From doodling ideas to polishing professional illustrations, there are few tools more versatile in an artist’s toolbox than the humble colored pencil.
As we know them, colored pencils first appeared in the 1920s as a way to mark and check academic work. It didn’t take long for artists to realize their potential. Easier to erase than graphite, more precise than wax or pastels, and great for layering, there are so many ways to use colored pencils for fine art.
A great artist can work with whatever tools are at their disposal, of course, but it’s nice to find just the right fit.
Quality supplies help make the job easier, whether it’s a laptop for artists or drawing supplies. However, when you’re looking for the best colored pencils for artists, it can feel overwhelming.
With the endless amount of choices that the internet has to offer, you may need help narrowing down the best colored pencils for artists. That’s where we come in!
This article will provide the best colored pencils for artists to consider and where to buy them.
Top 15 best colored pencils for artists
There are four major brands that manufacture high-quality colored pencil sets. Derwent, Artexa, Faber-Castell, and Prismacolor all sell great options.
Even among these brands, there are a variety of colored pencils that fulfill different needs. We’ll break them down so you can find the right tools for your next project—or get something great for a loved one!
Best Colored Pencils for Artists by Derwent
Watercolor pencils are essentially what they sound like—a water soluble pigment encased in a pencil. They’re a great tool for getting that beautiful brush look but maintaining the detail you can get with a precise drawing instrument.
The Derwent watercolours are the best colored pencils for artists who want a huge variety of colors, which helps you get exactly the shade/look you’re going for. They are soluble enough to blend multiple times. If they dry out on the page before you’re done, just wet them down again and keep at it.
Derwent Inktense pencils can be used with water to change the effect, similar to watercolor pencils, but they are more opaque. They are vibrant, smooth and easy to apply. More than that, as their name implies, Inktense pencils are created with actual ink, so they dry permanently.
Because Inktense pencils are permanent and dry quickly, they are the best colored pencils for artists who are interested in unique mediums, such as silk, canvas, T-shirts, and other materials you can imagine.
Sometimes you just need a softer core to get wider coverage and darker colors. The Coloursoft line by Derwent are the best colored pencils for artists looking for exactly that capability. The wide, soft cores are easy to sharpen without breakage, have good durability, and they can be blended without water.
Derwent Coloursoft pencils have a great, inclusive range of six skin tones, so they’re great for drawings of people. Keep in mind that because of their diameter they don’t use a standard sharpener, so check that the set you order includes one.
Artists familiar with archival quality supplies will immediately know what Derwent Lightfast pencils are for. Lightfastness is how well pigment stands up to fading in direct light, and this set of the best colored pencils for artists is rated to hold up to the test of time.
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The oil-based pigment is not only fade resistant, it is designed to give an effect that resembles paint. The Lightfast pencil sets give you the precision of a pencil with the smoothness and boldness of oil.
Best Colored Pencils for Artists by Arteza
Arteza pencils are less expensive than Derwents, and great for beginner or more casual artists. The Expert line from Arteza will blend easily and sharpen without easy breakage, making them high on the durability list.
These waxed-based pencils are the best colored pencils for artists who want to move on from Crayola, but are unsure about making the commitment to a pricier set. The Expert pencils also offer an opportunity to get a huge range of colors, so you can create pretty much whatever you can dream up.
The Premium line from Arteza offers an even less expensive chance to try out quality colored pencils in a range of colors. These waxed-based pencils are harder than some of the pricier options on our list, but they still have a thick and rich color that gets the job done.
One of the reasons the Arteza Premium’s made our list of the best colored pencils for artists is their unique shape—the triangle shaped wooden cases ensure the pencils don’t roll around on your desk. They are comfortable to grip, too, plus provide decent durability.
This budget set of watercolor pencils from Arteza helps artists get their feet—or fingers or brushes—wet with the medium. Watercolor pencils can give a beautiful effect, drawing pristine details and then using water to blend them in the soft, dramatic way that watercolors have.
Expert Watercolors from Arteza come beautifully packaged and ready to use or give as a gift. These watercolor blending tools are the best colored pencils for artists ready to give this type of art a try. Just be sure to pick up some high-quality paper on Amazon too so the pencils will work correctly.
Best Colored Pencils for Artists by Faber-Castell
The Faber-Castell family has been in the writing instrument business since the 18th century, so it’s safe to say they know a few things about the best colored pencils for artists.
The Goldfaber sets are a great middle-ground pencil, not basic but not a super high-end grade pencil, either. For the price, they’re a great set of soft leaded, vibrant pencils for professional artists. They’re a smaller diameter than costlier Derwent and Arteza models, but have a great lay down and finish quality. The only drawback here is that the Goldfaber sets only come in 48 different colors, so you’ll have a more limited pallet.
Definitely on the high end of the scale, unlike the Goldfaber line, Faber-Castell Polychromos pencil sets are professional grade. This line has mineral oil incorporated in the pigment, which gives them that painted-on quality that sets them above many other products.
Polychromos tools are pricey, but they are the best colored pencils for artists who are serious about their work, need fine detail and layering abilities, and are happy with a firmer core pigment. Many artists swear by these premium colors. You can’t go wrong with a set of Polychromos.
Faber-Castell chose to name their watercolor line after the legendary print-maker Albrecht Dürer, and for good reason. This set of watercolor pencils are excellent, precise tools when dry, and fade into beautiful watercolor scenes when mixed with water.
Compared with similar products, the Faber-Castell brand of watercolors blend more easily and hold their points longer. While they are on the expensive end on Amazon, these are the best colored pencils for artists who know what they’re doing with watercolors and are looking for some high-grade tools.
These triangular EcoPencils from Faber-Castell are some of the best colored pencils for artists on the market when you’re shopping for beginners or kids. Their triangle grip shape helps students learn how to properly hold a pencil, and as a bonus, they won’t roll all over the place if you leave them on the table.
Faber-Castell also makes a point of manufacturing their colored pencils with reforested wood. Responsible practices like this make the EcoPencils a great environmentally-friendly option.
Best Colored Pencils for Artists by Prismacolor
Prismacolor is the gold standard in many artist circles, and the Prismacolor Premier line is the top grade pencil for professional artists. They are known for extremely soft cores that flow onto paper like butter and easily blend together. These are some of the best colored pencils for artists no matter what you’re using them for.
If you haven’t used Prismacolor Premier before, it’s good to be aware that the trade off to the creamy colors is the softness of the pigment. You will run through a lot of pencil in a single drawing, and they can be difficult to sharpen. Invest in a good Prismacolor sharpener made for their pencils and you should be just fine.
The Scholar line from Prismacolor is a more budget-friendly option for students, hobbyists, and beginning artists. There is a 12 different color option, so you can test out Prismacolor and see if these are the colored pencils for you.
Because they have a mixture of hard and soft wax in their pigments, a box of these are the best colored pencils for artists who are just learning to blend. The core won’t break as easily as the Premier line, but the color is still vibrant and smooth.
For some projects,the ability to erase is priceless. The Col-Erase colored pencils from Prismacolor are great for anatomy sketches, scientific drawing, architecture renderings, commission studies and more!
While no colored pencil brand will be 100% erasable, this set from Prismacolor is one of the only high-end products that is pretty reliable in that regard. These are probably the best colored pencils for artists who absolutely need the ability to erase.
Verithin by Prismacolor are specialized pencils for outlining and detail. Just as they sound, they have a very thin pigment core that is also harder than other Prismacolor pencils. This means they can be used in small spaces and for precise drawing, like lettering.
While the Verithins aren’t the best stand-alone product (we recommend a softer, wider core for general drawing/coloring/shading), these are hands down the best colored pencils for artists who need to do fine lines throughout their projects.
Colored pencils come in a wide range of options. Every artist has different needs and preferences, but we hope our list of the best colored pencils for artists is useful as you evaluate the right choice for you.
If you’re shopping for friends and family, remember to think about their skill level, interests and goals as you’re choosing the best tools for them. And remember to check out our great gifts for artists guide for some other fun options!
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