What coloured pencils do you use... and why?

September 6, 2021 | 48 Comments

I’ve been really enjoying using coloured pencils during my break, especially in my Greenwood Journal. It’s so much fun to quickly add some colour (and texture) without having to get paints out or wait for anything to dry.

I really know very little about oil-based/wax-based coloured pencils as I’ve almost exclusively used watercolour pencils (WCPs) since I started sketching. As mentioned in an earlier post, I have a few Prismacolors, a Derwent Coloursoft 12 set and an old Derwent Artists 72 set, but most of my collection are WCPs, so that’s what I’ve been using without adding any water to them. The Caran D’Ache Museum Aquarelles are my favourite at the moment (especially on the smooth Greenwood paper) but I’ve also been using a few Inktense, Prismacolors and Derwents. It’s so much fun to try different media and colours.

 I’d love to know what are your coloured pencils – and why?
I’m particularly interested in getting some recommendations on oil-based/wax-based pencils – but happy for you to share your WCP preferences as well.



  • Prashanta says:

    I love my Prismacolor pencils Liz. As a landscape architect, in the days of yore – before computerized presentations, the entire studio would sit around a drawing, colouring various parts of the masterplan……miss those days! And Prismacolor on Vellum and Tracing paper would make our landscape plans come alive. The trees particularly!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Prashanta – ah yes coloured pencil on vellum is the best!!!! I miss that so much!

      • Prashanta says:

        Have you seen the drawings in Barbara Stauffacher Solomon’s book ‘GREEN ARCHITECTURE AND THE AGRARIAN GARDEN’? A lot of ‘colour pencil on vellum’ effect. I bought the book just for the drawings….

  • I was surprised to discover that lightfastness can be an issue with coloured pencils, never thought about it until Derwent introduced their Lightfast range. Then I went through the colourcharts to check my other Derwent pencils and put a bit of tape on those that I should restrict to sketchbook use only.

    Also https://makingamark.blogspot.com/2008/02/how-lightfast-are-your-artist-grade.html

    My favourites are Derwent Coloursoft, which aren’t too hard and go down smoothly, Occasionally have issues with point breaking when sharpening as if core is broken, but think that happens with all pencils doesn’t it?

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks for sharing Marion! I haven’t gotten around to using my coloursoft pencils… I should! thanks for the prompt!

  • Kimberly says:

    I love my Prismacolor set. Probably because they were my first quality set of watercolor pencils. Such a buttery texture as well. I’m NOT loving my Mondeluz Aquarelle pencils. They had almost put me off watercolor pencils, as they transfer and smudge to the opposite page easily.

  • Teresa Kirchner says:

    I currently use Prismacolors for most part but I have some Polychromos and Derwent. I use them together as some lines have slightly different colors. I don’t worry so much about lightfastness because I don’t think my art will last over 100 years.

  • CherylP says:

    I’ve only ever used Berol Prismacolor pencils. My original set is the 60 color set from the 80s and when some favorite colors wore down, I bought a 24 set that is marked 1997 on the packaging. That will either tell you how little I use them, how long they last, or that I don’t want to chance the new formulation.

    I do have a selection of WCP (Duhrer) and watercolor markers (Caran d’Ache) that I occasionally use with watercolor.

  • Paula Pettis says:

    Colored Pencils: Prismacolor. When you use their blender, you get wonderful bright colors!! Plus, with some other brands, you have to press too hard on the page, and it tires my hands easily.

    Watercolor Colored Pencils: Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle. They melt in the water the best for me.

  • Lena Kogan says:

    Derwent Drawing pencils have a limited color range, but feel literally like butter, and the color range is perfect for landscapes. I’d never tried anything more enjoyable in my life!

    • Dennis Chippindale says:

      I have a set of 72 in the Derwent Coloursoft – there’s enough of a good range in that set. I agree with their feel

  • maria bergman says:

    In your travels, how do these WCP compare to the W&N Durer? They seem softer and melt easier in water than Prismacolour.

  • My experience with colour pencils is limited but recently I’ve started using Faber Castell Albrecht Durer (watercolour pencils) as you’s use regular colour pencils. I don’t always add water, but use them to add shadows, colour accents and texture to my sketches.
    This is a good example of how I use them:

    I’ve also used FC polychromos (wax pencils) but I dont find those as soft and responsive as the water soluble ones.
    I bought the FC watercolour pencils on a whim but I use them more and more now. I like having the freedom to add water if/when I want to.

    • Chloé Delmotte says:

      Very beautiful. What kind of paper do you use, and what kind of brushes? And are they both important? Thank you!

      • Liz Steel says:

        HI Chloe – IMO paper makes the biggest difference. I typically use my normal sketchbook – Alpha by Stillman and Birn. Brushes? 772 dagger by Rosemary and Co.

  • I go back and forth between Prismacolor (wax base, great color range) and Polychromos (oil base, lots of colors, but fewer than Prisma, I think). I like the blending nature of both.

    Prismacolor will move toward the wax bloom with layering. Prisma responds well to added Liquin for vibrancy and blending.

    Polychromos blending can be subtle. For nature sketching (birds, animals) I like that.

    See Janie Gildow & Barbara Newton’s book “Colored Pencil Solution Book” for more information.

    (Full disclosure: I have taken CP classes from Janie at the Art Institute of Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Great place to learn.)

    • Judi Moline says:

      I concur completely with Wanda’s notes re Prismacolors and Polychromos. For brilliant colors and unusual colors on my botanicals, I found Prismas easier to blend the multiple layers needed to achieve accurate colors. For more subtle colors the Polys were great.

  • I use Polychromos exclusively. I got tired of the quality control issues associated with Prismacolor. When I did make the switch (I’m not a big colored pencil user) I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Polychromos colors match those of the Albrecht-Durer watercolor pencils I use and they feel very similar as well. Truth is, I only use Polychromos when I want to use watercolor over them as otherwise I just carry my watercolor pencils.

    • Barbara Cunningham says:

      I agree about quality Issues with Prismacolor, and many pet portrait artists use FaberCastell poly chromos which are just hard enough to get details easily. Preferred papers are hot press watercolor papers and Clairfontaine PastelMat.

    • Wendi Wells says:

      I also love that the Polychromos and Albrecht Dürer pencils match in both name and number on the barrel, and I’ve never had issues with sharpening either of them (even after dropping them). They also match the Pitt Brush pens and the Albrecht Dürer watercolor markers! It’s a wonderful system! I really like the Museum Aquarelles and Luminance pencils, and the Neocolor 1 and 2, but Faber Castell spoiled me and it annoys me that the colors and pigment numbers do match across the Caran D’Ache line of products.

  • Rebecca Riordan says:

    I used to be a Prisma girl, but when they started having quality control issues I started swapping over to Polychromos. I find them about the same to work with and freely mix them.

    Like several other people who’ve responded here, I don’t care about lightfastness. I don’t sell originals, and I don’t think anyone will care about me or my scribbles 100 years from now. Honestly, I think this lightfastness thing is much ado about very little. Yes, some of the materials aimed at crafters will start fading after a couple months (I’m looking at you Ranger), but artist’s quality stuff will certainly outlive me.

  • Dennis Chippindale says:

    Hi Liz,
    I regularly use both Prismacolour and Derwent Coloursoft. They are fairly equivalent but I think the Prismacolor range is bigger. When traveling I have Prismacolor in my pencil roll but also, after a recent recommendation, have some Caran D’Ache Luminance pencils in skin tones. The big advantage with the Luminance is that I can sharpen them with a knife and not continually snap leads (a problem with Prismacolor and Coloursoft). I’m looking to expand my selection of Luminance pencils as they seem to be great. I recommend using toned paper if you are having some fun/experimental time with coloured pencils. I like the Strathmore toned sketchbooks with nice thick paper which has a very slight texteure. I have used pencils in combo with marker pens (pencil over the top of markers) and also get great effects there.

    Have fun over there

  • Susan Jaye says:

    Hi Liz
    I only took up drawing and sketching after I retired so I would call myself a dabbler. I like trying to master water colour and have not used pencils much but lately I have really liked anything you can add water to. I have tried inktense , Durer, Derwent Graphitint carendache neocolour 11. I really like the Graphitint for nature subjects.
    Early on I got really confused about the range offered by Derwent and bought a set of 24 Artist colours. I don’t like them. They are too hard. I bought some colour soft open stock and they are nice but I think I will spring for a set of Derwent drawing pencils. I might try dropping a few hints about Christmas time.

  • Alan Barbour says:

    I am currently assembling a (sort of) minimal pencil field kit, simpler than my watercolour pans kit. It is based on FC watercolour pencils because I like them. I enjoyed seeing Sasala’s examples above. I have a set of Sonnet [student grade] WC pencils, but haven’t done anything with them. The wood is low quality.

    In re ordinary coloured pencils, i haven’t done anything with them yet, but had to acquire a set for use in an intermediate drawing class in which I am currently enrolled. I chose Blick [dickblick.com] house brand because they had reasonably good reviews and a reasonably good price; they seem to actually be Koh-I-Noor pencils.

  • Hi Liz, I have also blogged on the lightfastness of Prismacolor pencils recently, https://leonieandrews.com/2021/07/28/are-your-colour-color-pencils-lightfast/ and sadly many of their colours do not even rate as ‘good’. As a result I am switching over to Caran D’Ache lightfast pencils. The Prismacolors are going.

  • Stephanie Trimas says:

    Hi all
    I have literally hundreds of colour pencils and watercolour pencils having collected them over many years. I have Prismacolours, Polychromous, a range of Derwents including coloursoft, artists, Graphtints and Inktense. I lijke the smoothness of prismacolour and their big colour range, and Polychromous, also smooth and rich.

    In watercolour pencils as well as the Derwent Inktense and Graphtint, I have Albert Durer, Faber Castell and Caran Dárche. For adding water I like the Inktense but some change colour a bit such as Port, ordinary when dry but beautiful with water added. I like the Albert Durers, Faber Castells and Caran Dache dry because they have a glow.
    I find Derwent artist too hard and not bright enough so I hardly use those and only have a few.

    For outdoor sketching I mainly use Inktense and graphtint if I’m not using watercolour paints.
    Having so many different pencils and paints gets complicated at times so I stick with the favourites mostly. I also confess to colouring in those adult colouring in books especially during lockdown in front of TV and Dream Cities is the best one I’ve ever worked with. I use watercolour pencils and a few others I like but don’t add water to these because of the small areas and fine details.

    I’ve never worried much about lightfastness but I like smooth intense colours and some have a glow. Some colours and shades work better than others even in the same type of pencil.
    Stephanie T.

  • Cecelia Clarke says:

    Hello Liz
    early on in my drawing experience, I started purchasing Faber Castell coloured pencils. I’ve stayed with the brand because a. I like the way the colours blend on paper. b.I have corresponding aquarelles and find the two work well together.
    Best from Metrogirl

  • Liz Steel says:

    Wow! thanks everyone for your comments – so helpful!!!!!

  • Marion Starr says:

    Hello Liz
    I sometimes use the Polychromos pencils for outdoor sketching for a change when it is not convenient to carry the gear for watercolour and have found them very useful with a good range of colours and subtle tones. They are firm enough to hold a point well but soft enough to give good colour coverage if required. Would certainly suggest you try them.

    Greeting from Sydney – keep well and safe.

  • Alison says:

    I use Prismacolor because I started collecting them in grad school. On hard days I could go to the art supply section of the campus book store and buy a few pretty colors. It was a cheap way to brighten up my day. I never bought a full set, just the colors that appealed to me. I the past year I’ve really enjoyed using them on black and toned papers. It is such a mind shift to work on black paper instead of white. Some of the colors that are rather ordinary on white paper positively glow on black paper. It’s been a lot of fun.

  • Carlos Baciadonne says:

    In last 2-3years start using Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolour Pencils like the wide variety of colours available and exellent colouring
    My first W/C pencils had been INKTENSE only small amount of pressure bring a very reach colour
    On both brands I only buy individual colours, have about 20 pencils that used often
    Lay the colour on dry paper and use a paper stump (or the finger) to smoth or blend colours, for a smooth uniform colour moisted ( never wet) piece of soft paper gently rub over the colour and presto!

  • Kate Powell says:

    Hands down, Prismacolor pencils… I have some that I’ve had since architecture days.
    Caran Dárche for the watercolor pencils… I don’t worry about lightfastness because I am in a sketchbooks with these.

  • Barbara Butterworth says:

    The older Prismacolors were my fav .. sadly the newer ones, no longer made in the US , are not the same quality.
    I bought a complete set of Caren de Arche museum recently.. wow.. what beautiful selection.. it’s intimidating opening up the box they are so beautiful!
    Looking forward to seeing more Colored pencil work from Liz!

  • gillian noble says:

    I have a box of 12 Staedtler Aquarell I have had in the drawer for years. And a box of 36 Faber-Castell WCP. I have to say I find the Staedtler more pleasant to use.

  • Yves Couture says:

    I have been using Polychromos pencils as… well colouring pencils. I think I was moire a collector of these than a user. However, I just experimented to see how I could integrate details with them in my aquarelles.
    I used them on S&B Beta watercolour paper and went over the colours with turpentine. The colours popped up and blended (cross hatched) perfectly. They also worked well for brick texture and especially with softening the edges between a colour and its projected shadow.

    So, still experimenting but I believe I will be using them in my aquarelles.

  • Alan T says:

    I love Derwent InkTest. They are not the greatest without water but are really solid

    Made the mistake of trying Caran D’ache Aquarelle and they are nice but pricey

    The Caran D’ache Supracolours are the best entry pencils I share them with my daughter.

    Just realized they are all soluble but I like them and am really sad I bought the modern prismacolours after trying the older ones.

  • Dana Jordan says:

    I love my Prismacolor pencils and I also love my Polychromos. I have tried the Arteza Expert Colored Pencils and they lovely as well, close to the Prismas. I also have small sets of Luminance, Derwent Coloursoft, and Intense. But I always find myself going back to Prismacolors.

  • Brian Johnson says:

    For me it’s Faber-Castel products all the way. I started with a set of 24 Polychromous oil based pencils and later matched them up with 24 Albrecht Durer Magnus watercolors. I particularly like the thick 5.3 mm barrel of the Magnus. Very nice for people with carpal tunnel issues or arthritic hands.

  • E Robson says:

    I keep 4 MD waxy coloured pencils for set up drawings and to use as resists/highlights in my everyday kit – white, grey, blue, orange. The grey is particularly nice as a not too contrasty detail when a watercolour wash goes over it.

  • Kate Ramsey says:

    Ann Swan’s book Botanical Painting with Coloured Pencils gives good information comparing different brands of coloured pencils as well as techniques for blending ,burnishing etc. Prismacolors are softer and creamier while Faber Castell Polychromos is a little harder.

  • Noah Enholm says:

    I use metallic colored pencils. On dark paper or canvas, they can produce vivid, eye-catching metallic effects. They can provide your sketching work with outstanding clarity and dramatic accents

  • Noah Enholm says:

    I am also using Arteza watercolor pencils. The pencils lay down color nicely and do not appear chalky, as other watercolor pencils do. They provide creamy textures that allow you to generate easy strokes, which is very useful for capturing magnificent scenery for plein air painting.

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