One of my most requested products to review are the Marca Raffine Fine Art Colored Pencils. Quality colored pencils are expensive and many are looking for a cheaper alternative to some of the professional pencils like Caran d’Ache Luminance or Faber-Castell Polychromos. This set of 48 Marco Raffines cost me $12.99 on amazon. I hate pointing out the obvious, but you honestly can’t expect a set of pencils that are this cheap to truly compare to a professional pencil!
These pencils are really marketed towards coloring books. I think this is fitting for the product. I am not a serious coloring book person/hobbyist/colorist. If I work in a coloring book it is for fun. I don’t care if the colors are lightfast or highly pigmented, so for me, this is a perfect use for these pencils. My first test with them was actually in a coloring book. I colored a faerie dragon from World of Warcraft. On this same paper, I tested polychromos (not shown) and the difference in pigment was pretty noticeable. But honestly, if you’re just coloring for fun I think the Marcos are fine.
The real reason people contact me though isn’t about coloring books, but for fine art. Can these colored pencils be used for realistic fine artwork? I say that it depends on what your goals are. These are not nearly as pigmented as Prismacolor, Luminance, or Polychromos. The darks especially don’t get very dark. They do however blend well and that I wasn’t expecting. You can layer with these but you will only get a few layers before there is too much wax build up to continue layering. If you look at the coloring book page above, I tried layering darks on top of the magenta colors of the mushroom…they just didn’t stick. I couldn’t get that area any darker than what I did here. If I had started with the black I could go darker, but still, it would never be anything like I can get with quality artist pencils.
In the sample above, I used similar colors with each brand to compare how they would layer and blend. As you can see, the Marcos did blend well, but the color saturation can’t get as dark as the other brands. I used Odorless Mineral Spirits (OMS) to blend these samples. The Marcos did get a decent coverage but never as dark as I wanted it to go. I found with the OMS that after a couple of layers that any further use of OMS would cause the pencil to lift off the paper instead of blending it out.
These pencils are listed as being fade resistant. Do not mistake that as meaning they are lightfast. They aren’t. There is no lightfast testing on these pencils and they will fade. For this reason, alone I would never ever recommend they be used on artwork you want to last or plan to sell.
These pencils are only available in sets, not open stock. So what happens when you run out of black or your favorite blue? You buy a whole new box. Luckily, in this case, the boxes are pretty cheap.
What about if you’re just learning colored pencil? I would recommend these for kids who are starting to learn. Once a child hits around 12 I would likely switch them to an artist grade pencil. 12 is the age most kids start learning faster and producing more serious artwork so that is the age I would want to see a student switch over. Younger than 12 though, I think these are a great pencil for kids to start learning control/blending and layering. Most kids aren’t going to do more than 2 or 3 layers in their work anyway, so these not taking more layers after that really won’t be a problem. If your kids or grandkids are seeing you painting or drawing and are interested in art, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy these for them.
I would also recommend these pencils to teens or adults who thinks they might be interested in colored pencil but don’t want to invest $200 in finding out if they even like the process of layering and blending a pencil. The work still shouldn’t be sold, but it doesn’t cost much to get a set of these and play with them. Just remember that these are not as highly pigmented as artist grade pencils so you’re not going to get the same results. As soon as someone decides they want to take colored pencil seriously I would then recommend switching to a better brand.
If you know that colored pencil is something you want to do well with, I would skip these and go straight to the Polychromos or Luminance pencils. Even the Prismacolor would be a far better choice (assuming you don’t mind spending money on broken/warped pencils that break when the wind shifts). When you’re looking to save money on art supplies, remember that you do get what you pay for. A box of pencils that costs $12.99 is in no way going to compete with a quality pencil.