Faber Castell Polychromos and Albrecht Durer

Faber Castell Polychromos and Albrecht Durer pencils are the two main product lines (as far as coloured pencil artists are concerned) made by this family owned business.  The company was established in 1761 in the Nuremburg area of Germany.

These products are manufactured in 14 factories worldwide and the two pencil lines have a long established 120 colour range which is shared by both types of pencil.

In the Watercolour Pencil range, there is also an Albrecht Durer MAGNUS coloured pencil which has a softer lay down of colour but higher levels of lightfastness and permanent after wetting. Only 24 colours at present but priced at around £2 each.

Faber Castell also produce a leading Pastel pencil branded ‘PITT’ pastel.This is sold in both wood cased pastel pencil form and as a solid stick of hard pastel  See the Pastel Pencil section for more information-

I would regard Faber-Castell Polychromos as one of the three strongest brands among Coloured Pencil manufacturers and I have used these pencils as one of my first choices for several years.

Faber Castell Polychromos tin of pencilsFaber Castell Polychromos and Albrecht Durer sets contain 120 colours

Faber Castell Polychromos

A medium soft pencil with a very smooth take up, which layers well

The colour range is very strong on the reds and yellows and there are a low level of poor lightfast colours.  There is a star rating on the pencils showing the lightfastness rating, which ranges from 1 star ( I would regard 1 as poor ) to 3 star ( good lightfastness ).

Users of  Faber Castell Polychromos tend to be strong fans of the brand. The colour range tends to favour those who do botanical work as the flower colours are well represented. There are a good range of greys and darks in the set.

As  Polychromos is an oil based product, pictures completed with these pencils will not suffer from wax bloom.

Albrecht Durer

ALBRECHT DURER watercolour pencils  (Aquarelles) have a drier feel than Polychromos, as they lack the oil content. 

The aquarelles tend to mimic watercolours quite closely and the colours you would expect to behave like watercolours do so. For example, non staining earth colours in watercolours are non staining in the Albrecht Durer range. Mixtures which granulate in watercolours often do so in washes of these pigments.

Albrecht Durer Magnus

ALBRECHT DURER MAGNUS are softer to the touch than the original  Albrecht Durer brand.

They are available in a limited range of 24 high lightfastness colours. As you can mix colours like traditional watercolour this is not really a limitation. A basic six colours is sufficient, 2 of each primary. I believe, however, more colours are intended in the range.

In Peter's small trial ( below ) which is only 5 inches x 2.5 inches, the basic 6 colours were applied dry, to Hot Pressed Botanical watercolour paper (smooth),  layered dry and in some cases burnished to see how they performed as dry pencils.  The aim was then to check if there was any colour gain or colour change when wet with a brush.  He detected none. 

These should prove a useful pencil as they handle well even if they are a little large to the hand when doing detailed work. 

Artwork done in Albrecht Durer watercolour pencilsAlbrecht Durer - dry on the left and after water added on the right

Availability and further information

Distribution of Faber Castell Polychromos and Albrecht Durer in the UK is wide and efficient, Larger retailers and mail order outlets will stock single colours, as well as sets. 

The Society for All Artists (www.sas.co.uk) is a good source - especially if you are eligible for a member discount and get the P & P free. 

Another reliable supplier of both sets and single pencils is www. pencils4artists.co.uk based in Dartmouth in Devon (UK). 

Another good source for pencil stock is Studio Arts of Lancaster, who are one of the select few independent art materials retailers left in the UK and stock all the Faber-Castell range both in boxes and single pencils and sell over the Internet.

For more background information, there are several Faber-Castell websites but I find the USA one the most useful as it contains extra data on lightfastness not found elsewhere. The USA site is at  http://www.fabercastell.com/14786/Welcome/index_ebene2.aspx whereas the Home site in Germany is at  www.faber-castell.com/ The latter link provides access to the home sites in a range of European languages. 

As stated above, the Faber Castell Polychromos and watercolour pencils use a star system to indicate the light stability of the pigment in each pencil with 1 star being the lowest rating. Whilst Faber Castell rate that as being ‘good’ I would suggest that you avoid the one star colours and use mainly the 2 and 3 star colours if you can.

The Albrecht Durer colour range is the same as Polychromos with 120 colours.

I have used the Albrecht Durer aquarelles ( Spring 2017 ) to complete an online step by step exercise on cold pressed watercolour paper. The results were satisfactory and I would certainly support the idea of purchasing a set to complete underpaintings, later to be finished in Faber Castell Polychromos.

The newer Albrecht Durer Magnus are retailed as a pencil for underpainting and whilst they are a heavier pencil to hold, the colour is good, smooth to apply and, what is very important, described as lightfast.

To summarise

A good established range of 120 colours which are relatively easy to find both as sets and as single replacement pencils. They handle well and results are predictable.

You might like these

  • Bruynzeel pencils

    The Bruynzeel pencils line includes pastel, watercolour and wax based coloured pencils in sets of up to 48 colours.

  • Colour comparison charts for pencils

    Colour comparison charts for colour pencil brands - how to follow a tutorial with different brands

  • Pencil test comparison

    Doing a pencil test with a restricted range of colours and comparing coloured pencil brands against each other.