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Information, Choices, Techniques and Advice on all Pencil Matters
COLOURED PENCILS -
Over 150 detailed pages of information for beginners and improvers to help you develop your skills
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 -
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, borrow or acquire 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.
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.
This is why I always take a variety of brands to demonstrations and courses, and discuss the differences with students attending -
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 you will get very little colour to adhere.
Too rough a paper ( cold pressed watercolour paper) and you will get plenty of colour down but find it hard to achieve any detail.
You need a balance -
There are three main types of coloured pencil ...............
and all three are covered in the ‘Topics’ website.
Wax type -
which I sometimes refer to as ‘Dry Point’.
It would be inaccurate 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 are wax based and which are oil based.
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-
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 or oil 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
Watercolour Pencils .
Otherwise known as Aquarelle Pencils (Their French name). The type that are soluble with water.
Pigments are often identical to the non soluble 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
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 those 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 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 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 is sharp. Compare the 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.
Test them for handling -
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 point will be lost more quickly as the 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, so will be looking for laying down thin layers of colour, one on top of another.
How do they handle when you apply a layer of 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.
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
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 -
And now, just looking at Watercolour Pencils -
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 on 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 take water to the pencil point, dissolve the colour on the paper
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 )
Pastel pencils handle very differently to the two types above. The colour they lay down is 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 the pigment ( or a gritty paper can also be used -
In more detail
WAX TYPE ( Non Soluble ) Pencils
The softest pencils are PRISMACOLOR and COLOURSOFT Both are wax based.
And Caran d’Ache LUMINANCE which is oil based
Prismacolor has the largest colour range. They originate in the USA (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 wax bloom)
Derwent’s Coloursoft is the most readily available in the UK as it is made here,
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 indicated below.
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 I have not seen, but I believe may have been withdrawn a few 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 them 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. Some UK internet suppliers specialise in seeking out old stocks of Karisma and may have some odd colours available.
Karisma pencils have the same colour range and feel of the older Prismacolor range -
In the UK, Prismacolor Premier Wax pencils are not marketed by UK retailers, and only have very limited availability through UK Internet suppliers.
Individual pencils (Open Stock) are not easy to find. Prismacolor have a soft feel of wax and very wide range of colours.
They are available over the Internet if you look hard enough.
There were new colours added in 2012 and the range now extends to around 150 colours. There have been problems over production standards and quality control since manufacture moved from the USA. 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 buy another pencil brand outside the USA 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.
Coloursoft from Derwent have 72 colours with a fair spread which should accommodate most artists. As with most Derwent pencils, there is a good coverage 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 coverage 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.
Luminance from Caran d’Ache is oil based, but also very soft and has the benefit of softness from the high oil content,
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, in a hot or humid climate, thick layers of wax pencil can suffer from Wax Bloom
Oil based pencils do not suffer from this problem
Luminance are also lightfast, so the risk of 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
These are all OIL based pencils (or 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-
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-
Pablo is readily available as single pencils over the Internet.
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 boxes. That improvement in their availability makes them attractive as an option.
Many of the Polycolor colour selection are similar to the Faber-
Van Gogh wax-
Other mid range brands :
Bruynzeel are made by the same Dutch subsidiary of the Sakura Group as Van Gogh, and are a good pencil.
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.
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 buy a box, I suggest you also check out the full colour chart on the Derwent website and note down the low lightfast colours so that you can -
A brand you may see advertised in the craft press and on TV craft channels is ‘Spectrum Noir’. These come is small sets which add up to a wide range of colours, but single pencils are not readily available so replacement involves buying another set. There are 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.
WATERCOLOUR ( Aquarelle ) Pencils
A bigger selection of manufacturers in this field but still only a short list of those 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.
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.
The most readily available brand in the UK is
Derwent with INKTENSE and WATERCOLOUR,
then Caran d’Ache with SUPRACOLOR SOFT, and in 2013 a new brand, MUSEUM
and finally Faber Castell with ALBRECHT DURER.
There are some other 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 (72 colours).
I find the colours very strong and they need careful management and understanding. Very good for impressionistic work and artwork on fabrics.
The colours are similar to inks. The strong colours can be used to make very thin washes and are then comparable to other brands in strength.
You will find a marked difference between the colour dry and the same colour when wet -
Advantage : Good strong colours that dissolve well
Derwent Watercolour pencils The old turquoise barrelled ones were reformulated in 2009. The old design had some very low lightfast colours, had a medium hard core but had excellent handling qualities.
The newer design (with darker Blue barrels) was introduced in the Summer of 2009 and are now universal in retailers and mail order outlets.
They are softer in feel than the old 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 -
I used the new 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. 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 -
The newer Derwent formula compare quite well with Caran d’Ache Supracolor but the Derwent pencils have a much smaller colour range.
The old formula -
Advantage : readily available and a good brand though a smaller range of colours than 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 tends to be the one I reach for first, as the colour range suits my style and subjects (Landscapes) and the pencils offer no surprises in use. For landscapes they offer the best 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
Caran d’Ache Museum a new introduction 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.
I have tested them fully and the results are posted on the Caran d’Ache page here.
Advantage : Soft and lightfast, handle well. Are expensive, but worth it, in my view.
Faber Castell Albrecht Durer also have 120 colours, have the nearest similarity to artists watercolours in the way they behave as wet colour 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 than the other two brands listed above
Other brands to consider .......
Lyra make an aquarelle and whilst these have not been easy to find in the past, I see (2010) that they are listed on the Great Art on-
Advantage : softer and smoother than Faber-
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 substantial colour shift when wet. Check your colours on a trial sheet of paper and test the colour samples wet to identify those to take more care over in use.
Advantage : very well priced for a very good ‘student’ quality pencil. Capable of a fine hard point but colour dissolves well
Karat make a good pencil choice for beginners as -
Staedtler offer a box of 60 different colours for the price of 30 of the other brands.
These make a good starter pencil and can be used both as a dry point pencil and as a watercolour pencil
Staedtler Karat are usually available on the Internet through UK dealers such as Amazon at a cost around £50 for the 60 pencils (October 2016)
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 30 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.
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 on the dry pigment ( 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.
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
Of the other brands, I have not tested Daler Rowney watercolour pencils and have only seen an occasional sealed box in some shops. I believe they were manufactured in Europe by one of the main pencil manufacturers using Daler Rowney pigments. I have no other information and have not seen them on sale recently
OTHER 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.
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 may well be a fair guide to quality.
Whilst some manufacturers in Japan and Korea make superb pencils and those in Asian and developing countries make a good product ( and some manufacture for the larger brands like Faber-
USE THE BEST YOU CAN AFFORD
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 are not 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, These coloured 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.
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 information.
I cover the different brands and how they are used, together with worked examples.
Pastel Pencils made by the major pencil companies -
The same suggestion on testing brands first applies though -
Pastel Pencils wear out more quickly than wax or aquarelle pencils so make sure you know where you will be going to buy replacement 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 -
MORE INFORMATION ON PASTEL PENCIL BRANDS
IS GIVEN IN THE PASTEL PENCIL SECTION
There are a number of Pencil makers in Eastern Asia who make very good coloured pencils.
These can be expensive, they can offer some difficult to find colours, they can be hard to replace.
I have not seen any on sale in the UK, but I do know several CP users who say they are very useful.
Some of the sets of colours are enormous.
I am afraid I cannot comment on their quality as I have not handled them
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 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 these bright colours very often. Buy a similar set of 24 pencils and you will have the same set of 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 quality pencil costing over £1 25 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 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-
Last full revision October 2016
The big question ...
‘Which one should I buy’ is impossible to answer.
Like many questions, the reply is
‘It all depends.......’
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ON THIS PAGE WE ARE LOOKING AT COMPARISONS BETWEEN THE DIFFERENT BRANDS
First of all,
Wax Type Coloured Pencils
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