Review by Tina Koyama
I have been known to look askance at and even mildly mock packaging that seems gratuitously fancy. And yet I’m the first to admit that I bought the entire original nine-volume (90-pencil) slipcased set of Tombow Irojiten Color Dictionary colored pencils for packaging alone. With most colored pencils, I like to take them out of the boxes they come in and store them upright in mugs on my desk for easy access. The Irojiten set is the exception: I keep them in their lovely slipcases on a bookshelf. (You can read my review of them on my personal blog.)
They aren’t hangar queens, though: Irojiten pencils are well worthy of use. If you are accustomed to soft and creamy Prismacolor Premier pencils, Irojiten will probably seem hard to you as they did to me when I first tried them. Slightly softer than Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils, they still fall on the harder end of the colored pencil scale. But the more I use colored pencils in general, the more I have come to appreciate that harder colored pencil cores have their place – both for imparting fine details and for building rich color. Irojiten pencils are among my favorites.
I was therefore thrilled to see that a new set had been released: Tombow Irojiten Color Dictionary set of 36 colors. Much larger than the original boxes, the new box is similarly slipcased and has a notebook-like elastic band securing the clamshell lid. (I found it interesting that the new box opens like a Western book from right to left; the original “books” open in reverse, like a Japanese book.) As with the original set, the “book covers” feel somewhat like book cloth. An outer wrapper and insert list the colors and offer coloring instructions (in Japanese).
Inside, the pencils are as beautiful as ever. The glossy white, round barrels have colored end caps that are also glossy and rounded. (This is a good time to say that Tombow makes some of the most beautiful pencil end caps I’ve ever seen! Look at the Mono 100 and swoon!) The Tombow logo, color name and number are printed in silver near the end cap. Like the original set, the pencils are made in Vietnam.
A small sharpener is included with the set.
In reading the color listing on JetPens’ site, it wasn’t clear to me whether these 36 colors were all new or simply a repackaging of colors from the original set. Geek that I am, I carefully compared the color names and was initially excited because I thought that the majority was new.
Alas, I wasn’t as careful as I thought I was (counting apparently isn’t one of my strengths), and only 13 of the 36 are new. Even so, the new colors are unique additions. I especially like Verdigris, Yolk Yellow and Scouring Rush, which are useful urban hues. In fact, I can see the strategy: The 36 colors selected for the new set are more wide-ranging and diverse than any single three-volume set in the original release, making the new set the best value as a stand-alone purchase.
For my sample sketch, I used Cherry Red, Narcissus, Dandelion, Deep Sea and Verdigris in a Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook. The pigments apply smoothly and blend beautifully, and the cores stay sharpened for details. Indeed, Irojiten pencils are still among my favorites.
I have only one question: Why, oh why, did Tombow change the packaging? Despite what I said about how this set of 36 is a better value than the originals if you are purchasing only one set, the new package is pedestrian instead of unique: Nearly all colored pencil sets come in wide, flat boxes. The original set is such a lovely presentation; why not come out with a selection of 30 new colors and simply add three more matching volumes that would have looked so beautiful next to the first nine?
As it is, the much-larger box of 36 doesn’t fit easily on my already crowded desktop, so I took all the pencils out and put them in a cup. I usually store pencils with their points up, but those delicious end caps deserve to be seen.