The first time I tried Cretacolor Nero was when I got the Artino Graphite Drawing Set. I haven't used it much since but during the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Manchester, I was given another box of Cretacolor set, and again, inside there were the Nero pencils. I used it more extensively during my trip in England and have grown to like it very much.
The lead in Nero pencils is made from oil-based charcoal. The pencil has both the advantages of charcoal and graphite. First, you can get slightly darker shades that graphite because of the graphite, and because it's oil-based, you don't get the messy flakes and smudges associated with normal charcoal drawing. And lastly, not sure whether it's good or bad, there's no graphite sheen when you look at the medium reflected against light.
The pencils come in four grades, namely Extra Soft, Soft, Medium and Hard. The hardness of the softer pencils are not that significant. As for the Hard pencil, it's great because the point last longer and is suitable for line art, and personally for me, pencil and watercolour sketches.
The pencils are round so be careful not to let them roll onto the ground.
The core of the Nero seems larger than graphite pencils as well. When drawing, they are very smooth on the paper, although not as smooth compared to the smoother Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Pencils that I've tried.
Difference between the shades of each grade is quite subtle. If you want to get the pencils, I suggest skipping the alternate grade. So get Soft and Hard, or Extra Soft and Medium.
On the left we have the value comparison between the Nero and Graphite. They look very similar. And on the right is a gradient created from Nero.
When they reflect against light, the Nero has a matte appearance while the graphite gives off the characteristic graphite sheen.
Because the Nero is quite resistant to smudging, they do not blend as well compared to graphite pencils. The patch on the left was created by Nero and when blended with a paper blender, the original patch is still quite obvious. However with graphite, I was able to get the original patch to blend smoothly into the white of the paper.
As for erasing, it seems the graphite is easier to erase. Nero does not leave the paper clean.
When used with water, both perform well and do not dissolve. In the sketch above, the guy was drawn with Nero while the lady was with graphite.
Here's a sketch I drew with Nero on hotpress watercolour paper. I love the look and feel. It works really well with watercolour.
As mentioned, if you use the hard Nero, it's easier to retain the tip and that allows you to draw with sharp lines longer.
Nero is a wonderful pencil. The best thing I like about the pencil is how relatively smudge-proof it is compared to graphite. When sketching with graphite, I may accidentally smudge my page with my hand. With Nero, it requires more effort to smudge the lines and shade, so that's really helpful at keeping the paper clean.
Most highly recommended.
Nero pencils are available individually or in sets. You can find them in the links below.