The pencils are oil based, like Polychromos, but feel a little harder. You have to use quite a bit of pressure to eliminate all white spots, but a normal stroke gives a brilliant amount of pigment. They're definitely better than other pencils in this price bracket, which I think has everything to do with the oil core instead of the more standard wax.
Blending is reasonably good- but not as seamless as higher grade leads. You have to work a lot harder with Raffines to achieve a gradient, but it can be done. They're just not as soft as they need to be for a totally flawless blend, but again are still a superior choice if on a budget. Check out this quick illustration I coloured with them to test the blending capabilities. I was taken aback by how good they were for such a low price.
The pencils will only smudge slightly if a heavy hand is swept over them straight away, but if you blow off the pencil dust before handling your picture the colour sets well into the page.
Sharpening wasn't as good an experience in my trial unfortunately. Although the leads are fairly hard, it's extremely difficult to maintain to a needle-sharp point without them crumbling at the tip. Most of the pencils have sharpened without breakages but a couple have not fared well like my Yellow-Orange in the picture. This could be due to damage in transport, so I can't say this is true for every pack of Raffines- I just couldn't get mine to keep that fine point. The thickness of the leads does give them strength when they leads are at normal length though.
When anyone asks for a cheap pencil recommendation, I'm going to point them towards Marco Raffine every time. The vibrant laydown of pigment on and variety of shades blows all the other budget pencils out of the water! You've seen one of the pictures I coloured with them earlier, but how about a step-by-step of me colouring an intricate picture with blends and shading galore? I worked on this for days with the smallest & cheapest set - 24 - to show you that Raffines CAN give amazing results, proving that you don't need to spend a lot of money to create great effects!
Click here to see the Flipagram of each step. The book is Imagimorphia by Kerby Rosanes which I will be reviewing closer to its release in May.