We tested some of the best colored pencils of this year. There are a lot of different brands on the market, however, and knowing which one to pick up takes some time and experience in order to be certain which is best suited for you. As a general rule, we suggest Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils, but we also know that they won’t realistically fit into everyone’s budget.
If you’re unsure of what to pick up, try out the Prismacolor Premiers. They’re a great introduction to the medium, and high enough in quality you may never have to try out a different brand at all.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Colored Pencils
|Name||# in Box||Rating|
|Prismacolor Premier, Soft Core||72||5||Check Price|
|Prismacolor Premier Verithin||36||4.5||Check Price|
|Crayola Signature Blend & Shade||50||4||Check Price|
|Prismacolor Premier||24||4||Check Price|
1. Best Overall Colored Pencils
Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
For those who just aren’t quite sure what they need, Prismacolors soft core pencils make for a fantastic experience. They’re well-constructed pencils and we recommend the 72 pack for those who are beginners and just starting to get into the medium.
Like all of the Prismacolor sets, this comes with a great metal case which will keep things organized and won’t break down like some of the cheaper models out there.
With the bright palette available to you, these are awesome for coloring books or general art. You may want to invest in a harder set for super detailed work, however.
Whether you’re layering, shading, or just making sure that you color in the lines the Premier line of pencils are an affordable, artist-quality set that won’t let you down.
- 72 colors contained within metal organizer
- Blends easily thanks to soft pigment
- Layers colors well for complex pieces
- Minimal wax bloom
- Not suitable for super sharp details
- Don’t hold a point very well
2. Best Colored Pencils for Detail Drawings
Prismacolor Premier Verithin
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
Prismacolor dominates this list, and for good reason. Their pencils offer the best cost-to-quality ratio around, and they come in a wide variety suitable for pretty much any type of colored pencil art.
Their Verithin line holds an amazing point for a long period, with a hard binder that holds together well to repeat sharpening. This lends them well to super detailed work as well as more complex adult coloring books.
These are still wax-based binders, but their hardness keeps up with even oil-based pencils. Since they’re so hard they tend to last for a very long time as well. We recommend the 36 piece set, for serious artists these will receive minimal usage for the most part.
They’re also good for those who are a bit heavy-handed with the pigment since they’ll take longer to wear down. For detailed drawing and coloring, it’s hard to beat the Verithin line of pencils, they hold an impressive point, last for a long time, and are rather affordable compared to anything that’s remotely as hard.
- High-quality construction
- Holds a point super well
- Great for detailed drawings
- Perfect for complex coloring books with small parts
- Don’t blend or shade particularly well
- Sharpen a bit too well and can snap off points easily if not careful
3. Best Colored Pencils for Coloring Books
Crayola Signature Blend & Shade
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
While Crayola isn’t going to top anyone’s list for “most desired art products”, they do have a distinct advantage for coloring books since their new line of pencils is designed specifically for them. These pencils would probably be best described as “medium-hard” which allows for them to be good in both smaller, complex designs and large, page-spanning pieces with only a few differing sections.
The biggest problem with budget pencils is frequently layering, since they have a ton of wax compared to their pigment content in most instances, but these pencils are great for those who are working on actual art as well.
You’re not going to experience the best colored pencils here, we’re not saying that, but this set is designed for coloring books and still good enough for amateurs with the medium to make a serious splash.
If you’ve been looking for a set designed to allow for a great coloring book experience, and don’t quite want to shell out the money for a high-end brand, then add these to your collection. They’re probably the best on the market for their price.
- Great price
- Extremely smooth coloring
- The happy medium between super hard and actual soft cores
- Excellent range of colors in the 50 piece set
- Not the best out there for the budding artist
- The included tin isn’t up to par with the pencils
4. Must Have Colored Pencils for Portrait Artists
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
For those who do portraits, having the right palette is absolutely imperative. These pencils are, overall, the same as the Premier pencils which we so highly recommend with one key difference: this set of 24 has all of the colors needed in order to produce realistic skin tones for portraits.
Since they blend so well, most people have found that they’re able to get just about any skin tone and this will help to keep them all in one place.
Keep in mind that if you opt to purchase a larger set of these pencils than the 72 we recommend strongly, you’ll still be able to get these colors but it’s ridiculously handy to have them all in one place to grab easily.
If you’re looking to do colored pencil portraits, then you may want to make the plunge and buy this set which is engineered specifically to let you get those hard-to-tag skin tones down as easily as possible.
- Contains colors designed specifically for skin tones
- Handy carrying case
- Blend and layer super easily
- Great for beginners at people drawings
- Rather niche usage
- Not great for detailed drawings due to being so soft
5. Best Budget Colored Pencils
Crayola Colored Pencils
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
These aren’t the high-quality artist pencils that many people are looking for. Instead they’re solid, utilitarian… and a fraction of the cost of the majority of the colored pencils on the market.
While they’re not perfect, they are of medium hardness, with solid construction, and capable of both coloring and performing some pretty impressive art in the right hands. Professionals may look at them with disdain, but not every budding artist can fit more expensive pencils into their budget.
What you’ll receive is a wide range of colors in a box. They sharpen well, hold together, and have fairly vibrant pigment although they’re a bit rough when it comes time to draw.
On the other hand, for the price you really won’t be able to beat the old-school Crayola colored pencils. Snap them up and get to work, no matter how tight your budget is.
- Bottom end pricing
- Very vivid coloring
- Usable for pretty much anything
- Sharpen quite well
- Not artist-grade pencils
- Takes some extra work to lay down pigment thickly
Why Not Just Buy Cheap Ones?
Whether colored pencils are your chosen medium, or you’re just getting started with the things, one thing is for certain: picking up the best colored pencils is a great way to make sure that you’re getting art done instead of just doodling. If you’re looking to pick up a new pack for your artistic endeavors, then read through our top five and then we’ll get you informed so that you know which are the best for your needs.
Any professional or aspiring professional artists are already laughing at the above question, but those who aren’t initiated don’t realize one thing while the materials don’t totally decide the final quality of a masterpiece… they really help.
Cheap pencils can definitely be found. Crayola, for instance, produces what we would consider to be the bare minimum of pencils for artistic endeavors. They’re not bad, but they’re not up to the task of creating a serious piece of artwork.
If you’re buying them as a gift for a budding artist, you’ll be surprised at how much better things will be for them even if they’re the first set. More than one person has abandoned a medium because of cheap tools, not realizing their potential for decades… if at all.
On the other hand, if you’re simply coloring for recreation you’ll still love the feel of a good colored pencil in your hand and might just be surprised at how much nicer and richer things come out.
Talk about adding to your relaxation.
At the end of the day, you don’t have to buy only the most expensive, finest colored pencils on the market. Far from it, purchase those which will work for you.
But regardless of your ends, you’ll be much better off with something which isn’t of inferior quality and for those who are just starting it will definitely save some frustration.
The Anatomy of a Colored Pencil
Colored pencils are pretty simple, but if you’re completely new to them you’ll need to know a bit about their construction before we can actually discuss what’s going on.
There are two main parts to colored pencils, the outer wood and the inner binder. The wood itself is a simple manner, as long as it’s hard enough to hold shape for at least as long as the binder you’ll be good to go.
Frankly, if the wood doesn’t hold up then you’re dealing with toys instead of actual art materials and you may as well just pop into the dollar store in order to make your purchase.
On the other hand, binders are the material which holds the pigment in the core of the pencil. These can be made of varying materials, and depending on your usage of the pencils one or the other will definitely be the best suited for you.
Wax binders are the most common and are primarily used for layering and burnishing. They’re actually pretty great for most people, and they’re definitely the most common around.
They tend to be fairly soft in the center, which can be a problem for those with butter fingers since they can shatter when dropped. This isn’t as much of a problem with those which use harder waxes, but it’s definitely problematic in some instances.
There’s also the fact that wax pencils are prone to what’s known as “wax bloom”, a peculiar and unpredictable phenomenon where the wax contained within your drawing migrates to the top. Thankfully it’s a relatively minor problem, since it can be handled with a slightly damp cloth, but it is something to be aware of.
Oil binders are less common, more expensive, and generally used only in super high-end pencils. Their primary advantage is the fact that they tend to be quite hard, which is good for some kinds of work, and they tend to hold shape longer when being used.
You’ll also be able to avoid wax bloom entirely when using oil-based pencils, and they’re perfect for producing drawings which will stand the test of time.
Essentially, wax binders are best for beginners, while professionals will find usage for both of the common binder types within their repertoire.
Since wax can vary so much in hardness, you’ll want to make sure you know what the hardness is before you make your purchase.
Colors and Numbers
One of the first things that most people using colored pencils as a medium learn is how to blend the colors. This doesn’t mean much to the person who’s using them for coloring books, but it can make all the difference in usage for those who’re trying to produce detailed pieces of art.
As a general rule: for serious drawing, it’s often a more muted palette which will be desired. While blending can definitely achieve a wide array of different colors, it’s much harder to achieve realistic tones when using only brightly hued pencils without having to burn through a ton of pigment.
Bright palettes are probably the most desired for those who are going to be indulging in coloring books. Something soft with a bright and varied color palette will help you color in the complex designs in ways that stand out at the end of the day. These are definitely some of the most-sold pencils out there, and even relatively high-end brands like Prismacolor often end up being used for this purpose.
Essentially, if you’re going to buy a limited color palette, in the range of sixteen to twenty-four pencils, what you’re doing is a huge determining factor in which ones you pick out.
Serious artists will nearly always want to go with something which is 72 pencils or more, with a fine gradient through the entire color spectrum. While you can nearly always blend what you need out, it’s far better to have closely matching pigments right from the outset, as too much on the page will lead to a “heavy” feel and look to a piece.
Serious artists will want to consider exceptionally large sets for a more complete pallet.
Different types of artists are going to have different needs, but if you’re not sure exactly what you need then we recommend the following:
- For adult coloring books, or even children’s, a fairly limited set of 12-24 with soft cores and solid construction will make all of the difference. Whether it’s for relaxation or to have something to throw on the fridge, you’ll be much happier with the results.
- Those who are intending on drawing with their colored pencils will want something with a hard core and outer constructions. Oils work quite well for this task, but some wax models, like Prismacolor Verithins, are made especially for lining and can be combined easily with a softer core model. A box of 24-36 is a good starting point.
- For those intent on pushing the edges of the medium, a large amount of pencils in a fine gradient is ideal. 72-128 pencils is usual, and softer cores are actually preferred for the most part. You can also pair them with some harder cores for the initial outlining before “painting” with your pencils.
This is, of course, for strictly colored pencil art. There are other art tools which look superficially similar which are sold, usually right alongside the colored pencils but have much different usage.
Watercolor pencils, for instance, are a great way to lay down watercolor pigments within lining before adding the moisture which turns them into an ethereal, translucent color. They’re a bit outside of the scope of this article but you just need to know watercolor pencils are really cool… but they’re not really usable for traditional colored pencil art.
Pastel pencils are also around, and while they’re more similar to regular colored pencils than the watercolor variety, you don’t want to snatch them up unless you’re going to be doing fine pastel drawings instead of the usual watercolor fair.
The important thing is to find a set that works for what you want to do. Add in some great quality and you’ll be well off, whether you’re just getting started or you’re looking to expand your artistic capabilities.
When you’re looking for the best colored pencils, it’s sometimes easy to want to step to the side and just snatch a pair. Trust us on this one, you’ll be much better off if you spend just a little bit of time learning about your art supplies before making the investment. The right set is going to make things easier and better than you’ve ever dreamed of.