Thursday, September 6, 2018

Product Review: Derwent Lightfast Colored Pencils

Derwent's newest Lightfast pencils

Unless my colored pencil radar has been faulty, the last time a major pencil maker came out with a new product line, it was Derwent’s Procolour last summer. I was therefore a little surprised to hear that, almost exactly a year later, it was the same British manufacturer that released yet another new collection: Derwent Lightfast. (Of course, Derwent probably has more colored pencil lines in production than any other maker, so it shouldn’t have surprised me much.)

This line is clearly targeted to professional colored pencil artists; the primary distinguishing feature is that every pigment in the collection has the highest lightfast rating for art products. “Derwent Lightfast pencils are formulated to be 100% lightfast,” the enclosed brochure says. “The revolutionary core is resistant to prolonged colour change ensuring artwork will not fade for up to 100 years under museum conditions.”

Since none of the notoriously fugitive hues (bright purples, pinks, some reds) are included, the Lightfast range is necessarily narrow – 36 colors. For a change, I resisted my usual impulse to buy every color available. Instead, I followed my own advice about trying a new colored pencil by starting with a basic set of 12.

One reason to be conservative is that Derwent Lightfast pencils are pricey. They are right in line with Caran d’Ache’s Luminance 6901 collection, which is similarly “designed for works intended for exhibition, collection and museum purposes.” The Swiss company’s premier colored pencil is “quite simply the most lightfast colour pencil ever designed.”

Other striking similarities with Luminance are Lightfast’s round, larger-than-average diameter, lightly varnished natural barrel, and glossy, colored end cap (coincidence?). Although it’s always easier to identify a pencil’s color if the entire barrel indicates it, I have to say that the natural wood grain showing through is beautiful, and the finish feels nice in hand.
Hmmm. . . any resemblance?
A lovely natural finish and colored end caps on both.

When I opened my metal box of 12, the first thing I noticed was the unusual color range. Nearly every basic set of 12 colored pencils I have ever seen – whether artist quality, student grade or novelty – has contained a variation of a full rainbow (red, orange, yellow, yellow-green, green, blue, sky blue, violet, sometimes pink) plus brown, black and white. The Lightfast set includes a much narrower rainbow: scarlet, sun yellow, mallard green, mid-ultramarine, violet; five earthy tones of sandstone, salmon, yellow ochre, natural brown, brown ochre; and black and white. A very practical, functional palette for most landscapes and probably portraits, it made me wish more pencil manufacturers would offer colors like these in their basic 12.
Lightfast's basic box of 12 has an unusual color selection.

As for how Lightfast feels, this is where it differs from its Swiss competitor Luminance, which is wax-based. Lightfast is oil-based. The only other oil-based pencil I have much experience with is Faber-Castell Polychromos, and the German brand is significantly harder than Lightfast. In fact, I’d say Lightfast is easily as soft as Luminance (which is among the softest I’ve used) but feels (paradoxically) waxier and creamier than Luminance. In the way it applies and layers, I think it comes closest to vintage Prismacolor pencils (before they went bad through outsourced production sometime in the ‘90s).

8/26/18 Derwent Lightfast pencils in Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook
Perhaps colored pencil artists who pine for the “old” Prismas and pay top dollar on eBay for vintage sets finally have a contemporary production line that feels similar. (Given the price of Lightfast, though, those eBay prices look pretty good.)

These Lightfast pencils are a joy to use. I thought Stillman & Birn Epsilon’s smooth surface would be a good match for Lightfast’s softness, and it is. In my apple sketch, pigments blended well without much effort, and the hues are as rich and vibrant as you’d expect from an artist quality pencil.

Left: Derwent Drawing Pencil; right: Derwent Lightfast

The consistency and application are similar to Derwent Drawing Pencils (shown at right). Differences are that Lightfast’s core is smaller (I’ve yet to find another colored pencil with a core as thick as the Drawing Pencil) and produces less dust.

Because of the functional palette in my set of 12, I can further follow my own advice: Instead of buying the largest-available set (tempting as it is), I could probably add just a few more essential hues (a cool yellow, a mid-range blue and maybe a couple more greens) through open stock and be very happy. Unfortunately, according to the brochure, the yellow I own is the only one available, and the only additional blues are blue violet and dark turquoise – no true blue. Hmmm, those are surprising limitations for a professional line, even when lightfastness is considered. Perhaps Derwent plans to release more colors later.

While I’m wildly speculating, indulge me in some more: Now that Derwent has introduced a collection clearly intended as a direct competitor to Caran d’Ache’s premier line of traditional colored pencils, what are the chances that the British company intends to introduce an artist quality water-soluble collection to compete with Caran d’Ache’s Museum Aquarelle pencil? As much as I love the Museum Aquarelle palette range, which is sufficient for most of my needs, it has a few holes that I’d like to plug with an equally soft, highly pigmented brand. A girl can dream. (Stay tuned this time next year to see if I am saying, “Yes! Yes! I was right!”)

Updated 10/11/21: More thoughts on Lightfast.

Soft, creamy, delicious.


  1. Ok, this is very interesting. I wonder if these Lightfast are any more lightfast than Derwent Drawing? Looking at the Drawing color chart for the entire range, almost all have a maximum lightfast rating of 8, with only one having a rating of 7. A rating of 7-8 is equal to Excellent/highly lighfast and should last 100+ years under museum conditions. The color chart for the Lighfast says the same, but they’ve rated each of the pencils with a Roman numeral 1 (I think). That’s not confusing, at all.

    I do like that the Lightfast are oil based. But I am really, really, REALLY trying my best not to buy more sketching supplies and use all the stuff I’ve got! Which includes the entire Polychromos range, the entire Albrecht Durer range, the full range of Derwent Drawing, and the full ranges of Faber Castell Brush Pens, Tombow Dual Brush Pens, AND Clean Color Real Brush Pens. I’ve also got some random charcoal pencils, Derwent Woodless watercolor pencils, and a bunch of other stuff, not to mention watercolor!

    I’m am surprised that the Albrecht Durer Magnus have not been on your radar. Maybe you’re growing away from watercolor pencils? I’ve been wanting some of those badly. I think they’d be easier to use on days when my hand hurt from work (which is most days of the week).

    Once again, thank you for the awesome post!

    1. Very good question about Lightfast vs. Derwent Drawing! I'm guessing that this might be more about marketing than anything else. The Drawing line might be lightfast also, but the palette seems focused on landscapes/nature, so maybe they wanted Lightfast to have a broader appeal -- and compete directly with Luminance.

      If you're trying to hold back, I'm not convinced these are worth springing for. People who like the old Prismacolors would probably enjoy them, but it's hard to justify the price of Lightfast. Blick told me they are going to start carrying them imminently, and their prices might be a bit better than what I paid on Amazon.

      As for Durer Magnus... who says they aren't on my radar? ;-) I'm definitely not growing away from watercolor pencils -- but I do tend to favor Caran d'Ache Museum. I got a couple of Magnus a while back, but they are considerably larger/heavier than conventional pencils, and the cores are the same as the regular Durer range, so it didn't seem worth getting more. Do you have something special you would want to do with them? I'm all ears! :-) And you're welcome! I'm at your colored pencil service! ;-)


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