Here’s our review of the best oil-based colored pencils for artists.
The best oil-based pencils are easy to blend, durable, and have a wide range of colors.
As an artist, I’ve had my fair share of bad colored pencils that keep breaking or don’t blend and layer well. To help save you time, I went ahead and spent a few days researching which oil-based colored pencils are the best.
And I found that Lyra Rembrandt’s Polycolor colored pencils are a great overall choice for most artists. The best alternative to that is Faber-Castell’s Polychromos.
Everyone’s needs are different so I’ve also included a few budget-friendly ones and ones that are great for gifts.
If you’re looking for a list of both oil-based and wax-based colored pencils, check out our list of the best colored pencils for artists instead.
Let’s dive right in!
8 Best Oil-Based Colored Pencils Reviewed
Here are the best oil-based colored pencils I found:
1. Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor Colored Pencils – Best Overall
These Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor colored pencils are oil-based and come in a 12, 24, 36, and 72-piece set. Lyra makes its pencils in Germany and has been around for over two decades.
It’s my top pick because you get a wide range of colors for a moderate price without sacrificing quality. They’re more affordable compared to Faber-Castell’s Polychromos or Derwent’s Lightfast colored pencils which we’ll talk about a bit later. The reason why I prefer this over the Polychromos is their wider selection of skin tones.
These artist-grade pencils are lightfast (resistant to fading) and work well on a wide variety of surfaces, even cardboard. Since they’re oil-based, you don’t have to worry about wax blooms (white, cloudy wax that evaporates to the surface from wax-based colored pencils).
If your budget is limited, consider getting the 24 or 36-piece set instead of the 72-piece set.
Perfect for: beginner to advanced artists, people who want a wide range of colors
|Lightfast||The tin is a bit flimsy|
|Good range of colors||A bit expensive|
|Comes with two blenders|
|High quality in general|
|has open stock (can purchase single ones)|
2. Faber-Castell Polychromos Colored Pencils – Best Alternative
Faber-Castell Polychromos colored pencils are also made in Germany. If you’ve done art before, you have probably heard of Faber-Castell. They’ve been around for two and a half decades.
The artist-grade Polychromos is one of the most popular colored pencil sets among artists of all levels. They’re oil-based, but they feel softer and smoother than other brands.
The main feature that I really like about the Polychromos is that they’re water-resistant and non-smudge. You don’t have to worry about accidentally smudging or ruining your piece. They also have break-resistant tips so they’re easier to sharpen.
The main drawback with these is that they have a limited range of skin tones. I would have ranked these at the top if it wasn’t for that. You can work around this by picking up Qian Shan’s Skin Tones colored pencils that are also oil-based.
The other drawback is that these are a bit more expensive.
Perfect for: beginner to advanced artists, people with higher budgets
|Can sharpen to a fine tip – good for details||More expensive|
|Lightfast||Harder to erase|
|Break resistant||Limited natural skin tones|
|Has open stock|
3. Magicfly’s 72 Colored Pencils Set – Best for Budget
Magicfly’s colored pencils set comes with 72 assorted colors which are enough to cover most of the things you draw. They’re oil-based and able to blend and layer well. They have vibrant colors, and finally, they’re very affordable.
The main drawback with these is that the quality will be lower than artist-grade pencils similar to other budget-friendly brands. You get what you pay for, but I think the quality is worth the price that’s why it’s quite popular.
They’re also prone to breaking more often which can be annoying. But, I find that with large color sets, you can often substitute similar colors and achieve the same effects.
Perfect for: beginner artists, hobbyists, kids, if you’re on a tight budget
|Blends and layers well||Lower quality than artist-grade pencils|
|Vibrant colors||Breaks more often|
|Good quality for its price|
4. Derwent Lightfast Colored Pencils
These Derwent Lightfast Colored Pencils are definitely one of the best oil-based colored pencils on the market. Derwent is a British company making art supplies since 1832.
The main advantage of these artist-grade oil-based pencils is that it has an exceptional lightfast rating. They are designed to last over 100 years under museum lighting conditions. They blend and layer well and have a softer point similar to Faber Castell’s Polychromos.
The one main downside of these colored pencils is the price. The price of this 36-piece set costs around the same as Lyra Rembrandt’s Polycolor 72-piece set. But, if you’re selling your artwork and want to avoid fading at all costs, definitely get this set.
Perfect for: advanced artists, professionals, for hanging art up on the wall
|Blends and layers well||Quite expensive|
|Extremely good lightfast rating|
|Oil-based (no wax bloom)|
|Has open stock|
5. Art-n-Fly Oil-Based Colored Pencils
This set of Art-n-Fly oil-based colored pencils is quite popular among beginner artists. Unlike some wax-based pencils, these don’t leave dust behind so you don’t have to worry about making a mess.
These are well-pigmented and a great affordable choice for beginners. But, do keep in mind that it works more like regular oil-based pencils even though they’re also advertised as pastel pencils.
One consistent negative feedback with these is that the packaging is not that good. The tin isn’t taped shut so the pencils can be shifted around during shipping. Another feedback is that they’re good for blending but not so much layering.
Perfect for: beginners, if you’re just starting out, if you’re on a budget
|Good Affordable Option||Lower quality than artist-grade pencils|
|Good skin tone colors||Poor packaging – tin not taped shut|
|Great for beginners|
|Good blending, but average layering|
6. Castle Art Supplies Gold Standard 120 Coloring Pencils Set
Castle Art Supplies Gold Standard colored pencils come in a huge 120-piece set. It covers pretty much all of the colors you can think of, including skin tones and browns that some sets lack. These oil-based colored pencils also come in a nice, presentable box which is perfect for a gift.
If you’re used to wax-based colored pencils, the cores of these pencils might be too hard for your liking. They seem to not break easily. But, there were a few cases where people received damaged pencils that kept on breaking when sharpened. Of course, you can try to return it and request a refund when that happens.
Perfect for: gifts, beginners, hobbyists, students, kids
|Great packaging – perfect for gifts||Lower quality than artist-grade pencils|
|Affordable||Sometimes comes damaged|
|Good quality for its price|
7. Schpirerr Farben Premium Colored Pencils
These Schpirerr Farben Premium colored pencils are a great choice if you want a wide range of colors without breaking the bank. They’re oil-based and blend well. They’re a great choice for beginners and students because you can still make quality art without spending a lot. The packaging is also nice which makes it a nice gift.
The main downside with these is that they come with some very similar colors under different names. You probably can’t notice the difference between them. This means that your color range is smaller than they advertise. But, you won’t have to replace those similar colors when you run out.
Perfect for: gifts, beginners, hobbyists, students, kids
|Nice packaging||Lower quality than artist-grade pencils|
|Vibrant colors||Comes with some very similar colors|
|Lays down and layers nicely|
8. Southsun Oil-based Colored Pencils
These Southsun oil-based colored pencils are a good choice if you’re strapped on a budget but want a very wide variety of colors. This set comes with 160 pieces and covers most of the colors you need.
Since this is a very large set, it comes with a lot of similar colors to cover your bases if you do lose a pencil. These are perfect for kids because they often break or lose colored pencils.
That being said, the quality seems to be lower than most of the colored pencils on this list. At the same time, they’re still a lot better than other affordable pencils that are at a similar per-pencil price.
Perfect for: kids, casual coloring, if you’re on a budget
|Very affordable||No color names or numbered sheet|
|Smooth and creamy laydown||Lower quality option|
|Wide range of colors|
|Good for kids and casual coloring|
What to consider when buying oil-based colored pencils
From my experience and research, here are the key aspects you need to look for when comparing different oil-based colored pencils.
Colored pencils can be divided into two main grades: student grade and artist grade. Student-grade colored pencils are meant for students, beginner artists, kids, teens, and casual coloring. The quality is good in reputable brands, but they’re not exceptionally great.
Artist-grade colored pencils are meant for more experienced artists, art professionals, or people who want higher-quality colored pencils. But, don’t let this stop you from getting them if you’re just starting out but can afford them! Also, an increase in quality often means a higher price tag.
When comparing different oil-based colored pencils, you need to determine how big of a set you need. If you’re just starting out, a 24-piece set might be good enough. It’s more affordable and won’t be too limiting compared to a 12-piece set.
I personally prefer the range to be about 40 to 60 pieces as they can cover most of the colors you need. But, larger color ranges can save you a lot of time from having to blend colors to get the exact color you want.
Ability to blend
Some brands of colored pencils blend better than others. If you find that you do a lot of blending, pick the brands that blend well. Most high-quality oil-based pencils blend well, but this also depends on the technique you use.
Higher-end brands tend to have break-resistant cores. If your colored pencils break often when sharpening or using, you can end up having to replace them sooner.
Colored pencils with softer cores tend to break easier than those with harder cores. Oil-based colored pencils have a harder core than wax-based ones so they break less often.
It’s also important that you treat colored pencils with care. Try to be gentle when sharpening and try not to drop them.
Lightfastness refers to the ability of the color pigments to withstand light without fading. Colored pencils that are lightfast tend to produce artworks that last a long time without fading. Higher-end brands tend to be lightfast.
Some affordable and budget-friendly brands claim that their colored pencils are lightfast as well. But, if you want more dependable lightfastness aim for artist-grade pencils.
When a colored pencil set has an open stock, it means that you can buy each color individually. This saves you a lot of money since you don’t need to replace the whole set when you run out of a few colors.
Most higher-end brands have open stock for their colored pencils. Individual pencils are often priced higher. Budget-friendly brands often don’t have open stock because it often makes more sense to just buy a new set.
If you’re looking to buy individual pencils, simply visit Blick Art Materials and search for the brand you want.
The budget you have also determines what you can get. If you’re limited on budget, you can either choose a larger, cheaper set with average quality. Or you can choose a smaller set from the premium brands. If you can afford it, I do encourage artists to invest in a higher-quality set.
What are the main differences between oil-based and wax-based colored pencils?
Oil-based colored pencils tend to have harder cores. This means that they are less likely to break, can hold a sharper point, and can last longer. The point also becomes dull slower because of the hardness.
Oil-based pencils also don’t suffer from wax bloom, an effect where wax evaporates to the surface which puts white cloudy spots on your artwork. Since they are more costly to manufacture, they tend to be more expensive.
Do note that oil-based pencils often still contain wax, but oil makes up a larger percentage.
Wax-based colored pencils are the most common. They stick to the surface easily which makes them easier to lay down. They also tend to erase easier than oil-based pencils.
The downside with wax-based colored pencils is that they break more often because of their soft cores. They can also leave a dusty residue when you use them. Lastly, they are prone to wax blooms when you use dark colors or heavy layers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions I encountered.
Why pick oil-based colored pencils?
Oil-based pencils can hold a sharper point for a longer period of time. They’re great for finer details and break less often. You also don’t have to deal with wax blooms when you lay down a lot of colors.
Oil-based pencils also have a different texture than the buttery wax-based pencils. If you’ve only been using wax-based colored pencils in the past, you definitely should try oil-based ones out.
Are oil-based colored pencils better than wax-based?
In my opinion, it all comes down to personal preference. Some people like the buttery, velvety texture of wax-based colored pencils. Others like a harder core for more detailed coloring.
I don’t think one is objectively better than the other. While oil-based colored pencils tend to be more expensive, there are also premium wax-based pencils like the Caran D’ache Luminance colored pencils.
What matters is picking the right one for you. If you’re still confused about what to pick, try them both out!
Why are oil-based colored pencils more expensive?
Oil-based pencils tend to be more expensive, especially the higher-quality ones. They are harder and more expensive to manufacture which makes them cost more. Lower-priced colored pencils you see online are often wax-based.
What makes a colored pencil set good?
From my research and experience, the three main factors that matter most are durability, the ability to blend, and the range of colors. Colored pencils that break often can be annoying, and you basically want the ability to cover all of the colors you want.
Lightfastness is great, but it doesn’t matter as much when you’re just starting out. If you’re selling your artwork or hanging them up, lightfastness is essential.
You can also check for the quality of manufacturing. Check to see if the core is centered by holding up the end and looking at it head-on. You can also roll the colored pencil on the table to see if it’s completely straight. Lastly, check if there’s excessive damage on the wooden part of the pencils.
If you do find any defects, do try to request a refund or a replacement.
Picking a good set of colored pencils can be a challenge. I hope that this article helped you narrow down the search for the best oil-based colored pencils.
Most high-quality oil-based colored pencils blend and layer well. They’re a joy to work with.
In my research, I’ve found that Lyra Rembrandt’s Polycolor colored pencils set is a solid choice for most artists. I picked this over Faber-Castell’s Polychromos because the Polychromos lacked a decent range of skin tones which are quite important (it was a very tough choice!).