Best Colors and Brands for Selling Original Art

Best Colors and Brands for Selling Original Art

If you create art for income, and especially if you sell your original work, it’s key to know the best colors and brands to use. Not all colored pencils are created equal, and you do not want to produce art that fades with time.

That’s certainly one of my primary concerns. It also happens to be Joan Marie’s concern too.

OH Carrie!

I have used colored pencils for years, but mostly licensing my art, so the originals were not purchased.

NOW I am beginning to sell my originals and you have really helped me to face the facts that most bright colors fade! OH MY!

Could you please help us who sell our art for professional prices to know which brands and colors are the best and OH MY…

I guess there is no hope of art using bright colors to last with any colored pencil brand. SO SAD! Is this true…??

Thank you SO MUCH for all you are doing for us passionate for colored pencils!! (:

Joan Marie

To see what Joan is doing with colored pencils, visit her website.

Best Colors and Brands for Selling Original Art

Sadly, Joan’s conclusion that most bright colors fade—some of them very quickly—is true. Even among the better, more lightfast brands of colored pencils, there are some colors that fade.

Because that is such a universal thing, I’m going to answer Joan’s question in two parts. In Part 1, I’ll discuss the root cause for fading colors. The second part will list some of the brands of pencils that have the best selection of bright colors.

Best Colors and Brands for Selling Original Art

Basic Information about Pigments

After getting Joan’s email, I researched pigments. I had in my mind the idea that the problem was not with the manufacturing of art supplies, but with the pigments used in making various colors.

Turns out, I was right.

Paints, colored pencils, pastels, fabric dyes, and other “colorants” are all developed from the same basic pigments. These powdered pigments come from a variety of sources, and can be used individually or combined to create the colors that go into colored pencils, oil paints, watercolors, and other media.

Pigments come from two basic sources: Organic and inorganic.

Some pigments are lightfast by nature and some are not.

Inorganic Pigments

Metals are a common source of pigments. Colors with the words cadmium, chromium, cobalt, iron oxide, copper, lead, manganese, mercury, titanium, zinc or aluminum in their names come from metals.

Other inorganic sources of pigment are carbons (carbon black, ivory black, charcoal,) clay earth (yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt sienna, raw umber, burnt umber,) and ultramarine pigments (ultramarine, ultramarine green shade.)

These colors are usually “earthy” in appearance.

They are also among the most lightfast colors available. Although there is a range of blues, greens, yellows, and reds among these pigments, none of them are very bright.

Best Colors and Brands for Selling Original Art - Dry Pigment

Biological and organic pigments

Biological pigments are derived from plant and animal sources. Certain snails, for example, produce rich purples while Indian Yellow was said to be either plant sourced, or animal (there is debate over which is true.)

Other organic pigments produce such colors as Alizarin Crimson, gamboge, rose madder, and indigo.

As a rule, these pigments are brighter, but also less permanent than inorganic pigments.

Synthetic Pigments

With the advance of technology and industry, many naturally occurring pigments have been replaced in part or entirely by synthetic pigments. These pigments are often have very bright, intense shades and were developed by or for industry. They are generally very lightfast.

The Best Colors for Artists Who Want to Sell Their Work

If you want to create colored pencil work that maintains original appearance for a long time, the best colors to use made from inorganic or synthetic sources.

So how do you know which pigments went into each color?

Most manufacturers list technical information for their products somewhere on their website. That information often includes the pigments used for each color.

Some also print that information right on their product. M. Graham Oils, for example, lists not only the lightfastness and transparency of the color, but the pigments used to create the color.

Best Colors and Brands for Selling Original Art - Oil Paint Labels

Don’t you wish colored pencil manufacturers did that?

Of course, pencils are much too small to have all this information printed on each one. For those of you who are more technically minded, you can get the same information by contacting the manufacturer of your favorite pencils.

The rest of us must rely on manufacturer lightfast testing and labeling!

In general, avoid pinks, purples, and most bright reds.

In other words, as Joan put it, most bright colors fade.

Does that mean there’s no hope? Not at all!

The Best Brands for Artists Who Want to Sell Their Work

The cost of pigment is among the biggest factors in the cost of a colored pencil, no matter what the color. The less expensive the original pigment, the less expensive the finished pencil.

More expensive pencils are made with better pigments. Pigments that are more lightfast to begin with. That’s part of the reason they’re more expensive.

The best option for the artist who wants to create artwork to sell is to start with a set of favorite pencils, then buy open stock, and choose the most permanent colors from each brand.

However, some companies take such care in selecting pigments and making their colors, that buying full sets is a safe investment.

(Yes, there are only three brands of pencils on this list. There are a lot of very good colored pencils on the market, but since the purpose of this post is lightfast bright colors, I’m only including those I could find that have more permanent bright colors.)

Faber-Castell Polychromos

I have a full set of Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils and most of them are rated very good or excellent for lightfastness. In fact, of the 120 colors, I wouldn’t use only two.

Polychromos have a beautiful range of pinks, purples, reds, and oranges and they are available open stock, so if you only need lightfast bright colors, you can probably find them on-line.

Caran D’Ache Luminance

Caran d’Ache Luminance colored pencils are also very lightfast. A full set consists of 76 pencils, including some nice yellows and oranges, and a few pinks and purple. Every color is rated 1 or 2.

They are expensive, but they are also a very good investment.

Derwent Lightfast

Derwent Lightfast Colored Pencils are a new addition to Derwent’s already excellent line of colored pencil products.

As I write this post, there are only 36 colors available, but every one of them has the highest possible lightfast ratings. The original set is mostly earth tones. Creams. Browns. Earthy greens and blues. They’re perfect for landscape and animal artists.

However, Derwent Lightfast also includes a couple of shades of purples that are very lightfast.

An additional 36 colors are rumored to be released laster this year.

So What are the Best Colored Pencil Colors and Brands for Selling Original Art?

There is no easy answer.

Finding the best colors that are bright AND lightfast is an ongoing challenge for most colored pencil artists. Manufacturers find new ways to create lightfast bright colors on a regular basis.

Every artist will find different companies and colors to suit their work best, so the bottom line is to do your own research, and don’t be afraid to experiment!


  1. Thank you for this info Carrie. I’ve worked in watercolour for many years and just in the last few years added c/p. When I order my w/c paint the lightfast ratings are available for most brands on the art suppliers site so the buyer can check each colour for complete info prior to purchasing by clicking on each particular pigment. It would be nice if these suppliers had the same info available from the companies for c/p. Lightfastness is very important to me so its really annoying to find poor ratings on pencils I purchase including open stock where one of the advantages should include the ability to make choices based on full knowledge of the product.

  2. Gail Jones

    Hi Carrie, I am still slightly confused because I know many really good artists who sell their work that just love Prismacolor pencils. Cynthia Knox for instance claims the light fastness issue isn’t an issue for her… and I’m pretty sure she sells her art. If the art is not exposed to sunlight… how long will the non lightfast pencil art last? Are we talking it will fade in 5 years, 10 years or 100 years? Just curious what the timetable would be. Good article…by the way.

    1. Gail,

      There are a lot of top-notch artists who feel like Cynthia Knox does. They use whatever colors they want to use and stick with the brands they like.

      I used to feel that way, too. Prismacolors were what I used and I used every color I needed with no thought about fugitive colors. I was more careful with oil paints, so I’m now a bit baffled about the way I treated colored pencils. Live and learn, I suppose.

      The key thought is Cynthia’s comment that lightfastness is not an issue for her. That’s what it really comes down to. What an artist thinks is important. Not all artists consider any issue equally important. For me, lightfastness is one of the most important issues. For Cynthia, it’s not. Simple as that.

      As far as timetables go, here’s what I’ve found.

      • Excellent Lightfastness: Colors remain unchanged for 100 years or more. Blue Wool 7 or 8, ATSM I
      • Very Good Lightfastness: Colors remain unchanged for 50 to 100 years. Blue Wool 6, ATSM II
      • Fair Lightfastness: Colors remain unchanged for 15 to 50 years. Blue Wool 5, ATSM III
      • Poor Lightfastness: Colors begin to fade in 2 to 15 years. Blue Wool 2 or 3, ATSM IV
      • Very Poor Lightfastness: Colors begin to fade in 2 years or less. Blue Wool 1, ATSM V

      These test results are under ideal lighting conditions. Usually what is considered museum conditions.

      Using UV resistant glass and a UV resistant final finish will help preserve color integrity, but it won’t change the basic pigments.

      But there are the uncontrollable factors such as where a client might display art they’ve purchased. If they happen to put it in a place where it gets direct light, nothing is going to keep fugitive colors from fading.

      And that’s why I prefer to use the most lightfast colors possible.

      I hope that clears up the confusion!

    1. Good question, Scot.

      And the answer is that the lightfastness of these services depends entirely on the inks the printers use. Most of them are going to be using most archival inks possible, but it’s always worth asking first.

      A little bit of research indicates that serious print makers use pigment-based inks instead of dye-based inks. Dye-based inks were used with most wide format printers (13″ wide printers) for home use, and that ink is not archival.

      Being the cautious artist I am, the best option is to ask anyone you’re considering do printing for you if they’re using archival inks. Sure, they can tell you they are when they’re not, so it’s also a good idea to talk to satisfied customers of that company.

  3. Gail Jones

    Okay… yes this is helpful info. Thank you Carrie. I just wanted to ask. I have all the prisma’s right now and maybe 55 approx colors of the faber castells. Over time I will try and keep all this in mind and invest in better pencils as I can.

  4. Tim Grant

    I am a bit disappointed that Lyra’s oil-based Rembrant Polycolor didn’t make the cut in a discussion of lightfastness. 64 of 72 colors are rated top of the scale, and only two purple hues at the bottom. Admittedly, Lyra is not Polychromos, but comes at a price closer to Prisma, and feels like a cross between those two brands.

  5. Good morning, Carrie! Excellent article and spot on with regard to LF being of crucial concern to artists who sell their work. Artist integrity should be a concern for any of us who ask the buying public to trust us to deliver the best we can – that it may be enjoyed for many years by our patrons. Many manufacturer comments on their pigment lightfast quality have a caveat that the estimate duration of the color in years is “under museum conditions”. Most of our buyers will probably ignore that because they have never looked at the technical side of our craft and almost certainly don’t know what “museum conditions” should be. Of course common sense is somewhat of a guide.
    It behooves us to do the research that delivers the very best product so buyers don’t really have to worry about “museum conditions”.
    One excellent source of comparative LF testing is provided by the Colored Pencil Society of America (CPSA) Lightfastness book offered as a free member-only benefit. This compendium reports on CPSA testing (according to ASTM standards) of just about every important brand of CP including obsolete ones that we still own or can get.. For the CP artist concerned about LF I believe this to be a tool that makes color research a nearly “one stop” resource.
    One other point about LF – the quality of the support ( paper, board, canvas, fabric, etc.) used for our colors also has an important role to play in the longevity of our work. There is plenty of info on the internet about this.
    Thanks for covering this important topic, Carrie!

    1. John,

      Thank you! Paper is also an important consideration in the permanency of any colored pencil artwork and definitely worth exploring.

      The lightfastness book compiled by the Colored Pencil Society of America is well worth the price of membership.


  6. Thank you SO MUCH for your fabulous response to my question! You are such a blessing for us, as colored pencil artists, to have such a wonderful resource to turn to for help ! so deeply appreciate the thorough response you gave me about the lightfastness of colored pencils. Since I was licensing my art, I was not concerned about the originals…but your response has been such a wak-up call and so very helpful! Thank SO MUCH you for being here for us!!!!

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