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Updated July 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best colored pencils

If there’s one item that belongs in every art supply collection, it’s a set of colored pencils. The medium is a favorite for fine, detailed work, including coloring books, drawing projects, and drafting. 

Colored pencils come in a rainbow of vibrant shades, particularly primary colors, jewel tones, neons, and pastels. Several manufacturers now make inclusive sets that feature all skin tones and true-to-life colors. Besides an impressive color range, they come in a few different varieties, including erasable, watercolor, and toddler-friendly pencils. 

With so many brands and varieties of colored pencils available, it’s easy to feel spoiled for choice. To find the best set for your creative needs, however, it’s important to examine a few key features. 

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Crayola manufactures more colored pencils than any other company in the world. The company also offers free access to printable coloring pages on its website.

How to buy the best colored pencils

What are colored pencils made of?

Colored pencils have a simple design that features a wooden body with a pigmented core. Each core contains a different formulation of binding agents and additives, which impacts how hard or soft the pencil is. The core may be made of wax, oil, or charcoal, and there are some pencils that are water-soluble. Pigments vary in terms of concentration, saturation, and intensity, and in turn, they affect how vibrant and lightfast the colors are. 

What are colored pencils used for?

Colored pencils are typically used for coloring, sketching, cartooning, and drafting projects. A few varieties of pencils are better for certain projects than others.

Wax-based pencils are ideal for everyday coloring because they’re inexpensive and easy for anyone to control, including novice artists.

Oil-based pencils apply color slowly and as a result, offer a controlled coloring experience. 

Water-soluble and watercolor pencils have a binder that reacts to water and transforms dry pencil strokes into fluid paint. These are popular for creating multidimensional works of art by both coloring and painting. 

Charcoal pencils are suitable for detailed shading and blending and are often used for advanced coloring techniques by experienced artists.

Hard vs. soft colored pencils

When choosing colored pencils for specific projects, it’s helpful to know the difference between hard and soft pencils. 

Hard pencils are typically used for detailed work because they create fine, crisp lines. However, they’re not the best choice for coloring large spaces. 

Soft pencils have a buttery texture that glides across the paper and covers large areas. One of the drawbacks, unfortunately, is that certain soft pencils can leave a grainy texture on the paper.

Colored pencils for kids vs. adults

Although colored pencils are used by people of all ages, there are a few key differences between sets for kids and sets for adults. 

Sets for kids tend to be made of nontoxic materials and undergo rigorous quality and safety testing before they become available. Most of these colored pencil sets are designed for everyday coloring or school projects, and they’re not as bright or blendable as better-quality adult pencils. 

Sets for adults generally fall into two categories: casual and artist-grade. Casual coloring sets, like most kids’ sets, are suitable for arts and crafts projects or adult coloring books. Artist-grade sets, sometimes called scholar sets, are geared toward creative and professional use.

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Staff Tip
For kids and adults who like coloring on the go, there are a few travel-friendly colored pencil sets available. Some of them come with a durable protective case made of plastic.
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Features to look for in colored pencils

Packaging

Colored pencils are packaged in durable cardboard boxes that are suitable for long-term storage. Although they may sustain wear and tear, especially when they’re jostled inside backpacks, they generally last the duration of the pencils. 

Artist-grade sets usually come in better-quality cardboard packaging, and some of them come in fine metal, plastic, or wooden cases. There are a few sets that come in zipper travel cases or tube containers. 

Sharpener

Whereas crayons often come in a box with a built-in sharpener, it's rare to see this feature in a colored pencil case. Instead, artists purchase mechanical or electric pencil sharpeners. Mechanical sharpeners are recommended over electric ones because they’re less likely to shred or damage the pencils, particularly high-quality pencils. However, artists using affordable pencils for casual coloring projects prefer the convenience of electric sharpeners.

Color range

The color range largely depends on how many pencils come in a set. Basic sets include 12 colors that at the very least include most or all 7 colors of the rainbow. Other pencils are sold in sets of 24, 36, or 48. Each assortment features several shades of rainbow colors, ranging from vibrant magenta to sky blue. Deluxe colored pencil sets have anywhere from 72 to 180 colors. 

Labels

With so many unique shades, it’s sometimes hard to remember the names of all the colors in colored pencil sets. To make it easier, some manufacturers print names or numbers on the pencils for easy reference. A few sets also include a shade chart or color wheel showing how the colors relate to one another. 

Special varieties

There are a few special varieties of colored pencils designed to meet unique creative needs. Metallic and glitter pencils, for example, add sparkle to artwork, while erasable pencils are forgiving and versatile. These sets may come with erasers as well. Classroom pencil sets, sometimes sold in bulk, include colors frequently used in art projects. Some of the newest ones available are those featuring an inclusive shade range for skin tones. 

Burnishing is an advanced coloring technique that involves blending and layering colors until there’s no trace of the paper’s tooth beneath the drawing.  

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Best accessories for colored pencils

Pencil case: Protect your colored pencils and carry them with you in a sturdy pencil case. Hard or soft, metal or fabric, you can find a pencil case to protect a few, a hundred, or more pencils from damage.

Pencil sharpenerThere are plenty of pencil sharpeners to choose from, including those that are suitable for artist-grade pencils and those that are just fine for everyday pencils. There are mechanical models that attach to your desk, electric sharpeners with high-capacity reservoirs, and compact sharpeners you can take on the go.

Coloring book for adultsAdults have discovered the calming, meditative effect of coloring, and there are hundreds of coloring books to choose from with imagery and themes ranging from forests to oceans to fantastical creatures to repetitive patterns. You can find coloring books for adults with simple designs that you can finish quickly or intricate images on high-quality paper suitable for framing. 

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Staff Tip
Many artists invest in a spinning caddy or upright pencil organizer to store their colored pencils. It keeps the desk tidy and makes it much easier to see the full range of colors with a quick glance.
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How much do colored pencils cost?

Depending on how many you need and what you will use them for, colored pencils come at a wide range of price points. Whether you're looking for back-to-school supplies for a young child or you're a professional artist, there are colored pencils available to suit your needs.

Inexpensive

Sets for kids and casual coloring sets for adults typically cost $5 to $20. Many of these are made by reputable manufacturers, including Crayola and Prismacolor. The sets may include anywhere from 12 to 100 pencils.

Mid-range

Sets priced between $20 and $40 include artist-grade pencils with up to 72 colors. They’re notably better quality and more durable than their less expensive counterparts. This price range also includes deluxe assortments of everyday colored pencils with 180 colors or more.

Expensive

The most expensive sets cost $50 to $100. These include deluxe artist-grade pencils that often come in attractive cases. They’re popular for experienced artists looking for the broadest color range available. 

Tips

  • Color in a well-lit area. It’s much easier to blend and shade if you have the right amount of light, preferably from sunlight or a desk lamp.
  • Combine colored pencils with other media. Colored pencils can be used with markers, crayons, or fine-point pens for detailed work or bullet journaling.
  • Avoid dropping your pencils. These pencils are fairly durable and resilient, but if they’re dropped the wood can shatter or the core fall out. 
  • Check manufacturer websites. Many colored pencil manufacturers provide free access to art projects, coloring tutorials, educational content, and/or printable coloring pages. 
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Some colors are used more often than others and so wear down more quickly. It’s a good idea to have an extra set of colored pencils on hand so replacements are available as soon as you need them. 

FAQ

Q. How long will a set of colored pencils last?

A. Theoretically, pencils last until they’re worn down. However, like other art supplies, they have a shelf life. Once they’re opened, they might last anywhere from two to five years. If they’re not used often and kept in a drawer away from UV light, they can remain usable for up to a decade.

Q. How do I remove colored pencil marks from walls?

A. Rest assured there are a few ways to remove colored pencil marks from walls short of applying a new coat of paint. A kneaded eraser can remove the most prominent markings, but not all of them. Instead, a dilute mixture of baking soda and warm water might be more effective. Some people find success using bleach-free laundry detergent as well. Eraser sponges can remove pigment from walls, but unfortunately, they can also strip off some paint at the same time. 

Q. When are kids ready to graduate from crayons to colored pencils?

A. There are a few toddler-friendly sets with jumbo pencils that are easier for younger kids to hold. Although kids decide to start using traditional pencils at different ages, most manufacturers list four or five as the recommended age. Once kids develop their coloring skills, they might be ready for an artist-grade colored pencil set. 
 

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