Comparing Crayola and Prismacolor Pencils

Comparing Crayola and Prismacolor Pencils

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.

Comparing Crayola and Prsimacolor Colored Pencils

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.

Pressure Test

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.

Shading color with Crayola colored pencils
Shading color with Prismacolor colored pencils

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.

Layering Test

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.

Comparing Crayola and Prismacolor Colored Pencils
Blending yellow and blue to make green with Crayola colored pencils
Blending yellow and blue to make green with Prismacolor colored 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.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!


  1. Patricia+E+Wilson

    This was a great article. I have both of these pencils and the Faber Castell. I found with the Crayolas that the only way to get a good blend was to put white down first. But the color did come off on you hands if too much was applied but not with the other two brands. Thanks for your demos and comparisons. Great help.

  2. So interesting, Carrie, to learn about the layering problem. And I was also surprised to see how smoothly Crayola laid down.

    My gut instinct says that if you can find art supplies in a grocery store, they probably aren’t professional grade. My experience with Crayola comes down to Why Bother. But it might be good to have some on hand if you have little people in your life who want to make art alongside you. (NOOO!! DON’T TOUCH THE FRAGILE PRISMACOLORS!!)

    Ann Kullberg’s book was helpful; taking a weekend workshop from her about using her method was really HELPFUL!! It was many years ago, but I have never forgotten her excellent teaching.

    1. Jana,

      You’re quite right. I was surprised to get such good layering results with Crayola.

      Walmart is my benchmark. Most of the time, any art supplies from Walmart are not going to be professional grade!

      But they are great for little people. That’s where my Crayola’s ended up.

      Ann is a great teacher. I organized two workshops for her here in Newton, and I always enjoyed looking in on the classes.

  3. RhiannonLewis

    Another excellent post. To be honest some of your findings surprised me! Because I do not have the money to buy Prismacolor I’ve been using Crayola. since I was raised using Crayola’s it also is somewhat of a safety zone. I’ve never had trouble getting colors to layer–but it does murder my hands in the process. Even for layering and blending they demand much more pressure than the three Prismacolor pencils I have now. Knowing Prismacolor has better layering capabilities excites me and I am dying to get my hands on a set for my art given I rely heavily on blending.

    I did want to point out, however, that Crayola can certainly be used to make beautiful artwork –with much patience, practice, and pressure.

    1. Rhiannon,

      Thank you.

      I agree with you. Crayolas are capable of producing great artwork, but they do take more effort and patience.

      You might try getting a small set of Prismacolors to get started with them. If you have a local art supply store where you can buy pencils in open stock, you can also buy Prismacolors to replace the Crayolas as you use them up.

      Thanks again.

  4. Matthew B Necroto

    i am a fine artist, and i use crayola in literally every one of my near 100 (pencil) pieces. its a tool. i have other tools. no artist blames the tool… with respect. the artist sees the use for the tool and uses it as a weapon…

    its the process, especially for rich blending… plan for layers, and build saturation in number of passes in alternating directions. i always lay down my first layer for the texture im drawing. if i want smooth, or if i want grit, or dimension, its a bottom layer to build on top of. if i want smooth blends with rich hues, i plan to do about 50 very light passes. think of the science. your dragging a pgment across a grit, pressure matters, not hard, soft over and over. pick you dark spots, use slightly more pressure. it also allows subtle color blends. layers can use different tones to build dimension. an apple or flower has undertones. if you plan that into one of those layers, used soft and as an artist, you can add multiple blended undertones to really bring out reality. develop the techniques to the tools, not the tools to your techniques.

    the hardness of crayola vs prisma (i use, but less and less, and usually looking for a specific tone) is no different than graphite to charcoal. the tool is the tool. learn to use the tool.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *