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Determining the best colored pencils can be a challenge. Ultimately, it comes down to your personal preference, but to get you started on the right track, we’ve identified some of the best pencils to try. These brands are available to purchase online, so it’s easy to test out a few different pencils without breaking the bank. It's important to find your favorites; by taking the time to hone your tools, you'll make producing your art more enjoyable. Make sure you try out your pencils using these essential colored pencil techniques. They'll provide a good gauge as to whether you'll like drawing with them long term.
One of the most crucial aspects is, of course, the color. Professional or Artist grade supplies are generally higher quality than materials labeled as Student. In terms of colored pencils, this means they’ll deliver richer hues that are more vibrant once you put them to paper. Avoid dull or pale tones, as they’re lower quality with less pigment in the lead.
Another important characteristic is how well the pencil glides over the paper. The best colored pencils will seem to effortlessly move as you drag them across a surface. This is thanks to their ingredients. If you’re looking for the top-of-the-line pencils, go for something that’s oil-based as opposed to wax-based. Hard wax, especially, can be brittle, which makes it harder to blend colors.
One of America's biggest art supply stores has developed its own in-house colored pencils following guidance by artists from the Colored Pencil Society of America (CPSA). As such, Blick Studio Artists' Colored Pencils are a mix of professional quality at an affordable price. Highly-pigmented and fade-resistant, the line has 91 colors that are sold individually or in sets.
Geared towards artists, ARTEZA‘s set of soft, wax-based core pencils boast professional quality at a budget-conscious price. The set of 48 pencils focuses on brilliant colors that will make your artwork pop. These aspects make them a hit. “These pencils look very classy,” a reviewer shares, “and like a much higher end product than the price would suggest.”
For beginners, Fantasia is a great way to get into colored pencils without investing too heavily. Their extra-thick, blendable cores make them perfect for layering and blending. “I got these for my 8-year-old son so could have his own ‘good set' of pencils in a tin like mom,” one reviewer commented. “I tried them out and actually like these nearly as much as my Prisma's and more than some of the other much more expensive pencils I have tried.”
These extra thick colored pencils have a 6.4 mm core that allows for broad strokes. Their waxy formulation makes them perfect for blending and layers and as they're designed for all skill levels, beginners and professionals will enjoy their rich pigmentation. Cretacolor Mega Colored Pencils come in 36 colors and are available in a range of sets.
Try the Derwent pencils if you’re looking to move beyond the beginner sets. Created with artists in mind, they have a more muted palette—including beautiful terracottas and cadmium. It’s recommended that you use these for work where there’s a lot of shading and blending, as they’re less adept at depicting fine, sharp details.
The Caran D'ache colored pencils are known for their ability to blend. Many who start with the Prismacolor Premier enjoy the Caran D'ache because you can easily and beautifully burnish the hues. This is great news if you enjoy realistic drawing because it will help develop three-dimensional form. Want a set that's a little smaller (and less expensive)? Try Caran D'ache's “soft and unbreakable” core featuring 12 colored pencils in a tin container.
This set of 25 colored pencils packs twice the punch thanks to the fact that each one comes with the perfect blending color on the other end. It makes color matching easy for beginners and provides 50 colors in total to play with. Chameleon Color Tones are made with blending in mind thanks to their rich color and buttery consistency. Best of all, they come with a handy storage case that transforms into an easel to make selecting your pencils while coloring easy.
The oil-based Faber-Castell Polychromos colors are lauded for their rich pigments that easily go on the paper, and you don’t have to press as hard to achieve brilliant saturated tones. “My favorite quality of these pencils besides how they lay down beautiful rich color is they are named actual pigment names,” one reviewer writes, “So if you have ever painted, you'll be familiar with these colors.”
With its price, the oil-based LYRA Rembrandts are probably in your “splurge” category, but this particular set is great for serious artists who love to draw. In addition to its 100 pencils, the kit comes with a kneadable eraser, paper wipers, a sandpaper block, sharpener, and knife. In addition to paper, you can also use these on synthetic materials, wood, and textiles.
If you have hesitation about spending money on this type of artistic tool, remember that they’re meant to last. “Colored pencils are different from the paints and markers we use because we typically have them a lot longer,” Cheryl Trowbridge of Teach Kids Art advises. “They don’t dry out like markers do, and they don’t get used up as fast as markers and paint do.”
By Sara Barnes