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How To Choose Colored Pencils

Choosing the right colored pencils

There are many different pencils and brands, and each have their own pros and cons. Even though EVERY colored pencil brand has a different mixture of oils and wax to create a specific brand, they are still broken up into 2 categories, wax and oil. Depending on the company's description typically determines how they’re categorized in this download. From this point on I will refer to the pencils as “oil” and as “wax” because all pencils have both binding agents- and this tends to make it easier for those who are searching for pencils to try based on if they like a harder core or a softer core of pigment.

Because there are so many different brands I decided just to list some of the more popular brands- it would probably take up 100+ pages otherwise! So listed below we will identify the most commonly used pencils in both categories.

“Oil” Based Brands

Recommended for any subject that has a large amount of detail, like fur, stone and botanicals. Oil Based Pencils or colored pencils with a higher content of oil have a harder core, a better lightfast rating and have a stronger point. Listed below you will find the most popular among professional artists.

**Faber-Castell Polychromos- often referred to as “Poly’s” these are excellent in coverage and keeping a sharp point, blend well and also can be used with other mediums. With a large variety of colors to choose from they are beautifully vibrant and easily a favorite. Polychromos range in sets of 24 to 120, and are excellent in lightfastness. Another perk to this brand is they can be found in a loose or open stock. Which means you can purchase individual pencils in many online art stores.

To shop Polys visit:

Derwent Lightfast- 100% lightfast with a sturdy core, that is also creamy in texture, and Derwents only oil based colored pencil. These pencils are guaranteed 100% lightfast for 100 years under museum conditions..With sets ranging from 12 to 100 you get a nice variety with the blending as an option to further colors. You are also able to find these in loose or open stock in many online art stores.

To shop visit:

Lyra Rembrant- A bit more pocket-book friendly compared to other oil based brands these are among the favorites. On top of the pricing they also deliver some really great lightfastness options and are considered a good compromise if you cannot afford the higher rated pencils. You can also find these in loose or open stock.

To shop visit:

“Wax” Based brands

Recommended for subjects that have more of a smooth texture, like skin. However, these types of pencils can be used on any subject and many “wax” brands are among the favorites for use because of the application of the pigment and the vibrancy of the colors. “Wax” based brands of colored pencils tend to have a higher selection of colors as compared to the “oil” based brands but they typically have less lightfastness and their own troubles that follow.

Easy on the wallet with loads of colors, these pencils typically have a buttery feel when in use plus they blend well and cover paper easily. With these pencils you have to watch for wax bloom. As an artist if you have a heavy-hand and have applied multiple layers and a waxy film that is grey or white covers the dark areas of your artwork. This happens when the wax binder oxidizes and typically happens within a few days to a few weeks after application. If you do happen to get a wax bloom you can take a soft dry cloth and rub the affected area gently. However you do run the risk of smudging, or even removing pigment from the area. Another way you can get rid of wax bloom is to heat up the area that is affected with a blow dryer (not recommended if you have pastel or chalk pastel accompanying) or an Icarus board. You can also rid yourself of worry by spraying your work with a fixative- although it is not necessary, and is a method that can ruin your art, change colors, and I do not like to use.

Derwent Chromaflow- Chromaflow pencils- as per the website- as wax based and aren’t considered lightfast. However, these are extremely popular pencils because of their creamy application and their vibrant colors. Chromaflow pencils range in sets from 12 to 72 and they do not plan on expanding this line of colors.

“Specific lightfast ratings for these pencils are not published but they have been tested to perform comparably to other branded lightfast products...”


To shop visit:

Arteza- Vast quantity of colors, and application is smooth. This brand has been tested for lightfastness and has the asterisks printed on them for easy reference. They come in sets of up to 120 colors. The pencils are durable and easy on the wallet.

To shop visit:

Prismacolor Premier- Prismacolor pencils, or Prismas, are used by professionals all the time. This is a pencil set that holds a special place in my heart. This is where I started and was the first colored pencils I was introduced to. I have a massive collection- that I don’t use- but I keep them for the reminder. These pencils blend very well, although sometimes you get a pencil, mostly the white, that crumbles as you sharpen it. For the Prismas I would recommend an electric sharpener because of the flaking and breaking of the cores- they’re very soft. Prismas also have a lightfast rating and aren’t a terrible beginner choice and I find that they are good for professionals and students alike. Sets available up to 150 colors.

To shop visit:

Castle Arts*- Castle Art pencils are also friendly to your wallet. These pencils apply smooth, but some inconsistencies in the pencil cores themselves can be a little more chalk-like. Sets are sold as large as 120 colors and claim that the pencils have “lightfast qualities”. There aren’t any charts or markings to identify their quality of lightfastness. For this I have moved my set to a student level.

To shop visit:

**Caran d’Ache Pablos- This brand is lightfast and buttery and reminds me a lot of Prismas. They blend very well and also pair excellently with other brands of pencils as well as pastels. This brand sells sets up to 120 colors and as low as 12. The shafts are a hexagonal shape and fit nicely in between your fingers, also they don’t roll around like other pencils- specifically because of their shape. A bit expensive but we’ll worth it. You can also purchase this in loose or open stock on online stores.

To shop visit:

**Caran d’Ache Luminance- up to 100 colors these are very sturdy pencils. Their cores seem to be harder than the Pablo’s, but they mix very well with each other. With a soft core but sturdy for finer details, these pencils have become a favorite of mine. They are a little pricey, and excellent lightfastness, so worth it for what my goals are as an artist. They blend well and also have pencils colors in percentages (hue intensity), which are a huge help with tricky colors. You can also buy these in loose or open stock on online art stores.

To shop visit:

Black Widow*- These pencils are among the favorites of many and from what I’m seeing, and the bigger the set the better. These pencils fall in between Prismacolor and Faber-Castell with pricing and with performance. They are enticing with their black wood for the encasing of the cores, and really cool cover designs. One thing that I am seeing on different reviews is that it has a very large selection of yellows- and is also one of the main complaints with this and further wax bloom seems to become an issue after 4 to 5 layers. Further they sell in 3 sets of 24 each with the addition of colors in each set. Starting with the original black widow set, to the scorpion set and finally the cobra set- all three can be purchased together for a major discount. These pencils are not listed as having lightfastness and because of this I have placed them in the student grade category, but don’t let that deter you, I have heard many good things about these pencils.

To shop visit:

*Hasn’t been subjected to lightfast testing or has been but the results are not published for public view.

** Pencils that I own and use frequently/Prefer

What is Lightfastness?

Lightfastness is the permanence of color measured by the American standard test measure (ASTM) in the United States, in which the most permanent colors rate 1 or 2. The equivalent institute in Great Britain, The Blue Wool Scale, rates the most permanent colors at a 7 or 8.

Lightfastness is also a property of a colorant that measures how resistant to fading it is when it's exposed to light. When UV radiation reaches the colorant it essentially alters or breaks the chemical bond of the pigment causing colors to bleach, a process called photo degeneration. UV rays accelerate the fading of color.

If a manufacturer has their pencils tested you can find the individual pencil lightfast rating on their website, or on each of the pencils directly. You will see asterisks (***) that informs you on what that pencil is rated at. Depending on where the pencil was manufactured will determine if it is ASTM or Blue Wool Scale.

What are “Fugitive” Colors”?

Fugitive Colors are colors that are rated low lightfast in a set.

Fugitive colors typically fade very quickly and are not recommended to use if the portrait is going to be exposed to direct UV rays or certain lighting. You can protect your pieces by recommending framing under UV resistant glass.

Supporting media to colored pencils

I always get asked about supporting mediums for colored pencils, and I find that they are so versatile and play well with many different mediums and surfaces. Below you will find a list, it’s not extensive, but it will help you understand what route you can go with your colored pencils and how much fun they can be alone or used in a mixed medium piece.


PanPastels are small pans of compressed chalk pastels that you apply with a sponge. I use these in portraits that have a large background, you can also use these as a base layer as colored pencils draw over them beautifully.

PanPastel is the only brand, there is no other tool like it! These can get pricey but are truly a huge help when you have large areas to cover! They also blend very well with each other so if you make a mistake- they cover over each other quite nicely too.

To shop visit:

Pastel pencil brands


Faber-Castell pitt pastels

Caran d’Ache


Watercolor Pencils or Tray

Caran d’Ache




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