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How to choose colored pencils

Updated on June 5, 2012

By Leslie A. Panfil

About 12 years ago my husband went on a business trip to Las Vegas. Rough tour of duty – I know. My daughter was an infant and I held down the fort. When he returned he brought back with him a lovely wooden box containing 120 of the most beautiful pencils I’d ever seen. I spent a day just running my hand over them. I’d never worked in colored pencil before and I was a little lost. But, I knew what I wanted to draw – that beautiful little baby of mine.

Probably the most compelling reason to work with colored pencils is the control. Fine detail, soft or vibrant color can all be achieved with colored pencil. While the materials are few and relatively inexpensive, it pays to invest in a decent set of pencils up front. So, here is a rundown of some of the most prevalent pencils on the market and their qualities.


The brand of pencils my husband purchased for me was Faber-Castell. True to their name Polychromos (many colors) pencils are offered in 120 colors. They won’t smudge and are light-fast. Made up of a sturdy lead, they are still considered a soft pencil.

Thank goodness they were a gift because I would have never spent the money to purchase them for myself. At nearly $600 for a full set in a wood case and in a tin they run about $290, they are pricy. You may want to start off with something more affordable like the 24 pack that retails for around $57.


While it is hard to imagine not finding what you want or need in a full set of 120 colors, I have had to go to Prismacolor brand on occasion.

Like Faber-Castell’s Polychromos, Prismacolor colored pencils are considered a soft lead pencil. I find them to be a little waxier than Faber-Castell pencils. Their soft core make them blend easily and can help you achieve rich, vibrant colors.

They come in a wood box set of 120 pencils also. The price for such a box is about $136. A starter set of 12 begins at $10 but you may want to get off with a decent start you and invest in a 24 pencil set which will cost around $25. When I teach portrait drawing classes, I recommend students purchase the 48 pencil set which runs around $40.

If you invest in a Faber- Castell you may only need to fill your collection with individual Prismacolor pencils. Many art and craft stores sell pencils individually. When you purchase them individually they run from $1.75-$3.00 a piece.

Derwent Artist’s Pencils

Comparable to Faber-Castell and Prismacolor, Derwent’s Artist’s Pencils are slightly waxy texture in texture and are ideal for layering and blending. They are also available in 120 colors. A set of 24 pencils costs around $30.

Derwents also makes a softer lead called Coloursoft. It has a similar texture and ease of blending as the Artists color pencils but a softer lead. It comes in 72 colors as opposed to the Artist’s series of 120. The company just came out with a Coloursoft skin tone series that I would love to try.


Prismacolor also makes a pencil series called Verithins. These pencils have a harder lead and are excellent for achieving a hard edge. I use them in my portrait pieces when working with hair. The hard lead allows you to get a sharp point on the end of your stroke.

Derwent Studio Pencils

Like Prismacolor’s Verithins, Derwent’s Studio Pencils are ideal for a crisper, more precise drawing style. The barrel of the pencil is hexagon in shape for an easy grip something you are bound to appreciate if you are interested in detailed illustration work.

Whatever pencil brand you choose, if you love to draw, you will find colored pencil are rewarding medium. It can be a profitable one too. I teach portrait drawing and have a steady stream of commission pieces going at any given time. I frequently post work in progress on my blog.


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      manisha.solanki 13 months ago


    • Georgina_writes profile image

      Georgina_writes 5 years ago from Dartmoor

      Beautiful drawings. I'm a pastel artist and know how difficult it can be to get a fine line. I do have a set of coloured pencils, and your article has tempted me to look them out again. Rating up.