Today, I’m comparing Crayola and Prismacolor colored pencils in response to a reader question. Here’s the question.
Crayola Colors of the World: These are supposed to be skin tone colored pencils. Recently purchased. How do they compare with Prismacolor?
First, let me do a general comparison, brand to brand.
Then I’d like to share a few thoughts on skin tone colors.
Let’s get started.
Comparing Crayola and Prismacolor Colored Pencils
Several months ago, I came into possession of a large batch of Crayola colored pencils, and have experimented with them enough to discover that they’re great coloring book pencils.
But they’re not very useful for fine art.
The reason is that Prismacolor pencils are artist quality pencils. Despite all their quality control issues, they have more pigment so they lay down color better, faster, and more smoothly. They also contain less fillers and binding agents than Crayola, so they’re easier to use.
However, every pencil works differently for each artist. A lot depends on what you hope to accomplish with your art (is it just for fun, or do you hope to sell it,) your skill level, and your dedication to long-term colored pencil use.
So what works for me may not work for you, and what doesn’t work for me may work wonders for you.
A Couple of Tests
I did a couple of shading tests with Crayola and Prismacolor colored pencils, just to see how they performed side-by-side.
First, I made three color bars with the heaviest color at the top and bottom of each bar, and the lightest in the middle. The Crayola color bar is first, followed by the Prismacolor color bar.
You’ve no doubt noticed that I got smooth color and transitions with both brands of pencils. The Crayolas were actually a bit smoother. That surprised me. I expected the scholastic grade pencils to be a lot less vibrant in color, and more difficult to use. They were neither.
What I did notice at once was that it was difficult to make color stick to previous layers of color with the Crayola pencils. The difficulty was most pronounced where I’d used heavy pressure, but it was noticeable even in the lighter pressure areas. I couldn’t even get blue to show up layered over yellow.
The Prismacolor colors layered beautifully, top to bottom.
My conclusion? Crayola’s are good for putting down saturated color (no paper holes showing through) if you don’t intend to layer another color over the first layer. You can get value transitions by changing the pressure with which you apply color, but that was about the only way.
I tested that theory further by alternating layers of yellow and blue, choosing comparable colors in each set. Once again, the Crayola sample is first, followed by the Prismacolor sample. I used light pressure for all layers with both types of pencils.
As you can see, there isn’t as much difference between the two brands of pencils when I used them this way. However, although these two samples look very close in a digital format, the Prismacolor sample is slightly more green in real life.
What’s more, it was quite a bit easier (and faster) to get to this level with the Prismacolor pencils.
I conducted both tests on inexpensive paper (a medium-weight sketch pad, in fact.) I haven’t used the Crayola pencils on better paper or used them enough on the sketch pad to know how they would perform in a drawing.
However, it’s my opinion that any artist who intends to blend color by layering should probably not start out with Crayola colored pencils. They will be frustrating to use for that purpose.
Thoughts on Skin Tones
I’m always a little hesitant to recommend sets of “skin tone colors,” for the same reason I hesitate to buy sets of landscape colors or portrait colors.
The reason is simple.
There are so many variations to consider that no set, not even the Colors of the World set from Crayola, can accurately produce every type of skin color imaginable.
I took a look at the set online and even with 24 colors, it barely scratches the surface of possible skin tones.
However, colors are arranged in three basic color groups, and the set includes a selection of gradations within each family. So they provide a nice line of base colors.
Or coloring book colors.
The fact that it’s difficult to alter the colors by layering other colors over them further complicates the problem.
But even the marketing for these pencils indicates they’re designed for first grade students. In other words, artists who won’t know much about layering or blending and will most likely apply color heavily to cover the paper. These pencils are perfect for that.
Prismacolor also offers a similar set of colors. Look for the “Portrait Colors” set, which contains 24 colors. If you want to layer and blend colors, this set is a much better buy in the long run.
Final Thoughts on Comparing Crayola and Prismacolor
Since this reader has already purchased the Crayola colored pencils, I suggest trying them out with a few drawings or sketches.
It is my opinion, however, that any artist interested in doing human portraits is better off buying similar Prismacolor colors to get started. You can also more easily test other brands by buying open stock.
Better yet, one of the medium sized sets of Prismacolor would be an even better purchase overall.
And if you’re really interested in skin colors, get Ann Kullberg’s book, Colored Pencil Portraits. It contains her palette for skin tones. It’s a great guide no matter what your skill level.