Colored pencils, also called pencil crayons, can be used by all levels of artists, from beginners to professionals. You can use them to fill in your coloring book, or sketch in the field. They can be mixed with watercolors or inks to create mixed media artworks, used to create soft translucent color or layered to build depth.
If you are just starting to work with colored pencils your only experience with them may have been as a child. Quality colored pencils are a world apart from these hard and dull pencils for kids. You’ll find intense colors, soft leads and beautiful layering qualities.
The best colored pencil brands for you comes down to personal preference. Some artists prefer a harder lead while others might like the softest pencils available. Of course there are also tradeoffs. If the lead is soft and easy to put down on the paper it might be more difficult to sharpen and the lead may break more easily. Harder pencils might be more waxy and you’ll have to press harder and layer more to create deep hues.
If you are new to pencils I suggest buying a few individual pencils in your favorite colors from different brands and lines to find some that you prefer. Once you find a brand you like you can invest in a set. That being said, the sets usually offer great value with lower prices per pencil so if you find a great deal on a quality set you might just want to go for it!
Here are some of the best colored pencil brands for beginning and advanced artists. I’ll also show you some work using colored pencils from some of my favorite artists as well as tips for using colored pencils and colored pencil classes and tutorials.
Layering and blending are a breeze with the fantastic Prismacolor Premier pencils. The pencils are waxed based for a stronger core and are available in an array of vibrant colors. Instead of pressing hard to get deep and rich shades it is best to layer with a softer touch. The Prismacolor Premier Soft Cores come in sets of 24, 48, 72, 132 and 150 pencils on Amazon or you can purchase them here at Dick Blick either in sets or individually.
These pencils are excellent for professional artists as well as being ideal colored pencils for coloring books.
If you are looking for fine line work you may want to check out the harder Prismacolor Verithin colored pencils.
Faber-Castell Polychromos are some of the best colored pencils on the market. The oil based pencils are water-resistant and smudge proof and come in a huge range of colors. The German company has been making these products since 1908, so they have a long history of quality and innovation. Artists love the Polychromos for their layering abilities, creating depth of hue and shade. Others say that they are some of the softest pencils but don’t break as easily as other brands. Try them for yourself!
The Polychromos can be purchased individually or check out sets of 12, 36 60, or 120 pencils here at Dick Blick. You can also find them on Amazon – check out this beautiful set of 120 colors.
Caran d’Ache makes colored pencils that are very popular with artists. Their pencils are waxed based and contain beautiful pigments and rich colors. The Caran d’Ache Luminance line is lightfast and soft, allowing for lots of layering. In fact, some artists combine the Luminance pencils with other brands to improve the lightfastness of the final piece.
The Luminance pencils are the top of the line. If you are looking for something a bit less expensive or just want to try something different, check out the Caran d’Ache Pablo line. The leads are a bit harder in texture but the pigments are still lightfast.
Caran d’Ache Luminance Colored Pencils and Sets – $4.62 from Blick Art Materials
Do you love watercolor painting AND colored pencils? Check out watercolor pencils for a two-in-one experience! You can draw or fill in areas with the pencils then add a bit of water to spread the pigments and create a painting. Combine with regular colored pencils or watercolor paints for even more options. Here are some of the best brands I’ve found.
I have many Derwent Inktense watercolor pencils in my collection and I love them. The pencils are high quality and feel heavy and sturdy in my hand. The pigments are water-soluble but then become permanent when dry, allowing you to layer colors. You can purchase boxed sets on Amazon or buy them individually or in sets here at Dick Blick.
Another watercolor pencil in my collection is the Faber Castell Albrecht Dürer. The pencils have flattened sides to distinguish them from the non-watercolor Polychromos pencils. Colors are super rich and the pigments spread smoothly when you add water. Buy the sets on Amazon or find individual pencils and boxed sets on Dick Blick.
The Caran ‘dAche Supercolor pencils also have a flattened shape that keeps them from rolling off the table. It also helps to instantly be able to tell them apart from the round non-watercolor pencils. I especially like using them in my sketchbook to scribble color in and later come back to add water at home. They come in a set of 120 colors and another set of 30 additional colors. You can also buy them individually here.
Plein air artists: Watercolor pencils are excellent for your field sketching kit especially when combined with a waterbrush like this. They are a lot less messy than a watercolor paints set. I’d recommend using mixed media or watercolor paper with these pencils.
If you are new to colored pencils or just the professional brands there are a few tips and tricks that will help you get the most from your sets.
Would you like to learn to use colored pencils to draw and sketch? Check out these excellent tutorials that you can view online in the comfort of your home.
Check out these amazing online courses on how to use colored pencils:
Are you looking for the best coloring books to use with your new pencil set? Check out these beautiful books – and a few fun ones too.
I am a fan of many artists and illustrators who use colored pencils in their work. Some of my favorites are mixed media pieces that combine pencils with ink or watercolor. Check these amazing artists out on Instagram:
Who are some of your favorite colored pencil artists?
I hope this article helped you find the best colored pencil brands for you!
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