Color Spree

Color Spree
My favorite color is "all of them." What's yours?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Derwent Coloursoft colored pencils

Derwent Fortnight #4: Coloursoft Pencils

Okay, I have to admit I am a colored pencils junkie. I can never get enough colors or enough pencils. Each of the good artist grade brands has its own character, softness, opacity, blendability, texture, handles different in a wash, sharpens different. For a long time I treated Prismacolor as the very softest, also the ones most likely to break inside their wood casings but so sweet, smudgy and blendable.

Derwent's colored pencils were the other end of the artist range -- the most hard except for Prismacolor Verithin. Lovely in their own way and I'll get to that in another review, but they demanded a completely different style. Then the clever folks in Cumberland decided to get me by the wallet twice and created Coloursoft a few years ago. These are still pretty new.

They are fantastic. They are the most opaque and the softest of my colored pencils by a hair, very slightly softer than Prismacolors. Waxy, smooth and creamy, they go on fast and blend well, almost like paint once I get going in a multi-layered creation. They still aren't totally opaque, being wax pencils they're translucent. Earlier layers do shine through them. But they have the most opacity -- and that is a joy when working on tinted grounds or layering or changing the hue of an area.

I can go lighter if I just want to glaze a hint of a color over its underlayer. But when burnishing with blue over and over again won't change that bit of red -- it takes having a more opaque pencil. When I want a one-stroke accent, I'll reach for a Coloursoft and trust it'll go on thick and jump out in the color I just used.

Did I mention blending? Derwent makes two colorless blender. The hard one is a Burnisher and presumably done with the binder for their Artist and Studio lines. The soft one is a Blender with the same texture as a Coloursoft pencil. It's a joy because you can use it on other colored pencils and by mixing in the soft Blender, get them to move around like the Coloursofts.

If you want soft gradients, heavy coverage fast, quick sketching with strong lines and all the other benefits of a soft opaque pencil, Coloursoft is for you.

These are big fat round pencils. They have less internal breakage than Prismacolor, and I suspect that's because they're oversize -- a little more wood to cushion the core, a wide core less likely to crack all the way through. Use the wide hole of a two-hole sharpener or a General's All-Art sharpener to sharpen them, or try the Derwent Helix sharpener that has multi-width capacity. Many grinder type sharpeners, electric or crank, have multi-hole capacity.

They come in a good 72 color range, big enough for anyone who isn't an addict that combines large sets in the desperate need for 525 colors of pencils. Sets are in good sturdy tins with lids that stay on when snapped on. The styrene tray and pencils fit tight within the tin, so turning the tin on its side will not make all the pencils roll to the bottom and knock against each other risking internal cracking.

On price, these pencils are quite reasonable. Depending on sale prices, they sometimes wash up as the price leader for big range artist grade colored pencils although they're fighting that out with Blick Artists house brand and Prismacolor. They are cheaper in sets than open stock, but open stock is available from most suppliers. Their softness and opacity makes them very popular and I've noticed them take off till they're available almost everywhere.

Once again, Derwent's color choices in a small set turned out to be perfect for color mixing. I did the painting below with the 12 color set pictured above, although I also own the full range. I wanted to see if I could honestly recommend someone to try these with a small set or whether (as with many other brands) I'd suggest getting at least 24 to have a set big enough to mix any hue easily.

Derwent's products, you can use small sets. "Purple" is a perfect mixing magenta. Blue is a very well-balanced blue and Indigo has a green cast, so you have warm and cool blue and red, plus a good green, violet and orange, a good brown, warm and cool greens, black and white. With those you can mix whatever you like.

If you live in the UK or other countries where Prismacolor pencils are hard to get, try a pack of Coloursoft pencils. Many of the effects by realism masters such as Arlene Steinberg rely on Prismacolor softness, and you can get that same rich soft blendability with Coloursoft. When you've used a harder colored pencil for layers and can't add any more, try using Coloursoft for accents. They go on over other colored pencils beautifully.

Any paper with some tooth is great for them, including ordinary sketchbooks and Bristol pads, even smooth Bristol. Stonehenge paper is a joy with them. I tried PastelMat for this project partly to see if they'd perform well on it -- and I am very happy to say they did!

6" x 8"
Derwent Coloursoft colored pencils
Light grey ClaireFontaine PastelMat coated pastel card
From life.


  1. I just love this! It's such a beautiful piece!

  2. Thank you so much! It ran away with me, I just had to try something ambitious again after so many sketches.

  3. Thanks, Robert. I was thinking of buying these pencils and after reading your review, I'm now definitely going out to purchase some. I've always found the Artists' pencils too hard, but don't want to go to a pastel - think these will be perfect!

  4. Hi Rob. I found your review when doing some research on what type of colored pencils I wanted to buy. I gave in and bought the 24 set and I'm glad I did. This was the first drawing I finished and it turned out pretty well.

  5. Hi Robert! I just wanted to thank you for the review! I am not an artist, but rather a card maker,,,,I color digital images and rubber stamps for card making, and am looking for a good ,soft, reasonably priced colored pencil for coloring images. I have sunk I don't know how many dollars into Copic markers (which I still love), but it's nice to have a different look sometimes! I've bought several singles of Prismacolor, and they are lovely,,,,,but i want to try a small set of the Derwent Coloursoft to try before I made up my mind and bought a larger set! Thanks again! Very helpful post!

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  7. Eberhard Faber Mongol Colored Pencils

    Hi Robert;

    I just won a bid on eBay for three sets of the Eberhard Faber Mongol colored pencils in the plastic stand up boxes for $10.00, there was no date they simply said, vintage. But being as old as I am I remember these from the mid 70’s, they were great to work with back then and the ones I received today still work just as well. I wasn’t sure when I placed the bid if the pigments might have deteriorated, but to my surprise they are just fine. Also you can tell a lot about the quality of the wood used in pencils by the way they sharpen. Using a hand sharpener watch to see how the wood peels off, what you want to is see one continuous ribbon like you were trying to peel an apple without breaking the peel. Cheaper wood will flake of rather than forming a ribbon. Ten dollars for three sets, I think I got a great deal. And at almost 70 years old I’m sure they will last me the rest of my life.

  8. Hey Rob, just to pick at your ol' grey matter what do you prefer, the coloursofts, the prismacolors (disregarding the quality issues) or the Lyra Polycolors?