There are no clear cut absolute best colored pencils.
Because most experienced artists tend to mix, match and develop 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.
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. If you had to pick the best, then most artists would agree it's Faber-Castell. In this article, I'll cover why Faber-Castell is the artist's favorite choice and what we think of alternatives.
7 Great Colored Pencils
For an artist grade wax colored pencil we recommend the Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils. These are great for beginners.
It layers incredibly soft and smooth. The colors weave together with ease creating a 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. I recommend these for adults who are interested in coloring books or if you want to make beautiful Mandalas.
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. Since they switched companies I think the quality suffered a little bit? This might be only a small sample bias.
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.
Let me explain...
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.
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. Great for blending and layering to achieve perfect skin tones.
Who is it for?
Good for beginners and kids if you don't want to spend much.
What are they like?
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 are also not toxic which means they are safe for kids.
They aren't as easy to layer nor blend but they offer good value for a price that's practically a steal.
Who is it for?
For true fine art fans who want something for finer, detailed work we recommend the Derwent Inktense Pencils. Due to the dye based lead you can expect vibrant sharp colors.
What are they like?
These beauties offer a precise, harder lead that is perfect for fine art. These are often preferred by people who like a more robust feeling and dislike the softness of other premium pencils.
What are they like?
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 Caran d'Ache for the final layers when the tooth is getting filled and reluctant to hold pigment.
As with many brands, the light fastness of these varies according to pigment, so check the color charts if this is important to your work.
- Use for graphics, design and art
- Wooden box
- Set includes 100 pencils, kneadable eraser, 2 paper wipers, 1 knife, 1 sandpaper block, 1 sharpener
- Smooth lead
- Can be applied to paper, cardboard, synthetic materials, wood, and textiles
Last update on 2022-06-17
Expensive, oil based average lightfastness, moderately hard lead. Blends and layers nicely but as said before you could get similar quality from FC or Caran. But a beautiful box!
- Ergonomic triangular shape
- Richly colored soft lead
- Includes a stand up box to keep pencils organized
- Wood comes from certified sustainably managed forests
Last update on 2022-06-17
Equally vibrant colors to Faber Castel and Prismacolor although at a more reasonable price. Great colored pencils for beginners. Soft lead, good for coloring. Wax based so will decay a bit faster than oil based paints.
Frequent Questions and Answers
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
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.
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.
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.
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 to wax 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 (or oil) and contain varying proportions of pigments, additives, and binding agents.
"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.
- 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
Where can I get custom made color charts?
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.
Wrapping it up
- Oil based leads are better than wax generally
- High lightastness means your art will decay slower if exposed to sunlight
- Hardness is better for detailed work and soft leads are better for coloring
A quality colored pencil is
- Rich in color/pigmentation which means it's also highly lightfast
- Easily layered
- Easy to burnish
- Consistent in quality - the lead does not break that easily nor often
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.