Colored pencils are often associated with childhood, but with the adult coloring book craze, it's clear that grown-ups like to use them, too. These tools, however, can do much more than color inside lines. Artists regularly use colored pencils in their drawings because they offer a range of possibilities—especially in their hues. While many professional sets include a bevy of beautiful colors, you can layer them to create even more dimension in your work.
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.
Looking for graphite drawing pencils? We've got you covered in our guide to the best drawing pencils.
How can you tell the quality of colored pencils?
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 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.
Best Colored Pencils
Prismacolor Premier Soft Core Pencils (set of 72)
Prismacolor Premier is considered by many to be ideal for beginners as well as the best colored pencils for coloring books. They're a low price per pencil (only about $0.60 per pencil when you buy this set of 150!) and are made of soft wax; they blend well with a buttery application. So, if you just bought your first coloring book, try out this set.
Blick Studio Artists' Colored Pencils (set of 48)
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.
Tombow Colored Pencil Set (Set of 36)
Another set that’s great for beginners and casual coloring book fans is Tombow. This 36-color set of pencils features 3mm cores inside cedar casings for even sharpening and break-resistance. The colored pencils also come inside of a metal case for easy portability.
ARTEZA Professional Wax-Based Core Pencils (set of 48)
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.”
Fantasia Colored Pencils (set of 48)
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.”
Koh-I-Noor Polycolor Pencils (set of 24)
Koh-I-Noor's Polycolor premium oil-based drawing pencils are ideal for both coloring and drawing. They can be layered and blended to create a variety of different hues.
Cretacolor Mega Colored Pencils (set of 24)
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.
Derwent Colorsoft Pencils (set of 24)
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.
Caran D'ache Luminance Colored Pencil (set of 20)
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.
Uni-Posca Colored Pencils (Set of 36)
This set of oil-based colored pencils by Uni-Posca is ideal for drawings and mixed media work. Each one of the 36 pencils is fade-resistant, highly opaque, and blendable.
LYRA Rembrandt Polycolor Art Pencils (set of 72)
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 paper, you can also use these on synthetic materials, wood, and textiles.
Faber-Castell Polychromos Color Pencils (set of 120)
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.”
Holbein Artists' Colored Pencils (Set of 150)
Holbein creates superbly pigmented, premium-quality pencils, and this set of 150 is a dream for ever colored pencil-enthusiast. It features three rows of utensils in a rainbow of different hues. Although the price point is high, the quality and lush application of color will make it worth your while.
Something to Keep in Mind as You Shop For Colored Pencils
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.”
How to Make the Most of Your Favorite Colored Pencils
Once you have your colored pencils—and found a brand you love—hone your skills with online classes! There are many courses on how to use them. Why not try one of the following?
- Drawing with Colored Pencils: Basic Blending Tips & Techniques
- Painting with Colored Pencils: A Beginner's Guide
- How to draw Realistic Hair with Colored Pencils
- Colored-Pencils Portraits : How to Master Them
- Colored Pencil Drawing Technique: Blending with Solvent
- Architectural Illustration for Everyone: Draw Buildings in Ink and Colored Pencil
Looking for a cool colored pencils project?
Artist Demi Lang has a comprehensive course on architectural illustration on My Modern Met Academy. Her online class is called Architectural Illustration for Everyone: Draw Buildings in Ink and Colored Pencil. It will take you step by step through her process of sketching structures with pencil and then colored pencils; and when complete, you will have created your own charming architectural illustration.
Get started with her course here!