Here it is at last, the clash of the titans! Let's get straight into it...
First of all, an introduction to both pencils. Polychromos are artist quality pencils from one of the world's largest and oldest manufacturer of art supplies, German company Faber-Castell. They are oil based and have fantastic lightfastness (will not discolour over time with exposure to light), and are regarded as one of the best quality coloured pencils on the market. Prismacolor Premier pencils are made in Mexico and are wax based, making them very soft with incredibly vibrant pigments. Each brand has it's pros and cons, so without further ado, let the battle commence!
DISCLAIMER: I bought both sets of pencils myself, so nothing about this review is biased (it never is anyway!) or influenced by anything else.
Polychromos come in several sized sets from single pencils to the full 120 collection. Each colour name is printed on the barrel in gold lettering and the entire pencil is lacquered in its lead colour. They look and feel very high quality. Below is a chart of all 120 colours currently available; notice that Polychromos lean towards darker shades of colour and there aren't too many light/pastel tones included.
The cores are vibrant and have a fantastic depth of colour, the silky pigments spreading on the paper smoothly and evenly. The key to using Polychromos is LIGHT LAYERS. Do not expect good results by using hard pressure off the bat - these pencils don't work that way. You must lightly build up layers of colour, one on top of the other, to achieve a full saturation of colour. This is one of the big things that separate them from...
The largest number of Prismacolors you can buy is 150 pencils. As you can see from the chart above, this set contains many 'in between' colours that are a balanced mixture of bright and muted tones. Unlike the Polys, a light stroke of Prismacolor will produce a rich colour, not needing to be layered up (although you can still use that method if you prefer). The pigments are very vivid and the lead feels remarkably buttery as it glides over the paper, so soft that you hardly need pressure at all, almost like a kohl eyeliner. The name and colour code are printed on each pencil for ease of identification, but these pencils are thinner and have a cheaper production feel than the Polychromos.
For colours, Prismacolor wins out. I find the pigments a lot more intense and varied than the Polychromos. The Polys take longer to get the hang of and need more time spending to achieve the same richness, which some colourists will find challenging.
The wax bloom and discolouration on the Prismas when using too many layers sealed their fate for this one, leaving the Polys a clear winner. However if you're light with your layers and don't go too far, this won't be a problem.
Prismacolor seem to smudge more than Polys by default as they are a much softer pencil, but neither of the brands have a major problem in that area. As for erasing and sharpening, there's a vast difference.
It's unbelievably difficult to erase Prismas, to the point that I had to go over with the rubber again and again just to erase what you can see in the picture! The Polys disappear quite easily though, leaving about 10% of the colour on the paper. I know it looks like I've used more colour on the Prisma but I used exactly the same pressure- it's just the massive amount of deep pigment that lays down without trying!
Prismas are notorious for being fragile and difficult to sharpen without breakages, but I can't say I've had too many problems with them (this could also be due to the sharpener I use). My only qualm is that the Prismas need sharpening much more often than Polys, which, being a harder pencil, retain their point longer.
With Polychromos the whole pencil feels stronger, weightier, which probably has something to do with the SV (secure-all) bonding. The whole length of the core is glued to the Cedar wood casing of the pencil, meaning the lead is strengthened throughout and can sharpen to a finer point. If the tip of a Polychromos pencil breaks, it is only the tip that is shattered, not the whole column of lead. The same cannot be said for Prismas, which unfortunately have a track record for splintering and fragmenting with ease. Apparently when Prismas used to be made in the US, the quality was much higher.
It's a no brainer for Round 3: Polys come out on top. They are sturdier than Prismas, sharpen brilliantly and erase well.
The 120 set of Polychromos retails on average at £140, whilst the 150 box of Prismacolor costs just shy £95. A single Polychromos pencil costs as little as £1.29, and Prismacolor singles sell at around £1.60.
You get an extra 30 pencils with the Prismas and at a cheaper price, but the singles are a bit more expensive to restock your set. Polys really are much better quality though, so I can see why they command a higher price than the Prismas.
It was a close call in the beginning with all that beautiful creamy colour from the Prismas, but the undeniable build quality and coverage of Faber-Castell's Polychromos makes them the worthy winner in this battle. My advice would be to purchase a few of both and try them yourself. You might favour the buttery, easy to lay down texture of Prismas to the harder Poly lead, or you may love building up layers to create a smooth finish- it really is individual preference.
Guess what- even though Polychromos won my comparison fair and square, Prismacolor Premier will always be my absolute favourite pencil and the one I use the most because I love the effortless vibrancy and find them and quicker to use, which is ideal for the impatient colourist like me who just wants to get the page done and move onto the next!