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.
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!! (:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 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!