Colored pencils are an amazing medium. Take a look around the net and you’d see amazing renderings by pretty talented folks. That said, if you’re a beginner, picking a set for yourself can be a pretty daunting task. Not all colored pencils are equal. That’s the truth. The hard way to find out would be to try out all the brands for yourself. That’s just not practical, obviously. Personally I stick to a few of my favorite brands. While they’re not the best per se, I know how to get predictable results from them – that the important thing.
If you’re not sure, try out the smallest set from a popular brand. They usually work well for beginners and offers good value for your money. However if you’re progressing along and you find them inadequate for your needs, I suggest you head to your local arts store and take a look at more expensive brands. Some of them come individually or as sets so you can try them out.
There are a few things artists look for in a set of colored pencils. Take note though the order of importance varies from artist to artist. This is what we came up with:
- Soft vs Hard/strong lead
- Vibrant and bright colors
- Wax based or oil based
- Color range
- Quality of outer case (helps with sharpening)
- Quality of lead
Think about how you draw. Do you have heavy strokes or light? What kind of paper do you use? What kind of techniques do you use when you draw? Remember, no one artist works the same way. What works for me may not work for you. There are no real manuals in art, just basic guidelines. For what its worth, these are my personal opinions when it comes to colored pencils, I hope it helps.
I own a 24 set tin of Prismacolor myself (plus a few others I purchased throughout my career) These pencils are really wonderful. They feel amazing (smooth and not scratchy) their pigment is top notch and can easily be layered and blended. Plus some of their lines are lightfast (an ability to resist fading when exposed to light) They no longer mark which sets are have lightfastness so you can check on their lightfast color chart if you’re interested in that feature. While they have had negative reviews in the past about color quality, I personally haven’t found anything wrong with them. Again, that comes down to preference.
Faber-castell is one of the most popular colored pencil brands. However that doesn’t mean they skimp out on quality. I find them to be reliable with smooth lush pigments and easy handling. They just have the right softness that you can easily layer them – but they won’t crumble on you (leaving a terrible mess you have to clean up) The Polychromos can be a bit expensive but trust me, they’re pretty good and are great value for your money. You will not be disappointed.
Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer Watercolour Pencils
Alright, these are less colored pencils and more water color. They’re a bit harder to work with since these run at just a hint of moisture but in terms of color, handling, blending… these are amazing. I’ve been using with Albrecht Durer pencils for years and I’ve found them to be indispensable. If I were stuck in a desert island with only one set of colored pencils, the Albrecht durer are my first choice.
Caran d’Ache Luminance Colored Pencils
If you’re looking for a colored pencil that can be layered similar to an oil pastel, the Caran d’Ache Luminance colored pencils is my first choice. It has a really waxy formulation that is pretty soft and crumbly on paper at times but if you use them in conjunction with another colored pencil (less waxy) you can get pretty amazing results. In fact, a lot of artists use this technique. Use a harder less waxy colored pencil for the under layers and using the Caran d’ache for finishing. You have to check with their color charts for lightfastess (if that matters to you)
Derwent Studio Colored Pencils
The popular Derwent colored pencils has a few popular sets. One of their higher end ones is the Derwent studio (a cousin of the Derwent artist range) personally I don’t like it. It’s pretty hard so it can deliver fine crisp lines and requires more precise handling than the softer Derwent Artist rage. It’s actually pretty popular among newsagents and is often the first “upgrade” art students choose when they move from Crayola. As I said, I prefer softer pencils for my work and the Faber Castells are really great for that (good value too) but if you prefer a drier waxier colored pencil, the Derwents are for you.
Staedtler Ergo soft colored pencils
Of all the brands I’ve reviewed these are one of my all-time favorites. Each set comes with a stand up easel case with an ergo soft grip. They just look premium. From the outer packaging to the actual quality of the pencils, no detail was spared into making one of the best sets out there. Each of the pencils comes with what staedler likes to call A.B.S. (anti break system) which protects the lead and prevents them from cracking. The pencils are triangular shaped similar to some faber-castell pencils. There are 12 piece sets available going up to 36 pieces in their largest set.
I’ve never tried this brand before so I was pretty excited to try it out. I walked away extremely impressed. The largest (and most expensive) set is the 36 piece one but man, are they worth it. They glided on the paper like it was coated in butter. The pigments were rich and they filled every nook and cranny of the paper surface. The colors are simply gorgeous on colorit paper. If you love to shade and blend, these are the perfect colored pencils for you. The downside is, the ergosoft grip was not the most comfortable thing in the world. I don’t know whether or not I was simply unused to the pencil but I was holding on pretty tight and had to take breaks as my fingers were starting to cramp. That aside, these pencils are ideal for anyone who takes art seriously. The high quality lead allows you to simply expand your techniques and the case makes it pretty easy to lug around should the inspiration to create hit you.
Ultimately, you decide what’s best for your art. Use the information we have provided and make the right choice for you. That said, remember that art is fun. Don’t take it too seriously. If you’ve got cheap supermarket colored pencils, well, you can make that work. Art is art. Technique is technique.