The 8 Best Colored Pencils of 2020
Add some pigment to your life
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You might think of colored pencils as just a regular No. 2s with red or blue tips, but they’re so much more than that. Their tips are bound with either a wax-based or oil-based substance to hold the color together and this can make the difference between professional grade pencils and pencils that are designed just for fun. Professional grade pencils are made with artists in mind, while others are more suitable for kids and the classroom or aspiring adult beginners. With so many choices, we put together a list of our favorite colored pencils to buy today.
Best Overall: Prismacolor Premier Soft Core
Prismacolor Premier colored pencils are of excellent quality. The softcore lead offers superior blending and a wide range of colors. These are artist-quality pencils, but they’re suitable for beginners as well — at least beginners who want to start out with the best-colored pencils available. They’re soft wax-based, so they don’t offer the really superior quality of oil-based pencils, but oil-based pencils can be quite steep in price. They’re typically not worth it for anyone other than the most accomplished, serious artists, but these Prismacolor Premier pencils come at a great price.
They’re said to move more smoothly over paper surfaces than their competitors, and the colors are labeled, which is a nice touch. This pack comes with 72 pencils, although you can purchase other sizes from 24-packs up to 150 pencils depending on how many colors you want. Prismacolor has been making art products for more than 75 years.
Best for Stress Relief: Black Widow Wax Colored Pencils
The name — not to mention the spider depicted on the box — might be a little scary for kids, but these are adult pencils. And while spiders might send many grown-ups scrambling up on tabletops, Black Widow bills these pencils as “stressbusters.” No doubt they’re referring to the soothing act of coloring, but Black Widow pencils require less sharpening, which means less aggravation. So snuggle in with your coloring book and relax (perhaps with a glass of wine?).
This set comes with 24 professional-caliber pencils with soft-core 3.3mm lead. Black Widow offers a 12-month warranty, but it doesn’t cover normal wear and tear.
Best Oil-Based: LYRA Rembrandt Polycolor Art Pencils
LYRA’s Rembrandt Polycolor pencils are a little on the pricey side, but they say you get what you pay for and this package comes with a lot. You get 72 pencils designed for serious artists, as well as an eraser and a sharpener. You can also buy a simple 12-pencil case if you prefer, or go all out with the 105-pencil kit.
These pencils work well on textiles, synthetics, wood, as well as paper. They’re oil-based, considered superior by artists, and they’re water-resistant. They’re capable of semi-transparent layering, and the colors range from bold and attention-grabbing to more quiet pastels.
Best for Adult Beginners: Staedtler Ergosoft
These aren’t quite professional-grade colored pencils, but they’re not for school children, either. They’re most suitable for adults who are just getting into coloring books. Staedlter’s Ergosoft pencils are durable and the vibrant colors saturate and blend nicely. They get high marks for their triangular grip — the “ergo” in the name indicates ergonomic — and the way they glide over a surface. The case is neat, too. The pencils stand up rather than lay flat, and there are 24 of them.
Best for Students: Prismacolor Scholar Colored Pencils
Prismacolor wins in this category, too, with these student-grade pencils that are ideal for school projects. The quality of color isn’t quite that of Prismacolor’s Premier coloring pencils, but the leads blend very easily and the pigments are good. Kids get 60 different colors to experiment with.
The leads are a combination of soft and hard wax-based, and they have hardened cores to stand up to heavier hands without breaking. The pencils come pre-sharpened. They’re a bit less expensive than the Premier option, so you might want to give them a try even if you’re an adult just starting out. You can graduate to Prismacolor’s top-notch offering after you’ve earned your Picasso stripes.
Best Budget: Sargent Art Coloring Pencils
Sargent Art delivers a pack of 50 colored pencils for just a few bucks. That’s a price that’s really hard to beat. The colors are good and they cover a wide range, and each pencil is labeled (the barrels are even color-coordinated). And you get a lot of variety. The leads are 3.3mm and tough, which is enough to handle kids’ hands but appropriate for beginner adults, too. They’re suitable for artists age three and up. These pencils have wax cores, which makes them more suitable for non-professional use. They’re hardcore and they don’t require a lot of sharpening.
Best Leads: Faber-Castell Polychromos
According to Faber Castell, “polychromos” translates to “many colors.” This set offers only 12 pencils, but you can buy them in 24, 60, and even 120 pencil tins, too, and they’re of superior artist quality.
The leads are 3.8mm, and the pigments are super-rich and acid-free. Application is smooth, and the SV-bonded tips are break-resistant. They’re also waterproof, fade-resistant and won’t smudge. Best yet, they’re oil-based, not wax-based, so blooms and feathers are pretty much nonexistent. Faber-Castell has been designing pigments and colors for various products since 1908, so you really can’t go wrong with this one if you’re a serious artist or even aspiring to become one.
Best Classic: Crayola Pencils
And then there’s Crayola, the name in coloring anything since 1885. These colored pencils are pitched as being for adults, but they’re perfect for kids, too, although they’re not quite as inexpensive as some others on this list. The colors are bright enough to appeal to kids, and they apply smoothly to paper. In fact, they’re designed specifically for use with coloring books.
The cores are hard and the grip is comfortable, even for small hands. The pencils — 50 of them in the box — come pre-sharpened, and Crayola even offers a coloring technique guide and a color wheel on their website to give beginners a boost in the right direction.