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Colored Pencil Materials Made Easy PART 1

INTRODUCTION

I’m a big believer in keeping art supplies simple. Especially in the early days of an artistic journey.

If you stick to relatively few materials, you’ll master them much more quickly. That means, if you want to, you’ll be able to switch between coloured pencils, pastel pencils, graphite, ink, charcoal and other mediums with ease!

It will also help you to enjoy the art-making process that much more. It’s so much simpler to get into the ‘flow’ state when you’re not constantly having to deliberate between dozens of colours and accessories. I’d go as far as saying that the fewer materials I have to hand, the more I enjoy the creative process!

This guide contains the materials I recommend for anyone wanting to quickly master coloured pencils. I’m assuming you’re either a newcomer or early on in your coloured pencil adventure and my aim is to save you from lots of tedious research and wasted money on equipment you don’t need.

It’s not an exhaustive review of every brand that’ll take you hours to digest, because that’s the last thing you need. What you need is a definite recommendation for a set of tools that you can hit the ground running with!

Here’s the list...

 

PENCILS

Trust me when I say that you can lose many hours of your life going round in circles reading coloured pencil reviews. There are so many different opinions about which brand and range is the best and why.

One thing I strongly believe is that you can make amazing art with ANY of the popular artist-quality brands out there. Even student- quality pencils can produce fantastic results.

I’ve tested a lot of coloured pencil brands on the market and I do have my preferences. However, most of the products mentioned in this guide will serve you well when used with the right technique!

Student Quality Vs Artist Quality

All coloured pencils consist of pigment and a binder to hold the pigment so it can be applied to the paper. The pigment is the expensive stuff!

Artist quality pencils contain more pigments and less binder compared to student quality pencils. This means they make richer, more intense marks with less pressure. Their colours can be layered on top of each other and blended more easily. They also tend to be more lightfast (see below).

Artist quality pencils are significantly more expensive than student quality pencils. Further down, I’ll recommend which type of pencils to go for as a newcomer, depending on budget.



Wax-Based Vs Oil-Based Vs Water-Based

As you might guess, wax-based pencils use a wax binder, which is generally softer and allows you to easily apply rich colour without much pressure.

Oil-based pencils use an oil binder and while you have to apply more pressure to lay down colour, they are more hard-wearing, hold a point better and typically last longer.

Water-based, or water soluble pencils use gum arabic for the binder. The pigment can be wetted and moved around on the paper with a brush and water, after it’s been applied with the pencil.

Traditional coloured pencil art is created with either wax or oil-based pencils. Water-based pencils can be used dry but you wouldn’t typically choose them unless you wanted some sort of watercolour effect.

Softer Core or Harder Core

The core is the coloured bit inside the wooden casing of the pencil. It can be very soft and buttery, or it can feel quite firm as you run the pencil over the paper.

Very soft core pencils tend to produce the most intense and vibrant colours. They are especially good for blending colours that have been layered on top of each other. Being soft, they tend to break more easily and they won’t hold a point for very long.

Hard core pencils won’t give you the same colour intensity and they are more difficult to blend and layer. However, they are great for fine detail and crisp edges because they hold a point really well.


Many professional coloured pencil artists will have a mix of soft core and harder core pencils to get the best of both worlds. If you’re a newcomer, that’s overkill and only adds unnecessary complexity.

There are a couple of brands that fall nicely in the middle. They’re not too soft or too hard and I mention them below. If budget is an issue, go for a softer core because they will help you learn the important techniques of layering and blending much more easily. Again, my recommendation is coming shortly.

Lightfastness

A colour’s lightfastness is its ability to resist fading over time when exposed to sunlight.

Professional artists worry about lightfastness (coloured pencil artists more so than others, it seems). If they sell a piece of artwork, they don’t want the buyer coming back after a year complaining that many of the colours have faded.

However, if you’re a newcomer, an improver or basically anyone that isn’t producing commissions or pain-staking botanical pieces... don’t worry about lightfastness. Life is too short!

If you really can’t help yourself and you absolutely insist on using only the most lightfast brands, then be prepared to dig deep into your pockets.

 

Brands to Look Out For

Here’s a list of popular brands of wax and oil-based pencils. You can skip this section and jump to the brands I recommend if you’re short on time.


1. Prismacolor Premier

These artist quality pencils have become very affordable (around $20 USD for a set of 48).

They are wax-based with very rich pigments. Many artists (I’m one of them) will tell you that Prismacolor Premier are the easiest coloured pencils to blend, have the softest feel and the richest pigments.

The downside is that they are so soft that they can break easily and produce waxy blooms that are unsightly and hard to get rid of.




PROS Very rich, vibrant colours Soft, buttery feel makes applying colour easy Very easy to blend Affordable artist-quality pencil

CONS Can break easily Can produce waxy blooms Don’t hold a sharp point for long



2. Prismacolor Verithin

While still wax-based, these pencils are much harder than Prismacolor Premier. They will stay sharp for longer and are less prone to breakages. You won’t get quite the same vibrant colours or rich tones that your do with Premier and they are more difficult to blend and layer. These pencils are much suited for detail and you’d typically buy them alongside a softer pencil.

PROS More resilient to breakages

Holds a point and is ideal for sharp detail

Affordable artist-quality pencils

CONS

Difficult to blend and layer



3. Prismacolor Scholar

These are a wax-based student-quality pencils. They are very affordable with a set of 60 costing less than $20 USD.

Being student quality, the pigments are less intense and it’s harder to blend and layer colours on top of one another.


PROS Very affordable Good quality pencils for the price

CONS More difficult to blend and layer than Prismacolor Premier Less intense colours



4. Faber-Castell Polychromos


These are my artist-quality pencils of choice. They are oil- based, which makes them a little firmer than most other brands, but the pigments are still wonderfully intense an easy to lay down. You can also layer and blend these pencils exceptionally well.

Being oil-based, you won’t get any waxy blooms and they are very resilient to breakages. They’re not cheap, especially in North America, costing around three times that of Prismacolor Premier for a smaller set, but you won’t be disappointed.


PROS Rich, vibrant colours Colour can be applied easily without too much pressure. They glide across the paper! Easy to blend and layer Very resilient to breakages

CONS Expensive Not quite the same blending ability of Prismacolor Premier or layering ability of Caran d’Ache Luminance


4. Faber-Castell Classic

Faber’s student version of coloured pencils. They are significantly less expensive than Polychromos and the difference in vibrancy, layering and bending ability is noticeable.

PROS Very affordable Decent quality for the price

CONS More difficult to blend and layer than artist quality pencils Less intense colours


5. Derwent Coloursoft

These wax-based, artist-quality pencils have a similar feel to Prismacolor Premier. They are very soft (as the name implies) and the pigments are rich and intense. They don’t feel as waxy as Prismacolor (a good thing).


Price wise, they’re more expensive than Prismacolor Premier (up to twice the price depending on where you look) but quite a bit cheaper than Faber-Castell Polychromos.

PROS Very rich, vibrant colours Soft, buttery feel makes applying colour easy Very easy to blend Not as waxy as Prismacolor Premier

CONS Quite a lot more expensive than Prismacolor Premier despite being very similar Don’t hold a sharp point for long


6. Derwent Studio

These are a wax-based, artist quality pencil. Like Prismacolor’s Verithin, Derwent’s Studio pencil have a firmer core ideal for detailed work. I prefer these to Verithin because they lay down colour more easily but, as with Verithin, you may want a softer set of pencils as well.

PROS More resilient to breakages Holds a point and is ideal for sharp detail

Quite rich colours for a harder pencil

CONS

More difficult to blend and layer than Coloursoft


7. Derwent Academy

Derwent’s student version of coloured pencils. They are significantly less expensive than Coloursoft and the difference in vibrancy, layering and bending ability is noticeable.

PROS Very affordable

Good quality for the price

CONS More difficult to blend and layer than artist quality pencils Less intense colours

8. Caran d’Ache Luminance

About the highest quality pencils available. Being wax- based, they layer and blend better than Polychromos and the colours are more opaque. They are similar to Prismacolor Premier in that regard. However, they are firmer and hold a point better. The reason I don’t recommend Luminance for most, is

purely down to price. At $100 USD / £85 for a set of 40, they make Polychromos look mid-range! Professional artists like them because they are as lightfast a pencil as you’ll get.


PROS Rich, vibrant colours that are very opaque, even on a toned surface. Very easy to blend and layer Resilient to breakages No set of pencil is more lightfast

CONS Very expensive You may still want additional harder pencils for precise work Not a huge range of colours

9. Caran d-Ache Pablo

Pablo have a firmer core than Luminance, are less opaque and hold a sharp point much better. However, the difference is not as stark as it is with say Prismacolor’s soft Premier range and their harder Verithin range.

I actually think that for newcomers, Pablo offer a better all- round option than Luminance (assuming budget isn’t an issue) and are a bit less expensive.


PROS

Wider range of colours compared to Luminance

Holds a point and is ideal for sharp detail

Rich, vibrant colours

Nice balance between a hard and soft core pencil

CONS

Very expensive

I think Polychromos are a better all- round pencil and are less expensive


10. Koh-I-Noor Polycolor


These are wax-based, artist-quality pencils. Like Prismacolor they are about the most affordable in the artist quality classification (though Prismacolor are still cheaper on amazon.com at the time of writing).

Polycolor have a growing fanbase. Some artists say they combine the best qualities of the Prismacolor Premier (soft feel and rich tones) with the resilience and point-homing abilities of Polychromos. Professional artists question their lightfastness ratings however. I think a set of 36 or 48 make an excellent set for newcomers who are happy to pay for artist quality.

PROS Really vibrant and rich colours that offer great coverage Holds a point very well Affordable artist quality pencils Nice balance between a hard and soft core pencil

CONS Lightfastness is difficult to be sure about for those that are concerned Not the same layering and blending capacity as the more expensive competitors but still very good

There are obviously other brands to the 10 above on the market. Notable omissions are: • Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor

• Holbein Artist

I have no experience with either (Holbein are extremely expensive as they have to be imported from Japan). From other online reviews, neither is a pencil that I would consider purchasing ahead of other brands listed above.

Recommended Pencils

Let me reiterate here...

You can make great coloured pencil art with all the above and technique is far more important than the materials you choose.

With that said, here are the pencils I recommend:


1. If budget isn’t a major concern:

Derwent’s Procolour may prove to be a contender but it’s too early to say. Where most other pencils are a little too soft or a little too firm, Polychromos strike the perfect balance, with Pablo not too far behind. A set of 30 - 36 is ample to start with.

Personally, I prefer Polychromos and they’re not as expensive. Irrespective of price, I think they’re a better all round pencil, especially for portraits. Both Polychromos and Pablo have excellent lightfastness ratings. But again, don’t let this influence your choice if you’re a newcomer.


2. If You’re on a budget but want artist quality:



Go for Prismacolor Premier - a set of 48 can be picked up for less than $20 USD. These are about the most affordable artist quality pencils on the market and you can create amazing art with them.

A great alternative is Koh-I-Noor’s Polycolor in a set of 36 or 48. Some will argue that they are a better option than Prismacolor so go with what has the best deal on when you come to purchase.




3. If you’re on a tight budget:

Go for one of the following student quality ranges, based on any offers and what’s available in your country:

• Prismacolor Scholar set of 48 or 60 (sometimes the set of 60 is cheaper on Amazon!) • Faber-Castell Classic set of 36 • Derwent Academy set of 36


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