How to Choose the Right Colouring Pencil

How to Choose the Right Colouring Pencil

How to Choose the Right Colouring Pencil

Artists’ Colouring Pencils let you quickly liven up your drawings and sketches with a burst of colour. Popular with professionals and amateurs alike, coloured pencils are a great entry-level medium as they require so few materials to get started. Just grab some pencils and paper and you’re ready to go. In this blog post we’ll take a look at our whole range of traditional coloured pencils and compare their properties side by side to help you find the best pencil for your work.

Today’s Coloured Pencils are far removed from the colouring pencils you’ll remember from your childhood. Now accepted as a fine art medium in their own right, artists’ coloured pencils boast superb lightfastness, high pigmentation, broad colour ranges, excellent blending, smooth application and a resilient core. They’re also easily portable, so you can get drawing whenever creativity strikes. Whether you’re in the studio or working outdoors.

With so many pencils available, how do you choose?

There’s an incredibly broad range of colouring materials on offer for artists today – so much so that it can be difficult to know where to start looking. And before you start looking, there’s a few important questions you should ask yourself about what you need out of your pencil. Is a broad colour range important to you or are you happy working with a more restricted palette? Are pencils with only the very highest ligtfastness ratings important to your work? Would you prefer an oil or wax based pencil? Are you an artist looking to cut out animal-derived materials from your studio?

Photograph of pencil barrels showing brand names like Derwent, Faber-Castell and Caran d'Ache alongside pencil shavings.

Bear these questions in mind as you browse through the ranges below and we’ll guide you through the process of choosing the perfect pencil. Read on to find out more about all our traditional colouring pencils, or use the topics below to navigate.


Comparison Notes

Lightfastness is rated using either the Blue Wool Scale (ISO 105) or ASTM D-6901. Lightfast colours remain the same for 100 years under museum conditions. Find out more about lightfastness and how it is tested in our ‘Lightfastness Explained’ blog post. Some manufacturers do not disclose which of these methods they use, so comparisons between brands may not be exact.

Lightfastness Percentage is calculated from the percentage of colours rated Very Good (6 ISO 105 / I , II ASTM D-6901) or Excellent (7, 8 ISO 105 / I , II ASTM D-6901) in each pencil range. These ratings were taken from the manufacturer’s colour charts. You can download these charts on each of the product pages on our website.

Measurements are given for core sizes but these can vary up to 10%.

Layering performance is rated over 12 layers of colour.


What is a Coloured Pencil?

A Coloured Pencil is a drawing and sketching tool made from a coloured core encased in wood. Their colourful leads are made from pigments bound in a mixture of oil and wax. Wooden casing makes them easy to hold and sharpen, while also helping keep your fingers clean. Colouring pencils are a fantastic medium for artists of all abilities – whether you want to use them in a colouring book or are creating highly detailed illustrations. They’re perfect for artists who wish to combine their love for drawing and sketching with their passion for colour.

What is the difference between Wax and Oil Based Pencils?

The ingredients that go into making a colour pencil lead include all kinds of things from the pigment that determines the colour, to binding agents, extenders and a careful blend of oils and waxes. The recipe for a manufacturer’s lead is a closely guarded secret, but you’ll find most will describe their pencils as either oil or wax based. In reality it isn’t quite as simple as a ‘wax’ or ‘oil’ based pencil as most colour pencils are made from a mixture of the two. What you buy as a wax based pencil will include more waxes than oils in the mix, while the opposite is true of an oil based pencil.

A Derwent Procolour wax based and Faber-Castell Polychromos oil based pencil photographed alongside swatches.

Both professional grade oil or wax pencils will offer the same vibrant colour, but there are slight variations in their performance. Typically more wax gives the pencil a soft texture, while more oil will increase the lead hardness. However, this isn’t always the case.

You can find out more about the differences between oil and wax pencils in our Essential Materials For Starting Out In Coloured Pencils blog post.

Derwent Colouring Pencils

Procolour

Derwent Procolour Wax Based Coloured Pencil on a colourful background

WAX BASED | 4mm Colour Strip | Round Barrel | 72 Colours | Smooth Texture

51% of colours rated excellent or very good

  • Blending: Excellent
  • Erasability: Very Good
  • Colour Intensity: Excellent
  • Layering: Excellent
  • Point Strength: Excellent

All colours are vegan friendly.

Derwent Procolour pencils combine the precision of Derwent’s Artists’ pencils with the smoothness of Coloursoft. They’re perfect for artists who enjoy creating detailed drawings and prefer smooth application of colour. While these pencils aren’t oil based, they do offer exceptionally smooth application and easy blending rivalling oil. Their firm, durable point makes them easy to sharpen and less likely to chip or break as you work. Procolour also generate very little dust and are less likely to smudge. They are quite difficult to erase.

Procolour are available individually and in sets.

Lightfast

Derwent Lightfast Oil Based Coloured Pencil on a colourful background

OIL BASED | 4mm Colour Strip | Round Barrel | 100 Colours | Creamy Texture

100% of colours rated excellent or very good

  • Blending: Excellent
  • Erasability: Poor
  • Colour Intensity: Excellent
  • Layering: Excellent
  • Point Strength: Very Good

All colours are vegan friendly

Derwent Lightfast are the brand’s only oil based pencil and are available in 100 colours that are 100% lightfast (each colour is rated as LFI or LFII). This makes them the perfect choice for pencil artists interested in the longevity of their artwork. Their oil content gives these pencils an exceptionally creamy core that facilitates smooth colour laydown, excellent layering and easy colour mixing capabilities. Their high pigmentation also delivers beautiful, intense colour. If you looking to create painterly effects with pencil then Lightfast could be the pencil for you. These pencils are compatible with oil painting solvents. Brush with turpentine to modify colour and create painterly marks. Texture wise they are much softer than Procolour and easier to layer, but generate a bit more dust. They are a bit more smudgy than Procolour, and are more difficult to erase.

Lightfast are available individually and in sets.

Chromaflow

Derwent Chromaflow Wax Based Coloured Pencil on a colourful background

WAX BASED | 3.5mm Colour Strip | Slim, Round Barrel | 72 Colours | Soft, Creamy Texture

60% of colours rated excellent or very good

  • Blending: Excellent
  • Erasability: Poor
  • Colour Intensity: Excellent
  • Layering: Very Good
  • Point Strength: Very Good

All colours are vegan friendly

Derwent Chromaflow are the newest addition to Derwent’s colour pencil range. They have a much slimmer barrel than other Derwent pencils and are a really affordable pencil for beginners. Their soft texture makes applying colour a breeze and you’ll find that their colour is easy to blend and shade. They also deliver bright colour, even when you use them on dark surfaces. Despite their slim core, these pencils offer great point strength. They’re less likely to chip, are resistant to breakage and withstand pressure well. These pencils generate a little dust, don’t smudge too much and are difficult to erase. In tests they were the hardest to sharpen of all Derwent’s pencils.

Chromaflow are available individually and in sets.

Coloursoft

Derwent Coloursoft Wax Based Coloured Pencil on a colourful background

WAX BASED | 4mm Colour Strip | Round Barrel | 72 Colours | Soft Texture

74% of colours rated excellent or very good

  • Blending: Excellent
  • Erasability: Poor
  • Colour Intensity: Very Good
  • Layering: Very Good
  • Point Strength: Good

All colours are vegan friendly

Derwent Coloursoft have a creamy core that makes them compatible with all kinds of drawing styles. Their texture makes it easy to laydown colour with smooth coverage. Coloursoft pencils are equally suitable for creating bold, abstract marks as well as more detailed drawings. The softness of their core also makes it easy to blend colours. Comparatively they have the softest core, but with this softness you loose a little point strength. If you’re looking to create precision detail on your work then this may not be the best pencil for you. You’ll find that Coloursoft becomes more resistant the more layers you apply, while their softness also means they generate quite a bit of dust. However, they don’t smudge easily and are easy to sharpen.

Coloursoft are available individually and in sets.

Drawing

Derwent Drawing Wax Based Coloured Pencil on a colourful background

WAX BASED | 5mm Colour Strip | Round Barrel | 24 Colours | Creamy Texture

100% of colours rated excellent or very good

  • Blending: Excellent
  • Erasability: Moderate
  • Colour Intensity: Very Good
  • Layering: Excellent
  • Point Strength: Very Good

No colours in this range are vegan friendly.

Derwent Drawing pencils have a creamy texture and are available in an earthy palette of colours ideal for capturing landscapes and other natural scenery. While they offer a fairly restricted colour palette, the colours on offer perfectly suit nature studies and portraiture. They have a creamy texture and velvety application, as well as high pigmentation that results in dense colour laydown. Use them with water soluble media for particularly striking effects. If you’re building up layers of colour you’ll find more resistance with Drawing pencils. Their texture is similar to Lightfast, but they have a softer core comparable to Coloursoft. They are easy to layer, a little smudgy and are moderately easy to erase in light applications.

Drawing are available individually and in sets.

Tinted Charcoal

Derwent Tinted Charcoal Powder Based Coloured Pencil on a colourful background

POWDER BASED | 4mm Colour Strip | Round Barrel | 21 Colours | Chalky Texture

86% of colours rated excellent or very good

  • Blending: Excellent
  • Erasability: Very Good
  • Colour Intensity: Moderate
  • Layering: Excellent
  • Point Strength: Good

All colours are vegan friendly

Derwent Tinted Charcoal Pencils are made from a blend of pigment and powdered charcoal. They are available in a fairly restricted palette of just 21 colours. These 21 colours cover muted earth tones, that make these pencils best suited to moody landscapes or loose, atmospheric drawings. They’re compatible with traditional charcoal techniques, like smudging and blending, but their wooden casing makes them much less messy! You’ll also find it easy to sharpen these pencils to a point either with a knife and sandpaper block, or using a pastel pencil sharpener. This quality makes these pencils fantastic for applying charcoal with precision.

Tinted Charcoal are available in sets.

Artists’

Derwent Artists' Wax Based Coloured Pencil on a colourful background

WAX BASED | 4mm Colour Strip | Round Barrel | 126 Colours | Firm Texture

41% of colours rated excellent or very good

  • Blending: Good
  • Erasability: Moderate
  • Colour Intensity: Good
  • Layering: Very Good
  • Point Strength: Excellent

Only some colours are listed as vegan.*

* Non-vegan colours: Straw Yellow, Buttercup Yellow, Orange Chrome, Spectrum Orange, Scarlet Lake, Bright Red, Geranium Lake, Rioja, Madder Carmine, Plum, Grape, Slate Violet, Phthalo Blue, Midnight Blue, Cobalt Green, Phthalo Green, Water Green, Emerald Green, Grass Green, Sap Green, Moss Green, Chartreuse, Olive Earth, Bronze, Vandyke Brown, Golden Brown, Copper Beech, Sunset Gold, Autumn Leaf, Burnt Rose, Chocolate, Ivory Black

Derwent Artists’ Pencils have a firm point and are available in an extensive range of 126 rich colours. Their durable point makes it easy to apply colour without breakage or chipping. Despite their firm texture, they laydown colour smoothly and are equally as suitable for expressive drawing as they are for detailed illustrations. While Artists’ pencils layer well, they do develop some resistance the more layers you apply. They have the firmest of all Derwent’s leads and performed best for point strength. These pencils are resistant to smudging and are reasonably easy to erase in light applications. They are one of Derwent’s only colour pencil ranges to include animal ingredients in some colours – so if this is something you wish to avoid the Artists’ range may not be for you.

Artists’ Pencils are available in sets.

Caran d’Ache Colouring Pencils

Luminance

Cran d'Ache Luminance 6901 Oil Based Coloured Pencil on a colourful background

OIL BASED | 3.8mm Colour Strip | Round Barrel | 100 Colours | Smooth Texture

100% of colours rated excellent or very good

  • Blending: Excellent
  • Erasability: Moderate
  • Colour Intensity: Excellent
  • Layering: Excellent
  • Point Strength: Very Good

Only some colours are vegan friendly.

Caran d’Ache list Luminance under their vegan products, however the following colours contain PBk9 (Ivory Black) pigment that is derived from calcined animal bones: Brown Ochre, Olive Brown, Violet Brown, Light Blue, Turquoise Blue, Malachite Green, Dark English Green, Olive Brown 10%, Olive Brown 50%, Brown Ochre 10%, Brown Ochre 50%

Caran d’Ache Luminance are the brand’s flagship, professional quality colour pencil. They have a soft, velvety colour strip and are available in a broad range of colours. Their lead contains a high concentration of pigment, which – paired with their soft texture – makes it easy to apply, blend and overlay rich colours. All colours in the range are rated LFI or LFII, which makes them a great choice for professional artists who rely on colours with the highest lightfastness ratings. The colour name and numbers are clearly indicated on the barrel, and each pencil also has a colour matched tip at the end – making it easy to find the pencil you need. Texture wise, Luminance feel similar to Derwent’s Lightfast range and given how soft the lead is these pencils have great point strength. They can be a little smudgy and are moderately easy to erase in light applications.

Luminance are available individually and in sets.

Pablo

Caran d'Ache Pablo Oil Based Coloured Pencil on a colourful background

OIL BASED | 3.8mm Colour Strip | Hexagonal Barrel | 120 Colours | Firm Texture

95% of colours rated excellent or very good

  • Blending: Excellent
  • Erasability: Good
  • Colour Intensity: Very Good
  • Layering: Very Good
  • Point Strength: Excellent

No colours in this range are vegan friendly as they contain tallow (an animal-derived fat).

Caran d’Ache Pablo are an intermediate grade colour pencil that deliver excellent coverage with no dusty residue. Their smooth application makes them easy to blend while the strong, durable leads mean fewer chips and breakages when sharpening. Most colours have excellent opacity, which means you can use these pencils on all kinds of surfaces and get brilliant results. Try them on paper, card, wooden panels and more. Each pencil has a varnished barrel that is colour matched to the hue of the lead, so you’ll be able to select the correct colour quickly. Their leads are much firmer than Luminance, so they lend themselves well to precision work. They have slightly more resistance than Luminance when layering and are a little easier to erase.

Pablo are available in sets.

Faber-Castell Colouring Pencils

Polychromos

Faber-Castell Polychromos Oil Based Coloured Pencil on a colourful background

OIL BASED | 3.8mm Colour Strip | Round Barrel | 120 Colours | Creamy Texture

100% of colours rated excellent or very good

  • Blending: Excellent
  • Erasability: Good
  • Colour Intensity: Excellent
  • Layering: Excellent
  • Point Strength: Excellent

All colours are vegan friendly

Faber-Castell Polychromos colour pencils are a hit with artists worldwide who love them for their soft, vibrant colour laydown and excellent layering and blending capabilities. They’re exceptionally highly pigmented, guaranteeing you excellent coverage and reliably radiant colour time and time again. Polychromos have a soft texture that makes it easy to laydown colour, but their lead is also remarkably resilient. Although the leads have a creamy texture, they’re very easy to sharpen and will retain a fine point without chipping. These pencils are available in a broad range of 120 colours, all of which have very good or excellent lightfastness ratings. Each of the pencils has a varnished barrel that’s colour matched to the lead colour. They performed the best out of all our colouring pencils for layering, and didn’t generate as much dust as Luminance or Lightfast. They’re comparable to Luminance regarding blending, but offer marginally better point strength. In light applications they’re also fairly easy to erase.

Polychromos are available individually and in sets.

Goldfaber

Faber-Castell Goldfaber Wax Based Coloured Pencil on a colourful background

WAX BASED | 3.3mm Colour Strip | Round Barrel | 48 Colours | Soft Texture

Individual colours are not given a lighfastness rating as they are part of the company’s hobby range. However Faber-Castell say the whole range has excellent lightfastness.

  • Blending: Very Good
  • Erasability: Moderate
  • Colour Intensity: Very Good
  • Layering: Very Good
  • Point Strength: Very Good

All colours are vegan friendly

Goldfaber are part of Faber-Castell’s hobby range and offer a high quality pencil at an affordable price. Because they’re hobby grade, Faber-Castell do not publish individual lightfastness ratings for each of the colours, but do claim that the pencils boast good lightfastness. Their lightfastness ratings make them most suitable for beginners, hobbyists or even those just looking for a good pencil for colouring book projects. They’re easy to sharpen, resistant to breakage and give reasonably good coverage.

Goldfaber are available in sets.

Winsor & Newton Colouring Pencils

Studio Collection

Winsor & Newton Studio Collection Coloured Pencil on a colourful background

WAX BASED | 3.7mm Colour Strip | Round Barrel | 48 Colours | Soft Texture

56% of colours rated excellent or very good

  • Blending: Excellent
  • Erasability: Moderate
  • Colour Intensity: Excellent
  • Layering: Excellent
  • Point Strength: Very Good

All colours are vegan friendly.

Winsor & Newton Studio Collection colour pencils have a soft texture and dense pigmentation that gives them excellent coverage a smooth laydown. Their texture makes it easy to layer and blend colour, while their rich colour means you can get great results even on dark surfaces. Their smooth core is incredibly responsive, making it easy to create layers of intense colour or delicate shading. Made with a high quality binder, these pencils are resistant to breakage – even if you drop them – and retain their point beautifully. Studio Collection pencils have quite a minimal design, with very little information on the pencil itself. They have pale grey barrels, a colour matched tip and are stamped with the colour name. In texture these pencils fall somewhere between the firmness of Procolour and the softness of Coloursoft. They are quite difficult to erase.

Studio Collection are available in sets.

Royal Talens Colouring Pencils

Bruynzeel Rijksmuseum

Royal Talens Bruynzeel Rijksmueum Coloured Pencil on a colourful background

WAX BASED | 2.9mm Colour Strip | Hexagonal Barrel | 50 Colours | Soft Texture

Individual colours are not given a lighfastness rating as they are part of the company’s hobby range.

  • Blending: Good
  • Erasability: Good
  • Colour Intensity: Very Good
  • Layering: Good
  • Point Strength: Very Good

All colours are vegan.

Rijksmuseum are one of the higher quality, student grade pencil ranges from the Bruynzeel brand. Geared towards beginners and hobbyists, these pencils are affordable and deliver good coverage and smooth colour laydown. They’re also easy to layer and blend. Each pencil has a sleek black barrel and colour tipped end. Rijksmueum pencils don’t feature any colour names or codes on the barrel, so you’ll need to rely solely on the painted end of the pencil to choose your colour. This does make them slightly more awkward to identify compared to other brands. Rijksmuseum offer great value for beginners, with a set of 50 coming in at a little under £30.

Rijksmuseum are available in a set of 24 or a set of 50.

We hope this article helps you choose the best colouring pencil!

If you’re still struggling to settle on the perfect pencil for your creative project, or have any questions about the coloured pencils we carry, just leave a comment below and we’ll be happy to help.

We’ve also condensed some of the information in this article into a comparison chart, that should help you quickly cross reference all our pencil ranges. Just click the link or image below to download our Colouring Pencil Comparison Chart.

Download the Ken Bromley Art Supplies Colouring Pencil Comparison Chart