Help! How Do I Choose the Right Colored Pencils?
Check out our guide before you buy!
By Nicole McDermott
We don’t have to tell you that coloring book lovers are big fans of colored pencils, too. They’re super easy to use, make adding details easy, and come in basically any color you could ever dream of. But depending on the brand and type, colored pencils vary in vibrancy, texture, durability, range of color, ease of blending, cost, and more. So how do you know where to start? Before you invest in a pricy pack—or default to the cheapest box you can find—here are some tips on how they all differ and how to decide which type is right for you.
Basic Colored Pencils
Think those colored pencils you’d find stuffed in classroom desks or on the shelf at any pharmacy, grocery store, or dollar store you visit. The primary benefit of basic colored pencils is their cost. For an affordable price point—around $1-5 for 12 to 24 pencils—you’ll likely get a box of durable pencils in a wide range of colors (depending on the size box you purchase). But, depending on the brand, you may run into some annoying drawbacks. For starters, low cost colored pencils typically have wax-based lead that is hard and shiny, scratches paper, produces muted color, and makes layering and blending pretty tough. Plus, the lead is known to flake and the tips can break with too much pressure. While low-cost colored pencils are an important classroom staple, it may be worth the few extra bucks for a higher quality product (more on that in a minute!) if you want to elevate your coloring pages.
Mid-Tier Colored Pencils
Colored pencils that aren’t low quality but aren’t quite artist quality can help you create beautifully colored pages without breaking the bank. For a bit of a price bump from your average Crayolas, mid-tier varieties typically have softer cores, offer more vibrant colors, and go onto the page more smoothly. Because these pencils are softer than lower-quality ones, they’re much easier to control and much much easier to blend. Mid-tier pencils, which are typically wax- or oil- based, are a great choice for people looking for better quality without the higher cost and slight learning curve that comes with professional-grade colored pencils. A set of good middle-of-the-road colored pencils will run you anywhere from $5 to $20 depending on the brand and size of the pack.
Top choice: Staedtler Ergo Soft Colored Pencils
Reviewers say these triangular-shaped pencils (which allow for a more comfortable grip) create deep, pigmented color with minimal effort.
Cost: $11 for 10 and $18 for 24
Fine-Art Colored Pencils
One of the key features of artist-quality pencils: The colorful cores are soft. While low-quality pencils have hard lead that can scratch paper, these pencils are nearly always oil-based. As a result, they go on the page smooth and produce vivid, rich, highly-pigmented color. While soft cores can be seen as a major advantage, they may require a little more practice if you’re used to lower-quality colored pencils. Artist quality pencils can run anywhere from $1 to $3+ per pencil.
Top choice: Prismacolor Premier Soft Core Colored Pencils
Reviewers say these smooth-as-butter pencils reign supreme when it comes to blending and color intensity.
Cost: $25 for 48, $39 for 72, and $68 for 132
So Which Should You Buy?
Ultimately, art—and product choice—is subjective, right? The type of paper you prefer, whether or not you like to layer and blend, and the amount of pressure you like to use are all totally personal preference. So our best tips for figuring out which colored pencils to buy if you’re not really sure which direction to go? Before you break the bank on a 120-pencil box set, try a starter pack (or a few single pencils) from a brand or two. Test ‘em out and see how you feel.
When you’re ready to buy a full set, consider what’s important to you. If a wide range of colors is key, stick to basic or mid-tier pencils to keep costs down. If you’d rather a set produces brighter, more saturated color—and you’ll be happy working with fewer colors—go ahead and choose an artist-quality option (and do your research to get the best deal!). Or, mix it all up! You may find you like different types of pencils for different coloring effects or for the color selection.
What’s your go-to colored pencil brand? Share with us in the comments below!