Do you have art supplies that you have been yearning for years? I know I do! For years I’ve been going back and forth about buying the Irojiten pencil sets, after an employee of Tombow showed them to me. Last year I finally caved in. Curious how I feel about them? In this review I’ll tell you all about it!
Love at first sight - the packaging
One thing is obvious from the get go: the packaging of the Irojiten Pencils tops all it’s competitors, hands down. There are 3 sets: Rainforest, Woodlands and Seascape. Each set contains 3 boxes with 10 pencils per box. Well, calling them boxes is kind of a big insult. The boxes are like little booklets, with a linen like cover and an elastic band to keep them closed. The main box is titled ‘color dictionary’ and every booklet has a volume number and title. Yep, smart ass Tombow people. Of course now you want every volume in the serie!
*Update 2021: in Japan Tombow released a new 24 set in a foldable pencil case, which I was lucky enough to receive as a present from Tombow Europe. It's temporary available here in the their Tokubetsu box! It contains several of the more regular colors, but also a nice selections muted tones and 5 new colors. They actually released 10 new colors in total, bringing the entire collection of Irojiten colors up to a 100.
The whole packaging was a big reason I was drooling over these sets. They just look so damn good on display in my studio! Having those booklets lined up on your desk or shelves makes you wanna draw every time you see them.
Japanese order Funny detail: you will have to get used to opening the boxes a little bit. Since Tombow is a Japanese brand, the booklets open from left to right. And opposed to what we are used to in Western culture, the colors are lined up from right to left. Being the nerd that I am, I changed that order right away. My brain couldn’t handle black on the left and yellow on the right ;-)
Love at first sight - the colors
The second thing that won me over were the color choices. Most brands have a pretty similar color range when you buy sets. Which I get, but it always leaves you with obvious colors unless you buy the biggest sets or individual pencils.
Tombow took a different approach and went off the grid with these sets. With the Irojiten pencils you get color ranges like 'Pale tone I’, ‘Fluorescence’ or ‘Deep tone II’. It really makes these pencils stand out!
If it’s the first pencil set you’re buying and you'd like to have a lot of the standard colors, the big sets might not be your cup of tea. The 24 set is a better choice for you then. But if you already have a more regular colored set, I feel the Irojiten pencils will really complement your color palette.
So how about the pencils themselves?!
Sorry, I’ve been rambling all about looks so far! After so much goodieness, you can only hope the quality of the pencils matches the expectations. Luckily, the quality of the Irojiten pencils is really good. Blending and layering is no problem for these babies.
I do have two remarks to make.
First: especially on smooth paper, the color application is a bit lighter than some other brands. But you will most likely only note the difference if you are used to artist grade pencils like Faber Castell Polychromos, Holbein or Caran D’ache Luminance.
Second, the application feels somewhat ‘dry’ for waxed based pencils. This is personal preference, but I like my pencils to be a bit creamy. On the other hand, because they are less creamy, it ensures a sharp tip for much longer – which I also really like! So, as a famous Dutch philosopher once stated: ‘There is an upside to every downside’.
Prices will range, but in Europe the Irojiten pencils sell for about €65 per set of 3 booklets (which is approximately $75). So yeah, they aren’t cheap. And because you can only buy the pencils in sets here, you can’t replace an individual box or pencil yet*. Well, you can, but you have to fly to Japan for this. Which is a perfect excuse to go to Japan of course, but also: not the cheapest. *Update november 2021: Tombow Europe now has single pencils available! Great news if you want to buy your favorite color(s).
Tombow Irojiten: my final verdict
I’m in love! Yes, my personal preference would be to have a slightly more creamy and heavier color application. But the beautiful color choices and the amazing packaging make them totally worth it for me.
Which set will you choose?
Because I have no self-control, I got all 3 sets. And as an illustrator I just call these splurges an investment. But you know what? In my world you don’t need an excuse. Spoil yourself with beautiful art supplies if it makes you happy!
But if you have more self control than I do, which set to buy?
Like I said: if this is your first set of colored pencils, I'd go for the 24 set, it has a nice range of colors to start with. The foldable pencil case is also perfect for traveling by the way. Do you want more unique colors? Personally I would choose the Woodlands set. For me it’s the perfect mix of the pastels (‘Pale tone II’), muted colors (‘Deep tone II') and the ‘Light grayish tone I’. The Rainforest is also nice, especially if you like to have the more regular colors found in ‘Vol. 2: Vivid tone’. The Seascape would my least favorite because it contains the fluorescence colors, which I hardly use. But like I said: this is totally up to your personal preferences.
Questions? Did you enjoy this little dive into my pencil collection? Lucky you! I try to share reviews on art supplies every month. If you want to be the first to know when I post a new review, come follow me on Instagram.
If you have any more questions about the Tombow Irojiten pencils, leave me a comment below!
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