by Shazzie Morgan
It has been very interesting doing this comparison and I have had some surprising results. While we tend to lump all colored pencils into the same basket, please note that these pencils are technically different mediums. The Spectrum Noir Premium pencils have an oil-based core, while the Prismacolor Premier are wax-based. Thus, they will each have areas where they excel based on the medium.
My conclusions are based on my use of them in my own colouring. If you have a different use, you may come to a different conclusion! Testing the pencils as I have done should help you determine which will work best for you. That’s part of the fun – feel free to share your opinions and conclusions about these pencils in the comments!
I have judged the pencils with several exercises:
- for brightness and opacity on white and black card stock
- for coverage and blending of a single colour
- for coverage and blending of a single colour with odourless mineral spirit
- blending of two colours together
- blending of two colours together washed with mineral spirit
- finally, with two layers of colour to which I added finer detail.
Card stock used was Strathmore Bristol Vellum Surface 100lb (270gsm). I selected similar colours from each set to help visually discern results. Click the photo at left to see a full-size image of the test sheet. Note: For the rest of the article, I will refer to the Spectrum Noir Premium pencils as “SN”, and the Prismacolor Premier pencils as “Pr”.
Both the SN and Pr did well for brightness; both laid down a creamy opaque consistency and coverage was very good on white. On a black background, however, the Pr was far more opaque for all three colours. This is as you would expect, since it is wax-based, which tends to be more opaque on black but loses out slightly to an oil-based pencil on white. On the black, Pr gave good solid colour – very vibrant.
2) Single Colour Blend (with and without mineral spirit)
Both the SN and Pr laid down and blended beautifully from darkest to lightest hue. The SN wins out here with a slightly smoother blend. I suspect this is because it is a slightly harder pencil and flattened the card stock, whereas the Pr was a bit softer so you can see the card texture in the mix. I then added spirits to the same colouring and both again initially looked good. The SN did still look smoother and any pencil lines flattened out. With the spirits, the Pr still looked vibrant in colour and well blended, losing the card texture in the process.
3) Two Colour Blending and Layering
Both brands blended beautifully, but the Pr was much more effortless to blend than the SN, which required more work. The Pr was a much more vibrant sample and the colours just seemed to have loads of pigment which made for a great blend. You can see that the texture of the card stock did come into play again with the Pr sample.
When I added spirits to the 2-colour sample, it again smoothed everything out but did not work as well as I would have thought. Maybe it’s my inexperience with using mineral spirits, which I have only just begun to explore. The blending lines were still visible in both samples after blending; perhaps I didn’t add enough colour or have heavy enough layers, but the results were still pleasing. The Pr came out on top for vibrancy and pigment post spirit wash, but the SN did look smoother, even if paler and less opaque.
4) Adding Detail to Layered Background
The last test was the pencil’s ability to accept fine details following the layering of several colours. I layered red and yellow – the same as the other samples – then tried to render detail with a black pencil from the relevant set. This was a hands-down win for the Pr, which held really fine details with a sharp pencil. Unfortunately the SN did not fare so well, and even with a really sharp point small pieces broke off and I struggled to mark the blend. I was thrilled with the results of the Pr as I had read the following paragraph and was considering whether another purchase was necessary:
In addition to the various pencil points, colored pencils come in two different kinds of density: hard (such as Prismacolor Verithin) and soft (such as Prismacolor Premier). Their use would be similar to that of graphite pencils with varying hardness (H, F, and B). The harder pencils provide a moderate deposit of pigment and a limited deposit of pencil binding medium (e.g., wax in wax- based pencils). This allows you to render hard lines, intricate details, delicate shadows, and the slightest transitions of value. Soft pencils are used for all other purposes in colored painting.
— Colored Pencil Painting Bible: Techniques for Achieving Luminous Color and Ultrarealistic Effects (2009) by Alyona Nickelsen
I feel that the Pr are going to be my staple pencils for detailed work and intricate designs. The SN definitely have a place for larger areas and it’s clean smooth blending is a joy to work with, but for me, the Pr make the whole process of colouring just so effortless and make a great pigmented mark with very little effort. The SN take more work and once you have a layer down there is little more you can add as the base does not take additional layers too well after two or three.
Without spirit use I was able to get to at least ten layers with Pr, and in her book Alyona Nickelsen uses Pr and the same card stock as me for her paintings, and can achieve more than 20 layers of colour with spirit use. I do like the SN pencils – they do feel wonderfully smooth when you lay them, but they are just harder work. For an oil base pencil the colours are less vibrant than I would expect. I think for the price, the SN are a good buy if you use a lot of coloured pencils. However, if you just want one go-to pencil for everything, then the Pr would be worth the outlay.
To see a full example of these pencils in use, here is a page from Flower Designs Coloring Book (Volume 1) by Jenean Morrison. (Again, click each image to see more detail.) The first image is colored with Spectrum Noir markers. In the second pic, I initially tried adding detail with Staedtler Ergosoft pencils, then added the Spectrum Noir pencils into the mix. The final image shows the results after using the Prismacolor pencils – this really shows how much the Prismacolors allowed me to blend and layer until I achieved the results I wanted.
I hope this helps in some way to choose your pencils, and gives you more information when considering where to spend your art supply funds. I know that just looking at all the options online can seem like an absolute minefield! I at least feel I have found my go-to pencil and I hope this reviews helps you do the same. Happy colouring!
Additional Note: SN has a total 120 colours and as yet cannot be bought open stock, so you can’t replace worn pencils. Pr has 150 colours and are available readily as open stock, so you can replace or add individual colours to your taste.
[Editor’s comment: Yes, I know that for us Americans, some of the words in the article (like colour) look “wrong”, but it is a valid spelling for our neighbors to the North and over the pond, so I’m not correcting it. Besides, I learned both spellings growing up – my mom was from Canada – so it doesn’t look wrong to me! 😛 ]