Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Product Review: Caran d’Ache Fancolor Pencils

7/18/16 Caran d'Ache Fancolor water-soluble colored pencils, Stillman & Birn Alpha paper

For the past couple of years, my favorite water-soluble colored pencils have been Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle pencils. Probably the Mercedes of colored pencils, they cost a pretty penny, but I take advantage of open stock suppliers to buy only the colors I use. Although the Museum color range isn’t as wide as Faber-Castell’s Albrecht Durer or Caran d’Ache’s mid-range pencil, Supracolor, that range includes an irresistible variety of earthy tones handy for urban sketching and other hues that closely align with watercolor paint pigments. The main reason I like the Museum line, however, is that they are the softest colored pencils I’ve ever used. They can be applied effortlessly and dissolve completely when activated with a little water and without scrubbing.

An assortment of 18 Fancolor pencils.
Just recently, a new (to me; I don’t think the product is new) line from Caran d’Ache came to my attention: Fancolor water-soluble colored pencils. Unlike the Museum and Supracolor lines, which are in the “professional and artist” collection, the Fancolor pencils are in the “hobby” section, which is probably the same as other manufacturers’ “student” lines.

When I’ve tried “student” grade colored pencils, especially inexpensive ones, I’ve found most to be dry, hard and scratchy in application, and water only partially dissolves the pigment. (One example is Faber-Castell’s Art Grip Aquarelle line.) I figured that the Fancolors might be like this, but colored pencil junkie that I am, I couldn’t resist getting a box of 18, just to see what they’re like. I kept my expectations low.

To my surprise, when applied, the Fancolors feel almost as soft and creamy as Museum pencils (if you blindfolded me, I’d probably have a hard time knowing the difference). When activated with water, the hues aren’t quite as rich as Museum pencils (which undoubtedly have more pigment), but they still dissolve as fully and quickly. And the colors blend just as easily.

6/21/16 Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle pencils, S&B Alpha
In the sketches shown here, the one of the banana and cherries (top) was done on Stillman & Birn Alpha paper, which has a good tooth to it. I’ve found it to be an ideal surface for water-soluble colored pencils, because the tooth grabs the pigment easily when applied in gradual layers, and it holds up well if water is applied. For comparison, I’m showing a still life of three heirloom tomatoes that you saw last month (at right), which was done with Museum pencils, also on S&B Alpha.

The sketch of the single heirloom (bottom of page) was done in a yellow Field Notes notebook. (Granted, that paper is probably not intended for water-soluble colored pencils, but it held up well to both the bright colors and water.) The Field Notes paper is a lot smoother than S&B Alpha, and I think colored pencils really need a little more tooth for better coverage. Still, the Fancolors didn’t do bad at all, and the white pencil included in the box of 18 helped bring out the highlights that didn’t quite pop on yellow paper as they did on white Alpha.

Although its water-activated pigment isn't quite as rich,
Fancolor dissolves as fully and easily as Museum
Despite how much I love Museum pencils, a pet peeve of mine is that their diameter is just slightly larger than conventional pencils, and I’ve had a heck of a time finding a portable sharpener that can accommodate them. (I took my search all the way to Paris and Tokyo with mediocre results. Right now, the smaller hole of this KUM sharpener seems to be working best.) So I was delighted to find that Fancolor pencils are the same diameter as conventional pencils. I can stick them into my electric pencil sharpener, and they come out with deadly sharp points, just as I like them. And yet they don’t crumble!

On the downside: If you care about archival materials, I’m assuming that the Fancolors are not. That’s typically a distinguishing trait between “professional/artist” and “hobby/student,” and Caran d’Ache tells me that Museum pencils’ lightfast colors will last longer than I will. (However, I couldn’t find anything about whether Fancolors are archival in Caran d’Ache’s product information.) In addition, the Fancolor range is relatively narrow (the largest assortment comes with 40), and the hues tend toward crayon-bright.

7/19/16 Fancolor pencils; Field Notes notebook
But how’s this for a colored pencil strategy: Get a budget-priced box of 18 or 40 Fancolors for the basics, then fill in with individual colors of high-priced Museums or mid-range Albrecht Durers or Supracolors for the more subtle or rich, earthy hues. At less than half the price of Museums (and a third less than Supracolors), the Fancolors offer a lot of bang for the buck. 


  1. I just ordered the 40 Fancolor set and can't wait to test them! Your advice and review of them are so helpful, Thanks, so much Tina! I have the Neocolor!! FULL set which I've been using for years and they will have to do for the fill-ins. Caran d'Ache knocks it out of park! Always learn so much from you, and will keeping at your Daily Sketches! You've motivated me to become more regular at brief sketches!

    1. I'm happy that you are finding my reviews useful! And I'm ALWAYS happy if I can inspire sketching! YAY!!


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