8 Best Colored Pencils for Artists and Illustrators

best colored pencils

Colored pencils are one of the most versatile drawing media, and they are an indispensable tool for any artist, illustrator or animator. They are widely available, portable and affordable. Using them gives you unlimited space for creativity, and results you can achieve are endless. They can be used together with a spectrum of other drawing tools, such as watercolors, ink pens, or even computer animation.There is a large number of companies that produce them, so finding the best colored pencils can be harder than it seems.  We have created a guide on how to choose the best colored pencils, and made a list of 8 best colored pencils overall, considering factors such as price, pigment quality and durability. The 8 pencils were chosen among 30 different brands we tested and used during the last few months. If your favorite brand is missing, or you think one of our choices shouldn’t be on this list, please feel free to leave any comments, questions or remarks in the comment section below. This list will keep getting updated over time, so any feedback is more than appreciated.

1. Holbein Artist

best colored pencilsThis premium set (150 different colors) is among the best and most expensive colored pencil sets available. Its most valuable and unique feature are the pencil cores (3.8mm), made from a combination of fat, oil, wax and superb quality pigments. This mixture results in bright, vivid, rich colors and extremely smooth strokes, coverage and application. The soft core makes these one of the best colored pencils for artists. On the downside, the softness makes sharpening harder, as well as keeping the tips pointy for detailed work. Overall, a broad range of 150 best colored pencils, high quality, extremely good and insanely expensive (but worth it). For more information, customer reviews and prices click here.

Overall Ranking: 9/10   Price: 2/10   Pigment Quality: 10/10   Sharpening and Durability: 6/10   Blending: 6/10  

2. Faber Castell Polychromos 

colored pencils for artists
Same as with every other Faber Castell product, these pencils are of the absolute highest quality. They come in sets from 12 to 120 pencils, which lets you choose between a broad range of colors. They produce bold, rich colors which apply perfectly. They are easy to sharpen, endurable and perfect for fine drawing and illustration. Their best features are the remarkable blending possibilities, which no other pencil can achieve, and their hard, resilient core. They are easy to sharpen because of their core and tehy have an amazing ability to keep a sharp, fine point, which makes them the number one choice for details and fine work. The color range is truly polychrome and each hue you produce is exactly same as the color of the core. Another big pro for these is the evergreen Faber Castell design which just makes using any of their products a treat. For more information on Faber Castell Polychromos Colored Pencils, customer reviews and prices click here.

Overall Ranking: 8/10   Price: 5/10   Pigment Quality: 9/10   Sharpening and Durability: 10/10  Blending: 10/10

3. Caran d’Ache Pablo 

best colored pencils
Caran d’Ache is known for premium design, long lasting products and using best materials available. These oil cored colored pencils come in sets from 12 to 120. They produce lighter hues because of the oil core, but the result is perfect with proper technique. Oil pencils in general require a bit more practice to master when compared to the wax ones. Their best feature is the possibility to mix hues and blend colors smoothly and with even transitioning. The cores are sturdy which makes these easy to sharpen and hard to break, hence they are perfect for more detailed work. They are also among the longest lasting colored pencils on this list (and overall). For more information on Caran d’Ache Pablo, customer reviews and prices click here.

Overall Ranking: 8/10   Price: 7/10   Pigment Quality: 7/10   Sharpening and Durability: 9/10   Blending: 9/10

4. Derwent Artists

colored pencils animataurus
These pencils come in sets of 12 up to 120. One of the best colored pencils in their proce range (a set of 72 costs around $55, and considering the quality and prices of other top brands that is extremely affordable). They are perfect for coloring because of their broad (4mm) core which enables you to make broad, rich strokes. They will work best on grainy paper, and they are not the best choice for detailed work or drawing on smooth surfaces. Derwent colored pencils have a high-quality wax core and pigments which produce vibrant and bright hues. They are lightfast and the images you produce with them are long lasting. Their barrels are well designed as well, painted in a nice aquamarine shade of blue. Their biggest downside is that they might sometimes flake. For more information, customer reviews and prices click here.

Overall Ranking: 6/10   Price: 8/10   Pigment Quality: 7/10   Sharpening and Durability: 5/10   Blending: 6/10

5. Tombow Irojiten

colored pencils for illustration
These are very universal pencils, with sets of up to 30. They are applicable to most surfaces, and they perform well for any drawing style or coloring. The color range is a bit limited due to the low pencil number, but it’s compensated by the great blending possibilities these mid-soft wax core pencils have. They sharpen very easily and they are endurable overall. For more information, customer reviews and prices click here.

Overall Ranking: 6/10   Price: 8/10   Pigment Quality: 6/10   Sharpening and Durability: 10/10   Blending: 5/10

6. Prismacolor Premier Soft Core

colored pencils for designers
Prismacolor Soft Core are by far the best coloring pencils when considering the price/quality ratio. A set of 72 colors costs only $32. They could cost far more, since their quality is superb. They are smooth, applicable to every surface, easy to sharpen, resilient, they produce bright, vibrant, rich hues and they blend perfectly. They have 5mm cores and come in sets of up to 150. If well sharpened, they are able to produce the finest details, while at the same time being perfect for coloring and richer strokes. Their biggest downside is that they are not lightfast and they fade over time, so using them for artwork is not recommended (if you do, then using a fixative is a good idea). They come in a nicely designed tin case which is practical to carry around. For more information on these brilliant color pencils, customer reviews and prices click here.

Overall Ranking: 7/10   Price: 10/10   Pigment Quality: 4/10   Sharpening and Durability: 7/10   Blending: 7/10 (Not Lightfast!)

7. Staedtler Ergosoft

best colored pencils
These are the most endurable pencils capable of withstanding countless days of outdoor sketching and being carried in bags and pockets. They are rather universal in use and suitable for most surfaces. The color range is a bit limited, though, and the blending can’t measure to the aforementioned brands, but they more than make up for that with the low price. For more information, customer reviews and prices click here.

Overall Ranking: 5/10   Price: 10/10   Pigment Quality: 4/10   Sharpening and Durability: 5/10   Blending: 7/10

8. Faber Castell Albrecht Dürer Watercolor Pencils

watercolor colored pencils animataurus
By far the best watercolor pencils out there. With a broad range of colors (sets of up to 120), and by addition of a little water, you can blend these into any possible hue visible to the human eye. They have a premium quality oil core capable of producing rich, bold strokes. Sharpening is easy and they almost never break. And once again Faber Castell’s design is irresistible. They look amazing and they feel amazing in hand. Their biggest downside is a steep price, but you get what you paid for; the best watercolor pencils. For more information, customer reviews and prices click here.

Overall Ranking: 10/10   Price: 5/10   Pigment Quality: 9/10   Sharpening and Durability: 9/10   Blending: 10/10

Things to know about Best Colored Pencils

Colored pencils (unlike standard drawing pencils which have a charcoal core) have a core made from wax or oil, or a combination of both, together with additives, pigments and binding agents. To determine the value of a certain brand, you have to mind several important factors. Main ones are lead (core) quality, lightfastness, pigment concentration, break and water resistance, how good a pencil sharpens and softness of the lead.

Lightfastness – this is a property of a colorant (a dye or a pigment) to resist light. The less it changes when exposed to light, the better and more endurable it is. Pigment changes and bleaches in contact with light which breaks its chemical bonds during a process called photodegradation. Colored pencils, same as any other colorant, increase in value and price if they are lightfast – they change minimally over long exposures to light. The rating system divides colors into 3 grades: ASTM I (Excellent Lightfastness), ASTM II (Very Good Lightfastness), ASTM III (Not Sufficiently Lightfast to be used in artists’ paints).

Grade – colored pencil grades are divided into two grades: artist grade and student and scholastic grade. Artist grade pencils will normally have higher lightfastness, better quality cores with higher pigment concentrations and higher break and water resistance. Student grade colored pencils often lack lightfastness rating whatsoever, and the pigment quality, as well as the color range is often lower when compared to artist grades.

best colored pencils


Pigment – Colored pencils either have a wax pigment, a wax-based pigment, or a water-soluble pigment. Wax core pencils generally provide better coverage, but are more likely to wear out faster, leave debris and break. Oil based pencils have higher durability and are more resistant but they are harder to erase. Of the two, wax cores are more commonly used, they are widely available and offer a bigger choice in terms of shapes and sizes. They are usually cheaper too. Wax pencils (some brands) have an issue called “wax bloom”. It manifests as a fine gray powder which sometimes develops on waxed surfaces. Wax bloom can blur or even ruin fine detailed finished pieces, so it’s another factor to consider. It can be easily taken care of by the use of fixatives on the surface of the drawing. They will prevent wax bloom, as well as provide another protection layer against harmful light and other outside influences. Oil cored pencils are generally “more professional”, and they are often specialized for fine artwork (that doesn’t mean that oil is always higher quality than wax). Finally, most manufacturers will use a combination of both in a certain ratio to achieve specific results. The choice is up to you, we suggest testing out several different options and deciding which are the best coloring pencils for you personally.

Blending – the ability of pencils to blend colors easily is definitely a must have quality. It can give you endless options of achieving subtle color transitions and hues which you can’t get using a single pencil. Generally, soft cored pencils will blend much better. There are several options to achieve blending using “outside help”. A good example are erasers, solvents or colorless blenders, which contain wax with no pigment (you can use your fingers as well).

We hope you found this guide on best colored pencils useful. Any feedback, comments, questions and shares are greatly appreciated!

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best sketchbook
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