Are you looking for the best colored pencils for artists? You’ve come to the right place.
As an artist myself, buying art supplies that end up being bad can be frustrating. So, I spent a few days researching what the best colored pencils are and included my previous experiences. I sifted through hundreds of reviews so that you don’t have to.
And I’ve found that Lyra Rembrandt’s Polycolor colored pencils are the best overall colored pencils because of the price and value it offers.
It was a tough choice because they’re a lot of great alternatives (that you’ll see in this article).
I considered many aspects like their ability to blend and lightfastness. I’ve also included whether the colored pencils are wax-based or oil-based and who they’re meant for. If some terms are unfamiliar to you, please skip to this section for more explanation.
Let’s dive into it!
10 Best Colored Pencils For Artists Reviewed
Here are our top 10 picks for the best colored pencils:
1. Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor Colored Pencils – Best Overall
Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor colored pencils come in a wide range of colors for pretty much every situation that you might need. They’re oil-based and work extremely well on a variety of surfaces. You won’t have to buy expensive paper to create stunning artwork.
These also cost less than a lot of other artist-grade pencils on a per-pencil basis. They’re great for beginners to experienced artists that want to invest in a higher-grade colored pencil set without breaking the bank. Because of these reasons, these are one of the best colored pencils for artists.
|Good lightfast ratings||The tin is a bit flimsy|
|Wide range of colors||Moderately priced, but can be expensive for beginners|
|Comes with two blenders|
|Great overall pick for most artists|
|Oil-based (no wax bloom)|
|Has open stock (can buy individually)|
2. Faber-Castell’s Polychromos Colored Pencils – Great Alternative
This Faber-Castell’s Polychromos artist-grade colored pencil set comes in 12, 24, 36, 60, and 120-count sets. The pencils are oil-based and have break-resistant tips which means they’ll last a long time. This will save you a lot of hassle since you won’t have to replace them as often. They’re water-resistant and don’t smudge easily so you don’t have to worry about messing up your artwork.
The downside with these is that they’re a bit more expensive. They also lack a wide variety of natural skin tone colors which is quite important if you draw portraits often.
|Great for detailing – can sharpen into a sharper point||More expensive|
|Good lightfast ratings||Harder to erase|
|Break resistant||Limited natural skin tones|
|Oil-based (no wax bloom)|
|Layers quite well|
|Has open stock|
3. Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils – Best for Beginners
Prismacolor Premier colored pencils are a great, affordable choice for most beginner artists. These come with a soft, thick core which is great for laying down a lot of colors. They have a buttery, velvety texture because they’re wax-based. They’re also quite affordable and have a wide range of colors.
One main drawback with these is that the point breaks more often when sharpening so you need to be extra gentle with them. This combined with their soft core means that they wear down faster which means that you might have to replace them more often. Despite these drawbacks, I think they’re a great and affordable choice.
Be sure to compare the discounts between different count sizes as the 72-count packs do tend to be cheaper because of discounts.
|Easy to lay down||Average lightfastness|
|Easy to blend||The point may break easier|
|Easier to erase||Wears down faster|
|Has open stock||Wax-based – may be subject to wax bloom|
4. Staedtler Ergosoft Colored Pencils – Best for Traveling
If you’re a beginner that’s on a budget, Staedtler Ergosoft colored pencils might be a good choice as they are quite affordable. They have a soft core and are wax-based. These colored pencils come in a stand-up box to help keep your desk organized as you draw. The case also makes it super easy for traveling where you can just close it and shove it into a backpack.
The unique thing about these colored pencils is that they have an ergonomic triangular shape. If you often get sore hands from coloring for a long time, these might help. Lastly, they’re also environmentally friendly and made with wood from sustainably managed forests!
The downside with these is that the colors aren’t as vibrant as other sets. They’re great for outlining and sketching where little blending is needed.
|Affordable||The colors aren’t as vibrant|
|Ergonomic design||Works better with multimedia paper|
|Comes with a stand-up box||No open stock|
|Great for traveling||Wax-based – may be subject to wax bloom|
5. Castle Art Supplies Colored Pencils – Most Affordable
Castle Art Supplies Colored Pencils are quite popular among beginner artists. They come with a wide range of colors at a very affordable price. At the same time, the quality is good enough for beginners, hobbyists, and students. These are wax-based and have vibrant colors. Castle Art’s colored pencils are tested by their artist-in-residence, Peter Phillps.
|Wide range of colors for the price||Harder to blend|
|Affordable for beginners||Has a strong smell|
|Soft, vibrant colors||No open stock|
|Good enough for beginners||Wax-based – may be subject to wax bloom|
6. Caran D’ache Luminance Colored Pencils
One of the best wax-based artist-grade colored pencils you can find is Caran D’ache Luminance colored pencils. These Swiss-made pencils are lightfast and smooth. They lay down easily and can blend and layer quite well. They also come with great packaging with paddings that help prevent damage from shipping (which can often result in broken cores).
The main downside with this set is that it is quite expensive even when compared to other artist-grade colored pencils. If budget is not an issue and you prefer wax-based color pencils, give this one a try.
|Great at blending and layering||Quite expensive|
|Good lightfast rating||Wax-based – may be subject to wax bloom|
|Smooth and creamy texture|
|Has open stock|
7. Derwent Lightfast Colored Pencils
The amazing thing about these Derwent Lightfast colored pencils is that it is designed to not fade for 100 years in a museum setting. The core is oil-based and formulated to be 100% lightfast. This is perfect if you sell your artwork or would want to hang your art on the wall.
This artist-grade set also blends and layers extremely well. They do have a softer point when compared to other oil-based colored pencils. The main downside, like many artist-grade sets, is that it is more expensive.
|Blends and layers well||A bit expensive|
|Extremely good lightfast rating|
|Oil-based (no wax bloom)|
|Has open stock|
8. Prismacolor Col-Erase Erasable Colored Pencil
These Prismacolor Col-Erase colored pencils are great for underdrawings and sketches because they are erasable. This is also great for beginners because you don’t have to worry about making mistakes.
But, keep in mind that they don’t erase completely so don’t expect them to. They’re also less vibrant than other selections.
|Great for outlining and underdrawing||Can leave a mark after erasing|
|Affordable||Limited open stock|
9. Caran d’Ache Fancolor Colored Pencils
If you’re looking for more flexibility in your tools, Caran d’Ache Fancolor colored pencils might be a good choice. They’re water-soluble which is perfect for combining wet and dry techniques.
They’re not quite artist-grade quality, but they’re good quality for the price. You can also blend colors much easier by using water. These are a good starter choice for beginners if you plan to experiment with some mixed media techniques.
|Blends well using water||Higher price for student-grade color pencils|
|Good for mixed media projects||No open stock|
10. Prismacolor Premier Verithin Colored Pencils
These Prismacolor Premier Verithin colored pencils come with hard, thin leads which are great for fine details and edges. They’re harder to break compared to colored pencils with soft cores. They’re great for sketching as they feel more like regular pencils. These colored pencils are also lightfast so you don’t have to worry about the colors fading.
The downside with these is that they are harder to lay down. You have to spend more effort to cover large areas and layer more colors. It is also a bit harder to blend. Another downside I’ve noticed with feedback from other artists is that the packaging is poor. You might have to get a pouch to carry these pencils.
|Can have a sharp point||Harder to blend and lay down|
|Great for details and edges||Packaging is bad for storage|
|Great for sketching||Comes entirely unsharpened.|
|Has open stock|
What to look for when buying colored pencils
When researching what colored pencils to buy, there are several things to consider. Here are the main aspects that you should think about before picking a suitable colored pencil.
Colored pencils can be separated into two categories: artist grade and student grade. Artist-grade colored pencils are meant for more seasoned artists and art professionals.
Student-grade colored pencils are designed for students, hobbyists, and children. However, don’t let this stop you from picking artist-grade colored pencils when you’re starting out as they are generally superior (but more expensive) products.
The range of colors you use should also be considered. In general, a set of 40 to 60 colored pencils are enough to cover almost every situation.
But, you may want to look into each color set further if you have more specific needs. For example, you might want more skin tones because you draw a lot of portraits. Or you might want more greens and browns because you love to draw things in nature.
If budget is a concern, consider going for a 24-piece set to cover the basics. Anything lower than that can greatly limit your range of color.
Ability to blend
Some colored pencils are easier to blend than others while some allow for easier layering. Think about the type of artwork you will be doing. For example, if you draw a lot of pet portraits, you might not need a lot of blending compared to a portrait or landscape artist.
Consistency: soft or hard
Soft-core colored pencils generally lay down easily (able to color in a large area with ease). They blend and layer quite well while usually having more and brighter pigments. However, it’s harder to maintain a sharp point on these colored pencils, and their points become dull more quickly. Colored pencils with soft cores also break more often when you sharpen them.
Colored pencils with hard cores are generally great for details because they can be sharpened into a sharper point. But, they generally tend to have duller colors and don’t blend as well as the soft-cored ones. Your hands might also get tired from using them since it’s harder to lay down the colors. Lastly, it can ruin your paper if you press down too hard.
When a colored pencil is lightfast, it means that it can withstand sunlight and lasts longer before fading. The lightfastness of colored pencils usually comes in a range where the best ones are designed to last up to 100 years in a museum setting.
This is not too important for hobbyists or beginners that are starting out. But, if you’re selling your artwork or hanging it up on your wall, it helps to pick ones that are lightfast. A lot of manufacturers claim that their colored pencils are lightfast, but some are definitely better than others.
Colored pencils come in three main types: wax-based, oil-based, and watercolor pencils. Generally, if you’re on a budget, opt for wax-based colored pencils as they are more affordable. Once you have the funds, you can upgrade to oil-based colored pencils and compare the difference. We’ll be going into detail about each type in the next section.
If a colored pencil set has an open stock, it means that you can buy individual pieces within the set. This lets you replace certain colors in your set without having to buy a brand-new set which saves you money. It also allows you to test multiple brands before committing to buy a whole new set.
Generally, it’s better to pick colored pencils with an open stock, but it’s ok if you buy a large enough set that has similar colors to cover the ones you used up.
If you’re looking to buy individual colored pencils. Visit Blick Art Materials and simply search for the brand and product line you want.
Types of Colored Pencils
Knowing the types of colored pencils will help you pick the right type for you. Here are the three main types of colored pencils:
Most colored pencils are wax-based which means that they use a waxy binder for their core. The main advantage of wax-based colored pencils is that they are easier to erase. They also stick to the paper surface easily which means that you can quickly lay down a lot of layers on the paper.
Wax-based colored pencils are usually less expensive than oil-based colored pencils because they cost less to manufacture. They typically have a smooth, buttery texture.
But, there are some drawbacks as well. Wax-based pencils are prone to something called wax bloom. Wax bloom is when the wax in the color evaporates to the surface of your finished piece. It looks like white, cloudy spots, but you can wipe the wax away with a damp cloth.
Lastly, wax-based colored pencils tend to have softer cores than oil-based ones. This means that they break more easily and should be handled with care when using or sharpening.
Oil-based colored pencils are generally more pricey as they cost more to manufacture. They are usually used by professionals and more experienced artists because of the premium price (But, don’t let this stop you from trying them out if your budget allows it).
The core is harder than the wax-based colored pencils which means that they break less often. It also means that the point of the colored pencil stays sharper for longer. In my experience, oil-based colored pencils last longer in general.
While both wax-based and oil-based pencils blend well, oil pencils give you more control when working with finer details or when layering. You also don’t need to worry about wax bloom since they are oil-based.
Watercolor pencils have water-soluble gum that binds with water and can mimic a watercolor effect. You can use them to create watercolor-like paintings with a brush or sponge. You can also use them as regular colored pencils. A lot of artists use watercolor pencils in combination with other mediums because of their flexibility.
One thing that I have noticed is that watercolor pencils can blend very well when you use some water to mix the colors. They definitely take some practice to get used to but can be a fun new way of approaching colored pencils.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions that I have come across in my research.
How big of a set should I get?
In general, a set of 40 to 60 pencils is a great starting point to cover most of your needs. Other colors can be made up by blending with those colored pencils. It also allows you to try out a brand without committing too much money upfront and ending up not liking it.
If you’re on a tight budget, consider getting a 24-piece set. This allows you to have a good variety of colors without being too limited. Of course, if you have a bigger budget, you can always opt for the biggest set.
How do I know if what I bought was of high quality?
There are several indicators you can check. The first one is to make sure that the core of the colored pencils is centered. Hold up the end and look to see if the core is centered. Another way to test for quality is to check the damage to the wood casing. If there are a lot of chips or irregularities, you might have received a defect.
You can also check for quality by putting the colored pencil on your desk and rolling them to see if they are straight. Good quality pencils should be straight as bent ones can have broken cores inside. Lastly, check for color vibrancy and accuracy by making a color chart.
If you notice any defects or irregularities, don’t hesitate to contact customer service or send in a refund/replacement request.
Can I use an electric sharpener for colored pencils?
Yes, you can, but you need to be very gentle and careful to not oversharpen your colored pencils. However, the tips are prone to breaking and can create a mess inside your electric sharpener.
The wax and residue can build up and damage your electric sharpener. If you do use an electric sharpener, be sure to clean it regularly by sharpening a few graphite pencils to clean out the gunk. With that in mind, handheld pencil sharpeners are still better as they give you more control and will not malfunction.
There are a lot of things to consider when picking colored pencils like lightfastness, ability to blend, and type.
Picking the right colored pencils comes down to matching your needs and budget with the value each colored pencils provide.
From my research, Lyra Rembrandt’s Polycolor colored pencils are an excellent choice for most artists. They cover a wide range of colors, have high quality, and are not too expensive.