Traditional Colored Pencils

Traditional colored pencils are colored pencils that are not soluble in water. They are a wonderful media for creating artwork. Art quality pencils are rich in pigment and color, and they are quick to clean up and very portable.


Colored pencils consist of pigment, usually encased in wood. Some brands have the pigment bound with wax, and others with vegetable oil. The colored pencils that are bound with wax can tend to have 'wax bloom' occur on the surface, and they can crumble more onto the page, as well as break easier than oil-based colored pencils. .


Traditional colored pencils, while not being soluble in water, can be partially dissolved in solvents, such as terpentine, in order to blend them easier. Heat can also be used to blend waxed based colored pencils, as can colorless blender pencils and sticks. If you must use solvents, try to use something like Zest-it, which is nonflammable, nontoxic, and biodegradable.


Colored pencils can be layered very successfully, and some artists create very photo realistic paintings with them. They are also used quite successfully by artists who enjoy fantasy art. Colored pencil art can be brilliant and very beautiful, and is a wonderful choice for the flower artist. They are perfect for sketching, taking on vacation, and enhancing a journal.


In general, the colored pencils with the thickest leads tend to be softer leads than the thinner leaded colored pencils, which can be fairly hard. Wax based colored pencils tend to be very soft and creamy when laying them down on the page.


An important issue to consider with colored pencils, or with any art material used for fine art, is the lightfastness rating of the material. If a painting has been framed and is exposed to light, it may fade over time unless lightfast pencils have been used. The pencils with high lightfast ratings tend to be more expensive than regular ones, but just because a colored pencil says it is an artist quality pencil, this does not mean that it is lightfast. Reds and purples typically are more prone to fading than other colors.


Colored pencils may be purchased individually or in sets. The best way to decide which brand of pencils you like best is to buy a few of each brand in 'open stock' before buying a large set. Try the pencils on several types of paper before you decide which ones you like the most. Sets can come in cardboard, tins, and wood. select a brand that you can find replacement pencils in 'open stock' so you do not have to keep buying full sets every time you run out of a favorite color! You can then replace the colors that you use the most by buying individual colors. Most sets come pre-sharpened, but some do not- if you are serious about colored pencil art, you might want to invest in an electric pencil sharpener. Feel free to mix your favorite colors of your favorite brands instead of choosing only one brand of colored pencil.


Colored pencils can last virtually forever- there is no drying up as can happen with paints. Colored pencils that are 30 years old are still perfectly good. Take care not to drop your pencils though, as the lead can break inside the wood casing. When this happens, a large piece of lead can just fall out of the pencil. When picking out individual pencils from a display, try to make sure the lead is centered in the casing, since if it is not, it will sharpen unevenly and the lead will break easily. Also make sure the pencil is straight and not 'warped'.

Major Brands of Traditional Colored Pencils

Faber-Castell Polychromos


Caran d'Ache Luminance

Caran d'Ache Pablo

  • Soft
  • Lightfast ratings
  • Oil based
  • 120 colors
  • Pre-sharpened
  • Germany
  • Colors match W-S Line
  • Open Stock
  • Sets
  • Expensive


  • Soft
  • Highly Lightfast
  • Wax-Based
  • 76 Colors
  • Pre-sharpened
  • Switzerland
  • Open Stock
  • Sets
  • Very Expensive

  • Soft
  • Lightfast ratings
  • Oil based
  • 120 colors
  • Pre-sharpened
  • Switzerland
  • Colors match W-S Line
  • Open Stock
  • Sets
  • Expensive

Faber-Castell Polychromos are an excellent colored pencil.


Colors in this line match their water-soluble pencils, pastel pencils, and pastel sticks.


Pencil Pictures


Color Charts


Lightfast Ratings

Caran d'Ache Luminance pencils were formulated to have the highest lightfast ratings of any pencil made.


They are buttery soft and blend like a dream. They do not easily crumble or break. The outside is beautiful cedar and nice to hold.


Pencil Pictures


Color Charts


Lightfast Ratings

Caran d'Ache Pablo pencils come in 120 gorgeous colors. Many are unique and bright, perfect for florals. They are very soft and do not break or crumble easily.


The Pablos match the

supracolor water-soluble line by Caran d'Ache. 


Pencil Pictures


Color Charts


Lightfast Ratings


What's Nice

Selection, availability, and color matching system. Great quality.


What's Not

Fairly expensive.





What's Nice

The colors and quality are fabulous.


What's Not

Very expensive. The names of the pencils are difficult to read and rather odd.


There is not a set of matching Water-soluble pencils.




What's Nice

Beautiful colors, and excellent quality. Backed by the same colors in water-soluble pencils, they are great to use together.


What's Not

Expensive, and for that reason more difficult to locate in most art stores.





Prismacolor Premier

Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor


Blick Studio Artists

  • Soft
  • Wax-Based
  • 132 Colors
  • Not sharpened
  • Mexico
  • Open Stock
  • Sets
  • Matches their thinner Verithin pencils and their fat Art-Stix
  • Moderate $


  • Lightfast ratings
  • Oil based
  • 72 colors
  • Pre-sharpened
  • Germany
  • Colors match W-S Line
  • Open Stock
  • Sets
  • Moderate $

  • Lightfast ratings
  • Wax-Based
  • 72 Colors
  • Pre-sharpened
  • Czech Republic
  • Open Stock
  • Sets
  • Inexpensive

Prismacolor Premier pencils are available in virtually every art and craft store in the USA, and has been a long-time favorite with many artists.


They are smooth, but break easily and have a waxy bloom.


Pencil Pictures


Color Charts


Lightfast Ratings

Lyra Rembrandt pencils have a thinner than usual diameter, but thick cores that make it easy to lay down a lot of color fast. They do not leave crumbs on your paper, and do not break and snap.


Pencil Pictures


Color Charts


Lightfast Ratings

Blick Studio Artists pencils are the store brand of Dick Blick Art Materials. Made in the Czech Republic, they are likely made by Koh-I-Noor, a company that makes good pencils. Blick formulated these to be similar to Prismacolors.


Pencil Pictures


Color Charts


Lightfast Ratings


What's Nice

Very affordable, and available in Open Stock. Creamy, and available in a LOT of colors.


The wood sets that open up to display all of the pencils are very nice.


What's Not

Easy to accidently sharpen off the pencil names.


Break easily and the cores (leads) snap off easily when sharp.


Wax bloom.


The matching Water-soluble pencils only have 36 pencils.


The tins are pretty on the outside, but pretty worthless to carry the pencils in since they are not held securly. Flimsy plastic trays must be balanced all over the place to see all the pencils.





What's Nice

Beautiful cedar casings, with large color coatings on the end caps. Easy to read names.


Small pencil diameter, but a thick core.


What's Not

Pull out trays are a flimsy plastic and easy to dump the pencils out.




What's Nice

Very affordable, and available in Open Stock. Pencil names are on either end, so you cannot accidently sharpen them off.


What's Not

You must order from Dick Blick, or go to their stores to find them.


There is not a set of matching Water-soluble pencils.


Derwent Coloursoft Pencils

Derwent Studio Pencils

Derwent Artist Pencils

  • Very Soft
  • Wax Based
  • 72 Colors
  • Pre-sharpened
  • UK made
  • Open Stock
  • Sets
  • Moderate $


  • Hard
  • Wax Based
  • 72 Colors
  • Pre-sharpened
  • UK made
  • Open Stock
  • Sets
  • Moderate $

  • Fairly Hard
  • Wax based
  • 120 colors
  • Pre-sharpened
  • UK made
  • Sets
  • Moderate $

Derwent Coloursofts are exceptionally soft, and thick.


The colors are very nice, they are easy to find, and affordable.


They do not break and snap very easily.


Pencil Pictures


Color Charts


Lightfast Ratings

Derwent Studio pencils are much smaller and much harder than the Colorsofts or the Artist pencils. They are likely the hardest pencil on the market.


They are thinner than the Artist or Coloursoft pencils, and good for doing detail work.


Pencil Pictures


Color Charts


Lightfast Ratings

Derwent Artist pencils are becoming difficult to find in the US since the Colorsofts have arrived. They are a fairly hard pencil and are now difficult to find in open stock.


They match the smaller, harder Studio pencils.


Pencil Pictures


Color Charts


Lightfast Ratings


What's Nice

Affordable, and available in Open Stock. Nice shades, soft, and lays down a lot of color fast.


What's Not

There is not a set of matching Water-soluble pencils. Some artists find them a little too soft.


 




What's Nice

With a large color selections, these are nice pencils for fine details.


What's Not

Generally you have to order them online in order to find them in open stock. They are hard, and tend to be rather scratchy.




What's Nice

The hardness makes them good for smaller details.


What's Not

Difficult to find, and harder than other colored pencils.