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A Guide to Choosing the Best Colored Pencils


We usually like to select a nice big set of colored pencils to get started with, so it can be a bit daunting trying to choose the best ones for our needs. I love colored pencil so I've become familiar with a good selection of different brands in my own work, as well as buying a few different ones just to try. If you're not sure, get a small set of a reputable brand, which will be good and serviceable for general drawing whether you're a 'fan' or not. Then select a few different pencils in a range of colors from loose stock of other brands, and experiment for yourself. Several things will influence your choice, such as the type of paper that you prefer to use, how 'heavy handed' you are when drawing, and the way you use pencil, using a single-layer or multi-layered application. My way of working may well be different to yours, but here's my opion on a range of colored pencil options, which I hope you find helpful.

1. Faber-Castell Polychromos

These colored pencils, along with their Watercolor cousins, are my all-time favorite pencils. I find the Faber Castell casing and production to be always reliable, the pigments lush and smooth, the handling reliable. They are soft enough to layer beautifully but without crumbling. They can be a little more expensive than some brands, but if you look out for specials you can get a good deal, and they are excellent value for money. These definitely won't disappoint.

2. Prismacolor Colored Pencils

Blick Art Materials

I have a tin of 24 Prismacolor pencils along with another dozen purchased from loose stock, to round out the color selection. These are really beautiful colored pencils that don't feel dry or scratchy, deliver plenty of top quality pigment, and they layer and blend easily. Lightfastness is a bit of a question with the new Prismacolor ranges; they no longer claim lightfastness on the tin, as this depends on the forumlation of the individual pencil. However they do publish this Lightfast Color Chart for your reference. I've noticed a few negative reviews regarding Prismacolor quality, but haven't had any issues myself with any of their products.

3. Derwent Studio Colored Pencils

Derwent Studio are cousins of the Derwent Artist range, offering a finer, harder pencil that delivers a crisper line and more precise handling than the softer Artist pencils. Here in Australia, these are very popular and carried by most newsagents, and will often be the first choice for a 'good' set when kids graduate from Crayola. I'm not a huge fan, because I prefer a softer, more richly pigmented pencil, and feel the Faber Castell are better value. But these are a favorite with many artists who prefer the drier, waxier feel of the Derwents as well as their more robust handling.

4. Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer Watercolour Pencils

Ok so they aren't, strictly speaking, colored pencils... being water-soluble, they don't have the waterproof security that a waxy colored pencil does, but in terms of laying down lots of gorgeous color, handling beautifully, blending, and of course, working well with water, you can't go past Faber-Castell's Albrecht Dürer pencils. I've been drawing and painting with these pencils for years, buying new pencils from loose stock as they wear out. They are my 'desert island' art supplies.

5. Caran d'Ache Luminance Colored Pencils

Caran d'Ache Luminance Colored Pencils have a waxy formulation that tends to feel a bit crumbly and scratchy on the paper, but allows them to be layered almost like an oil pastel. Many artists use these in combination with another brand of colored pencil, using the less waxy pencil for the under-layers of drawing then using the Carna d'Ache for the final layers when the tooth is getting filled and reluctant to hold pigment. As with many brands, the lightfastness of these varies according to pigment, so check the color charts if this is important to your work.
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