Carrie L. Lewis, Artist & Teacher

Helping You Create Art You Can be Proud Of

What Are the Best Colored Pencils for Fine Art?

i want to learn the techniques used in color pencil art and want to know what are the best colored pencils for fine art

This post begins Q&A month, and I couldn’t think of a better question to begin with, so thank you for asking!

It doesn’t matter what style you work in, what method you use, or what level of artist you are, you want the best tools available. That begins with colored pencils.

But there are a lot of different types and brands of colored pencils out there. How do you decide which one (or ones) are the best for fine art?

What Are the Best Colored Pencils for Fine Art

There is no easy, one-size-fits-all answer for this question, since much depends on the methods you use and the type of art you want to draw.

Much also depends on where in the world you are. Different brands are available in different parts of the world. What’s easy to find here in the US may not be available at all in Europe or Down Under.

But we can begin the discussion with a few basics that apply across the board.

Basic Tips for Choosing Colored Pencils

Buy open stock. Sets are great for getting started if you already know what type of pencil you want to use. Before that, get three or four pencils from a variety of manufacturers. Test them. See which you like best, then consider buying a set.

Buy the best pencils you can afford. It’s far better to buy a few high-quality pencils and learn to use them well, than to buy a lot of pencils that are lower in quality. It’s much easier to make an informed decision about the medium when you test it at its best.

Read Do I Need a Full Set of Colored Pencils.

Sample different brands. Draw your favorite subjects on your favorite papers with a number of different kinds of pencils to get a true feel for which pencils are best suited to you. (Another great reason to buy a few pencils in open stock.)

When looking for recommendations from other artists, look for artists who are producing the type of art you want to draw. Study their methods and the tools they use. If they offer product reviews, watch or read those. The honest opinions of people who have used or are using a pencil you want to try is always a good place to start.

And that brings me to the point of this post.

The Best Colored Pencils for Fine Art

This article is not meant to be an in-depth review of every brand of pencil on the market. There are just too many pencils to make that possible in a single post.

So I’m going to briefly review the pencils that work well for my methods and the papers I use. Your experiences may be different, but I hope this list gives you a place to begin your search for the best colored pencils for your art.

The list is arranged alphabetically, rather than in order of preference.

Faber-Castell Polychromos

Faber-Castell Polychromos are an excellent pencil for most methods of drawing. They sharpen well, lay down color very nicely, and produce exquisite detail. Artists who use them include Lisa Clough and Wendy Layne.

Polychromos pencils are oil-based with a harder pigment core than most wax-based pencils, so they handle differently. In my admittedly limited experience, I can feel more resistance between pencil and paper. But I can do more coloring with them than with Prismacolor, even on rougher papers like Canson Mi-Teintes.

The two brands work well together, though I suggest putting down Prismacolor pencils for the initial layers, then coming back with Polychromos for detail work.

The initial cost is higher per pencil for Polychromos than Prismacolor, but you get higher quality, more lightfast colors, and pencils that go further than the softer Prismacolor pencils.

The range of earth tones is also a treat for an artist like me, who prefers drawing horses and landscapes.

Get a free Polychromos Color Chart Download.

Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless Pencils

Koh-I-Nor makes a solid colored pencil. I have a set of the Koh-I-Nor Progresso Woodless oil-based pencils that I like quite well. The biggest problem with them is that they are available in only twenty-four colors.

Using them is a pleasure. They lay down color well and are ideal for color sketches, plein air drawing, and covering lots of paper quickly. I used them quite a bit for the Autumn Plein Air Drawing Challenge a few months back.

I have yet to use them for a more “finished” piece, but have no doubts they will perform just as well.

The best thing about them is that they have no wood casing. It’s 100% pigment, with a lacquer finish to keep your fingers clean.

They are also well-rated for lightfastness. Only four of the twenty-four colors are rated good or satisfactory, with the remaining twenty colors rated excellent or very good.

Get a free Koh-I-Nor Progresso Color Chart Download.

Prismacolor Premier & Verithin

I still use Prismacolor Premier and Verithin pencils for the bulk of my work, because they’re what I have.

Both pencils are wax-based. Prismacolor Premier (aka Soft Core), is a softer pencil with a thicker pigment core. You can lay down rich color more easily with these than with the Verithin pencils, but you will also find yourself sharpening more often, and filling up paper tooth more quickly.

The Verithin pencils have a smaller pigment core that holds a point much longer and is ideal for first color layers and drawing details. It’s not impossible to get deep, rich color with them, but it is quite a bit more difficult. Thirty-six colors are available.

Both lay down color very well, and you can get a high degree of detail on a variety of papers, but quality issues makes buying them a risk most of the time. Purchase open stock in person, and check each pencil for centered pigment cores, and straightness.

Read Four Ways to Know You’re Buying High Quality Colored Pencils on EmptyEasel.

Artists who use Prismacolor include myself, Morgan Davidson, and Cecile Baird.

A Few Words of Caution

When I first began using colored pencils, Prismacolor pencils were state-of-the-art. But the company has changed hands several times and is no longer an industry standard, in my opinion.

I do still recommend Prismacolor pencils, but with caveats. If you get a good batch of pencils, they are a delight to use. Otherwise, be prepared for the inconveniences of broken pigment cores, split wood casings, and possible grit. My experiences have been mostly positive, but I do still have a large number of older Prismas in my collection.

Prismacolor pencils are not all lightfast, so if you’re concerned about producing artwork that will last a long time without fading, you need to be selective in the colors you buy. I no longer use colors rated III, IV, or  V. That’s roughly half the colors in a full set, so it’s best to buy open stock and buy only colors rated I or II.

Crafters can be comfortable using all the colors without worry.

For all you fine artists, chose colors with discretion, or advise art buyers to use conservation glazing.

Get a free Prismacolor Color Chart download.

Colored Pencils On My Wish List

The next few pencils are not pencils with which I have personal experience, but they are pencils I want to try. The reasons vary from simple curiosity to favorable reviews from artists whose work I admire and whose opinions I respect.

Again, the list is in alphabetical order, not necessarily the order in which I rate each brand.

Blick Studio Artist’s Colored Pencils intrigue me because they are a high quality product at a good price (under $1 each open stock.) Dick Blick negotiated an agreement with the makers of Utrecht Premium Colored Pencils to produce the pencil under the Blick Studio brand for sale in the US. Utrecht Premium Colored Pencils in a Dick Blick wrapper. What’s not to like?

Caran d’Ache Luminance wax-based colored pencils. Very expensive, but also opaque, so you can draw light over dark.

Caran d’Ache Pablo Pencils are to Luminance what Verithin pencils are to Prismacolor Soft Core. I like the combination of hard and soft with Prsimacolor products, so why not with Caran d’Ache.

Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor Oil-Based Colored Pencils are on my Wish List for the very simple reason that I once had a Lyra Rembrandt Splendor Blender and lovedit.

Conclusion

There you have it. My recommendations as to the best colored pencils for fine art. As I said, it’s nowhere near an exhaustive list, but hopefully it gives you a place to begin your own search for the ideal colored pencil.

Before you buy any pencil, do a little research. Look for honest and open reviews either on the product pages where you normally buy art supplies, or video reviews.

Then make your selections based on that information.

Want to know what I’d buy if I were just starting out? Dream Colored Pencil Shopping List.

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6 Comments

  1. Hi Carrie have you tried the gorgeous Derwent Coloursoft pencils at all? I am an Abassador for Derwent and this is my favourite brand of coloured pencils. I use them in my galllery ehibiting artworks which can often look like a painting because of the luscious blended texture I can create wth them. They are so much fun to use and very widely available all around the world. I like the way that I can build layer upon layer and burnish really well with them. They are not as crayon like as other pencil brands that can also burnish well. They are great for creating all kinds of subject matter that require a rich application of colour such as roses and flowers of all types, glossy apples, shimmering grapes and shiny cars to name a few. What do you think of these beautiful pencils Carrie?

    • Cindy,

      I haven’t tried these pencils, though they are a pencil I have some interest in trying.

      The Derwent line I’m more interested in is their new pencil. I think it’s called the Pro Color.

      I am very much in favor of Derwent as a company. They seem to be very interested in working with artists to provide the best tools available. That’s a major plus in my book. I just haven’t yet had the opportunity to try their products.

      Carrie

  2. Lesley

    You don’t get inktense in US?

    • Lesley,

      I can get Inktense pencils here in the US, but I’ve never used them. Since they’re an ink-based pencil (ink in a pencil form), they aren’t high on my list of drawing tools. I’ve heard very good things about them, and have seen fabulous art being made with them, but I have yet to try them.

      Carrie

  3. Jose A, Justiniano

    The pencil is a tool the other depends of the artist that’s my thinking.God bless you Carrie,

    • Jose,

      You are correct. A pencil is a tool, and so is tracing paper. What you do with each is method.

      You’re also correct in thinking that how an artist chooses to draw, what tools or methods they use, are totally up to them and are a personal matter. There really is no wrong way to make art unless you’re directly copying the paintings or drawings of someone else and passing them off as your own.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Carrie

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