Derwent released a new line of coloured pencils called Chromaflow in the Spring of 2021. As a relatively big fan of Derwent products, I was curious to try these pencils for myself. There seemed to be a lot of anticipation amongst coloured pencil artists for them, but who are they really best for and do they live up to the hype?
Their customers in the US and India were the first to be able to purchase this product, but it is now available worldwide. The nearest competitor to this product is said to be Prismacolor Premier though the company states that due to differences in their formulations they won’t necessarily perform the same. Join me as we dive deeper into Derwent’s latest offering to this ever-growing medium.
The opinions expressed in this blog post are my own and I have not been paid to give a favourable review. I, like many of you, rely on the reviews and feedback of people I respect and trust and there is no value to me to provide a review that is misleading or coerced. Please do however feel free to try this product for yourself and form your own opinions, as every artist will have slightly different preferences.
- Vibrant, blendable colour with a smooth laydown
- Premium core strength that can handle pressure (we’ll address this later)
- Wax-based pencil
- Work best on smoother papers
- More suited to hand-held blade sharpeners
- Smaller barrel and softer
- Available in 72 colours
- 3.5 mm core
Note: Normally when I look up the official product features on the company website it gives you a list of very technical information. This particular product didn’t really have that. I had to source the barrel size from an FAQ section that I found on the website. The information wasn’t on the tin either.
In standard Derwent fashion, the packaging is a sturdy metal tin with the signature blue and overlayed Union Jack with the Derwent red logo. The featured artist on this product is Kinsey Lane. She has done exceptional work for this cover art using the product and has also created additional artwork using these pencils for the 24, 26, 28 and 72 set tins as well.
Related: Derwent Drawing Review
The back side features a short description of the product in English and French. I’m not sure if this is new for products sold in Canada as normally the Derwent tins feature more languages on the back. It appears the larger sets like the set of 72 do feature more languages. The backside also features the ends of the pencils included in the tin so you can see the colours. This mirrors the colour swatches found on the front side of the packaging as well.
The pencils themselves are matte black with gold foil lettering. The ends feature a gold band and then the colour-dipped end which is common to most Derwent pencil products. The wood appears to be somewhat coarse and grainy which I’m not overly excited by. Typically when I have seen this type of wood it disintegrates quite easily.
From a colour-matching perspective, the core vs the colour-dipped end vs the pigment on paper appears to be a pretty good match across all of the colours featured in this set of 12. That’s usually a pretty good sign that all colours will be however there’s usually always one or two that are a bit questionable.
If you haven’t checked out my blog post already on Why I Create Colour Charts, make sure to bookmark it. They are one of the most helpful tools I use in my art practice to make sure I can find the colours that I need quickly, accurately and with reliable lightfast information all in one place.
My understanding from the company’s website is that this pencil will not currently be available as open stock. This is something to take into consideration when purchasing this product. If you burn through a certain handful of colours you will not be able to just replace the colour without buying a whole other set.
SHARPENING AND BREAKAGE
My first sharpening experience with this product was not great. As suspected, the wood crumbed and as you can see in the photo above left crumbled and jagged edging. At this stage, I had yet to actually use these pencils on a project. Using a KUM long point sharpener later when I was actually creating a demo drawing I had better results, but I still find this wood a bit soft.
The photo above is of the broken tip of the pencil after using a normal-moderate amount of pressure to colour out this swatch. This was my first pencil-to-paper experience and the tip promptly broke. My later usage of the product for my demo drawing was better but I did have sizable chunks of leads break 3 more times including on this same pencil.
There are a number of reasons this can occur in all pencil brands including the pencils having been dropped. Because this was an Amazon purchase, it’s very likely they could have been. One of the features of this product however boasts about how strong and reliable the core is so to me that seems to have been disproved almost immediately. For a product that is meant to be a high-quality entry-level pencil, this is problematic for a few reasons that I will discuss later in this review.
As of the original publishing of this blog post, Chromaflow does not have readily available lightfast ratings on the US website. Derwent is great about providing its own colour charts for its products featuring some photographed or simulated colour swatches. These charts also usually feature the colours available, the tins that have those colours and the company’s lightfast ratings for each colour. The chart currently available on the US website does not list any lightfast ratings at all.
On the FAQ section of the website, they address this question and essentially direct artists looking for a highly lightfast product to purchase one of their other lines of pencils, more specifically the Lightfast range that is specially formulated to have that attribute.
That said, when I visited the UK Derwent website I was able to find this information on the set of 72 pencils sales page. They have a “shades available” section below the primary information that allows you to hover over each shade number and it gives you the colour name and lightfast rating. I’m not sure why this information is not also on the US version of the website, but given that the product is made in the UK, I would imagine that this information is legitimate. Perhaps they are just behind on updating the information on all of their sites?
I’ve created a Printable Colour Chart based on the information from the UK website for those of you who have requested this chart.
I was a lot more impressed with this product when I actually settled into doing a drawing with it. I used a Bristol Plate surface paper for the drawing as Derwent recommends that this product best performs on smoother papers. The pigment laydown and feel was very similar to Prismacolor although not as waxy and soft. I would say it actually feels a bit more similar to Faber-Castell Goldfaber pencils than Prismacolor in that sense.
DETAILS & BLENDING
Once you have a sharp tip on these pencils they do relatively well with detail and blending. I found they layered over themselves quite smoothly, but if you want to add a lot of layers I would suggest a paper with a bit more tooth than the bristol plate offers. While you can do a slow build-up of layers or burnish with this product I felt like the slow build offered better results on this paper type.
I would strongly recommend doing tests on different paper swatches before you try a full piece with any new pencil. The combination of the type of paper you use with any coloured pencil product can greatly affect your success with it. Often it takes a bit of time to find the right combination of paper and pencil with the techniques you like using to get successful results.
ADVANCED BLENDING & DETAILS
I ended up using a Finesse Blending Pen on the background of this demo drawing to smooth out the pigment. It seemed to dissolve relatively well and still accepted layers over top of additional coloured pencils. if you like using a solvent in your process, Chromaflow seems to work fairly well with this technique.
It should be noted that this set includes a white pencil as one of its 12. Derwent is the maker of my all-time favourite super opaque white pencil in their Derwent Drawing line. The Chromaflow pencil, however, does not offer the same or even similar qualities. I used it in some areas as a burnish blender or to lighten up some of the areas and I didn’t feel like it really added any additional value. Derwent is one of the few companies that I feel has been smart about giving artists another colour instead of a white pencil in a 12 set but in this case, I feel like a grey or another red even would have been more beneficial.
Overall, I like this product as an entry-level pencil into coloured pencil. The laydown was smooth and blending was relatively easy. I would definitely like to try this product on a slightly toothier paper, but it performed well on this ultra-smooth surface without coming off too light or grainy.
Where I think this product would benefit someone new to coloured pencil is as a practice pencil. I also think that given the nature of the breakage I experienced I would caution anyone who wanted to use these for a larger drawing as you won’t be able to replace used-up pencils without purchasing a whole new set.
If you’re curious about trying this pencil I would invest in the set of 12 first to try it out. If you’re a fan of Derwent products and are more serious about coloured pencil, I would suggest exploring some of their other lines of coloured pencils that perform overall much more efficiently and have more consistent and higher lightfast ratings.
PROS & CONS OVERVIEW
As with any product, there is always room for some improvement so let’s look at a quick recap:
– Available in 72 colours and variety of set sizes
– Nice saturation and feel on the pencil
– Good entry-level pencil for a student or hobbyist
– Vibrant colours
– Not available in open stock
– Leads break just as easily as any other pencil
– Wood casing is not super strong
– The white pencil is nothing special compared to other lines in this brand
I was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion with the host of the Sharpened Artist Coloured Pencil Podcast John Middick and three Derwent specialists to discuss everything about this long-standing and innovative brand. Check out episode 308 of the podcast below.