• 10 Best Colored Pencils in 2021 (Artist-Reviewed) 1
  • 10 Best Colored Pencils in 2021 (Artist-Reviewed) 2
  • 10 Best Colored Pencils in 2021 (Artist-Reviewed) 3
  • 10 Best Colored Pencils in 2021 (Artist-Reviewed) 4
  • 10 Best Colored Pencils in 2021 (Artist-Reviewed) 5

10 Best Colored Pencils in 2021 (Artist-Reviewed)

Whether you enjoy shading in adult coloring books or creating your own masterpieces from scratch, a good set of colored pencils can help you express yourself in a very fulfilling, and not super messy, way. There are a lot of sets available, but many are low-quality ones. These might be fine for kids, but even a beginner hobbyist shouldn't settle for something that is frustrating to work with.


That's why we researched the best colored pencils out there for adult coloring book aficionados, crafters, and professional artists with some help from artist Lauren Weirich. Our favorites are Faber-Castell's Polychromos pencils for their durability, vibrancy, and blendability. See what else made the cut, and get some tips on how to choose your own match in our buying guide!

Experts featured in this article

Lindsay Weirich
  • Last updated: 01-04-2022
Table of Contents

In Collaboration With Artist Lindsay Weirich

In Collaboration With Artist Lindsay Weirich

An artist, writer, and craft designer, Lindsay loves sharing her talents and passion for art. She pens craft articles, posts free online videos, and teaches classes. She illustrates books, designs stamps, and can also juggle.


She works in many media, including paint, glitter, and of course colored pencil. That's why we asked her to review our buying guide for accuracy and to provide any extra tips she could think of. You can also take advantage of all the resources she posts on her website, The Frugal Crafter Blog!

How We Chose Our Products

How We Chose Our Products

To choose the best colored pencils, we took into consideration the following:


  • Choosing a variety of binders; wax, oil and watercolor
  • Considering the set size and color range
  • Going for reputable brands

Don't forget to check out our buying guide after the products to make sure you have all the information you need to make a good decision about colored pencils.

Compare the 10 Best Colored Pencils

Image
Faber-Castell Polychromos Colored Pencil Set 1

Faber-Castell

Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils 1

Prismacolor

Staedtler Karat Aquarell Watercolor Pencils 1

Staedtler

Arteza Expert Colored Pencils 1

Arteza

Caran d’Ache Luminance 6901 1

Caran d’Ache

Derwent Inktense Ink Pencils 1

Derwent

Koh-I-Noor  Progresso Woodless Colored Pencil Set 1

Koh-I-Noor

Zenacolor Colored Pencils 1

Zenacolor

Lyra Rembrant Polycolor Art Pencils 1

Lyra

Faber-Castell Metallic Colored EcoPencils 1

Faber-Castell

Name

Polychromos Colored Pencil Set

Premier Colored Pencils

Karat Aquarell Watercolor Pencils

Expert Colored Pencils

Luminance 6901

Inktense Ink Pencils

Progresso Woodless Colored Pencil Set

Colored Pencils

Rembrant Polycolor Art Pencils

Metallic Colored EcoPencils

Features

Best Oil-Based Pencils: Vibrant and Blendable, but Stay Sharp

Best Wax-Based Pencils: Soft, Creamy Cores Create Rich, Opaque Colors

Best Watercolor Pencils: Blend Smoothly, and Bright Wet or Dry

Best Budget-Friendly Set for Beginners or Hobbyists

Best for Building Layer Upon Layer

Best to Get Thick, Breathtaking Colors When Wet

Best for Making Wide Strokes and Shading

Best Set for Adult Coloring Books

Best for Smooth Blending and Crisp Edges

Best for Drawing on Dark Paper

Price$101.37$47.99$36.75$27.99$249.92$100.99$16.95$29.99$28.49$7.00
BaseOilWaxWatercolorWaxWax and oil blendWater-soluble waxOilOilOilNot provided
Colors607224487672241203612
Link

10 Best Colored Pencils

Here are our favorite colored pencils, including wax, oil, and watercolor types. We also chose a variety of set sizes and price points as well, but we made sure to go for quality as a priority.


*Please note that these products were chosen after extensive research by mybest writers. The choices are not necessarily affiliated with or recommended by Lindsay unless explicitly stated so.

Faber-CastellPolychromos Colored Pencil Set

110060

$101.37

BaseOil
Colors60

PrismacolorPremier Colored Pencils

$47.99

BaseWax
Colors72

StaedtlerKarat Aquarell Watercolor Pencils

125M24

$36.75

BaseWatercolor
Colors24

ArtezaExpert Colored Pencils

$27.99

BaseWax
Colors48
BaseWax and oil blend
Colors76

DerwentInktense Ink Pencils

2301843

$100.99

BaseWater-soluble wax
Colors72

Koh-I-Noor Progresso Woodless Colored Pencil Set

FA8758.24

$16.95

BaseOil
Colors24
BaseOil
Colors120

LyraRembrant Polycolor Art Pencils

X2001360

$28.49

BaseOil
Colors36

Faber-CastellMetallic Colored EcoPencils

$7.00

BaseNot provided
Colors12

How to Choose Colored Pencils – Buying Guide

Choosing the wrong pencils for you can lead to frustration and difficulty getting the effects you want in your drawings. Consider the types of binders, size of sets, and what paper you want to use. Let's look at these in detail!

Choose Between Oil, Wax, and Watercolor Pencils

The pigment in a colored pencil needs to be held together by something. This something is called a binder. Binders can be wax, oil, a blend of wax and oil, or water-soluble. And depending on the binder, the pencil lays down colors differently.

Wax-Based Pencils Are Soft, Opaque, and Easy to Layer

Wax-Based Pencils Are Soft, Opaque, and Easy to Layer

Wax-based pencils are the most common by far, and if you've used colored pencils before, they were likely wax-based. Prismacolor and Derwent are two of the more well-known artists' brands, but a lot of cheap sets are wax.


They’re soft, creamy, and easy to blend, and a few layers can give you a smooth work of art where colors meld into each other. One swipe will also lay down a lot of color. This is helpful if, for example, you’re looking for an opaque pencil to add detailing on top of a painting.

Wax-Based Pencils Are Soft, Opaque, and Easy to Layer

There are a couple of weaknesses to wax-based pencils, however. The first is something called "wax bloom," where the wax binding forms a foggy layer on top of your artwork. But it’s easy enough to correct with a fixative, so it’s more of a minor annoyance than anything.

The second weakness is the weakness of the cores. Because wax pencils are soft, the cores can be fragile. If you press down too hard on a wax-based pencil, you could break it, and if it rolls off the desk and onto the floor, the core could shatter. Also, you may find you need to sharpen your pencils more.
Lindsay Weirich
The Frugal Crafter
Lindsay Weirich

My preference is wax-based. It's mainly because I prefer to work on a toned or colored paper—or to work on top of a watercolor with my colored pencils. And wax-based are slightly more opaque, so if you’re working on brown paper, the pencil’s going to show up better than an oil-based pencil.


But if your pencil’s really waxy and if you were to overlayer your work, you would get this thing called “bloom.” That’s when the wax separates from the pigment and rises to the top of the paper. When that happens, you can spray it with a fixative.


That will dissolve the bloom so it looks normal, or you can wipe it off with a tissue, but when you do that, it almost buffs the paper and you get a shiny spot. So that’s very frustrating for artists who like to work slow and in lots of layers.

Oil-Based Pencils Lay Down Less Color and Offer a Bit More Control

Oil-Based Pencils Lay Down Less Color and Offer a Bit More Control
Oil-based pencils aren’t as brittle. So they’re a little easier to sharpen to a pinpoint for fine detailing. They also don’t break as easily. Well-known brands are Faber-Castell, Lyra Rembrant, and Koh-i-Noor.
Oil-based pencils are more transparent than wax ones. They’re just as easy to layer, but it’s harder to get the smooth, buttery, melted-together look wax-based pencils will give you. 

But, in return, you get more control. If you like a look where shadows are detailed in fine, closely-pressed together lines, or if you’re looking to draw the individual streaks on a feathery bird, that may be easier to achieve with an oil-based pencil. Finally, because they lay down less color, you can add more distinct layers to your work of art.

Lindsay Weirich
The Frugal Crafter
Lindsay Weirich

An oil-based pencil is more transparent. It’s going to show up better on white paper—like on a pure watercolor paper or a gessoed paper—because the light will pass through the veil of color a little bit more easily. And a lot of people have been partial to oil-based pencils because they’re light-fast, meaning they’re not going to fade as easily. 


Artists that spend weeks on colored pencils paintings would prefer a firmer core because the softer your pencil is, the fewer layers you can put down. So if you’re someone who likes to work in seven or eight or nine layers, you’re going to saturate your paper too quickly with a Prismacolor or other soft pencils. You’d want to use a Derwent Studio or a Polychromos, which are a little bit harder and build your layers up. 


I have a friend who’s a very talented colored pencil artist. Her name is Lisa Clough from Lachri Fine Arts, and she does these gorgeous photo-realistic paintings. She works over the course of two weeks on a painting and builds up layer upon layer, so she needs to use pencils that are not as waxy and not as firm. Because of that, we have absolutely opposite favorite pencils. There’s no right or wrong; it’s just subjective.

Watercolor Pencils Look and Blend Just Like Paint

Watercolor Pencils Look and Blend Just Like Paint
If you like the soft, translucent look of watercolor, try some watercolor pencils. Watercolor pencils utilize a water-soluble binder, which means the pigment will move around and act just like paint when you get it wet. The colors also grow more vibrant with water. However, when applied dry, the colors can look thin.
Watercolor pencils are the easiest to blend. Layer one color on top of another and add water, and the two shades will dissolve into each other. Staedtler's Aquarell is a go-to for many, but you can find watercolor pencils offered by the other big manufacturers, too.
Lindsay Weirich
The Frugal Crafter
Lindsay Weirich

Oil- or wax-based pencils are a dry medium, so you couldn’t mix yellow and blue to make green as easily as you could with a watercolor. With watercolor, you can just color a layer of yellow, color a layer of blue, use a wet brush, and you’ve got a perfect green. If you were doing that with the oil-based pencils, you’d have to keep layering and layering to get a decent color. 


Watercolor pencils are also excellent if you’re sketching out before you do an acrylic painting or a watercolor painting because they will dissolve with both acrylic and watercolors, and you won’t see your lines. That’s something you wouldn’t want to do with an oil- or wax-based pencil because they would act as a barrier between your paint and the paper or the canvas. 


 Also, if I were traveling, and I couldn’t bring many pencils, I would bring a small set of watercolor pencils because they’re more versatile than oil-based or wax-based pencils.

Serious Artists Should Opt for Big Sets With Variety

Serious Artists Should Opt for Big Sets With Variety

Let’s start off with an exception to the rule: you can squeak by with a smaller set of watercolor pencils. That’s because they’re easy to blend when wet, so you can make a lot of your own colors. Lindsay says that a set of 24 should do the trick.

However, it is more difficult to blend dry media, so for oil- and wax-based, the bigger the set, the better.  Let’s say you were to buy a set of 24 to play around with. You really liked the colored pencils, so you decided to buy a set of 72. 


Chances are that the 24 colors that were included with your first set are duplicated in your second set, so unless you use those 24 colors at an alarming rate, they’re going to go to waste. Getting the colors you need right off the bat can prevent this.

Lindsay Weirich
The Frugal Crafter
Lindsay Weirich

Crafter's Companion has a line of pencils called Spectrum Noir and Spectrum Aqua, and I like them because of the way they sell their sets. They don’t have open stock, which is unfortunate, but they sell their sets in packs of 12 or 24, and they don’t duplicate colors anywhere.


So you could start off with the set of 24 florals, because that’s what you like to paint most, or you may start off with the set of 24 primaries. If you love the pencils, you can buy the set of 24 landscapes, and that’s not going to duplicate anything you have, and so on.


If you used up a color, you could swatch that color out and take it to an art supply store and match it with another line that’s close enough. Also, if you like to work on colored paper, make sure you choose a wax- or oil-based set that has a lot of pastels in it because those will stand out.


There are some inexpensive brands out now that have surfaced, and their colored pencils are excellent, but they have no pastels. So even if you get that set of 72, you’re going to have a difficult time getting them to stand out if you plan on working on colored paper; if you’re working on white paper, they’re going to be beautiful.

Buy Open Stock to Replace and Try New Brands

Buy Open Stock to Replace and Try New Brands
Don’t you hate it when you open your case of colored pencils, and your favorite shade of blue is only an inch long? Since it’s expensive to purchase a whole new set, see if you can buy just that one pencil. Many brick-and-mortar and online art supply stores sell individual pencils, also known as open stock.
Keep in mind, though, that certain colors or brands won’t be available, so you may need to be flexible and look for the shade nearest to what you had in mind. It’s also a good idea to check and see if a particular line offers open stock before making any purchases - most high-end brands do.
Open-stock pencils serve one more purpose. Ideally, you get to try before you buy, but many stores don’t let you test out colored pencils (and sampling is impossible when shopping online). So, if you’re interested in a particular set, see if you can purchase a few pencils from that set. And if you like those pencils, then go for the whole set.
Lindsay Weirich
The Frugal Crafter
Lindsay Weirich
Before I bought my Polychromos, I ordered a couple of individual colors that I use a lot to test them first. And I ended up buying a set of Polychromos because I really liked them. That way, I didn’t have to buy a 12-set and spend $20—I could buy three to four pencils and spend like $3 to $4 before I bought the set, so I didn’t waste much money. 

And then there are brands where I bought a few pencils and I realized I didn’t like them, and it saved me a costly mistake. But I would recommend getting a handful—a few colors that you know you’re going to use a lot so they don’t go to waste. That way, you get a little bit of variety so you can see how their dark colors look on paper, how their whites look on paper, how opaque they are, and you can go from there.

Paper Affects How Your Pencils Lay Down Color

Paper Affects How Your Pencils Lay Down Color

The “tooth” of a paper refers to how rough the surface of it is. The more tooth your paper has, the more it can bite down on and hold onto pigment. And the more pigment a paper can take, the more layers you can add on to your work.

Therefore, if you have a very waxy pencil, or if you’re planning on adding layers and layers of color, make sure your paper is suitably rough. However, if you're after intricate, tiny details, toothier paper will fight against your goal, so you may need to find a happy medium.
Lindsay Weirich
The Frugal Crafter
Lindsay Weirich
If you want to do tons of layers, you might want to use a sanded paper, which has a fine layer of a sanded primer on it so you can keep adding more and more and more—especially if you like to do realism and a lot of detail. Pastel papers also work well because they have a little tooth for grabbing pastel dust; it’ll grab pencil dust as well. 

But the rougher the paper, the longer it’s going to take you to complete your work because it’s going to take longer to fill in all those little dips and grooves in the paper. If you want to do a quick sketch, smooth paper is fine. If you want to spend more time on your painting, you need a rougher paper that’s going to hold the pencil. 


Canson Mi-Teints is nice because it has a rough side and a smoother side. I like the smoother side for colored pencil, but it’s rougher than a sketchbook. And if you did want to do a lot of layers, there’s a rougher side that you could build up more on. And since it’s all on one sheet, you could buy just one pad and have a lot of different options because each side of the paper’s a little different.

Frequently Asked Questions

Have some burning questions about colored pencils? See if you can satisfy your curiosity here.

How are colored pencils made?

They're made in about the same way as graphite pencils, and it's really fascinating to watch! Check out this video from the popular show How It's Made.


First, the core is mixed up. Pigment, binder, and any other ingredients like extenders or adhesives are blended into a doughy substance. This is sent through an extruder to make the core, and those are then cut and dried.


The wood is cut into slats, and a groove carved into them. The pencil core then gets sandwiched between two slats and glued together. Finally, these proto-pencils are trimmed into the right shape, usually round or hexagonal, and the outside is painted or numbers are applied.

When were colored pencils invented?

Wax-based writing implements have been in use since at least the age of the ancient Greeks, and colored pencils for writing were commonly used during the 1800s. Many companies, like Lyra, Derwent, Staedtler and Faber trace their roots back to these beginnings.


The first artist-quality colored pencils with the modern core form were produced by Faber-Castell in the early twentieth century. Watercolor pencils came about in the 1930s.

Are colored pencils erasable?

Erasing should be thought of as removing a mark from the surface of your paper, and by this definition, all colored pencils are erasable to a point. If you have rough, thick paper, an eraser can abrade the surface enough to remove most marks.


However, wax and oil won't just dissolve. The more pigment a pencil lays down, the harder it will be to erase. Wax bloom is also difficult to remove. You can mop up watercolor pencils by wetting marks and lifting color off with a paper towel. And cheaper pencils are often more erasable, since they lay down less pigment to begin with.


Make sure you use the right eraser, too. Start with a soft kneaded eraser, which will not damage your paper. Only if that doesn't work should you proceed with more abrasive types.

More Art Supplies for Your Creative Spirit

More Art Supplies for Your Creative Spirit

You didn't think we'd stop at just colored pencils, did you? Here are some more tools you can use to express yourself.

Amazon's Best Selling Drawing Pencils

Want to look at some popular colored pencils or regular graphite pencils to stock your studio? Check out buyers' favorites on Amazon.

Updated by: Susan Lucier-Ogawa, 11/9/2021

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    Interested in making your own accessories? Jewelry making can be one of the most rewarding forms of crafting, but it can be challenging to gather all the tools and materials you need. To save yourself time and effort, grab an all-in-one kit! However, there are many options available, so we searched the internet to find the best choices for adults.While researching, we found that the best jewelry making kits include all the necessary tools and pieces you will need. We especially loved Sun Sprinkles Shop's Beginners DIY Clay Earrings Kit since it's easy to complete and makes modern-looking jewelry. Of course, we have even more great options in our best 10 list! Be sure to read through our buying guide for all the information you need to make a confident choice. 
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  • 10 Best Halloween Cosplays in 2022 (Spider-Man, Star Wars, and More)
    10 Best Halloween Cosplays in 2022 (Spider-Man, Star Wars, and More)
    Are you having difficulty deciding which cosplay you want to wear for Halloween? If so, we have a few ideas for you! Cosplay, or dressing as a character, is rapidly becoming popular in America and Halloween is the perfect opportunity to represent your favorite. It's important to know what makes a quality costume and how to decide what cosplay to choose.Thankfully, we've done the research for you! We chose the Haikyuu Costume Uniform by Tokyo-T as our favorite as it's comfortable and authentic. If this isn't to your tastes then we have a top ten list of other costumes for your perusal, as well as a buying guide to help you choose!
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  • 10 Best Terrarium Kits in 2022 (Hirt's Gardens and More)
    10 Best Terrarium Kits in 2022 (Hirt's Gardens and More)
    Plants can brighten up any home! As well as looking good, they can also improve your mood and mental health. If you spend a lot of time inside or don't have access to a garden, then house plants become even more important. However, plants can take up much-needed space and require lots of care. Terrariums are mini-gardens that can be used to grow small plants indoors! Often small enough to sit neatly on your desk, they're easy to care for and add some greenery to any space. If you don't have space (or a green thumb), then a terrarium might be what you need! We looked at all of the terrarium kits available online and found that the best kit was TerraGreen Creations' Easy Grow Complete Fairy Garden Kit. It's easy to plant, cute, and comes with everything you need for your own terrarium. Keep reading for the rest of our favorites and a handy buying guide!
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  • 10 Best Tarot Card Decks in 2022 (Matt Hughes, Kim Krans, and More)
    10 Best Tarot Card Decks in 2022 (Matt Hughes, Kim Krans, and More)
    Are you looking for a little guidance? Tarot card decks are a unique way to find insight about life’s ups and downs. This historic hobby is still popular centuries later as many people find meaning and enjoyment in interpreting tarot cards. Tarot cards are highly symbolic, so choosing the right deck for you takes a little extra thought.No matter whether you’re looking for a modern deck with an esoteric tone or a playful deck with an approachable style, we’ve got you covered! We personally loved the timeless style of Da Bridgh's Original Tarot Cards Deck, but we'll let you be the judge. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro looking to add to your collection, we’ve selected the best decks that come highly rated by the tarot community.
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  • Top 10 Best Sticker Organizers in 2021 (Smead, Deli, and More)
    Top 10 Best Sticker Organizers in 2021 (Smead, Deli, and More)
    If you like to do bullet journaling, creative journaling, scrapbooking, or you simply love to collect stickers, you know how messy and disorganized they can get. Whether you have a small or large sticker collection, sticker organizers are here to help! They can help you organize and arrange your stickers, making them easier to access and use.Not sure where to start? Start by going through the top 10 list of the best sticker organizers you can find online. Our top pick is Deli's Expanding File Folder. We love that it is has a lot of compartments to keep your stickers organized and it is compact and small enough to bring anywhere you go. If you want more options, check out the rest of our top 10 list! We've also included a buying guide with many useful tips to help you choose.
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