Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Colored Pencil Review: Derwent Procolour

Derwent Procolour colored pencils
A few weeks ago when I showed my swag from the Chicago symposium, I mentioned that I had received a sample Derwent Procolour colored pencil. Derwent’s newest colored pencil line, Procolour has just been released in the US. Initial scribbles looked promising, so I chose a couple of fistfuls of pencils from Procolour’s line of 72 colors through open stock at Blick.com.

British company Derwent makes a staggering number of colored pencil collections (almost all of which I’ve tried), including both traditional and water-soluble. Within its traditional line, Studio and Artist are its firmest lines (intended for outlining and crisp details), and ColourSoft (which I reviewed earlier this year) is its softest available in a full range of colors. (Derwent Drawing Pencils are even softer and are my favorites for certain purposes, but they are available only in a narrow range of earth tones.) The new Procolour line falls somewhere between ColourSoft and Studio/Artist in softness. Since my colored pencil review series showed me that I prefer a slightly harder pencil (such as Faber-Castell Polychromos) to super-soft ones, I was eager to find out how Procolours stack up.

8/8/17 Procolour pencils, Stillman & Birn Alpha
First, a few comments about appearance and other non-core physical characteristics. Like Derwent’s other “professional” colored pencil collections, round Procolour pencils have a slightly thicker barrel than most colored pencils, and I find that thickness especially comfortable to use. The barrel and 4mm core are the same size as Caran d’Ache Luminance and Museum Aquarelle pencils.

All Procolour pencils have the same dark gray, matte-finish barrel, which is attractive enough. The core color is identified with a glossy end cap as well as a color name next to it, which I appreciate (other brands indicate colors by number only). All of Derwent’s professional pencil lines have consistently colored barrels rather than barrels that indicate the core color. Though it’s not a deal breaker, it’s somewhat inconvenient not to be able to identify the color at a quick glance. However, my much bigger peeve about Derwent’s colored end caps is that many do not reflect the cores’ colors accurately. I have the same issue with Derwent’s Inktense line (and, to a lesser degree, the ColourSoft line). I have to look directly at the core tip to find a color and always make a test scribble to confirm that color. (It’s a good thing I habitually store my colored pencils in cups with points facing up, which makes the task easier.) For a line of pencils intended for professional use, this seems sloppy.
Pretty end caps, but not necessarily helpful.

Now let’s get to the important part: the core. In softness, Procolours are softer than oil-based Polychromos and produce almost no dust. In fact, I’d say they are more comparable to Caran d'Ache Pablo in softness.

I was not able to find out whether Procolours are wax- or oil-based (Derwent’s site says Procolour has “the covering power of wax yet glides like an oil”), but subjectively as they are applied to paper, they feel waxy. I don’t see any evidence of a wax bloom on the cores. They sharpen to a nice point in my (few) sharpeners that accommodate larger pencils, especially my electric Bostitch.  

On Stillman & Birn Alpha paper, it takes several layers of pigment to cover the slightly toothy surface. On S&B Epsilon’s smoother surface, the Procolours cover the texture with fewer layers. They blend beautifully with rich hues and tones.

Erasing test
In my erasing test, done on the S&B Alpha with a Tombow Mono Zero eraser, Procolours fared slightly worse than average and do not erase completely.

Lightfastness is generally not a primary concern of mine, since I work almost exclusively in sketchbooks. But I appreciate that Derwent provides a full chart of colorfastness ratings on its website for those who need this information.

I could complain that Procolours are available in only 72 colors (compared to Polychromos, Pablo and many other professional lines that come in 120 or more colors) – but I’m not going to. The line includes a few unique colors I’ve not seen elsewhere. Although some part of me always wants as many colors as possible of any art material, the fact is, 72 colors is plenty when the range is varied enough for urban sketching and still lives, which make up the vast majority of my use of colored pencils. In other words, I would like more colors – but I don’t know what I’d do with them. 

8/26/17 Procolour pencils, Stillman & Birn Alpha
Do I recommend Procolour? Sure – it is a useful addition to Derwent’s extensive collection to fill the hole between ColourSoft’s softness and Studio’s and Artist’s hardness, and it fills it well with a strong range of colors. Its impressive that Derwent now has a line of colored pencils in each of five (that I am aware of) degrees of softness – something for every need or preference.

Do I like it better than Polychromos or Pablo (my current two favorites)? No – and I’m not sure I can articulate why, which means my reasons are probably idiosyncratic. Maybe Procolour’s degree of softness isn’t soft enough to make it useful for certain applications when softness is desired. It’s also not hard enough for details as Polychromos is. Or maybe the extra waxiness puts me off a little – a purely subjective “feel” factor. Less subjective is the inaccurate end cap color, which is a significant issue if I am constantly having to look at the tips and swatch the colors before using the pencils. (One of the thickly varnished end caps was already badly chipped when I received the pencil.) It’s a major peeve. I do like the thicker barrel. 

As usual, there is no best colored pencil. Softer cores are great for some applications; harder cores are better for others; how they feel in my hand and on the paper is important. These are definitely worth trying.
8/9/17 Procolour pencils, Stillman & Birn Epsilon

(Most links in this review go to Blick.com, but they are not affiliate links, and I paid for these pencils myself. Please shop around for the best value. Blick does tend to have competitive prices, but more important, it offers Procolour pencils open stock, which I think is the best way to buy any colored pencils.)


  1. You will soon need a separate room for all your colored pencils. Any pencil that is sold in open stock has a big advantage to me. I hate running out of colors and being left with the odd ones from the box that I will hardly ever use. :)

    1. Yeah, that separate pencil room. . . will need to build a storage unit in our backyard! ;-)

      - Tina

  2. Thanks for this write. I too, am wondering about this sample that was in our bag. Oil or wax. Cant find out definitively anywhere?

    1. I still have not seen an answer to this question, either! Perhaps the company is being particularly coy, though it seems like basic product information.

  3. Thanks so much for the review, do you know the tip size of the pencils?


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