Lyra vs Prismacolor

Hey Everyone!

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you know that this is not a new post, but it is one of my most popular ones. Originally appearing here in April of 2017, it became very clear to me that the Lyra Rembrandt brand was one that many artists wanted to know more about.I recently had a discussion with  John Middick on the Sharpened Artist Colored Pencil Podcast about these colored pencils and thought that this warranted a repost. You can listen to our discussion about that HERE or if you’re new here, read my original post below.

It’s important to admit when you have an obsession and one of mine happens to be with colored pencils. On a recent trip to Costco, I came across a set of 24 Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor colored pencils for a steal of a deal, so how could I not purchase them?! I mean they were practically begging me to take them home at the $10 CAD sticker price and the graphic designer in me is always a sucker for pretty packaging.

In the February 2017 issue of Colored Pencil Magazine, Ivar Harrison reviewed these pencils and it had piqued my interest enough that I felt I needed to try them for myself. After my initial post about my purchase, I had a question on my Facebook art page asking how these wax-based pencils compared to Prismacolor Premier. I had only tried them out in a quick color chart in one of my sketchbooks so I didn’t have what I felt was an accurate or fair answer, especially in comparison to Prismacolor. It made sense, naturally, that I would put the two brands to the test.

Before I launch into my experience with these pencils in comparison to one another here are few keys points about Lyra.

  • Lyra is a German-based company in association with the FILA group of companies.
  • Rembrandt Polycolor sets come in 78 colors in a hinged metal tin
  • light and water resistance
  • 4mm leads with a cedar barrel
  • Excellent lightfast rating amongst almost all of the colors (in the 24 set)

The company has taken the time to put a premium effort into the packaging and presentation of this product even though its price is quite economical. Normally a metal tin is something you would see and expect from the higher price point colored pencil brands. For me, that is an attention to detail element that I appreciate about this company and makes me interested to see how this product may evolve. Although I love the cardboard sleeve with the beautiful pomegranate illustration and color chart on the back, this is the only feature I find a little disappointing. If you chose to discard this sleeve, you lose all the product information with it. Sure you could look it up online, but it’s nice to have right there on the container. Also, I found it hard to source this information on Lyra’s website.Pre-Test Disclaimer
For the purpose of my experiment, I am using Strathmore Bristol Smooth Surface 300 Series paper. This is a favorite pairing of mine with Prismacolor.  I chose an image of a toucan bird that had a lot of the colors represented in the set of 24 Lyra colored pencils I had purchased. To also ensure as fair as possible of a comparison, I used similar pencil colors in both brands. The only blending aid used was a Caran D’Ache colorless blender on both. Normally in a comparison of this type, I would complete one drawing in the one brand first entirely and then the next. This time, I rendered them in equal steps, so that I could get a very direct comparison.

Single Color Application
After applying the black areas first I noticed a couple of things. The Lyra black has a warmer hue to it than the Prismacolor Premier black does. The Lyra pencils had a very buttery and softer feel as well compared to the Prismacolor. It was actually quite a noticeable difference for me, similar to the difference between Prismacolor and Faber-Castell Polychromos, with the latter having a noticeably harder lead. The black coverage was pretty good with the Lyra pencils but I definitely felt like the Prismacolor pencils have more overall saturation to the pigment. By this, I mean that it seemed to take fewer strokes to fill the paper tooth with color with Prismacolor compared to Lyra.
Sharpening and Breakage
The Lyra pencils sharpened to a point well and held that point with minimal breakage.

Details and Multiple Color Application
In my next applications of color, I noticed that the colors got a little muddy if they came in too close of contact with the black on the Lyra example. This was not the case on the Prismacolor version. With detailed, color applications over other colors, the Lyra again didn’t seem to have as crisp of an application, even when sharpened to a point.
Blending was pretty good with the Lyra’s but I found it seemed problematic when trying to use a burnishing technique to blend 2 colors together. I think this type of pencil might be better using a slow blend/ build up method. Both brands responded very well to the Caran D’Ache colorless blender.Final Result
Despite some technical differences, the colors are very vibrant and at a glance, you wouldn’t really notice a huge difference in the result.
Overall Winner
My overall winner in this battle was Prismacolor Premier based on feel and technical application. With that said, Lyra is a formidable opponent in its own way. Having a lot of experience with Prismacolor, I know it’s strengths and weaknesses. In a direct comparison with another product, those qualities become more pronounced on either side. For me, the Lyra pencils will most likely be my go-to for sketchbook studies.

That being said, here’s a list of reasons why you should give Lyra a chance:
– an extremely affordable price point for the quality
– great range of available colors
– great lightfast rating on the majority of the colors  *Updated Sept 3, 2018
– clear outer marking of the color name and color label
– comes with a metal tin for safe storage
– great sharpening consistency and point

If you are new to colored pencil or are on a strict budget for your art materials, Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor is an excellent choice to get you started. Though I personally found some of the application of the product not to my preference, it’s worth trying it yourself with your specific techniques and paper choice.

***UPDATE*** September 3rd, 2018
After reviewing the independent test conducted by The Colored Pencil Society of America, 11 of the 24 colors in the Lyra Rembrandt set I used were found to be rated 5.4 or less or inferior. Some of the colors on the packaging that are very highly rated were included in the colors that failed to pass the test conducted by the CPSA.
 Of the 72 colors tested 26 tested 6.1-8 (good or very good) only 5 rated 5 5.5-6 (fair). The rest tested in the 5.4 or less. This is something to consider when less than 50% of the colors have been found to be unacceptable for long-term lightfastness.

Why does this happen?
Each company uses their own rating system and it’s hard to tell with most whether they are following the ATSM Standard D6901 or perhaps something else. Compliance is also not mandatory.

Despite these findings, I still believe that these are great affordable colored pencils for hobbyists who aren’t selling their work. However, if you purchase these with the intention of selling the originals you created with them, you may not be able to guarantee against fading if you use colors listed on the fugitive list.

Something Else to Consider (paraphrased from the CPSA Lightfast Workbook):
The consistency of a color to last over time depends on a few factors including the substrate upon which it was used, quality of framing materials and practices, fixatives and glazes as well as the environment in which the artwork is placed. Prolonged exposure to sunlight and fluctuating humidity and temperature can all create adverse effects on even highly rated colors.

For more on the CPSA and the study they conducted visit:

For more on Lyra:

For more on Prismacolor Premier:

Have you tried Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor colored pencils? What was your experience? Share with me in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Lyra vs Prismacolor

  1. Annette says:

    I have a set and I like my Lyra pencils but they are not wax based they are a softer oil based pencil. They definitely work well with lots of light layers and they also work well with the brush and pencil powder blender. I think the colour selection in the 24 set let’s them down a bit. They seemed to be aimed more at landscapes etc but there are some lovely colours in the 72 set. Great for the price in Australia.

    • BarbSotiArt says:

      Thanks for the comment Annette! I always find the colour selection interesting in smaller sets of pencils. Sometimes they seem very considered and other time very random. Glad to hear the 72 set has a nice selection, I will have to check them out sometime! 😃

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