The best coloured pencils in 2023
The best coloured pencils money can buy will help will you raise your drawing and sketching to the next level.
The best coloured pencils come in more styles, sets and choice than ever before. Whether you need hard or soft, muted or vibrant colours, in this guide I've selected the best coloured pencils for adults and hobbyists, as well as the best professional coloured pencils for artists.
The best coloured pencils enable you to layer up and blend colours precisely. You'll also be more accurate in tasks such as shading, hatching and cross-hatching, as well as advanced techniques like rubbings and burnishing paper. So buying these high-quality pencils really is a no-brainer.
Once you've bought your pencils, get the most out of them with our tips how to draw movement and how collection of how to draw tutorials that cover the basics and more. You can compliment your new coloured pencils with the best watercolours, too.
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The best pencils overall Point type: MediumPack sizes: 72, 120Features: Soft-touch+ Easy to sharpen+ Soft-touch finish- Not a hexagonal finishWe'll start with the best of the best. These round-barrelled pencils from Castle Arts are the best coloured pencils available today, for most purposes.
With a soft-touch finish, they're a first-rate choice for blending and layering, comfortable to use over long periods and produce smooth, creamy hues. They stay sharp for longer than most coloured pencils, too.
They come in a protective, fabric zip-around case, and there's a tutorial that teaches you how to draw the picture on the front of the box. Plus the colours are clearly labelled so you don't have to spend time trying to find the right one. These coloured pencils are superb.CB rating: 5/5 stars
The best for portability Point type: BroadPack sizes: 48, 72Features: Strong tips+ Break-resistant tips+ Sturdy tin- Wax bloom can occurIf you travel a lot, these water-soluble coloured pencils are a great option. With break-resistant tips and 4mm leads, they're less likely to shatter if dropped. And they come in a nice sturdy, double-hinged tin, making them easy to transport.
More generally, these lovely pencils produce vivid colours, although you need to avoid pushing down too hard or you may get an ugly wax bloom.
These are fully blendable, and superb for hatching and cross-hatching. Usefully, these pencils are labelled according to colour name and colour number, and there's a colour chart in the tin, so it's easy to find the one you want quickly and easily.CB rating: 5/5 stars
Best for lightfastness Point type: FinePack sizes: 12-120Features: Break-resistant+ Water-resistant+ High lightfastness- Could be too softThese pencils from Faber-Castell feature high-quality, acid-free pigments in bright colours, with excellent lightfastness (that is, they're resistant to fading when exposed to light). A thick 3.8 mm core offers high break resistance, and the wooden barrels are protected with a water-based 'eco' varnish.
These excellent coloured pencils are available in a wide variety of pack sizes, from 12 to 120. They also make a perfect couple with Faber-Castell's Albrecht Durer Watercolour Pencils, which are among some of the best watercolour pencils available today and worth buying.CB rating: 5/5 stars
Best for still life Point type: BroadPack sizes: 6-72Features: 88%+ Range of set sizes+ Attractive wooden box- Soft leads require careDrawing still life or landscapes? Then Derwent's Coloursoft Colouring Pencils are a great choice. With a round 4mm, velvety-soft core, they're great for building up colour quickly.
These coloured pencils are highly blendable, and thanks to their break resistant core, you can also sharpen them to a fine point. All this makes them perfect for a variety of projects, including still-lifes and landscapes.
These pencils are available in a large variety of box sizes too, from six to 72, which offers a degree of choice. They're also available in a presentation box, making them ideal for giving as a special gift.CB rating: 4/5 stars
Good for everyday use Point type: BoldPack sizes: 136-180Features: Durable core+ Durable core+ Well-labelled- Weak cardboard caseLooking for reliable pencils that you can use day-in, day, out? Then the Shuttle Art Soft Core Color Pencil Set offers excellent value.
These round pencils are made premium quality wood for ease of sharpening, making them great for regular, everyday use. A thick 3mm break-resistant core provides durability. Even though they're budget-priced, they usefully feature colour names and numbers on the side.
They're pretty great in action too, with soft leads that produce vivid colours that are easy to blend, layer and shade. The cardboard box they come in is a little flimsy if you travel a lot, but on the plus side, they are nicely laid out and it's easy to find what you're looking for quickly.CB rating: 4/5 stars
Unique triangular design Point type: FinePack sizes: 24Features: Ergonomic design+ Nice firm grip+ Smooth colouring- Harder to sharpenThe Staedtler Ergosoft Colored Pencils have a unique triangular design that ensures they won't slip when sketching and when placed on a desk never roll away.
These pencils have a nice non-slip surface so they feel great to use, and the ergonomic design filters into the pencil's case, which folds out as a stand.
They're as good to use too, as the colour lays down in smooth, creamy shades and these are also good to use with other brands, such as Prismacolor. The downside? That triangular shape means manual sharpening is the only way to get a perfect point.CB rating: 4/5 stars
Coloured plein air pencils Point type: FinePack sizes: 30Features: 'Leather' pouch+ Quality pencils+ Easily carried- Not actually leatherThis Faber-Castell Polychromos coloured pencil set is a good option for artists who want to take their skills on the go; if you're a plein air penciller this is a good set.
The pencils have the standard Faber-Castell quality and come in HB and 2B hardness, ideal for sketching. These are waxy, water resistant pencils, too.
The star here is the 'leather' pouch that rolls the pencils up (it's not real leather) and comes with an eraser. There's room for 12 more pencils too, so you can add more.CB rating: 4/5 stars
Best value pencil set Point type: FinePack sizes: 240Features: Metallics and neons+ Huge variety+ Unique colours- Not so richThis Kalour set of 240 of the best coloured pencils offers great value for money. Not only to you get lots of pencils but there's a unique range of colours, with metallics and neons joining regular CMYK pencils.
These pencils offer soft break-resistant cores and are perfect for colouring, sketching and blending. The metallic tin is a good addition too, and will keep your pencils safe.
While they are good pencils pros may find they lack the rich pigment of brands like Prismas and you will need to manually organise the collection, which takes time.CB rating: 4/5 stars
Well-priced wax-based pencils Point type: MediumPack sizes: 72Features: Protective case+ 3mm core+ Very durable- Paint brushes are badThese Magicfly Colored Pencils are designed to last and they also come with a couple of paint brushes thrown in, though to be honest, these aren't great quality.
Like many of the best coloured pencils, Magicfly Colored Pencils have the colour name and number stamped on the outer surface, which is very handy. Layering and blending is easy, with rich and vibrant pigments. You can also get a Magicfly Watercolour Pencils set, too if you're looking to expand your art and techniques.CB rating: 4/5 stars
Designed to stay sharp Point type: FinePack sizes: 48Features: Rich pigment+ Quality black finish+ Named colours- Not the largest setDo your pencils leads keep breaking when sharpened? Then check out these Monarch Premium Grade Black Widow Coloured Pencils, which boast 3.3mm thick leads that won't let you down. Also the hexagonal design is designed for ultimate comfort in your hand, and they won't roll away when you put them down on the table.
The rich pigment results in a waxy finish with deep colour. They're easily blendable and comfortable to hold with a 'spider black' finish for that premium appearance. Each colour name is stamped onto the pencil alongside a catalogue number. The only real issue is that the maximum set is 48. So if you want more colours than this, another option might suit you better.CB rating: 4/5 stars
Best for soft shading Point type: SoftPack sizes: 48Features: Free sharpener+ Rich pigments+ Smooth colour laydown- A little too waxyPrismacolor's richly saturated pigments impress and are good for beginners and seasoned artists alike, though some may find the colours a little muted compared to other pencils on my list.
The advantage of Prismacolor's thick, soft cores means these are great for laying down smooth colour and blending and shading, though they are a little too waxy and can resist painting over.
The only real draw back is the hard tin the pencils come in, they are liable to shuffle around inside and with such soft cores the tin itself can result in blunting the tips. Perhaps Prismacolor is aware of this, hence why this set comes with a free sharpener designed for coloured pencils.CB rating: 4/5 stars
Best for hiding mistakes Point type: ChiselPack sizes: 12Features: Erasable finish+ Vivid colours+ Easily erase mistakes - Limited to 12 pencilsI you happen to make a lot of mistakes in your and don't like finding ways to solve problems then Prismacolors' erasable coloured pencils are a nice set to have. These are particularly good for artists who like to create detailed and complex designs and patterns, or for adult colouring where every mark matters.The sharp chisel tip allows for fine work and accuracy, but when you do stray any marks can be removed with a dry or damp cloth. This does have a downside, as the pigments aren't the richest of the pencils on my list. You also need to consider how you use them a little more, for example they work fine as a base for watercolour I wouldn't use them on top of watercolour. CB rating: 4/5 stars
Coloured pencils typically last for at least two to five years, if used sparingly or not at all. Store them carefully in cool, dark place and they may last much longer. Conversely, the more that coloured pencils are exposed to heat or sunlight, the faster they will absorb moisture and dry out. This will make the lead brittle and difficult to use.
Coloured pencils with soft leads should never be sharpened to a long point, because they are more likely to break. Instead, use a mechanical pencil sharpener (never an electric one) and sharpen to a short point. Test out different sharpeners to find the one that works best for you and your pencil – see our best pencil sharpeners guide for your options.
For our money, the best coloured pencils money can buy today come from Castle Arts. With a soft-touch finish, these round-barrelled pencils offer first-rate blending and layering qualities. They're comfortable to use over long periods and produce smooth, creamy hues. They also stay sharp for longer than most pencils, and the colours are clearly labelled.
If you want quality coloured pencils, but don't want to pay high prices, we recommend Shuttle Art's set of 172. These round pencils are made premium quality wood and thick 3mm break-resistant core, making them great for regular, everyday use. They usefully feature colour names and numbers on the side. And they're pretty great in action too, with soft leads that produce vivid colours that are easy to blend, layer and shade.
Daily design news, reviews, how-tos and more, as picked by the editors.
Ian Dean is Editor, Art & Design at Creativebloq, and the former editor of many leading magazines. These titles included ImagineFX, 3D World and leading video game title Official PlayStation Magazine. In his early career he wrote for music and film magazines including Uncut and SFX. Ian launched Xbox magazine X360 and edited PlayStation World. For Creative Bloq, Ian combines his experiences to bring the latest news on AI, digital art and video game art and tech, and more to Creative Bloq, and in his spare time he doodles in Procreate, ArtRage, and Rebelle while finding time to play Xbox and PS5. He's also a keen Cricut user and laser cutter fan, and is currently crafting on Glowforge and xTools M1.The best pencils overall Point type: Pack sizes: Features: CB rating: 5/5 stars The best for portability Point type: Pack sizes: Features: CB rating: 5/5 stars Best for lightfastness Point type: Pack sizes: Features: CB rating: 5/5 stars Best for still life Point type: Pack sizes: Features: CB rating: 4/5 stars Good for everyday use Point type: Pack sizes: Features: CB rating: 4/5 stars Unique triangular design Point type: Pack sizes: Features: CB rating: 4/5 stars Coloured plein air pencils Point type: Pack sizes: Features: CB rating: 4/5 stars Best value pencil set Point type: Pack sizes: Features: CB rating: 4/5 stars Well-priced wax-based pencils Point type: Pack sizes: Features: CB rating: 4/5 stars Designed to stay sharp Point type: Pack sizes: Features: CB rating: 4/5 stars Best for soft shading Point type: Pack sizes: Features: CB rating: 4/5 stars Best for hiding mistakes Point type: Pack sizes: Features: CB rating: 4/5 stars Related articles: