The 10 Best Colored Pencils 2017

colored pencils

There are no clear cut, absolute best colored pencils.

Because most experienced artists tend to mix, match and develope a distinct style they like.

An artist will have a set of colored pencils they prefer, that they'll compile according to their personal experience. Each colored pencil has their own composition, features and flaws.

But...

A rule of thumb to follow is that, if you opt for leading brands such as Faber-Castell or Caran D'Ache, you will get what you paid for.

Pencils by this company are consistently reliable and don't break down.  If you had to pick the best, then most artists would agree it's Faber-Castell

In this article I'll explain:

  • How to choose a quality colored pencil
  • Which colored pencil brands you should stay away from

The 10 Best Colored Pencils Comparison Table

Brand

Lead

Lightfast

Hardness

Colors

Faber-Castell Polychromos

Oil

Average-High

Soft

<120

Caran d'Ache Luminance

Wax

High

Soft

<76

Caran d'Ache Pablo

Oil

Average

Soft

<120

Prismacolor Premier

Wax

No

Soft

<150

Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor

Oil

Average

Average

<105

Derwent Coloursoft Pencils

Wax

Average

Soft

<72

Derwent Studio Pencils

Wax

Average

Hard

<72

Derwent Artist Pencils

Wax

Average

Hard

<120

  • Oil based leads are better than wax generally
  • High lightastness means your art will decay slower
  • Hardness is better for detailed work and softness is better for coloring
A quality colored pencil is
  • Rich in color/pigmentation which means it's also highly lightfast
  • Easily layered
  • Easy to burnish
  • With a strong core
  • Consistent in quality - the lead does not break that easily nor often

The Best Colored Pencils 

fabel-castell

Faber Castells are a bit expensive but you did look for the best didn't you? Are they worth it? Short answer, yes, long answer, no.  As a beginner I would rather go with a Prismacolor choice than spend a small fortune on a premium choice like Faber-Castell. It's not the tools that make the artist. It's the artist that makes the tools show their full potential. Yet you cannot deny Polychromos pencils are simply amazing. The pencils keep a strong point while still remaining tender when required. The layering is nice and mixed with ease. The core is solid, so rest assured it does not break lightly. You can buy the same pencils and expect the same quality over and over again. The pencils are also color coded to avoid confusion  Again, these pencils are expensive, but worth it if you want the absolute best.

PROS

  • Reliable quality
  • Named color system
  • Large variety up to 120
  • Oil based lead
  • Pre-sharpened

CONS

  • Expensive

Best Colored Pencils for Beginners 

prismacolor for beginners

For an artist grade wax colored pencil we recommend the Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils. It layers incredibly soft and smooth. The colors weave together with ease creating an rich combination of value and tone. These pencils feel great to hold having none of the dryness you might experience with a lesser brand. Beautiful pigmentation which blends in with ease. Not to forget the amazing variety of colors and hues to choose from.

What's wax-bloom?
Wax bloom is the result of the lead having more binding agent than actual color pigments. As you draw you will notice more white space than color.
Another concern with the lead :
The core is a little soft and might break under a heavy load. So be gentle! 

PROS

  • Reliable quality
  • Named color system
  • Large variety up to 120
  • Pre-sharpened

CONS

  • Wax-based lead
  • Wax-Bloom
  • Lead may break 
  • Tin lacks individual holders for pencils

Best Colored Pencils for Kids

prang colored pencils for kids

Good for beginners and kids if you don't want to spend much. With Prang Colored Pencils you'll have multiple colors to choose form and a core that's not too soft and not too hard. They aren't as easy to layer nor blend but they offer good value for a price that's practically a steal. They are also not toxic which means they are safe for kids.

PROS

  • Non-toxic
  • 24 colors
  • Up to 288 pencils
  • Pre-sharpened
  • Very affordable

CONS

  • Wax-based lead
  • Wax-Bloom
  • Lead may break 

Best Colored Pencils for Fine Art and Detailed Work

Derwent Inktense Pencils

derwent for fine art

For true fine art fans who want something for finer, detailed work we recommend the Prismacolor’s “Verithin” or the Derwent Inktense Pencils. These beauties offer a precise, harder lead that is perfect for fine art. These are often prefered by people who like a more robust feeling and dislike the softness of other premium pencils.

PROS

  • Up to 72 pencils
  • Pre-sharpened
  • Good wooden case for carrying pencils

CONS

  • Wax-based lead

Best Lightfast Colored Pencils 

caran de luminance

These Caran D'ache Luminance  have a waxy formulation that tends to feel a bit crumbly and scratchy on the paper, but allows them to be layered almost like an oil pastel. Many artists use these in combination with another brand of colored pencil, using the less waxy pencil for the under-layers of drawing then using the Carna d'Ache for the final layers when the tooth is getting filled and reluctant to hold pigment. As with many brands, the lightfastness of these varies according to pigment, so check the color charts if this is important to your work.

PROS

  • Up to 120 pencils
  • Pre-sharpened
  • Good wooden case for carrying pencils

CONS

  • Wax-based lead
  • Expensive

Frequent Questions and Answers

What's best for...

Portraits

artist with portraits

With portraits much like with fashion sketching you will want a variety of colors and graphite pencils with varying hardness. A book I'd recommend is "Drawing On The Right Side of The Brain"  by Betty Edwards.

Manga

manga-by-gabriella-germano

Courtesy of Gabriella Germano

Each manga artist has their own style and set of tools they use. Sometimes colored pencils for coloring covers or they'll do it with copic markers. Expensive pencils will give the fullest color with less white space.

Canvas

art resources

Generally if you want to draw on a canvas I'd recommend you use watercolor pencils or any other kind of art tools that offer fuller pigment/color. The reason is because colored pencils don't really mix well with a canvas.

Writing

electric pencil sharpener

For writing there's 2 ways to think about it. If you want great color then you'd need to buy oil based colored pencils which are expensive (Faber-Castell). But they are on the soft side and will need to be sharpened more often unlike Derwent pencils.

Adult Coloring Books

best coloring pencils for adult coloring books

Is the coloring book intricate? Detailed? If yes, then you'd want harder pencils such as Derwent. If you want the best coloring option get oil based pencils. Those as I've already mentioned will require more sharpening. Alternatively some good colored markers will do the job splendidly.

Face Painting

albrecht dürer watercolor tin set

Watercolor pencils are an option for painting your face. But, I'd recommend you check out your local arts and crafts store for specific face paint. These tend to be more skin friendly and are easier to apply.

Fabric

fabric-colored-pencils

Because fabric does not have a lot of hardness generally to actually scrape off color from pencils, you'll want your pencils to be soft. Meaning oil based. The softer the pencils the easier it will be to draw on fabric with it.

Black Paper

For black paper I'd recommend you get a variety of white pencils from open stock and simply experiment. Because there is quite a bit of variation in how some pencils work with black paper and how some black papers work with colored pencils.

Technical Colored Pencil Information

"Colored pencils vary greatly in terms of quality and usability; concentration of pigments in the core, lightfastness of the pigments, the durability of the colored pencil, and softness of the lead are some indicators of a brand’s quality and, consequently, its market price." - Wikipedia 

Manufacturing

The manufacturing process of a colored pencil is important. It's crucial because you want your replacement set of colored pencil to have the same color and durability of the set you owned before. This is why some manufacturers have a reputation for being reliable and others don't.

Cost

The first factor to consider is your budget. Generally with colored pencils, you get what you pay for. You don't need the absolute best but generally it helps with the workflow and the quality of your work to have the best tools available.

Binder

The second factor to consider is the binder. It's the material that holds the pigment together in the lead. The binder influences the strokes and the way that the pencils interact with the medium. Affected is also the tip of the pencil and how soft it feels when you apply pressure. Most pencils have wax-based binders. The "wax" allows them to be layered and burnished as when you add layers. However, wax-based binders cause an effect named as wax bloom. Wax is what happens when a drawing loses color and white spots appear. Fortunatley it can be easily removed or avoided by using fixative.

Oil-based

There are also oil-based binders. As the name suggests the differentiate from their wax counterparts by having oil as the binding agent. The experience differs quite a bit from wax-bonded pencils if you are used towax based pencil leads. Oil-based pencils layer just as well and are rich in color. Wax bloom is not a real issue with these anymore.

What are colored pencils made of?

A colored pencil or pencil crayon is an art medium constructed of a narrow, pigmented core encased in a wooden cylindrical case. Unlike graphite and charcoal pencils, colored pencils' cores are wax-based and contain varying proportions of pigments, additives, and binding agents.

What's lightfastness?

"Lightfastness is a property of a pigment or paint that describes how resistant to fading it is when exposed to light. Light striking a painted surface can alter or break the chemical bonds of the pigment, causing the colors to bleach or change, in a process known as photodegradation."

What is the difference between Prismacolor pencils and regular colored pencils?

Professional/Artist grade colored pencils contain more pigment and less binding agent. This means that with higher quality pencils you'll be able to draw in a way that might fool someone into thinking that you painted a picture. The color will simply be that vibrant and intense.

Different Colored Pencil Brands

Trustworthy Brands:

  • Prismacolor Colored Pencils
  • Derwent Coloursoft Pencils
  • Caran D'Ache Luminance
  • Blick Studio Artists' Colored Pencils
  • Scholastic Colored Pencils
  • Faber-Castell Polychromos
  • Irojiten Color Pencils
  • Koh-I-Noor Woodless Colored Pencil Sets (Good for the environment)
  • Staedtler Ergosoft Colored Pencil Sets

Brands you should avoid:

  • Crayola Colored Pencils
  • Rose Art Colored Pencils

Where can I get custom made color charts?

fabel castel color chart
derwent inktense

By Linda from coloredpencilinfo.com

fabel castel color chart

By Linda from coloredpencilinfo.com

faber-castell polychromous color chart

By Linda from coloredpencilinfo.com

Linda makes her own colored pencil charts @ coloredpencilinfo.com. These are better than your regular color charts from brand companies because they meticulously organised by someone who understands what's useful for an artist.

What kind of pencil sharpener should I get?

With modern electric pencil sharpeners being notoriously unreliable we suggest that you try to get one from Phillips due to their history with being the best in the market.

What are some  good colored pencils for adult coloring books?

The best coloring pencils for coloring books are a mix of hard and soft pencils such as Faber-Castell and Derwent Ink. Ideally you'd want beautiful soft coloring for larger areas from a brand like Faber and mix it with hard pencils like the Derwent Ink for trickier details where you just want to nail the minute detail.

Conclusion

For a beginner or a parent I suggest you start out with cheaper pencils. If possible try out different pencils from open stock if before committing to a brand. If you're already an experienced artist then I'd suggest you try something new. Being used to expensive pencils does not always mean that a cheaper alternative can't do something new. Variety is the spice of life. But when in doubt and money is not an issue, I and pretty much every artist who has ever tried Faber-Castell recommend you try them out.

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