Caran d’Ache Pastel Pencils
12, 20, 40, 76, and 84 count sets
Extremely Well Made
May Struggle a bit with Detailed Areas
Caran d’Ache Pastel Pencils Review
Last Updated by Brandon F. on February 25, 2023
While we typically focus on colored and watercolor pencils on this site, it is always a pleasant change of pace when we get to check out some of the other spectrums of the pencil world. In this case, we will be discussing Caran d’Ache’s fantastic lineup of Pastel Pencils.
As you have come to expect with other Caran d’Ache pencils, these pastel pencils push the envelope in quality and performance. Caran d’Ache has sourced some fantastic pigments to use in these pastels. This results in a pencil that is extremely lightfast, easy to apply, and downright fun to use.
But also typical of Caran d’Ache’s other products is a high asking price. These pencils come in 12, 20, 40, 76, and 84-count sets, have a hexagonal barrel and fall into the premium price range.
Visual Appeal – 5/5
Anybody who has experienced pastels in the past, you likely are aware of the unique qualities that make them stand out compared to more traditional pencils or watercolor pencils. Specifically, the application of color can be quite effective. But it can also feel a little foreign the first time you try them.
And that is certainly the case with these pastels. Caran d’Ache has loaded them up with pigments to the point that they scream brightness when applied to a canvas. Nearly every color that we worked with really “popped” in a way that few other pencils can match.
We particularly liked how well the color worked on darker sheets of paper. The contrast between the bright pastel output and the deep blacks of the paper created a powerful contrast.
Depending on which set you go with, you will be able to pick from 12 up to 84 colors. It is probably no surprise to you that the smaller sets (particularly the 12 and 20-count sets) will be severely lacking in color options. There will be some pretty huge color gaps that may make certain pieces more challenging to color.
For instance, the 12-count set has nothing in the way of deep purples, darker greens, darker blues, and lighter reds. You will essentially have one color choice for each of the primary colors.
The 20-count set opens things up a little bit by providing a couple more yellow/orange choices and some darker greens but again, the options are lacking.
Your choices start to open up more with the 40-count set. This is the first available set that we feel is large and diverse enough to meet most people’s needs. While there are still some color gaps, they are much smaller. And with the great blending (more on that in the next section), any gaps that do exist can be easily worked around.
For those who want the absolute best (and have the pocketbook to handle it!), you can enjoy the 76 and 84-count sets. These sets have every color that you would possibly need.
We didn’t find the necessity in going from the 76 count set to the 84 count set. The additional color choices are quite small (small expansion on yellow and green choices, for instance). But just about any type of work that you would want to take on with the 84-count set can be equally addressed with the 72-count set.
Where the 84-count set shines is the beautiful packaging it comes in (which we will also discuss later on).
It was very difficult to pick some “favorites” out of the color. They are all just so fantastic. If we were forced to choose some, they would be “Beryl Green”, “Violet”, “Light Blue”, “Raw Russet”, “Cobalt Blue”, and “French Grey”. We rarely do this but we also felt it was worth mentioning how great the simple “Black” is. The depth of the black is impressive and at a level, few other pencils can emulate.
Caran d’Ache has always been very serious about lightfast ratings as well. And a vast majority of the pastels in this set exhibit great lightfastness. As is pretty standard, the lowest lightfast rating pencils tend to be the absolute brightest. And specifically for this set, colors in the blue spectrum seemed to struggle the most. The colors that fared the worst in this regard are “Purplish Red”, “Bluish Grey”, “Night Blue”, “Ice Blue”, and “Light Blue”. All of these colors hate a 2-star lightfast rating.
But don’t be scared off by a 2-star lightfast rating. Caran D’ache is extremely hard on itself when it comes to lightfast ratings. And even a 2-star color should exhibit fantastic, vivid color for years without issue.
Now on to the positive. Out of the large 84 set, a whopping 61 out of the 84 pencils enjoy a lightfast rating of 4 or 5 stars. This corresponds to a rating of “Very Good” or “Excellent”. With this level of lightfastness, you can expect the vivid color to last for decades if not centuries with the proper care.
Usability and Durability – 5/5
In the last section, we established that in terms of brightness and color intensity, Caran d’Ache Pastel Pencils are hard to beat. But how are they when it comes to the application?
This area is another one where these pencils excel. Pastel pencils, in general, are great at spreading large amounts of color but Caran d’Ache Pastel Pencils manage to take it to a whole different level.
When you are first holding one of these pastels, you will probably be surprised at its beefiness. The barrel itself isn’t super thick, coming in at 8mm. But the core is an impressive 4.7mm thick. This is thicker than most of your traditional colored pencils. However, despite being thicker, they are still comfortable to hold.
What this means is that you will produce a lot of color over a large range with ease. Pastels naturally spread color easily but with this large point, you should make quick work over large-color areas such as skies, smooth skin tones, and water. They are also quite water-soluble so we encourage you to explore adding water or other water-like solvents to the color.
However, this also means that detailed areas may be a bit challenging. You will have to sharpen these pencils to a fine point or else you risk covering too much area. But detailed work isn’t the intention of pastels. We recommend using a traditional smaller colored pencil in areas that you are concerned about having more precision.
Blending with these pastels is incredibly easy (and fun!). They layer on top of each other with ease. You can use either pencil tips or an eraser to spread the color. For lightening, you can either spread the color over a large area or lightly apply some white (or another light color). On the opposite end of the spectrum, the darkening can be achieved with some timely strokes of black.
Another great positive of pastels (and particularly these) are your ability to vary the intensity of your color output. If you are very light with the application pressure, you can achieve subtle almost sketch-like intensity. And if you press down hard, it results in extremely intense color. This means that you likely won’t have to make a ton of additional passes to get the color depth that you are after.
These pencils come in a hexagonal barrel. We like hexagonal barrels as they are much easier to grip. And with the thicker core, you can press down hard without the worry of the tips breaking.
We had no issues with sharpening these pencils. The outer barrel is made of varnished birch and beech wood. This blend of wood had no issues with chipping or cracking when being used or sharpened. But due to the thick nature of these cores, we recommend using a specialized handheld colored pencil sharpener as opposed to a mechanical or electric sharpener.
Packaging and Presentation – 5/5
Caran d’Ache has always led the pack when it came to its packaging and presentation. Traditionally, both their pencils as well as the boxes that they come in are elegant and well-built. That is also the case here.
The smaller sizes come in a sturdy thick cardboard case. Inside the case will the thin plastic grooved sleeves that keep the pencils individualized and also protected. One cool feature of these sleeves is that they are shaped in a way that creates a gap between each pencil. This may not seem like a big deal, but it avoids having your expensive pencils bumping into each other. This could potentially extend the life of your pastels and help them from prematurely chipping or cracking.
But the real star here is the 84-count set. It comes in a gorgeous wooden carrying case. This case provides excellent protection for the pencils and also looks fabulous.
There are 3 trays stacked up on top of each other, each containing 28 pencils. You could orient these trays however you want. For some people, it may be best to have your “heavy hitter” pencils (AKA the ones that you use a lot) on the top tray for easy access.
As for the pencils themselves, they are equally lovely. They have a nearly full exposed wood shell that shows off the birch and beech wood barrel. There is also a nearly clear varnish on the shell that produces a subtle sheen.
In the middle of the pencil will be a white stamp that includes the Caran d’Ache logo as well as a mention of being a pastel pencil. At the base of the pencil is a color-coordinate area that closely resembles the true color that the pencil produces. There is also a white stamp that coincides with the color code to make for easy identification.
On the opposite side are the actual color name and a series of stars from 1 to 5 that represents lightfastness.
Cost – 2/5
Now for the big negative with Caran d’Ache Pastel Pencils: the price. These are extremely expensive pencils. This is sort of the norm with this brand. They offer up unprecedented quality and performance but it does come with a large cost.
If you are someone starting with coloring or someone that is on a tight art budget, these pencils probably won’t be a top choice for you. There are many sets out there for budding artists to hone their skills that won’t be nearly as expensive.
But if you are someone who is after the very best and are willing to pay any price for this, then these lovey pastels will be right down your alley. They are great for someone who is quite skilled and wants to push their artistic abilities to new levels.
You can also purchase one of the smaller sets to “get a taste” of what these pastel pencils are like. This would be a good chance to try them out without as large of a financial burden. However, you would have to deal with some gal gaps (as we discussed above).
Overall Ranking – 4.5/5
We left extremely impressed with just how good Caran d’Ache Pastel Pencils were. The color vividness is nothing sort of amazing. And the blending and layering are an absolute joy to experience. The thick core is great for producing immense amounts of color with ease. But there is still enough user control to apply lighter levels of color if necessary.
Build quality and fit/finish are also among the best in the industry. The packaging looks great and would be the center of a proud artist’s toolbox.
But this does come at a very high asking price. And while these pastels are quite easy to use, they do not replace a more traditional set of colored pencils or watercolor pencils when it comes to intricate areas or teaching a beginner how to color.
If you want to take your art to the next level and have the budget to support it, we can’t recommend these lovely pastel pencils enough.