Have you thought about the cost of coloured pencils? Have you considered why you buy the ones you do?
Warning – Economics ahead!
This post will show you how economics can help you in your art and craft journey. It will show you what impacts the cost of coloured pencils, and what purchasing choices you can make.
First – let’s look at time and labour.
Time and labour cost
Many moons back, my studies taught me that time and labour is one of the most expensive inputs in making a product or service.
These are two distinct things that are generally lumped together. In simple terms, labour cost is the amount paid to the person making the goods or service. This may be per hour or per unit. Time is the amount of time it takes to make or do something.
If a person is paid by the hour, or by per unit of item produced, the quicker that person makes an item, the less it will cost to make it. Alternatively, the longer it takes to make something, the more it will cost.
So, if the cost of time and labour can be reduced, a cost-effective product or service can be provided to customers, or a greater profit provided for the manufacturer/producer.
Another way that time and labour costs are cut is by paying the person making the goods or service less, or by reducing staff.
Sharing time saving gains with others
Yet, to make a better product or service, staff need to be well paid and have a workplace that encourages them to find ways to do things better and quicker. As without that no-one will benefit.
So managers need to ensure that their labour shares the economic gains of time-saving. Usually by pay increases or improved working conditions.
But – what does that mean for us creators?
By saving your time, you can provide a better service or product and pay your labour well. Yes – in our cases – our labour is generally one person – you or me – who does the work.
In our one person workplaces, if you can save your time, you can save your money – and make some money.
The biggest time saver tools I have created for you are the interactive colour charts, and how you can visualise colour relationships of a red yellow blue colour wheel.
Supply and demand
The second economic principle we’ll cover is supply and demand. This affects your coloured pencil choices. Let me explain below.
When there is a type of coloured pencil available, its cost will vary according to its availability and the demand for it.
Here it gets a bit academic. If the demand for that coloured pencil increases, it’s supply will reduce (until the producer can create more). Similarly, if the supply of the coloured pencils is reduced and the demand for it remains the same – then two things can happen.
- its price will increase; or
- a substitute will be used.
What does this mean for you? If you want to pursue coloured pencil drawing, your decision to buy the right coloured pencils for you will depend upon availability, price, and if it can be substituted.
For this post, let’s assume that demand for the goods and supply for the good is equal. This means that the amount of coloured pencils available is enough for the people who want to buy them.
1. Let’s look at the price
It’s not just supply and demand that affects the price of your coloured pencils – it’s also the cost of foreign currency and other inputs required to produce your coloured pencils (such as time and labour).
Let’s look at foreign currency and its impact on price.
I know you’re wondering – how does foreign currency impact my art and craft journey?
Well – that depends on where you live, what your local currency is worth – and where your preferred coloured pencils are made.
For example, here in Australia, no coloured pencils are made in Australia.
All coloured pencils are imported from other countries. Some of which are made in Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, China or Britain. Each of these countries have different currencies.
Let’s look at an example of coloured pencils made in Switzerland that are for sale in both Australia and the U.S.A. Let’s see how foreign currency affects the price of coloured pencils.
Australian Price vs U.S. Price
Do you buy online? Do you think about the currency you may charged for your pencils?
Let’s compare the Australian dollar (AUD) and the United States Dollar (USD). As at 17 March 2020, the AUD1 is equal to .61 US cents.
Disclaimer: Artnitso & Co has no affiliation with any of the brands or online shops referred to in this post. They were randomly selected and used to illustrate examples.
One of the premium range of pencils are the wax-based lightfast Caran d’Ache Luminance range. In a random online selection, we found a set of 76 plus 2 blender Luminance pencil sets is available in Australia for AUD483.95 at Kadmium.com. This set is also available from the Caran d’Ache US store for USD389.50. These prices were at 17 March 2020.
On first viewing, the $389.50 set of pencils appears cheaper than the $483.95 set of pencils.
However, when you take into account these are different currencies, and when the above exchange rate is applied, USD389.50 is equivalent to AUD636.84. Australian dollars are not the same as American dollars.
By comparing these two prices, you can see the price difference when foreign currency is considered.
Therefore, you need to shop around. Make sure you are aware of the currency you are being charged when buying online. Also – don’t forget shipping costs which can add to your coloured pencils final price. The online store may show the equivalent price you will be charged in your currency. If not, however, use an exchange rate calculator to find out what the price is in your local currency before you purchase.
Other factors impacting price
Nevertheless, there are other things that impact the price of coloured pencils that you see at the shop. Such as:
- When did the importer purchase the coloured pencils from the manufacturer?
- What was the foreign exchange rate at that time?
- Are there export and import taxes applied to the purchase price?
- How much are those taxes?
- Was there a bulk purchase discount price?
- How much was that discount?
- What were the shipping costs at the time of delivery?
- In which currency were the goods and supplies purchased?
- Are the coloured pencils hand-made or machine made?
- Which ingredients or components are used in the coloured pencils, and what do they cost the manufacturer to buy?
- What are the labour costs (and other input costs) involved in making the coloured pencils?
- What is the seller’s markup on the wholesale price?
So, you can see there are many factors that affect the price of coloured pencils. Unfortunately, we as users don’t get to see the actual price inputs, but rather only view the final price available at the shops.
Compare the price of the coloured pencils you are looking for from a number of shops. Shops purchase goods at different times, and their final prices may be impacted by different factors (such as outlined in 1. to 12. above).
Import and export and its effect on price
To keep with the above, we’ll continue to use the Australian dollar to the United States dollar as an example of foreign exchange.
In foreign exchange, the cheaper the Australian dollar to the US dollar, the more expensive imported goods will cost (and our exports will be cheaper and more competitive internationally).
Accordingly, the higher value of the Australian dollar against the US dollar, the cheaper imported products will be (and our exports will cost more and be less competitive internationally).
Fortunately, some of my imported art supplies and books were purchased when one Australian dollar was worth USD1.10. Similarly, some of my other imported supplies were when one Australian dollar was worth USD 0.47 cents. I know which exchange rate I prefer for purchasing goods made overseas.
Now – if only someone in Australia could start manufacturing coloured pencils.
Let’s look at substitution
Now that we know the price of the above example of coloured pencils – Caran d’Ache Luminance, let’s look for a possible substitute to that premium range of coloured pencils.
The cost of each Luminance coloured pencil equates to roughly AUD6.37 per pencil. As at 17 March, 2020, Kadmium.com sells a single Luminance pencil for AUD5.95 each. The Sydney Art Store sells a single Luminance pencil for AUD6.35.
Now – this premium pencil is pricey for a struggling artist, or a student starting out – so let’s look at a comparable pencil that could be substituted for a Luminance pencil.
A similar wax-based pencil is the Prismacolor Premier pencil. These are made in Mexico. Both the Caran d’Ache Luminance and Prismacolor Premier pencils have a 3.8mm core.
The Prismacolor Premier range of 150 pencils holds 85 lightfast pencils (or pencil with a lightfast rating of I or II).
Substitution based on price
Do you remember the time and labour cost paragraphs above? Here’s where time and labour costs may impact the price of your coloured pencils.
Where your coloured pencils are made may affect the final cost of that pencil. For example, Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils are made in Switzerland, where it is relatively expensive to live. See OECD information about Switzerland. As of 18 March 2020, 1 Swiss Franc is equivalent to USD1.04.
Alternatively, the Prismacolor Premier pencils are made in Mexico. See OECD information about Mexico. This is a less expensive country in which to live compared to Switzerland. As of 18 March, 2020, 1 Mexican Peso is equivalent to USD 0.044.
Substituting Pencil Sets
Remember, the example above showed that a 76 plus 2 blender Luminance pencil set is available in Australia for AUD483.95 at Kadmium.com.
As of 17 March, 2020, Kadmium don’t sell a 150 set of Prismacolor Premier pencils, or single Prismacolor Premier pencils, so we are unable to compare the price from the same store.
However, with a random online selection we’ll use The Sydney Art Store price.
A set of 150 Prismacolor Premier pencils costs AUD378.00 from The Sydney Art Store. This equates to roughly AUD2.52 per pencil.
Therefore, in this example, a set of Prismacolor Premier 150 pencils costs AUD105.95 less than the set of 76 Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils (not including shipping costs).
Substituting single pencils
Remember, in the example above, Kadmium.com sells a single Luminance pencil for AUD5.95 each.
The Sydney Art Store doesn’t sell single Prismacolor Premier pencils. However, on a random online selection, Officeworks sells a single Prismacolor Premier pencil for AUD2.40.
By comparing the prices, that’s AUD3.55 cheaper than buying a Luminance pencil. With that saving, you could buy another Prismacolor pencil and have change left over.
Other considerations when substituting pencils
So – which one should you buy? Are you influenced by price alone? Are there other things to consider about the price differences of the pencils?
Your experience using the pencils may impact your choice. Here is some of my observations on using the pencils. You may have other experiences that affect your purchasing choices.
Caran d’Ache Luminance
Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils are colourful, pigmented and well made using western red cedar. The pencil sets are well packaged, where the pencils are protected when shipped, and then when used – if kept in the case – by the user.
The pencils are well marked, with pencil numbers, names and lightfast ratings.
Opening a new set of Caran d’Ache pencils is a joy – freshly produced in Switzerland, and a strong smell of western red cedar.
The pencils last a long while, and it seems the leads aren’t used quickly when being used. They sharpen to points with little breakage. The smell and look great.
… and con’s
However, while this issue may now be rectified by the manufacturer, some of the pencils in my set bought in 2015 are scratchy, and difficult to draw with that stops drawing flow. For example, Cassell Earth, Payne’s Grey and French Grey are scratchy.
The type of timber used is not specified, but the Prismacolor Premier pencil tin says ‘does not contain rainforest wood’.
The Prismacolor Premier pencils have more lightfast pencils in their range than the Luminance range. Prismacolor has 85 lightfast pencils compared to Luminance’s 76 (update: July 2020 – the Luminance range now has 100 lightfast pencils)
The Prismacolor Premier pencil colours are vibrant and put down on paper like butter – soft and silky. None of the pencils appear scratchy when applied to paper.
The pencils timber casings can split during travel, and the pigment cores are more times than not, not centred within the timber casing. This means that care is to be taken when sharpening them to avoid breaking the pencil leads.
There are techniques around on how to sharpen a Prismacolor Premier pencil without breaking the lead. This sharpening issue has happened with about 5 of the Prismacolor Premier pencils in my stash, with a few pencils being sharpened to stumps before the lead was usable.
Because the pencils leads are quite soft, it doesn’t take long to use a pencil when drawing.
The pencil names and number markings on the pencil are listed on each pencil, but do not include the lightfast ratings on the pencil barrel.
This makes it difficult for a user to know which pencil is lightfast or not without having to refer to the Prismacolor colour chart to find the rating.
The packaging is adequate, but the pencils are not as protected as the Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils.
A range of reasons to make your selection
So, from the above, you may choose to use one coloured pencil brand over another for a range of reasons, other than price.
You may still find that after comparing similar coloured pencils, that the prices for either of the complete sets are out of your budget range. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use that pencil brand. Think of other ways you might substitute your pencils.
For example, have you considered you might substitute your preferred pencils by using different sized sets (see Prismacolor set of 12, and Luminance set of 12) or purchasing a limited palette of single pencils, and getting creative and using colour recipes to expand the colours? This method would allow you to use your preferred pencils, and would cost less than purchasing a full set of premium coloured pencils.
You could also substitute using premium pencils when doing your drawing exercises. For example, you could practice your drawing techniques and do colour exercises with student grade pencils, or pencils with limited markings.
Make your choice
So there you have a quick overview of the two pencil brands that are similar, but not the same. We can say that without going to the level of comparing individual colours, that these pencils can be substituted for each other.
You can see the price examples above. Artists and hobbyists alike can buy more art supplies with this saving.
However, depending on experience, a user may be annoyed when using the Prismacolor Premier pencils, but could they wear that by having saved AUD105.95? Even though these soft wax-based pencils may be used up quicker than the harder waxed-based Luminance pencil.
Don’t forget that this post includes examples of prices in random stores. There are other online stores that will sell these products in sets or open stock.
Not just coloured pencils
As noted above, this post shows how pricing may affect wax-based lightfast coloured pencils, and their substitution. There are other coloured pencil types and art and craft supplies where items can be substituted.
There is generally more than one substitute.
This is is also apparent with paints and other accessories. Also, sewing machines, overlockers – or rather – anything that you use to do the art and craft of your choice.
Other considerations. Ethical buying
Would you like to be comfortable in the knowledge that wherever you source your coloured pencils and arts supplies, that you are helping the workers in that country, and that you are helping the environment? Do you want to purchase from a company that is making its products with sustainable input and methods?
Yes – a company having sustainable and environmentally responsible products, and being a good corporate citizen is not cheap. This cost can be reflected in higher product costs.
However, it can be difficult to know where individual companies source their inputs, or how they pay their wages or the conditions of their workers. A good start is to look at the websites for each of these manufacturers, and look at their product descriptions, and their company information. That will give you an idea as to whether they are all-round good corporate citizens which use sustainably sourced products, are environmentally focused, and are providing living wages for the workers that produce your preferred art and craft supplies.
Do your research
Do your due diligence. Be safe in your purchasing decision as you will know as much information as possible about the product of your choice. You can extend this further and look not just at the manufacturer, but also to the good corporate citizenship of the shop from whom you buy the goods. You can also further extend this to the company that ships and delivers your goods as well.
A final word on coloured pencil prices
So, now you know why coloured pencil prices differ, and how you might substitute one for another. Compare the prices of the pencils you would like to purchase, include the shipping costs in your final price, and be mindful of the currency in which you will be charged.
We hope this post has helped you to understand the cost of coloured pencils, and why you buy the coloured pencils you do.
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This post was originally posted on 18 March 2020, updated on 2 May 2020, and last updated on 3 August 2021.