Thursday, June 22, 2023

Vintage Colored Pencils: Caran d’Ache Supracolor Fine


My latest find at left: Supracolor Fine

It’s been a while since I’ve acquired any additions to my vintage Caran d’Ache collection. The most recent was the set of Prismatec 101 pencils, and before that, some interesting updates to my Supracolor Soft history. My latest Supracolor find is not really a new addition but more a record of yet another name for Caran d’Ache Supracolor (poor Supracolor must have an ongoing identity crisis with all the names it has had over the decades).

Quite a while ago, I had spotted a set of 30 Supracolor Fine (according to the tin) on eBay that was new to me. The photos showed that the pencils inside said “Supracolor I,” which made me curious – were the pencils switched by the seller or a previous owner?  but not curious enough to buy the overpriced set. Recently a reasonably priced set of 12 showed up – the same “Fine” tin design and the same “Supracolor I” pencils inside. So the mismatched pencils and tin do belong together! It was time to buy.

Shown above left is the latest Supracolor Fine acquistion. One of my earliest vintage Supracolor specimens was a set with the iconic Matterhorn image (above right). That tin is called “Supracolor I,” and the pencils also say “Supracolor I.” It seems clear from the two tins with the identical top banner that only the larger image and branding had been changed.

Although the newly acquired set of 12 says “Supracolor Fine” on the tin, the pencils inside are identical to the ones in the “Supracolor I” set. They have the same logo design and same white end cap. The pencil cores are identical – harder and thinner than the modern-day Supracolor II Soft pencils and similar to Prismalo.

Left: Supracolor Fine; right: Supracolor I

Supracolor I pencils in the Fine tin

Supracolor I, inside and out

Supracolor I pencils in the Fine box

It’s clear that the only difference between Supracolor I (which also went by the unnamed “water soluble”) and Supracolor Fine is in name and not in product. As mentioned in my historical recap, at some point, all of these became known as “Prismalo,” the thinner, harder pencils, while their softer, thicker sisters became the current Supracolor II Soft (though not before being called “Prismalo II Soft” for a while!).

Oh, Caran d’Ache, why do you confuse us so? I always need a lie-down after reviewing Caran d’Ache product history.

About to doze off, I was suddenly wide awake: I noticed an interesting color difference when comparing the pencils in my latest Fine set with the Supracolor I (Matterhorn) set. All the colors are identical except No. 160 (unnamed on the barrel, but it’s Cobalt Blue): It’s significantly lighter, both the core and the barrel, in the Fine set.

Color 160 looks significantly different in the two sets.

Certainly curious, I pulled out Cobalt Blue 160 from my contemporary Prismalo set and contemporary Supracolor II Soft set. The 160 in the Fine set is much closer to the ones in the contemporary sets, which is evidence that the Fine is younger than the Supracolor I. Caran d’Ache made a permanent color shift for 160 after Supracolor I.

From top: Supracolor I from the Fine set; Supracolor I from the Supracolor I set, contemporar Prismalo, contemporary Supracolor II Soft

It’s also interesting to see how much stronger the pigment is in the contemporary pencils. That’s not surprising – with few exceptions, I’ve found that pigmentation is stronger and better in contemporary colored pencils when compared to their vintage counterparts. While some companies have shown degradation in quality over time (I won’t name names, but we all know it’s the one that begins with D), I’m always relieved to see that Caran d’Ache has maintained quality and even improved over time.

One more identity crisis for Supracolor.


  1. It's like the vintage pencils were not watersoluble ! Like, at all. Next to them, even the Prismalo are very pigmented. Even though I did not find them very strong in color in real use.

    1. I agree! We can be thankful that Caran d'Ache's products have improved over time!


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