When I first ventured into adding color to my artwork, I reached for colored pencils. I didn’t think about my artwork lasting a lifetime or even that people might be interested in buying it, so I reached for Crayola Colored Pencils. All that mattered was that I was having fun, right?
I didn’t know anything about colored pencils at the time, but I quickly found that Crayola was very limited in the number of layers that would go on the paper. After a while, no more pigment would go onto the paper, and instead it was like the pencil was just pushing the pigment around. It left a fogginess over anywhere I’d put down a lot of colors, and I could never get rid of the graininess.
Despite all that, I really enjoyed what I was doing.
Eventually, I thought it might be time to upgrade my pencils. I still didn’t know much about colored pencils, but I’d read on some online forums that Prismacolor was supposed to be the best. At the art store, I balked at the price. I grabbed a 12 set of Koh-I-Noor pencils instead.
I found Koh-I-Noor pencils to be a lot more pigmented than Crayola, but I struggled to get any sort of realism with them. I couldn’t get them to layer the same way that Crayola had, and all the drawings I did with them looked cartoonish. Not that that’s a bad thing, it just wasn’t what I was hoping to achieve. And I was still getting the grainy look with them.
A few years later, I took an art class where we were going to be using colored pencils. Prismacolor was the colored pencil on the supply list. I didn’t know there were different types of Prismacolor pencils, so I grabbed a pack of what was on sale–Verithins.
We immediately got along. I was able to layer so much more than I could with either Crayola or Koh-I-Noor. The way they went down on the paper felt just like my beloved graphite pencils but with pigment! I loved them … mostly.
I never was able to use the black Verithin pencil. The one that came with my first set broke all the way down. I thought nothing of it, must’ve just been a defective pencil. Next time I was at the art store, I grabbed another. That one broke all the way down, too. I purchased another. Same story. That happened with a few of the other pencils as well, never to the same extent, but it was still frustrating. I was paying over a dollar for each pencil, shouldn’t they last for more than one sharpening?!
Another problem was that the colors never became very vivid no matter how many layers I put down. Although, now I did find that as long as I kept them sharpened, I didn’t get the graininess.
I eventually decided to give Prismacolor Premiers a try. Those were the colored pencils I’d read about. Those were the colored pencils that were supposed to be The Best.
We didn’t get along.
Sure, I loved how many colors I had to choose from, but what good are all those colors if they crumbled every other time I sharpened them! I was used to slowly building up my colors, but these laid down so much bolder even with an incredibly light hand. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just a personality difference.
I was able to create some beautiful pieces with them, but we struggled to ever see eye-to-eye. I wanted softness and subtlety, they wanted to be seen. I wanted a sharp point for details, they just couldn’t hold up. I wanted every speck of the paper covered, they didn’t like filling in the valleys of the paper without a lot of coaxing. Quality problems aside, this pencil just wasn’t for me. I missed the precision and gentleness of my Verithins, but I did love the richness of the Premiers. I wasn’t sure if I’d keep up colored pencils seriously if this was what I had to choose from.
Enter Faber-Castell’s Polychromos. It was love at first drawing. They held a sharp point for precise details and getting down into every valley of the paper. No more grainy drawings! They were precise, subtle, deeply pigmented, and didn’t break every time I sharpened them. They were everything I loved about the Verithins and Premiers combined without any of the drawbacks. Well, there was one drawback. They’re a very translucent pencil. Which is wonderful for layering color on top of color for some lovely effects, but if I want to lay over white or a lighter color on top, it just wasn’t going to happen. Not the end of the world, I’d just have to be far more careful with the areas I wanted to stay white or a light color.
And then I found Caran d’Ache’s Luminance colored pencils. They could add those bright highlights I wanted sometimes. They didn’t break, they were pigmented, they were lovely. Except the price tag. $4 for a single pencil. Because of that, I haven’t gotten the full set yet, but they work wonderfully with my Polychromos.
5 thoughts on “Finding the Perfect Colored Pencil”
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Personally, if I’m writing in pencil, I’d favour a 2H wooden one (no preference on manufacturer); for technical drawing only a mechanical pencil will do for accuracy; but a craft knife-sharpened 2B will always feel right for sketching.
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Another thing that you should keep in mind when buying cheap colored pencils is that they may have different shades of color, and may be in a certain size. You can ask the salesperson if you can see a sample of a certain size or color of pencil, so that you can find out how they feel about them.