© Site and most content copyright to Peter Weatherill 2017 - 2019 Some content copyright to other authors as identified
HERE WE COMPARE THE DIFFERENT BRANDS ACROSS THE INTERNATIONAL MARKET First of all,   Wax Type Coloured Pencils then Watercolour Pencils and then Pastel Pencils
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BRANDS I can’t tell you which is the BEST PENCIL. That depends on what types of subject you prefer, what colours you are looking for, what paper you are going to use, and what - at the end of the day - is your own personal preference.    I can pinpoint how they differ, though, and guide you on how to approach the problem. If you are a total beginner, I would suggest that you beg or borrow as many different coloured pencil brands as you can  from artist friends, and test them out, side by side, on a suitably heavy but smooth cartridge paper.  This way you will be able to pinpoint which brand works best for you. Back when we were all so much younger, we used to be able to go into an art materials shop and ask advice of the assistant behind the counter. They would discuss what was available and let you try out sample pencils on some suitable paper.  Regretfully, these days, you either visit a large store or warehouse where the goods are all shrink wrapped on the shelves and the staff know just enough to take your money, or , you order the goods over the Internet and wait a week for delivery.  In neither case can you try before you buy, and if you don’t know the differences, you may well finish up with totally the wrong sort of pencil for your style and subjects. Since 2018 we have been able to purchase comparison packs of coloured pencils with a range of brands in a single pack. The very efficient UK based pencil retailer, pencils4artists, based in Dartmouth, have introduced a number of comparison sets which enable the buyer to handle and compare a range of brands in mixed or similar colour sets of various sizes. The page on their site is linked here : PENCILS4ARTISTS This is a very useful service and - as far as I know - is unique. They do sell into Europe and worldwide. If you are starting out with the aim of serious Coloured Pencil artwork, then this ability to sample a range of brands side by side is well worth considering. It is also useful to artists looking for a range of similar colours from a selection of leading manufacturers to boost their collections. I always take a variety of brands to demonstrations and courses, and discuss the differences with students attending - who can try the pencils before investing in a large set. When you test out the pencils you have borrowed, ( or the small sample selection of individual pencils you have purchased), test the them on some cartridge paper and observe how each brand performs when shading and layering one colour over another. I will go into the choices of paper surfaces on another page, but the aim for your test, is to have a smooth surface to be able to get detail, but also a ‘tooth’ for the pencil to get a grip on the surface.   A very smooth paper ( such as Bristol Board ) gives detail, but is slippy, and you will get very little colour to adhere.   Too rough a paper ( such as cold pressed or rough watercolour paper) and you will get plenty of colour down but you will find it hard to achieve any detail. You need a balance - and cartridge paper is an ideal starting surface. It is designed for dry artwork and not designed for wet media, but it does take a modest level of water with watercolour pencils ……………………………………………. There are three main types of coloured pencil ...............       and all three are covered in the ‘Topics’ website. Wax type - non soluble coloured pencils, sometimes refered to in these notes as ‘Dry Point’.   It would be wrong to call ALL pencils of this type ‘Wax’ pencils. Some brands do not use wax, but use a combination of oils in their ingredients.  Some use a mixture of waxes and oils. I will tell you below which I believe to be wax based and which oil based.   Manufacturers do not always tell us the formula they use for their products ! There are differences between wax and oil based pencils, but not great ones, and generally the pencils are used the same way and are inter-mixable. Many people will refer to this whole group as ‘wax pencils’ or ‘crayons’ ( the French term)   Pencils containing waxes tend to have a softer feel on the paper than pencils manufactured with oils, though in fact many brands use a combination of oils and waxes to achieve a smooth lay down of colour on the paper.  Usually, the higher the wax content, the softer the pencil, but as manufacturers rarely tell you what the content is, you will have to rely on the feel on paper to determine what you prefer.   Softer pencils give you more colour, quicker Harder pencils keep their point better and sharpen more easily without breaking Harder pencils are better for fine detail Watercolour Pencils . Otherwise known as Aquarelle Pencils (Their French name). This type is soluble with water.   Pigments are often identical to the wax type of pencils.  They can be used as dry pencils in a similar way to the wax type listed above, but their main benefit is that they can lead a double life and also produce watercolour effects when used with water and a brush. Watercolour Pencils are a good all round coloured pencil with a wide variety of uses. Some brands of aquarelles have a drier feel on the paper than their waxy cousins from the same factory. This is because the change in formula has to allow for the fact that the pigment has to dissolve. Pastel Pencils.   These are the chalky type of coloured pencils which can be blended on the surface and are used in a totally different way.  We will look at them briefly below and also in a separate section.  The core of pastel pencils is very similar the the hard stick pastels sold as Carré pastels and this means that the pastel sticks can be used to lay down larger areas of colour leaving the pencils to handle detail. I am now going to ask some questions to guide your research. These questions will make more sense to someone who is familiar with the use of pencils, but they should give even a total beginner a clue what you should be looking for.   Read through the list below, and then take your pencils to paper and examine how they behave All Coloured Pencils …..  but particularly the wax type which don’t dissolve in water First of all, How easy are they to sharpen ?   Can you get a good point without the colour core breaking up ? A good brand of pencils will have a quality wood surround that is well bonded (glued) to the core.   If you are using a small hand sharpener with a blade, make sure the sharpener blade is sharp. Compare the shading marks made by the trial pencils side by side on a sheet of cartridge paper, and note the name of the brand against each example. There is a whole topic on the site here about pencil sharpening, and there is also a topic on how to do a serious comparison of pencil performance but read the rest of this item first and compare the handling on your piece of cartridge paper. Next, test them for how the colour goes down on the paper - how soft are they ?    Are they gritty or does the colour go down smoothly ? You are looking for a hardness that suits your painting style.   Botanical artists will look for hard cores on the pencils for fine detail. More impressionistic artists will be looking for softer cores to lay down lots of colour.   Soft pencils will need sharpening more often and need replacing sooner How fine a line can they achieve and keep ?   A softer pencil will make a clearer mark but the pencil point will be lost more quickly as the soft colour core is used up. If you shade a block of colour, does the shading go down evenly ? You will be layering colour with Coloured Pencils when you develop your pictures, so will be looking for putting down thin layers of colour, one on top of another. How do they handle when you apply a layer of one colour over a layer of another colour ? Is it easy to add a further layer of colour ?  Does the second layer adjust the colour of the first one or simply cover it up ? Transparent or Semi Transparent colours allow earlier layers to show through and enable you to build strong accurate colours through visual blending. Opaque pigments simply cover earlier layers and are not as useful for detailed work.   Some cheaper pencil brands have a greater proportion of opaque colours or opaque fillers in their formulas Can you see if the pencils are marked with a lightfastness rating? This could be in the shape of a set of little stars ( 1 star not so good, 3 stars excellent - or if it says LF1 or LF2, this is also very good). Some pigments fade in strong sunlight and you will want your masterpieces to last a long time in their frames.    If there is no indication on the pencil, you may be able to get the information from the web site of the manufacturer. You can sometimes find it printed on the tin box with a colour chart. There is more information on Lightfastness in a future Topic in this section And now,  just looking at Watercolour Pencils - These may look just the same as the wax variety, but watercolour pencils usually have an indication on them to warn that they are soluble - often a paintbrush symbol. How easily does the colour dissolve  when you pass a damp brush over a line of colour? You are unlikely to get rid of all the colour from a line, but you should see a good wash of dissolved colour drawn on to the paper with the brush.. An evenly shaded block of colour will probably dissolve completely from the dry area with a clean brush and should give you excellent watercolour which will ‘pull out’ with the brush to a very thin wash.   Don’t apply water to the pencil point. Dissolve the colour on the paper. Water added to the point damages the integrity of the pencil core and leads to the pencil breaking and needing to be replaced sooner. Does the colour lift off the paper easily with a clean brush and pad of absorbent paper ? This tells you how permanent the colour is ( how firmly it is attached to the paper ). Some pigments can be lifted when wetted, but are permanent on the paper once they have dried ( Derwent Inktense is an example of this ). Pastel Pencils we will look at these in more detail in the Pastel Pencil section, but in summary …… Pastel pencils handle very differently to the two types above. The colour they lay down is in a fragile surface which can be blended on the paper. For this reason a different type of paper is used which has a softer and rougher surface that will hold on to the pigment  ( or a gritty paper can also be used - like a sandpaper) . Here you will be looking for a chalky pencil that can be sharpened to a fine point with a craft knife and which has a smooth and finely ground core of pigment and which is strong enough to keep a reliable point.   You will use up pastel pencils more quickly, so it is useful to know how easy it is to find individual replacement pencils . There is not a lot of difference between pastel pencil brands from the main manufacturers. They will all work together - the main difference will be in the softness of the pastel. The rule is to reserve your softest pastel until the later stages of the picture as hard will not easily go over soft pastel. Generally, harder pastels give you sharper and better points, softer are easier to use. –---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In more detail and looking at actual brands WAX TYPE ( Non Soluble ) Pencils The softest pencils are PRISMACOLOR and COLOURSOFT   Both are wax based. and Caran d’Ache LUMINANCE   which is a wax / oil mixture In Summary Prismacolor has the largest colour range.  They originate in the USA (now made in Mexico) Wax enables the pencils to have a soft and creamy feel, but there are snags with wax, and we will look at that later  (see the topic on wax bloom) Derwent’s Coloursoft is the most readily available in the UK as it is made here. Not quite so soft are Derwent’s Procolour and in 2018 Derwent Lightfast. Prismacolor is easily found in the USA but much more difficult to source elsewhere, The Swiss made Caran d’Ache Luminance oil based pencil is also very  soft and is the most expensive (and sometimes described as the ‘Rolls Royce of CP’).  This is manufactured by an entirely different process as described below. In Detail The Prismacolor range has a number of unique colours and whilst most have a good stability in strong light (see the notes on Lightfastness)  the paler colours do have several which have a high liability to fading.  Prismacolor did bring out a lightfast range in the USA which was withdrawn a several years ago. You may still find stocks in some retailers, but replacements will be difficult. As with any product that does not sell profitably, the accountants have the final say and may decide to withdraw a brand or even close down complete production facilities, as they did with Sanford Karisma in the UK.  If you find Karisma, they are no longer made, but the colours and the feel are exactly the same as Prismacolor. and some UK internet suppliers specialise in seeking out old stocks of Karisma and may have some colours available to keep enthusiasts of the brand going. Some of those pencils are labelled ‘Berol Karisma’ and those are the ones I am discussing. I did hear of a coloured pencil brand on sale a couple of years ago in East Asia labelled Karisma, but these came to nothing. They may have been an attempt by Sandford to market a low cost Prismacolor. Berol Karisma pencils have the same colour range and feel of the older Prismacolor range - they just look different. In the UK, Prismacolor  Premier Wax pencils are not generally marketed by UK retailers, and have limited availability through UK Internet suppliers. Individual pencils (Open Stock) are not easy to find, but one or two internet retailers are now stocking them ( 2018 ). Prismacolor have a soft feel of wax and very wide range of colours.   There were new colours added in 2012 and the range now extends to around 150 colours. There were problems over production standards and quality control when manufacture moved from the USA to Mexico. See the Prismacolor page for more information. This brand is the largest seller in the largest Coloured Pencil market (the USA), and is the brand that is featured in most books on coloured pencil techniques as most books originate in the USA. If you are outside the USA and using a different brand, and wish to use American books as a guide, you may wish to read the section in this site on colour comparisons to be able to identify the nearest match to named Prismacolor shades.   Some books offer comparison tables and some tutors are getting wise to the need to suggest alternatives to Prismacolor. My view is that provided you use a good brand you can get a very similar result with your own pencils wirthout worrying about exact colour matches of pencil colour. Coloursoft from Derwent have 72 colours with a fair spread, which should accommodate most artists.   As with most Derwent pencils, there is a good selection of the natural shades, with plenty of reds, browns and greens but relatively few blues. They are manufactured in the UK and have very good availability in retailers and Internet suppliers.  Keep an eye out for special deals. Coloursoft are a good smooth pencil with excellent handling qualities. The standard set of 72 is, in most cases more than enough choice of colours, though in 2013 a supplementary range of Coloursoft ‘Fashion’ colours was added for a time which were sold as single pencils or small sets.  These took the total colour range to 84. I do not know if the extra colours are still available. In 2017, Derwent introduced a new line in Procolour which is a wax based pencil in a range of 72 colours and is a slightly harder pencil which I include below in the ‘Medium’ hardness range. In 2018, the company also introduced the first 36 colours of what will be a set of 72 or more lightfast colours. Testing is still being completed on the second set of 36 but the first batch of colours make up a fairly useful colour range. These are an oil based pencil but manufactured to be soft to the feel, so I include a mention here. Luminance from Caran d’Ache are a blend of waxes and oils but also very soft  and have the benefit of softness from the special wax content, These are a fully lightfast pencil targeted at the top end of the market with a price to match. They are a very good pencil. If you wish to understand why manufacturers use either wax, oil or a mixture of both, please read the topic here on ‘Wax or Oil’ , Basically, thick layers of wax pencil can suffer from Wax Bloom - a grey powdery coating which can develop in hot humid climates. Oil based pencils do not suffer from this problem and Luminance are formulated to be both soft and NOT suffer from wax bloom. Luminance are also lightfast, so the risk of colours fading in strong light is greatly reduced.   The colours have a good range of natural shades and several colours come in doublets and triplets with two or three variants ( lighter or darker) of the same colour. The downside is the fact that although there are 76 ‘colours’ in the full set, the actual unique colour range is less.   The Luminance white is excellent as it is both soft and opaque and will add those finishing touches very well, whatever the original pencil brand. For this reason it makes sense to buy at least the white if you find a supplier. Luminance as a brand is expensive to buy ( due to the fact that they are manufactured in Geneva in Switzerland ), but they are still an excellent choice for the serious coloured pencil user. An excellent soft pencil. Middle of the road in hardness but still top grade Artists quality pencils Faber-Castell POLYCHROMOS,   Caran d’Ache PABLO,    Derwent PROCOLOUR, Derwent LIGHTFAST, Lyra POLYCOLOR   and  Talens VAN GOGH. These are mainly OIL based pencils (or some are oil and wax ). Polychromos are readily available in the UK from a wide variety of outlets and replacement of single pencils for those in sets is easy, There are 120 colours with a strong field in reds, yellows and oranges.    Polychromos features 12 greys in the range. They are a very satisfactory choice, as not only is the colour range a tried and tested one, the individual pencils are readily available in the UK as single replacements to replace those in your set which are most used.    Many stores tend to carry at least a half set of single colours for replacement, with some larger stores displaying the whole colour range of all the Faber-Castell lines.  Most UK based Internet suppliers selling pencils, stock the full range as single pencils . NOTE, if you order over the Internet from some retailers, they will supply a minimum of 5 single pencils, though they generally need not all be of the same colour. Manufactured in several countries, the main production is in Germany.   A very good oil based pencil. Caran d’Ache Pablo is similar in feel to the Faber Castell brand, also with 120 colours, but a greater variety of greens and browns and fewer reds. This colour range is more suitable for a landscape artist and the reduced range of reds and purples can create difficulties for those who wish to concentrate on floral subjects.   Possibly slightly softer than Polychromos, they are an equally good choice for the buyer of a full set  and although they can be dearer than the Faber-Castell pencils, they are still competitive.    A low wax content pencil made with a special process Pablo is  readily available as single pencils over the Internet. Works very well in a set of mixed brands with Polychromos. Derwent Procolour appeared on the market in the summer of 2017. This is a middle hardness of wax type pencil filling in the gap in Derwent’s range between the harder Artist and Studio ranges and the softer Coloursoft. 72 colours in the range, they are capable of a fine durable point for detailed work and the colour selection is different from Coloursoft, so they produce a wide range of over 100 good colours between them. Lightfastness is a subject that often comes up with the Derwent pencils as they have included a larger than average number with poor lightfastness and the Procolour pencils are no exception. It is possible, however, to produce an excellent merged set with Coloursoft omitting all the low rated LF colours from both ranges. Derwent Lightfast appeared in June 2018 as half of what will be an eventual set of 120 lightfast colours to ASTMS 6901 LF1. The 36 current colours are highly pigmented and soft and creamy to the feel. The half set of 36 currently available ( Sept 2018 ) is a reasonable cross section of colours. We assume the remaining colours, when tested and marketed, will produce a full colour range. They are expensive, at between £2.50 and £3 per pencil. They will compete nose to nose with CDA Luminance when they are eventually sold as a complete set. Luminance currently sell at around £2 a pencil in sets, but the Luminance range includes some ASTMS 6901 LF2 colours which are ‘lightfast’ but not as good as LF1. Lyra Polycolor and  Talens Van Gogh are good, but not easily found and will therefore be more difficult to replace individual colours.   The colour range in these last two is smaller.  I see that Polycolor are now listed by Great Art on their website and as as singles as well as in boxed sets. That improvement in their availability makes them attractive as an option.  Many of the Polycolor colour selection are similar to the Faber-Castell range, but the pencils are thinner, slightly softer and are less expensive. One or two colours are unique. Van Gogh wax-type pencils are hard to find, but very good and also lightfast to the USA standard ASTMS 6901.   I haven’t seen them on sale in the UK for a year or so, but I know they are still manufactured. The maker, Talens, is part of the Sakura goup. ( September 2018 - only the Van Gogh Watercolour pencils appear to be on sale in the UK ). They advertise that they are ‘lightfast’, but see the individual Van Gogh page later in this section. Other mid range brands : Bruynzeel are made by the same Dutch subsidiary of the Sakura Group as Van Gogh, and are a good pencil. They tend to come in fancy boxes which are not necessary, but make a nice gift. Cretacolor also now market a wax type pencil ( Karmina) in a small range that are good value. I don’t think they are available as single pencils, but that may change. Koh i noor are also available in the UK in sets and European made. They are lower cost but good. The hardest pencils come from Derwent in the STUDIO and ARTIST ranges. These have a higher content of clays which produce a harder point.   Good colours, not all lightfast.  A lot of botanical artists are great fans. Availability is patchy but if you have a local supplier, you may find the option acceptable.   Your main source these days will be through the Internet.   I note that some Internet suppliers are selling these boxes of Artists pencils at very attractive prices.   They are good, a hard pencil and therefore produce a good sharp point for fine detail, but you need to be aware that only a quarter of the pencils are graded 6 or above on the blue wool scale and can therefore be considered lightfast.  If you intend to buy a box, I suggest you check out the full colour chart on the Derwent website and note down the low lightfast colours so that you can - if you need to - use them with caution. There is a suspicion that the new Procolour may be eventually prove to be a replacement, but that would be a shame as there is a need for a good quality hard colour pencil Spectrum Noir A brand you may see advertised in the craft press and on TV craft channels is ‘Spectrum Noir’.  These come as small sets which add up to a wide range of colours, but single pencils are not readily available, so replacement involves buying another set. They are available as both soluble and non soluble ranges. The pencils have now been tested here ( 2015/16 ) and are of reasonable student quality which might be anticipated by their relatively low price. They are clearly manufactured for papercraft use.  I do not recommend them.  There is no information on lightfastness. For very little more cost, you can acquire a good quality student pencil from a leading manufacturer and be able to replace individual pencils as they wear out. The overall cost will be much less in the long run. Arteza - and other Internet sale brands Arteza is one of a range of new names in brands appearing on the market over the last few years and mostly manufactured in Asia to be marketed over the internet. Over all there are good and indifferent brands in this class and price is not necessarily any guide, as the price is set by the seller. Most of these come as sets only and the market for them appears to be craft rather than fine art. However, there are good student quality pencils here. Have a look at The Art Gear Guide for comments on testing by Ivor Harrison in the UK WATERCOLOUR ( Aquarelle ) Pencils There are a bigger selection of manufacturers in this field overall but still only a short list of manufacturers who produce good quality pencils and have them readily available in stores and Mail Order Outlets. Most good Aquarelle pencils are fairly soft (with one or two exceptions) and not greatly different in the way they feel.  Mostly any differences will be in pigment levels ( how strong the colour you achieve ) I will list them here, first of all in order of availability.   Note there are some harder pencils in this category and I will pinpoint those as I go down the list. There are also (as at 2018) many imported new brands from East Asian sources, sold at low prices. These come in a wide range of qualities and price is no guide. The most readily available brand in the UK is Derwent with INKTENSE and ‘WATERCOLOUR’,   then Caran d’Ache with SUPRACOLOR SOFT,  and since 2013, MUSEUM and finally Faber Castell with ALBRECHT DURER.   There are two Albrecht Durer ranges - the smaller set are branded Albrecht Durer Magnus and are softer, larger pencils, and all lightfast. The original Albrecht Durer are standard sized and come in sets of up to 120. All these are available as single pencils. There are some other good brands available and I will cover those in the detail below. THESE ARE ALL GOOD MAKERS AND YOUR CHOICE WILL BE BASED ON YOUR OWN NEEDS, THE PRICE AND HOW EASY IT IS TO FIND THEM Taking the brands in turn: Derwent Inktense are one of the the easiest to find, have vibrant colours that are permanent after introducing water to the dry colour, but have a smaller colour range than the other two manufacturers listed here (72 colours). I find the colours very strong and they need careful management and understanding.   Very good for impressionistic work and artwork on fabrics.  It is suggested that you use a fabric medium or aloe vera gel instead of water for wetting the pigment, but see various YouTube videos showing the process. The Inktense colours are similar to inks. The strong colours can be used with experience, to make very thin washes on paper and are then comparable to other brands of watercolour pencil in strength. You will find a marked difference between the colour dry and the same colour when wet - particularly in the darker colours.  Dry colour from the pencil can be erased. Once it has been wet, it is permanent on the paper. Advantage : Good strong colours that dissolve well. Disadvanatage : They need skilled handling and I do not recommend them for beginners. Derwent Watercolour pencils  There have been several variations of these pencils over the years getting progressively softer. Years ago they had grey barrels to the pencils. These are a much harder and older formula and if you are given a box I would suggest you try one of the newer versions before you spend time getting acquainted with the old ones. The next vintage was the turquise barrel design which was softer but still had had some very low lightfast colours. It had a medium hard core but had excellent handling qualities.   The newest design (with darker Blue barrels) was introduced in the Summer of 2009 and are now universal in retailers and mail order outlets.   Thelatest dark blue variety are softer in feel than the previous ones and include more lightfast pigments. There were early complaints about the cores being too soft for use in very hot conditions (If you are going to use soft pencils in hot climates, a cold box is suggested - not a bad idea for any brand of wax or oil based coloured pencil anyway !) I first used the newest Derwent Watercolour range for a demonstration at the 2009 NEC ‘Art Materials Live show’ and found them very workable. I have added them to my landscape options since, and use them frequently. They have much stronger colours than the older formula. A good set of greens for landscapes. The colour core is a little softer than the  Caran d’Ache Supracolor. I have used these Derwent Watercolour pencils a fair bit over the last two years and have got to like them and the colour range - which includes a number of good colours that suit my style. Advantage : readily available and a good brand though a smaller range of colours than some of the competition. Caran d’Ache Supracolor  have 120 colours * (the same colour range as Caran d’Ache Pablo) and the majority have no colour shift when they are wet. ( The colour you put down dry is the same colour after adding water) They have a soft feel and work well as a dry point pencil too.   The Supracolor box colour range suits my style and subjects (Landscapes) and the pencils offer no surprises in use. For landscapes they offer the biggest colour range. They do tend to be more expensive than the other brands listed here. Advantage : Good colour range and minimal colour shift when wet * in 2018 an Anniversary set of an extra 30 colours was released ( these tins are still on sale in 2019 ) and that fills several gaps in the colour range with extra reds and several good greys and sepias. This takes the full range to 150. Caran d’Ache Museum a new introduction of aquarelle in 2013 from Caran d’Ache, using a name previously used for sets of woodless watercolour pigment held in a special holder.   The new Museum Aquarelle pencils are wood cased, and sold in the UK in sets of 20 Landscape or 20 marine colours. A Full range of the 76 colours is available as sets and as single pencils. They follow the principle of the Luminance brand in providing a top quality lightfast pencil, sold at a premium price. It is notable that they have a larger core than many other brands, so you do get good value for your pencil money. I have tested them fully and the results are posted on the Caran d’Ache page here. Advantage : Soft and lightfast,  handle well.  stronger in pigment than Supracolor soft, and not as strong as Derwent Inktense. They are expensive, but in my view worth the money if you are into serious art. Faber Castell Albrecht Durer also have 120 colours, have the nearest similarity to artists watercolours in the way they behave as wet colour on the paper and have a drier touch than some of the more recently formulated aquarelles.  They are not to my own choice as I find they can have a dragging feel in use, but they do have some advantages for watercolourists who like to use colours that granulate or lift from the paper. Good selection of reds and yellows to suit botanical work.  Probably the oldest formulation of all the watercolour pencils available. Advantage : most similar to traditional watercolour pigments, but a drier feel on to the paper than the other brands listed above The new line of Albrecht Durer Magnus watercolour pencils introduced in 2017 are softer and smoother and I was told that the 24 colour range was to be expanded in 2018. I have yet to see this. These are bulky pencils which will not fit your power sharpener and will probably need sharpening with a craft knife ( which I do anyway ). The 24 set comes complete with a good brush and the colour range will provide an excellent colour range in mixtures and blends. All the colours are lightfast. Possibly these will take over in due course from the older Albrecht Durer line. You don’t need so many colours if you are using watercolour pencils as you can use traditional watercolour techniques. 24 is a small set though. Other brands to consider ....... Lyra make an aquarelle pencil and whilst these have not been easy to find in the past, I see that they have been listed on the Great Art on-line catalogue listings in 2018.   See the Lyra page for more info. Advantage : softer and smoother than Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Aquarelles, with many very similar/same colours. Staedtler KARAT are  excellent quality for the low price, have a harder feel than the other brands listed here, but take a fine durable point and dissolve well.    One or two of the darker Staedtler colours have a colour shift when wet. Check your colours on a trial sheet of paper and test the colour samples wet to identify those which will need more care over in use. Advantage : very well priced for a very good ‘student’ quality pencil.   Capable of a fine hard point for detail but colour dissolves well Karat make a good pencil choice for beginners as - despite the snag of one or two of the darker colours coming up a different shade when wet, Staedtler offer a box of 60 different colours for the price of 30 of the other brands….. around £50 from Amazon. These make a good starter pencil and can be used both as a dry point pencil and as a watercolour pencil. I have a box of 60 Staedtler Karat Aquarelles which I use regularly for making up washes for under painting, and if I am going away, the  box of 60 karat is the all purpose box I take, rather than the 120 of another brand.  They are capable of fine work, and they are not as permanent on the paper as Inktense, so corrections can be made by lifting off excess colour. The 60 colour range is good, and I use the 36 box for teaching courses and workshops.   The only snag with using these is that there are rarely single pencils available on sale to replace worn down ones. They can be found, but the beginner has usually graduated to artist quality pencils before a replacement is needed. Well worth looking at for a beginner, people who try these out often go on to buy OTHER BRANDS Cretacolor Marino have appeared on the UK scene in the last year or so.  They are sold as a boxed set and the range extends to a set of 36 colours which is adequate for those starting out.  The pigments are reliable and there is little colour shift between dry and wet on the paper. They are lightfast to ASTMS 4303 ( the testing standard for material content ), so offer an excellent choice at a reasonable price.   The Pigments are not excessively strong so what you put down on the paper is generally what you get when you have used a brush to wet the dry colour ( a long way from the strength of pigment in the Derwent Inktense ).   Advantage : If you are looking to buy a starting out set with no surprises and can find a Marino stockist with an acceptable price, then this is a good option. Koh-i-noor . The Czech company Hardtmuth produce a range of good pencil products including the Mondeluz aquarelle. Priced at under £1 a pencil in sets up to 72 in size. I have tested their Pastel pencils ( excellent ) but not yet the aquarelles. Woodless aquarelles NEOCOLOR 2 from Caran d’Ache and CRETACOLOR Monolith are very good for covering large surfaces as they are crayon style pencils with no wood.  Of these, Neocolor 2 has by far the greater colour range Spectrum Noir You may have seen my comments about Spectrum Noir in the Wax pencil review. This brand also market a watercolour version which I have not handled ( 2017 ) but I would expect them to be a reasonable student quality pencil marketed for papercraft use. They are not available as single pencils and I know nothing about their lightfastness. Of the other brands, I have not tested Daler Rowney watercolour pencils and have only seen an occasional sealed box in some shops. They still appear in Internet listings ( Sept 2018 )  I believe they are manufactured in Europe by one of the main pencil manufacturers using Daler Rowney pigments.  I have no other information and have not seen them recently. Daler Rowney have not replied to my enquiries for information. Winsor & Newton have marketed a small set of up to 24 colours in 2019. These are made in Vietnam but the colour range matches the W & N Cotman colours, and reports indicate they make a good starter set. MORE BRANDS OF PENCIL I have not covered other Prismacolor  brands or Bruynzeel pencils in detail here as they are not easily available in the UK. I know that the Dutch Bruynzeel  Fullcolor pencils are highly regarded and lightfast and that they are available in the USA and also in Europe, but I have not been able to try them myself.   The Bruynzeel ‘Design’ range are easier to find in the UK on the Internet & are also a good pencil. I have handled a brand imported from the Far East and marketed as ‘Fantasia’.  I do not know the country of origin, but the pencils are of good student quality and sold at low prices.  I think sales are mainly through stationers.   The Arteza brand are strongly marketed in Europe over the internet. I have not yet tested them but reports indicate they are of reasonable quality for a lower cost pencil. Only available in sets ( 2018) . Own Branded low cost coloured pencil products may seem a good buy, but apart from the Fantasia brand listed above, I wouldn’t recommend spending money on them. There are some top quality coloured pencils manufactured in Asia, but the best have top prices. If the brand isn’t listed here, then price can sometimes be a guide to quality, BUT this is not always so. I have tested ‘White Nights’ aquarelles from the well known Russian watercolour manufacturer in St Petersburg, and noted they were made in China and that the overall quality was poor. They sold at a mid price, over £1 a pencil. Whilst some manufacturers in Japan, Indonesia, Phillipines, Vietnam and Korea make superb pencils and some in developing countries make a good product ( some manufacture for the larger brands like Faber-Castell, who have factories in over a dozen countries), the general standard of lower cost pencils is not good and whilst you can save a lot of money buying low cost coloured pencils, the results will be generally poorer.   USE THE BEST YOU CAN AFFORD being able to buy single replacements for used up pencils is a good marker for a good line of pencils PASTEL Pencils Considered by some traditionalist Coloured Pencil Artists as ‘the Tool of the Devil’. …….. Because they don’t conform to the techniques employed for wax type pencils, Pastel Pencils have not been accepted as being ‘Coloured Pencils’ for entry into the exhibitions of the major International Pencil Societies. If you intend to use them they must be entered in classes reserved for ‘Mixed Media’ HOWEVER, Pastel Pencils are definitely pencils and also definitely coloured, and this web site will treat them as coloured pencils. The handling of Pastel Pencils is totally different to the wax and aquarelle types. Here we have a chalky opaque material in a wooden sleeve that does not layer colour as wax pencils do, and does not handle like an aquarelle, though some brands advertise they can be used with water.   There is a separate section of this web site that concentrates on Pastel Pencils. Our section on pastel pencils has a very high footfall of visitors, so I suggest that you look there for more comprehensive information.   I cover the different brands and how they are used, together with worked examples.   Pastel Pencils made by the major pencil companies - Derwent, Faber-Castell, Caran d’Ache, Stabilo Carbothello, Cretacolor, etc are all good, vary slightly in handling, and are all worth trying.   The same suggestion on testing brands first applies though - borrow as many different brands and try before you buy.   Pastel Pencils wear out more quickly than wax or aquarelle pencils, so make sure you know where you will be able to buy replacement individual colours. Many Pastel Pencil manufacturers also make sticks of woodless hard pastel from the same mixture as the pencil cores. This enables the artist to lay down a base of colour without wearing out the valuable pencil points.   The Pastel Pencils are best sharpened with a craft knife if you can - they are too delicate for robust machine sharpening or sharpening with a blunt bladed sharpener ! MUCH MORE INFORMATION ON PASTEL PENCIL BRANDS IS GIVEN IN THE PASTEL PENCIL SECTION In addition to all that, one more general factor needs to be taken into account which applies to all Coloured Pencils. If you are keen on art and looking for a brand that will  support your requirements over a long period, it can pay you to buy a good set to get the benefit of the full range and have the added benefit of a box or tin for ease of access and storage.   Remember, if you buy a set of 12 pencils, the set may well include a number of basic bright colours ( red, yellow, blue, green, white and black and possibly violet ). You may not use all of these bright colours very often.   Buy a similar set of 24 pencils and you will have the same set of 6 or 7 brights, but instead of being left with what I would regard as a very small handful of 5 useful colours from the 12 box, you will have around 18 useful colours in the box of 24 Before you buy a set of quality pencils costing over £1.50 each, though, check on the availability and prices for single replacement pencils.   It is no good having to buy another set just to replace a couple of worn down pencils. The most economical way to buy, if you are a specialist in one type of subject, is to get just the colours you need as single pencils and store them in colour sets in pencil rolls or separate cases which will hold 120 colours at a single opening. I have a metal box of 120 Polychromos in three layers, where the bottom layer of reds, violets and yellows is hardly touched after five years.   The top layers of greens, blues and greys are now in their third or fourth life. A full set of one brand can usually be supplemented by additional colours from another similar make. It is quite possible to use a full set of Caran d’Ache Pablo together with a selection of reds and yellows ( and other colours) from the Faber-Castell Polychromos range ( or vice versa, using greens and browns from Pablo with your Polychromos set).
This page has the highest readership on the site and has grown longer and longer as time passes. An attempt to edit it into a shorter topic failed as readers have said they need the information. Bon Voyage !!
December 2017 UK Internet pencil retailer, PENCILS4ARTISTS introduced a range of different types of COMPARISON pencil packs to enable artists to compare brands without having to buy whole sets. As far as I know this is a unique service and a very valuable one. They do mail overseas.
Page last revised … 16th August 2019