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Which colored pencils are the best?

Some people leave colored pencils behind as a kid, but you can create incredible artworks with the right colored pencils. Whether you’re buying them to complete coloring books or make fine art, choosing the best colored pencils for the task is essential. 

Learning the difference between wax-based, oil-based, and water-based colored pencils is the first step to selecting the right ones for you, but there’s more to consider, including hardness and blend-ability. Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils are the top choice for anyone looking to make art with colored pencils.

What to know before you buy colored pencils

Colored pencil types

You can find three types of colored pencils on the market: wax-based, oil-based and water-based. The difference between each is simply the type of binder used to hold the pigment together, but it gives each particular properties.

Wax-based colored pencils are the most common type. If you’re unsure what type of colored pencils you have, they’re probably wax-based. They can vary from reasonably hard to extremely soft, with the softest options being highly opaque, vivid and easy to blend. 

Oil-based colored pencils are far less common than wax options. They have a harder consistency, making them easier to produce clean, definite lines, which is a benefit in certain types of artwork. You can use them to great artistic effect, but it requires immense skill. 

Water-based colored pencils are also known as watercolor pencils. You can use them dry, and they’ll behave like other colored pencils, or you can add water for a similar effect to watercolor paints. 


Colored pencils can have cores ranging from hard to extremely soft and buttery. The harder the core, the easier it is to draw fine detail, as this requires clean, decisive lines. Softer cores are better for coloring in large areas and blending, but working with them is messier. Depending on what you want from your colored pencils, you may need some soft and some hard. 


Some colored pencils are highly opaque, so they only need one or two layers for full, vivid coverage. Others are more transparent, so you’ll need to layer them effectively for a greater degree of coverage. Options with a higher opacity are considered superior, but there are times when you might want more transparent results.

What to look for in quality colored pencils

Color range

Consider how many colors you get in your set of colored pencils. Small sets will only give you a limited range of colors, while large sets can feature more than 150 different shades, so you’re ready to draw anything.


For many art styles, you’ll want to blend different colors where they meet on the page, so the line is less harsh and more realistic. Softer pencils tend to blend more easily than harder ones. 


Some colored pencils come in a tin or even a roll-up fabric case. This lets you keep your colored pencils organized, so it’s easier to find the right color when you need it. 

How much you can expect to spend on colored pencils

You can buy small sets of colored pencils or more extensive sets of basic colored pencils for less than $5. On the other end of the spectrum, large sets of high-quality colored pencils can cost more than $100.

Colored pencils FAQ

Do you need different colored pencils for different uses? 

A. Yes. There’s no one-size-fits-all colored pencil. If you’re buying colored pencils for kids or you want to try your hand at adult coloring books, basic hard wax-based colored pencils will do just fine.

Suppose you want to use colored pencils to create landscapes, portraits, still life drawings and so on. In that case, you may want soft wax coloring pencils as their buttery texture blends more easily, or you could experiment with watercolor pencils.

With their harder texture, oil-based colored pencils are great for fine detail work and can produce some wonderful results, but they can be hard to draw with, especially for less experienced artists. Some drawings for which you may choose to use a range of different colored pencil types, so don’t feel as though you must limit yourself to one variety only.

What are student and professional colored pencils? 

A. Student colored pencils are decent but not exceptional, while professional colored pencils are high-end options suitable for serious artwork. Professional pencils have a greater concentration of pigment than student options, making their colors more opaque and vivid on the page. Very basic colored pencils are unlikely to be labeled either student or professional. 

What are the best colored pencils to buy?

Top colored pencils

Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils

Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils

What you need to know: These professional-grade colored pencils are soft and buttery for easy blending. 

What you’ll love: The colors are vivid and highly opaque. You have a choice from various set sizes, from 21-150 colors. The blender pencil is included.

What you should consider: Expensive

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top colored pencils for the money

Arteza Colored Pencils

Arteza Colored Pencils

What you need to know: These are decent mid-range colored pencils at an affordable price. 

What you’ll love: The ergonomic triangular shape keeps you comfortable during long art sessions. They have a soft wax core, and the pack includes 48 colors. 

What you should consider: The quality is inconsistent.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Castle Art Supplies Watercolor Pencils Set

Castle Art Supplies Watercolor Pencils Set

What you need to know: This is a set of 72 watercolor pencils for those who want to branch out from standard coloring pencils.

What you’ll love: These are suitable for both wet and dry use. They are easy to blend and layer, and they come in a quality storage tin.

What you should consider: They are not as vibrant as higher-end watercolor pencils.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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