Caran D’Ache Luminance review

Today, lets talk about Caran D’Ache Luminance, probably the most expensive pencil out there, the Holy Grail to many. Lets see if the hype is really worth it, shall we?

All previous reviews and what’s to come, you can find HERE

To recap about Caran D’Ache itself, Caran D’Ache was born in 1915 and they’re located in Switzerland. They don’t outsource their production so thus the price is quite European as well. The quality of all their pencils is superb, even their student quality is great. I recently found a fun product they have, Fibralos, those are basically markers but they’re water soluble, so sort of like watercolor pencils but markers. How cool is that? Anyway back to Luminance. Luminance pencils are rather new, been in their range only since 2010. For geek fun, see their history page, chock full of fun information.
Luminance comes in sets of 20, 40 and 76. There’s also a wood box set with 80 pencils, 4 of which are repeat colors. By their website it seems they now come in cardboard boxes like the Museum watercolor pencil range, mine is still in a tin like Pablos.
The pencils are wax based with a round cedar casing. The casing itself is wood colored, the tip is colored according to the lead color (though not always, some are pretty off so do take the time to make yourself a color chart). First editions didn’t have a color code at all so if you happen upon those, you know. These colors are all extremely lightfast, thus also the name Luminance and why they stop at 76. For a colorist, lightfastness is usually not all that important but artists need this, you really don’t want your work to fade in a year when hanging on your clients wall for instance.
The pencils themselves have the color name and code on them.
So, straight to the pros and cons, shall we?


  • Incredibly soft and blendable
  • Round barrel is comfortable to hold for longer stretches
  • Excellent range of muted colors, great for portraiture and nature studies
  • Lightfast to the point of thou-shall-fade-like-NEVER
  • Not bad with details, better then expected for such soft pencils
  • They look stylish, you have to admit 😀
  • Great naming convention, they use pigment names here, unlike with Pablos
  • One of the very best white pencils out there (we’ll get to a comparison of whites soon as well, stay tuned)
  • Nice thick 3,8mm lead
  • Premium cedar casing
  • Will fit in standard sharpeners
  • Available open stock in some art stores and Amazon


  • Well, the price is breathtaking. It took me a LONG time to save up for mine (I’ve spent years collecting pencils so no, I’m not rich, far from it :D)
  • A few from my tin are a little scratchy, Cassel Earth for instance, wouldn’t really expect that for such a price
  • Since they’re very soft, they tend to lose their point very fast but that’s to be expected

All in all, I’d say the only serious con is the price. If you only color with these, I’d say it’s not the set to get if you only want to go with one tin (in that case I’d say try Faber-Castell Polychromos or Caran D’Ache Pablos). But they are absolutely amazing so if you’re into pencils like me, you’ll love these.

As these are of the soft variety of wax pencils, I’ll compare them to Prismacolor Premier, the other titan of softness bonanza.
One clear difference that jumps out immediately is the color range. Where Prismacolor is happy-go-lucky with vibrant brightness, Luminance is muted and natural. Prismacolor casing doesn’t even go in the same sentence with Luminance, that warped crap just does not compare with Caran D’Ache quality. The leads are incredibly soft for both brands, Luminance being a tad tougher though, doesn’t break as easily and holds a point a wee bit longer then Prismas.
If you need very soft wax pencils for backgrounds and large areas in general, go with Prismas, unless you plan to hang the work since Prismacolor is not lightfast, they don’t even bother marking their pencils with lightfastness ratings.
They’re both good in what they do but you don’t really have to think in curse words when using Luminance, unlike with Prismacolor (but we’ll get into that later when it’s Prismas turn on the review table). The price is dramatically different though. So unless you are a pencil geek or an artist, get Prismas, stalk Amazon, they often have great deals for Prismas. It’s sort of like buying a car. Prismas are like an old Beetle, colorful and fun but breaks down a lot. If you want to cry every time you buy gas but be crazy excited to polish and wax your car, get a fancy sportscar, namely Luminance in this case. That’s about what it boils down to.

Color chart:
Yay, time for illegible handwriting! Seriously, Google will give you better ones, these are just for my own use so they’re not pretty 😀 Click on the pictures to see them bigger.

Official color chart:
coloring piece done with Luminance:
Picture: Wild Savannah by Millie Marotta

I don’t regret buying these. Never will. But if I lost all my pencils, they wouldn’t be the first ones I’d replace. And that’s only because of the price. In all other aspects, these are amazing and enjoyable. And if you only get one from this set, get the white. If you get more, I suggest you get the ones great for skin tones, the range of burnt ochres and siennas if you do any portraits or human coloring. Overall, love love love!

Next time I’ll talk of Derwent Coloursoft, the European answer to Prismacolor.

Disclaimer: all of the above opinions are mine, you might have a different experience with these pencils


17 thoughts on “Caran D’Ache Luminance review

  1. Thank you for the great information. I think the picture is breathtaking. I am a novice colorist so these are out of my range and expertise, but I am happy to have the knowledge.


  2. Thank you for the reviews on these & the Pablo’s!! I have prismas & FC polys so one of these will likely be my next set. Probably Pablo’s simply due to price & color range. I’ll continue to buy these in open stock though & sooner or later I’ll have a complete set. Lol


    1. I do actually recommend Pablos over Luminance if you have to choose. Luminance has a few scratchy ones for many people, I don’t dig that all that much and I feel Pablos give a greater color range in addition to consistent quality.


  3. I just read that Pablos are wax based and the Luminance are vegetable oil based so I would think that they would lay down differently


    1. They all contain wax, some just have a higher oil content. But yes, they are different, Luminance is more similar to Prismacolor, Pablo is very much like Faber-Castell Polychromos in the sense of how they feel.


  4. Thank you for clarifying that. I get so confused and there is so much misleading information you don’t know what to believe. So why would you spend 4.00 on a pencil that predominantly wax when you can get another (like Pablo or color blend by spectrum noir which by the way is also wax and oil). I say that only because I purchased a luminance pencil to try it thinking it was going to change my life (Tee Tee) but thought although it is very nice and laid down really good I didn’t think it warranted the price. Yes the pigment was really good too but I did notice that I could not get the detail with it that I can with Irojiten or Pablo. I just got a complete set of Faber Castell Polychromo and between them and the Pablo I could actually do away with the other 4 or 5 brands I own. My least favorite from the various brands I own are the Prismas. Thats mainly because they get used so fast and break so often when sharpening it’s annoying. I actually like the SoHo Urban’s better than the prismas as well as the Bruynzeel-Sakura’s and Dick Blicks. I think though for me, since I like to do detail like wildlife (those hairy ones) and domestic dogs and cats mostly. If I were doing a lot of floral or landscape I might feel differently. I’ve amassed over the years hundreds of CP’s and brands and I’m ashamed to say I really until recently never cared about the making of them or any of that. I just wanted it to do what I needed it to do. Very interesting reading this site. I’m learning. Happy New Year to you!


    1. For hair, it is best to go with a drier and harder pencil, Luminance is so soft that it loses its point pretty fast, for hair you want to keep that point as long as humanly possible. So yes, Polychromos or Pablos would be a LOT better for that. Prismas are also very soft and yes, they break a lot. I absolutely loathe mine. And love them. And I will probably keep buying them forever and ever and hate them while doing it but they fit my style of working when they’re not busy breaking so yeeaahh. I wish there’d be something as fancy as a quality control department where they make them 😀
      I’m glad you find my blog useful! And Happy New Year to you too!


  5. Hi there, my daughter is a keen little artist. She has prismas currently and I was wondering about getting her a few of the Caran d’ache luminance in the skin tones as you suggest as she is wanting to get into faces as well as general coloring. I am a little overwhelmed by the number of reviews about different pencils and which to get but my sister lives in the States (we live in NZ) and Dick Blick sell them singly so thought it might be nice to get a few to try. Would you also recommend a few of the Faber polychromos for comparison? Can I also ask what sharpener you use? Cannot seem to find any recommendations for the Caran d’ache apart from a hugely expensive. Thanks for your fab reviews 🙂


    1. Hello! For skin tones, I actually prefer Prismacolor, they have great skin colors. But if you want her to try out Luminance, Luminance has a wonderful range of natural tones, I’d say Buff Titanium is one that would complement Prismas as well, it’s a gorgeous ivory shade that is a pretty rare shade. For skin, I’d recommend also getting at least Sepia, Burnt Ochre 10%, Burnt Sienna 10%, Burnt Sienna 50%, Grey Blue and Alizarin Crimson as well. Luminance feels relatively similar to Prismacolor, Faber-Castell Polychromos is very different in feel and she’d maybe like to try that as well to find what goes with her style of work. For Polychromos, the minimum skintone set I’d recommend is Light Flesh, Cinnamon, Medium Flesh, Ivory, Dark Sepia, Indigo Blue, Alizarin Crimson. Polychromos Ivory is similar to Luminance Buff Titanium, a little lighter. This shade is indispensable when doing light blending and highlights. White is not necessary in most cases.
      If she has trouble with skin, there are a lot of tutorials on Youtube on how to do it, I also have several (look under the tutorials tab above the banner), coloring book tutorials can be applied to just drawing with ease, it’s the technique that matters.
      I use a cheap sharpener, I change mine often, it has to be sharp, that’s about it. I don’t use electrical or anything fancy, I find my manual cheapster does the job just fine. As long as it’s sharp, it’s all good.


  6. Thank you for all your reviews Iris. They are very instructive. I am saving money to get the 120 Faber Castell because after reading tons and tons of reviews, they always seem to get the most positive comments and even though they are pricey, they will last for years and can be easily replaced with open stock. Also, they will complement my Prismas. I still love my Prismas and they create the most beautiful results, at least, according to all the tutorials I watch online. I still don’t get all the negative comments about these pencils as I use mine almost daily and they don’t break at all, even though I am pressing hard most of the time. I guess using the right sharpener is important (I use the Prismacolor sharpener) but I guess it’s also because they often lay on my dining table which is under the sun for a few hours every day. I read somewhere that it was helpful to have them lay down under the sun once in a while because it melts the wax inside. Your review convinced me to not buy the Caran d’Ache. They are too expensive. At such a price, they should be perfect.


    1. True. You will hopefully be very happy with FC Polychromos, they’re amazing. They’re different from Prismas so expect them to feel different but give it a bit of time, they’ll grow on you, I promise. I think they’re fantastic. If I’d have to keep just two sets, Prismas and Polychromos would be the ones to stay, no doubt about that, though I do like Caran D’Ache Pablos as well but I find their fleshy tones lacking and they’re more on the cool side with shades, I tend to gravitate towards warm colors so Polychromos is more down my alley.


  7. Thank you Iris! I will let you know when I buy the Polychromos. As you mentioned, I heard they need an adjustment, especially when we are used to Prismas, like I am. By the way, I looked at the page you colored with your Prismas and it is so vibrant and beautiful!


  8. Thank you *so* much for these helpful reviews- they have guided me through quite a few pencil purchases. I’m currently bouncing between a set of Pablos and the Luminance and I have a question that maybe you can help me answer: How do the Pablos work on darker papers? I tend to use only kraft brown/gray paper for my colored pencil stuff and think Pablos are the ones for me (based on your review) but wonder if they will show up well on darker papers. Opacity is most important, but smoothness is *almost* as important. But no matter how smooth a pencil is, it won’t do any good if it doesn’t show up on a darker paper… any advice? Thank you so much!


    1. Hi! I’m glad you find my reviews helpful! Pablos are not as opaque as Luminance, thus they’re not quite as bright on dark papers but should be fine. I haven’t used darker papers much but you can see at least the white HERE


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