Review: Luminance Colored Pencils by Caran d'Ache

This review is written by Lisa Clough aka Lachri (website | youtube)

I used Caran d'Ache's Luminance for the first time last summer. I was honestly hoping not to like them because they are very expensive pencils. After one use, I was hooked! There are SO many things that make these pencils worth every penny.

Luminance colored pencils are wax based pencils. Being wax based, they have a smooth/creamy feel as you work with them. This is ideal for portraits.

They use California Cedar wood casing and are slightly thicker than most other pencils, but are still very comfortable to work with.

Luminance and Faber-Castell Polychromos colored pencils over an airbrushed background on Stonehenge paper

The real selling feature of these pencils is that the entire set of 76 are lightfast, ranking a I or a II on the ASTM D6901. Why does the lightfast rating of a pencil matter? This determines how long it will take for a pencil’s color to fade on your finished artwork. The lower the rating, the faster the artwork will degrade when exposed to light. If you’re selling your work it is extremely important that you are using quality, archival materials. You don’t want to sell something for hundreds or thousands of dollars and have your customer come back to you in a few years wanting to know why the beautiful drawing they purchased has faded.

The largest set these pencils come in is 76. I initially thought this was going to be an issue for me. I want as many colors as possible and that number didn’t seem like it would be enough. Once I got started I realized that I loved the colors the set did come with. While I would still like a few more colors, I was able to blend anything I really needed with the colors that came in the set. There were also a few colors that are not available in other pencils that I’ve tried. The violet grey and huge amount of cream, tan and grey colors is perfect for me given that most of my colored pencil work is either wildlife or portraits.

Luminance is the pencil in the background with the more exposed point

Many colored pencil artists started out with Prismacolor as I did. If you’ve been using Prismacolor Premier for very long, you know how brittle that lead is. This can make getting a fine point on your pencils for detail work difficult (and frustrating). The lead on the Luminance pencils is stronger. I’ve not once had the lead break or crumble on me, making getting detail work quite easy in comparison to the Prismacolor Premier. I also found that I don’t get the wax bloom with the Luminance like I did with the Prismas. This allowed me to apply more layers with the Luminance than I was able to with the Prismas. That was a huge bonus for me.

Luminance on Fabriano Artistico HP watercolor paper

These colors blend great with both burnishing (applying a lot of pressure to the pencil as you layer to blend) and with odorless mineral spirits. I’m able to get a smoother look with these pencils than with any other brand I’ve used. I personally don’t like the grainy look that is common with colored pencils. I want my work to look like a painting and these pencils do great with this. These are also some of the most opaque colored pencils that I’ve used.

The big question everyone asks me is “are they really worth the cost”. I really think that they are. First, being lightfast is huge, but on top of that, they seem to last longer than the Prismacolor premiers. I found myself burning through Prismas like crazy. In part because of breaking leads and splitting wood casings, but in part because the lead is a bit softer. The Luminance pencils still had the great smooth blending that I expect from a wax-based pencil, but a smaller amount appears to go quite a bit further, so the cost per square inch of paper they can cover doesn’t seem to be that much higher than pencils like Prismacolor.

Luminance pencils are available open stock, meaning you can replace individual colors as needed, but they are not available in most art supply stores in the US. I order mine online from Dick Blick or JerrysArtarama. The real negative here is that if I only need a few pencils, I have to pay shipping fees on top of already expensive pencils. I personally do a bit of planning so that I buy enough supplies to get free shipping, but this can be a real inconvenience for some artists.

Video review


Find more reviews at Dick Blick Art Materials (US) | Jackson's Art (UK)

Luminance pencils are OIL based. They feel like a soft wax when using and are not water soluble so people assume they are wax. I did alot of research before buying them. The company itself has confirmed they are oil.

To confirm also, Pablo are the wax based ones, however they go on feeling more like polychromos.

In reply to by DL (not verified)

The Luminance are wax based (4 types of synthetic waxes are used), and each pigment/color has its own formula or recipe for the amount and type of wax used to insure consistency/uniformity of hardness across all the pencils (equivalent to an 8B pencil for the Luminance and Museum Aquarelle's, and 6B for their Pablo and Supracolor pencils). This information came straight from Caran d'Ache when I spoke to them by phone (August 2018).

In reply to by Kathy (not verified)

I have used the Luminance as watercolor pencils by accident, once I saw the results, it's amazing that no one has reported this as well. Try it. Did a piece with watercolors and gouche. Added the Luminance for details, the I dragged a watercolor brush over it and the pencil lines reacted like watercolor pencils, without any mess. Awesome.

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