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Best Colored Pencils — Updated April 2021

As an artist, I know the struggle of trying to perfect an art-piece using a Crayola set of colored pencils. Luckily we have compiled a handy list for both master artists and artists who are learning and need the best colored pencils to help you advance in your journey. 

For many artists, the best colored pencils are dependant on your techniques. Some artists may prefer a soft pigment that is easy to blend, others may want a harder pigment that creates crisp lines and does not smudge, and many want something in between. In this article, we will discuss what an artist needs to know before investing in high-quality colored pencils as well as a handy list so that you can find the best colored pencil for you as a growing artist.

Table Of Contents

Best Colored Pencils — Buying Guide

Common Question: What is the difference between artist-grade pencils and student scholastic pencils?

Artist Grade Pencils

These pencils are more costly than the average student grade pencils, but with that, you get quality and consistency. Artist-grade pencils have a softer core that is more blendable and far easier to layer. The colors will lay down much smoother, vibrantly, and with more coverage then scholastic pencils. They will also come with a lightfastness rating, which prevents UV light from lowering the quality of your artwork over time and prevents fading.

Artist-grade pencils are a must-have for intermediate and professional artists. These pencils can only be found in art supply stores or online.

Student/Scholastic Pencils

These lower quality pencils often have more binders and less pigment. This can result in a hard wax core that produces less colour that often is hard or even impossible to layer and blend. The artist will have to work very hard to cover the white space on the paper, and you still won’t get the same results as you would with a high-quality artist-grade pencil set.

Although the student/scholastic colored pencils may be your cheapest option, they will certainly not provide the quality needed to create a masterpiece. These pencils are best suited for grade-school students.

3 Types of Colored Pencils

There are three types of pencils you need to consider before investing in a set. Different types of colored pencils will give very different appearances. 

Wax-Based Pencils — Wax-based pencils are bound together by wax. This can create hard or soft cores. Although wax pencils provide heavy coverage, they are very prone to debris, breakage, and quick-wear. They also create something called “bloom,” which makes the color look as though it had a powdery film after the colour was applied.

Oil-Based Pencils — The pigment in oil-based pencils is bound together by vegetable-oil. This removes the effects of “bloom,” but oil-based colored pencils have a harder core then wax-based pencils.

Water-Soluble Pencils — Water-soluble pencils can be wax or oil-based. They have products added that cause the pigments to liquify when placed in water.

PrismaColor Premier Colored Pencils

For beginners or artists on a budget, PrismaColor Premier Colored Pencils are the best colored pencils on the market. This product offers high-quality artist-grade materials without the hefty cost associated with many artist-grade pencils. While its lightfastness is not as effective as some of its competitors, they provide higher quality pigments with a soft, thick wax-based core that is perfect for blending, shading, and layering. You can expect vibrant and intense colours or soft and subtle colours from this pencil by merely changing your technique.

  • Base: Wax Based
  • Core: Soft
  • Recommended Use: Blending and Shading
  • *1/3 Lightfastness

PrismaColor Watercolor Pencils

Once again, PrismaColor Watercolor Pencils are great for beginning artists and artists on a budget. PrismaColor Watercolor Pencils offer versatility, and unique effects to the artists work without breaking the bank, while still providing a level of lightfastness so that your art will last. These watercolor pencil sets are water-soluble, so combine these pencils with some water and a brush to create unique textures and effects to your artwork. It never hurts to spice things up and try something new, especially for beginning artists, a set like this can help you define your style and set you apart from the crowd. 

  • Base: Wax Soluble Binder
  • Core: Hard
  • Recommended Use: Unique textures and effects
  • *1/3 lightfastness
  • *Water-Soluble

Arteza Professional Colored Pencils

Still looking for colored pencils on a budget? This company offers a dense, durable pencil at a very affordable price. While its quality may not level up to Faber Castell’s, it still provides a soft wax-based core to blend and layer colors, giving you what you need to create those artistic details. The company boasts the pencil’s durability, and their customers echo this. The Arteza Professional Colored Pencils offer minimal breakage with sharpening and can withstand an accidental drop or two without shattering the core. If you are not satisfied with these artist-grade colored pencils, you can simply send them back, as this company offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

  • Base: Wax Based
  • Core: Soft
  • Recommended use: Blending and layering
  • *Lightfastness

Arteza Watercolor Pencils

If you have tried artist-grade colored pencils and want to add more techniques to your artwork, the Arteza Watercolor pencils are a set you should consider. Their ability to be water-soluble can add loads of versatility to your artwork and bring your creativity to the next level. These pigments are extremely blendable with just a dab of water, while still providing the same vibrancy, density, and durability as Arteza’s regular artist-grade pencils. These pencils are perfect for beginning artists. However, if you are unhappy with these pencils, feel free to send them back, and take advantage of their 100% satisfaction guarantee.

  • Base: Water Soluble Binder
  • Core: Soft
  • Recommended Use: Unique textures and effects
  • *Water Soluble

Faber-Castell Polychromos Pencils

As far as wax-based pigments go, Faber-Castell Polychromos are the premier colored pencils on the market. While these pencils come with a cost, they provide unsurpassed lightfastness, and the highest quality was based pigments. The Faber-Castell Polychromos provide a buttery laydown, and its dense pigments are perfect for shading blending and layering. While other artist-grade wax-based pencils run the risk of creating the unappealing bloom effect, this is unlikely to happen with these pencils. If you are looking to sell your art or just want the colors to last, the Faber-Castell Polychromos are the best wax-based pencils on the market. 

  • Base: Wax Based
  • Core: Soft
  • Recommended use: shading, blending and layering
  • *Lightfastness

Derwent Lightfast Colored Pencils

For professional artists looking to create masterpieces or sell their work, the quality provided in these oil-based pencils is a must-have. The oil-based pigments are smooth and offer vibrant color and vibrancy along with unbeatable blendable oil-based pigments. The core on these pencils, while still buttery and smooth, is slightly harder than some, making it perfect for artists that work with a lot of details. With its 100% lightfastness rating, your pigments will maintain their quality and color for a very long time. However, with high-quality comes a cost, so prepared to invest in your art with these pencils.

  • Base: Oil-based
  • Core: Medium
  • Recommended use: shading, blending and layering
  • *100% Lightfastness

Derwent Watercolor Pencils

If you are already enjoying the Derwent Colored Pencils and want to add to your collection and techniques, consider Derwent Watercolor Pencils. These pencils offer the same levels of vibrancy, richness, and high-quality pigments as their regular pencils, whichever way you choose to use them. With the added water-solubility, you can create amazing effects without compromising the quality. If you are getting bored with your regular colored pencils, take your art to the next level and make it fun again, with Derwent Watercolor Pencils.

  • Base: Water Soluble Binder
  • Core: Soft
  • Recommended use: Unique textures and effects
  • *Water-soluble

Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor Art Pencils

The Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor Art Pencils, while still pricey, are cheaper than most oil-based pencils and still pack a punch in terms of quality. These pencils offer a thick core for decent colour output and are known by customers for their excellent blending qualities. These pencils are perfect for backgrounds and filling in large areas. However, customer reviews indicate that these pencils can create problems when it comes to fine details. If your artwork does not depend on fine details, these may be the best colored pencils for your needs. 

  • Base: Oil Based
  • Core: Soft
  • Recommended use: shading, blending, layering, and can be used on synthetic materials
  • *Lightfastness

Whether you’re new to drawing or have been a professional artist for years, it’s often tricky to find the best colored pencils for the task. Hopefully, this article has been able to help make your decision easier, as you continue to search for the right colored pencils.