Faber-Castell Polychromos are about twice as expensive as Prismacolor Premier. I took the leap to see if the cost of these colored pencils are worth it.
I've been pretty happy with my Prismacolor pencils for quite a while. It's really enjoyable to grab someone's box of RoseArt or Crayola colored pencils, lay down some color swatches, and then put down some Prismacolor swatches right next to them. It's immediately obvious why the Prismacolor pencils cost 4 to 5 times as much, and I wouldn't hesitate to say they're worth it.
I was excited to receive my first set of Faber-Castell Polychromos recently. I've seen a lot of reviews recommending these pencils and I was ready to see what all the praise was about. My Prismacolors come in a tin, but the lid is a separate piece and it's occasionally annoying to pop off. I much prefer the tin compared to the boxes RoseArt and Crayola come in. That said, I much prefer the Faber-Castell tin to the Prismacolor. It is sleek, beautiful, and well designed. It has an attached lid that keeps the pencils secure but also opens easily, with a quick flip of the thumb. In practice, the only thing I prefer about the Prismacolor tin is that the detached lid allows me to place it under the tin, so it takes up less space.
Who cares about the tins?! Yeah, you could keep them in a cup or bin, no big deal. I just geek out over sweet tins. Presentation is everything, right? Sometimes. In this case, performance is everything. After all, you're not presenting the tin when you sell your artwork. So, unlike putting down a swatch of Prismacolor next to a swatch of Crayola, the performance difference is here is kind of subtle. There's definitely a smoother, more consistent application of color in the Polychromos over the Prismacolor, it's just a bit subtle. The feel of the Polychromos as you lay down color is a little more buttery than the Prismacolor, whereas the Prismacolor is a little more scratchy. You can hear it and feel it, but again, it's subtle.
With each gradient laid down, I used the same colorless Prismacolor blender to burnish the top of the gradient. Using the same pencil, and same technique, you can see how much more smoothly the Polychromos colors came together. Not only did I have a slightly easier time laying down color with the Polychromos, I didn't seem to use as much of the Polychromos pencils as the Prismacolor pencils. That was less subtle, because what isn't shown in the example above, is that I did another entire gradient as long as the Prismacolor one, using the Polychromos. You really get a lot out of them. I'm also noting that the very tips of a couple sharp Prismacolors broke off while working with them. Worth mentioning, since I worked with the Polychromos for twice as long and didn't experience this with them.
The last thing I want to talk about is... kind of abstract. The hypothetical number of years these colors will last without fading. Taking the gradient above as an example, all of the colors used in the Prismacolor gradient have a mid to awful rating, while all the colors used in the Polychromos gradient have the highest rating available. All in my set of 12 have the highest rating available, actually. Approximately 60/150 Prismacolor colors have an "ASTM I" rating, vs 102/120 Polychromos colors with an equivalent 3-star rating (***). A sizable 40/150 Prismacolors had an "ASTM IV" or "ASTM V" rating, falling at or below the 2/120 equivalent 1-star (*) rated Polychromos pencils (26/40 falling below!). So, even though Prismacolor has 30 more color choices, they have a whopping 40 fewer colors with excellent light-fast quality. Another 40 will begin to fade just after a couple years, depending on exposure.
Okay then, what's the verdict? Are Polychromos worth twice as much as Prismacolor? The short answer is: Yes, almost definitely. If you're a professional artist, or hobby artist, looking to sell or archive your work, then absolutely! In terms of material cost, it will not add a significant up-charge to your piece to use a more expensive colored pencil. That difference in cost adds not only a smoother application of color, and more consistent blending, but greatly enhances the longevity of your piece with a significantly larger variety of long-lasting, light-fast colors. This makes the process more enjoyable, and increases the value of your final piece.
(For recreational use, with work you don't intend to display or sell, I don't think there's any reason to spend the extra money on the Polychromos. I would still, without hesitation, recommend getting the Prismacolor pencils over a RoseArt, Crayola, or other similarly priced/quality brand.)
Digital Arts Instructor