Friday, September 1, 2023

Student-Grade Caran d’Ache Pencils


From top: non-soluble Swisscolor, water-soluble Swisscolor, Classicolor, Fancolor, Prismalo

The only good that comes of smoke season (sadly, our regular fifth season of the year now) is that being sealed up in the house for days gives me time to finish projects and blog posts I started long ago, like this one.

Way back in January, something (long forgotten now) prompted me to think about the lower end of Caran d’Ache’s colored pencil product line, and I began preparing this post. Admittedly, I don’t give the Swiss company’s student-grade products much thought, nor do I use them much. My recent purchase of the kids’ lunch box travel kit, however, brought those pencils back to mind.

In this category, I include Swisscolor (non-water-soluble), Swisscolor (water-soluble), Classicolor, Fancolor and Prismalo (the last three are all water-soluble). Since I’ve already written reviews of the products with links in the previous sentence, this post will compare all five but will focus on Classicolor and non-soluble Swisscolor.

Does Prismalo belong in this discussion? Probably not,
but let's annoy Caran d'Ache anyway.

Caran d’Ache would argue that Prismalo does not belong in the student-grade category, as its marketing copy insists that it is “essential for all artists, professionals and amateurs alike.” If we think of Prismalo as the harder, thinner version of Supracolor, I might be persuaded, and Prismalo’s higher price also puts it outside of the student category. For the sake of annoying Caran d’Ache (payback for its aggravating product names and muddled history), I’m including it here.

(I must pause for an aside: In reading my 2016 Fancolor review, I’m shocked as well as embarrassed by how generous I must have been feeling the day I wrote it to say that “Fancolors feel almost as soft and creamy as Museum pencils.” I can only pardon myself by noting the date of that review and my lack of experience with watercolor pencils in general at that time. For the record, they are not anything like Museum Aquarelle pencils.)

First, let’s get the Caran d’Ache nomenclature rant out of the way: Two lines of colored pencils, both named Swisscolor, yet one is water-soluble and the other isn’t? Caran d’Ache, can you be any more confusing to consumers?! How many baffled buyers have stood in store aisles scratching their heads, wondering what the difference is, or have simply purchased the one they didn’t want because they missed the fine print (or the tiny brush icon on the pencil denoting water-solubility)?

1/27/23 non-soluble Swisscolor pencils in Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook
(Earthsworld reference photo)

Other than water-solubility, the two Swisscolor lines are well matched in barrel appearance and cores, which are relatively hard and thin. Neither has a color number or name on the barrel, typically common in products intended for children. The ends are flat-cut and unfinished –  a sign of being bottom-of-the-line in my book. I’ve been told by European pencil friends that the Swisscolor line is often packaged for sale in places like attraction gift shops in Europe.

As for Classicolor, I don’t have a full set – only a random handful of used ones I acquired just to see what they were like. As hard and thin as Swisscolors, they seem indistinguishable from them except that the barrel includes a color number and a white end cap. I think of Classicolors as Swisscolors wearing their Sunday best, but as soon they get home, they are back in T-shirts and shorts. Why would Caran d’Ache develop two indistinguishable lines of low-end water-soluble pencils? It’s as puzzling as the company’s confusing product names.

1/28/23 Classicolor pencils in Zeta sketchbook

To make the swatches below, I tried to match colors in all five lines, but the small number of Classicolor samples limited me. Color numbers are given for pencils that include them on the barrel. Fancolor and Prismalo are softer than the other three, but all five cores look the same size.

Fancolor’s barrel distinguishes itself by being the only one without a product name, which seems peculiar for any Cd’A product. It also has a more distinctive end – uncapped and unfinished, but just slightly convex. Although it bears a color number on the barrel, I would still put Fancolor in the student-grade category.

From left: non-soluble Swisscolor, water-soluble Swisscolor, Classicolor, Fancolor, Prismalo

Pricewise, I believe all except higher-priced Prismalo are in the same student range, although it’s difficult to compare because Classicolor is hard to find in the US.

Though my memory of last January is still vague, I think my main intention with this post was to simply “complete” my discussion of all of Caran d’Ache’s current colored pencil products. There – I’ve done that. Now, if they would ask me, I would urge them to stop wasting resources on so many indistinguishable student-grade products (a strategy that seems to follow Derwent’s playbook) and put those resources toward something this world needs much more: Twenty-four more colors of Museum Aquarelles to match the Luminance line! If I’m not mistaken, the Museum line has been stuck with 76 colors since it was introduced a decade ago. The Swiss company loves to commemorate its various anniversaries by putting out new sets. Perhaps Museum’s 10th birthday celebration will include new colors?

If they would only ask me.


  1. Well, Museum is supposed to be "museum quality" and more lightfast (although Kim Crick's tests show that isn't really the case) so that's probably the reason they haven't expanded the Museum line. Of course, the only solution is to put the missing colors in ANOTHER new line, which they should also name Swisscolor.

    1. But the Luminance line claims the same lightfastness, so if 100 colors are possible in that line, they should be possible in the Museum line, too, right? That's my logic, anyway. ;-) If they come up with a third Swisscolor line, I will fly to Geneva and tell them in person what I think of that idea!

  2. Thank you, Tina! I appreciate this breakdown of their various product lines. It most certainly is confusing. I also wish that they would release the bicolor Prismalos for purchase in the US. Why are we excluded from the special edition products? Nevertheless, my experience with their Customer Service for the US is stellar!

    1. I'm glad to hear that the post is helpful! I think Cd'A is willing to sell in the US as long as retailers are willing to carry limited-edition products. Maybe retailers have difficulty selling some things (since they tend to be pricier) and are reluctant to carry them. I remember seeing one retailer with the holiday-themed bicolors in stock for many months afterwards, which might discourage them from carrying such items later.

    2. Thank you for explaining this! That absolutely makes sense. If only US retailers knew that I am actually willing to pay the higher price as long as I'm not paying $30 for shipping.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...