightly speckled compared to Durer’s.

Although I tend to use Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles more often now than Albrecht Durer, Faber-Castell’s Durer line is still one of my favorites, and I’m familiar with how these excellent pencils apply, blend and activate. When I made swatches of the Goldfaber colors, I was immediately taken by how similar they feel in softness and texture to the Durer pencils. At least these particular 12 hues changed very little when activated with water (some water-soluble pencils change dramatically after water is added).

I decided to swatch the same hues in the Durer line, and Faber-Castell made that task very easy: It uses the same color numbers on both lines. Strangely, one color in the Goldfaber line – 147 (light blue) – is not available in the Durer line. At first I thought I had lost No. 147 in my complete Durer set (and you can imagine how annoyed I became at that possibility!). I even got on my hands and knees to see if that pencil had fallen out of its “vase” and onto the floor behind my desk. But then I checked Blick’s open-stock inventory, and I realized the Durer line simply doesn’t include 147. The other 11 hues, however, match exactly.

I admit I was surprised to see how similar – identical, in fact – all the colors are, including the way they wash. The Goldfabers seemed equally rich in pigment – yet the Durers cost nearly twice as much. Hmmm, now things were getting interesting!   

At this point I checked Goldfaber’s lightfastness to see how it compared to Durer’s (the latter has artist-quality pigments, most of which have a high lightfast rating). According to the Goldfaber insert, the Aqua line “is available in 48 bright and ultra-lightfast colours.” On Blick’s site, the Goldfabers are described as having “a high degree of lightfastness,” but each hue’s lightfast rating is not indicated as it is on the Durers. F-C says Goldfaber is intended for “both aspiring and hobby artists,” and Blick describes the line as “created for students and hobby artists,” which are clues that the pigments aren’t artist quality.

5/16/18 Faber-Castell Goldfaber Aqua pencils, Stillman & Birn Beta
Now it was time for the rubber to hit the road. Using colors 107, 120, 121, 163 and 166, I first made a test sketch of an apple with the Goldfaber Aqua pencils on Stillman & Birn Beta paper. Initially I was impressed that the pigments applied as easily as Durer pencils on toothy Beta paper. I activated the first layer with water and let it dry, and I was pleased by how fully the pigments dissolved. They seemed very similar to Durer in that way, too. I applied a second layer of pigment, and that’s when I started noticing a difference. The pencil application felt a bit “sticky” over the previous layer, and the colors weren’t blending without
5/17/18 Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer pencils, Stillman & Birn Beta
some effort.

Next I sketched the same apple on the same paper using the same color numbers of Albrecht Durer pencils (this is about as apple-to-apple a comparison as I’ve ever made 😉). Making this sketch confirmed that the biggest difference between the two lines of pencils comes with the second and successive applications of pigment. It’s much easier to blend with Durer pencils, they apply more smoothly over previously activated layers, and I was able to achieve richer hues in less time (30 minutes, compared to 45 for the Goldfaber sketch).

Still, if lightfastness isn’t an issue (I haven’t found clear information one way or another as to whether the Goldfabers have the same degree of lightfastness as Durers, though I suspect they don’t), considering the significantly lower cost, I’d say these Goldfaber pencils aren’t too shabby. I am impressed by how closely F-C matched the pigments in these two lines as well as the degree of water-solubility. If Goldfaber is Faber-Castell’s low-end line, it’s pretty darn good.

As I started thinking about this, I recalled another low-end F-C watercolor pencil: the Art Grip Aquarelle line. I don’t have them anymore, so I can’t compare them directly, but I remember them as being much harder and containing less pigment. The grippy, textured surface and triangular barrel seemed to be designed for younger students. Surprisingly, Blick’s price for them is higher than for Goldfabers. I don’t know why Faber-Castell would need two low-end watercolor pencils, but for my money, Goldfabers are far better. I certainly wouldn’t replace my beloved Albrecht Durer collection with them, but I would definitely recommend them to someone who wanted to give watercolor pencils a try without making a huge investment.

Incidentally, the name Goldfaber isn’t new; it turns out to be the name that F-C used for a line of colored pencils at least several decades ago (as noted on a set for sale on eBay). I wonder how they would compare to contemporary Goldfabers . . . ? (You knew I would wonder about that, didn’t you!)

Updated 6/13/18: Wonder no longer! See my review comparing vintage Faber-Castell Goldfaber pencils with these contemporary Goldfabers.

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