Monday, April 24, 2023

Vintage Colored Pencils: Berol Karismacolor (the Sequel)


A complete set of 36 vintage Berol Karismacolors!

Nearly four years ago, I wrote about vintage Berol Karismacolor pencils, a handful of which had been given to me by a generous member of the pencil community. Discontinued in 2005, Berol Karismacolors are now hard to find, and thus they are hoarded by users and collectors alike. Even used sets go for ridiculous auction prices (how about $2,551 for a set of 108?), and ultra-rare, unused sets are even more outrageous (here’s a sealed box of 36 that had a starting bid of $622). Needless to say, I was thrilled to receive them and appreciated the opportunity to give these “grail” pencils a try.

With prices as they are, I had given up the thought of owning a complete set of any size. When you’re a member of a pencil community, however, one conversation can lead to the next, and along the way, deals are made. A pencil friend offered me a set of 36 Karismacolors in a swap – an offer I couldn’t refuse!

Distinctive, angle-cut ends that reveal the cores.

The handful I had received in 2019 were factory rejects, with the flaws most often being chips on the angle-cut ends. Unique and distinctive, the design is eye-catching, but I can see why it hasn’t caught on with other pencil manufacturers – it’s obviously vulnerable to breakage. I do love their appearance, though.

Like the seconds I had received, the set includes a mix of pencils marked “made in USA” and others marked “England.”

A mix of US- and England-made pencils in the set

Intriguing, cryptic symbols

Lightly used by the original owner before my friend had acquired them, the set came with a product brochure – always a useful and sometimes valuable resource for collectors. One panel shows the 108 colors that were available in the largest set at the time that they were produced (the tick marks indicating colors included in this set were made by the original owner).

I did a little more research this time than I did when I wrote the previous post. The most useful, comprehensive site I have found so far on the subject of Berol Karismacolors is Step-by-Step Art based in the UK. This explains why the pencils are marked with both USA and England:

These pencils were originally made by Berol in the UK before Sanford acquired the company in 1995 and production was then moved to the USA. These were the European version of the Prismacolor pencils, although the design differed from the Premier pencils, the colours and product code were the same, apart from a few colour names that differed but these were later changed to match.

The article mentions that while the largest set available had 108 colors, 129 total colors were available overall. Some colors had been in production for only a short time and are therefore extremely rare. Some colors were only ever made in the USA and others only in England. No wonder Karismacolors have become so collectible! The vintage pencil site, Brand Name Pencils, has exactly one specimen of one of these super-rare colors – and the price for the single pencil is $800!

Enclosed brochure with instructions in several languages

Color chart

Since the article states that Karismacolors are the European version of Prismacolors and that all the colors are the same, I made my swatch chart with that in mind. In each pair of columns, the one on the right is the Karismacolor, and the swatch to its immediate left is the Prismacolor of the same color number. Whenever possible, I compared with a vintage Berol Prismacolor. If I didn’t have a Berol, I used an even older Eagle (marked with E) or, in a few cases, a contemporary Prismacolor Premier. In the cases where the colors didn’t match exactly, the Prismacolor was an Eagle, and the difference may be as much from age of the Eagle as anything else. Otherwise, all colors look identical to me.

Swatches made in Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook

4/13/23 Berol Karismacolor pencils in Field Notes Streetscapes
sketchbook (Earthsworld reference photo)

The test sketch I made confirmed that Karismacolors do, indeed, feel exactly like Prismacolors. I’ve heard some artists who used and loved Karismacolors in the ‘90s insist that these pencils are incomparable to anything made currently. Perhaps that’s true, but I think their cores are identical to vintage Berol Prismacolors, which are still available at reasonable prices if the pencils are slightly used. But I can also understand pining for the perfect pencils that are no more, and nothing can take their place.

If I were that kind of collector, I can also see how much fun it would be to chase down all those super-rare colors – if the prices weren’t so shocking.

By the way, I have a few of the Karisma Graphite Aquarelle pencils (below), given to me by another generous pencil friend, shown at the end of the Step-by-Step Art article. Although they are also discontinued, they are apparently not nearly as rare or “collectible” as their colored sisters, and I see them come up on eBay fairly often.

Very nice Karisma Graphite Aquarelle pencils... but not as "collectible" as their colored sisters.

Of much greater interest is the other pencil set shown near the end of the article: the Karisma Aquarelles! They have been on my radar for a while, and based on eBay sightings, I think they are even more rare than Karismacolors. That might be because fewer sets were produced (in general, watercolor pencils always seem less popular than their non-water-soluble counterparts, and fewer sets are made by manufacturers). When I have seen Karisma Aquarelles, they are just as unaffordable as Karismacolors. Normally, I would put them in the unattainable category, but sometimes pencil friends (or blog readers?) ride in on unicorns. Maybe I have something that someone else wants, and a swap will happen. I can always dream.

Updated 7/14/23: Sanford Karisma Aquarelle achievement unlocked!

The swap included 3 additional singles 


  1. My mouth is hanging open at the prices these pencils are selling for! Wow!! You lucked out. I love the way the ends show the color. That is cool! Enjoy them.

    1. Yeah, you won't see me bidding on those on eBay anytime soon! ;-)

  2. Wow, that's a lot of information. I had no idea about the Karismacolor old Prismacolor Parallel. A few years ago I got the mother of lucky deals when I bought a barely used 24 set for 20€.
    I have three or four Karisma colour aquarelle. They are fine, I guess? They dissolve well, but the colors are pale. There used to be a British eBay seller who sold them in small sets. I also saw two in white and yellow on a page called quiltparty or something like it not too long ago.

    There used to be a Korean(?) watercolor pencil set, that looked a lot like the Karismacolor (not the watercolor Version though, which is weird). It is called Dong-a Berol Aquacolour. I only managed to find an old Amazon listing. No idea how they fit in...

    1. Hmm, interesting about the Dong-a Berol Aquacolour pencils. My guess is that they are just using the name and that it has nothing to do with the Berol heritage.

    2. Dong-a actually imported berol under agreement as far as I know and the aquacolors were same as Karismacolor watercolor pencils in the 2000s. Actually tried getting a set off Korean ebay seller but listing wasn't legitimate.

  3. Hi I’m Lisa. I was at a craft market today with my husband who wood turns. While there a lady who had a pottery stall came to us to tell us her mum had sadly passed away ,she was into art .She was giving her mums art materials away to anyone she knew was into art ,as I am it so happens .She has given me a box of 72 Karisma colour pencils ,never used there beautiful. I’ve just seen how much they are worth and am dubious about using them now .when I do I’ll make sure she gets a picture .


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