Which colored pencils should I choose?
October 15, 2015 9:51 PM   Subscribe

A good friend bought me a coloring book for adults ("Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt") for my birthday, and I'm excited to start using it. Which pencils should I choose?

I've had cheap pencils before, which was endlessly frustrating, but I never moved past those and I haven't done art involving colored pencils in years. I know I want to find an intermediate set, but I'm not sure which set to go with. I read this post which mentions Prismacolor, but I'd like some input. What is your favorite brand, and why?
posted by onecircleaday to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I, personally, am constantly buying new colored pencils every time I see them. Sometimes that set from the Dollar General has a really nice shade of something. If you can, go to an art supply store and try out what they have.

A neat trick I learned is to brush your colored in areas with turpentine on a stiff brush for a watercolor effect.

Have fun! That book is beautiful!
posted by irisclara at 10:31 PM on October 15, 2015

I bought Derwent Graphitint pencils, two sets. One is organic or more earth toned. One is bright colors. They work as graphite based color pencils, but can be wet with water for a watercolored look.
posted by Oyéah at 10:57 PM on October 15, 2015

Best answer: Prismacolor is the best brand of colored pencils. They have the most consistent, smooth, saturated leads and no weird internal grain issues that cause streaks or uneven pressure marks. They also don't break off in the sharpener as frequently as cheaper, more brittle pencils.

I, however, always use colored pencils as a supplement to oil pastels. My favorite oil pastels are an inexpensive water-soluble brand owned by Crayola called Portfolio. Oil pastels fill larger areas of paper much more quickly and also coat the paper with more ease; I think seeing specks of raw paper through the colored pencil's incomplete fill, which often happens due to the nature of the medium, really breaks the illusion of reality that I want my artwork to have. Meanwhile, colored pencils mix nicely with oil pastels and are great at fine detail work.
posted by vegartanipla at 11:01 PM on October 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Prismacolors are very popular for good reason. They are consistent, one batch of a color is going to match quite well to that same color purchased a few years later to finish up old projects, and between hues their opacity and strength of pigment tends to be more even than many other brands. Their texture is good for shading larger areas if you sharpen the lead differently - you can have two pencils of the same color, sharpened differently, for different purposes - as well as nice for sharp thin lines that don't need going over for opacity. They blend well with each other and the leads usually don't snap inside the pencil shaft or crumble like you might have experienced with cheaper pencils, and they're of a price point that it's not absurd to make a return/complain to the store manager if you get a box of duds. (This happened to me once, the whole box must have been banged around in transit because the leads were all just totally broken up. I got a full refund.)

There are definitely brands with better specific available colors, or with softer or harder leads that you might prefer, or that layer in a way you like, but for an all-around solid start and a reliable standard, Prismacolors are not a waste of money. I also find that they last longer than you might think, because you use less lead to get the same color on the page. Certainly though, you can mix brands, so experiment with what looks and feels good to you and build your own palette.
posted by Mizu at 11:12 PM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

I third Prismacolors, which I use primarily, but I also supplement them a bit with oil pastels (Expressionist brand).
posted by transient at 11:57 PM on October 15, 2015

Best answer: Nth-ing Prismacolor. You can get a 48 pack for $38 on Amazon. That seems like a good amount for a coloring book. (Obviously you can get sets of more or less but I'd probably get that set.) Someone reviewed that set for their Secret Garden adult coloring book and said they were a good choice.

I still have a couple from my college art days and they're the best. They sharpen really well, are super smooth, and pigmented.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:07 AM on October 16, 2015

Best answer: Only the Premier Prismacolors are archival. I think Faber Castell has a better line.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 12:56 AM on October 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Joanna Basford, the artist who drew Secret Garden, recommends Staedtler Ergo Soft and Derwent colored pencils. However, I have the same book, and I'd suggest getting some pens in addition to or instead of pencils. Most of the coloring spaces are small and intricate enough that you need something super-precise. I have the Staedtler Triplus Fineliners that Basford recommends and they're really nice (and don't bleed through the paper).
posted by neushoorn at 12:59 AM on October 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Whichever ones you choose, I'm happy with my little metal KUM pencil sharpener that keeps my ragtag collection of coloring book pencils sharp enough for tiny petals and beetles. You might add a good sharpener to your list.
posted by dywypi at 3:34 AM on October 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Prismacolor, absolutely.
posted by jgirl at 3:57 AM on October 16, 2015

God I love that book and I want it for Christmas. I am excited for you.

I have these which come in a CD case but they're teeny so you needs smallish hands. And they have GOLD and SILVER.

I also like the Kraft Tube. I want the Kraft Tube.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 7:01 AM on October 16, 2015

On this side of the pond, I've seen tube o'pencils at Target (36 colors!). Can't vouch for their quality, but the other craft supplies we've got from that product line have been decent.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:11 AM on October 16, 2015

I have a set of Stabilo Softcolor pencils (apparently discontinued) and a set of Prismacolor pencils and prefer the Prismacolor. They're both super old sets and still have good color, but I prefer the texture and coverage of the Prismacolor. The ends do break pretty easy, compared to my Stabilo pencils.
posted by fiercekitten at 7:24 AM on October 16, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, that is really helpful! Because of the archival quality, I'm going to go with the Prismacolor Premier set. It's much cheaper on Amazon than Michael's or Joann's, even with the 40-50% off coupons they offer.

I'm a little concerned about them breaking, does anyone have any tips for that? Maybe using a specific sharpener? I see the KUM has gotten a good review. Is KUM a good choice for the Prismacolor Premier line?
posted by onecircleaday at 8:19 AM on October 16, 2015

Don't drop your pencils. Make sure they are corralled on the table, or work over a rug. Color pencils will break on the inside if they hit a hard enough surface.
posted by Oyéah at 9:34 AM on October 16, 2015

Best answer: In my experience, as long as you choose the professional/artist level of a good line of colored pencils, they each have something to recommend them depending on your skill, experience and preferences. Student, scholar and craft lines have too much hard wax and not enough pigment. A good place to read reviews by people who use multiple lines of pencils is the Dick Blick website. The purchasers comment on the level of color saturation, hardness, etc. The Blick website also has several informative videos, including one on how to properly sharpen a Prismacolor pencil. In the mixed-media community, the Derwent Inktense pencils are very popular. I haven't tried them. Oyeah was correct - treat your colored pencils gently, don't drop them or hit them on a hard surface. If the core breaks, you can't see it, but the tip will keep breaking off.

All that being said, I use Prismacolor Premier pencils also. For me they deliver the best combination of function and value. When you learn to layer colors, you can do amazing things with a surprisingly small selection. Be prepared to sharpen them constantly. If you let the tip dull, it is less efficient at depositing pigment on the paper(aha!). Also, practice layering colors to get the effect you want. There are some very good books and website tutorials on colored pencil techniques. I am not any kind of expert, trust me.

I have the same book - whatever you do don't use Sharpies - they bleed through the paper. Also the paper is pretty smooth, not a lot of "tooth", so a softer pencil is essential if you want saturated colors. I have been using both colored pencil and gel pens. Unless you have a big budget and access to a good source, a Kinokuniya bookstore, for example, the sets--even the big sets-- have a limited number of colors - about 12 - the same color in metallic, glittery, plain, etc.

If you want a touch of intense color here and there a small set of gel pens would be good. I have layered them over the colored pencil to good effect. If you want to try watercolor markers, I have used the Tombo ones with the very fine brush tip. With a light touch you can do a fine enough stroke for those tiny lines.

And be warned, the inside of the dust jacket is coated in such a way that gel pens, especially the metallic and neon ones don't dry very well and smear. Learned that from experience.

One last little weird thing - my favorite gold is from a dollar-store gel pen set. The one that has black on the barrel and a sparkly cap.

Just remember not to take it too seriously and have fun.
posted by Altomentis at 10:19 AM on October 16, 2015

The Prismacolor Verithin is the hardest-lead colored pencil I've found. They let you make really sharp points which I love for coloring detailed mandalas. The other types I've used - Prismacolor Premier, the Blick brand and Crayloa are all disappointingly soft and need constant sharpening.
posted by bendy at 3:42 PM on October 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Here is a color chart showing the lightfastness of the various Prismacolor Premier colors. You should be able to find similar charts for any of the artist-grade colored pencils. Other brands to consider are Caran d'Ache, Koh-I-Noor, Faber-Castell, Derwent, Tombow and Bruynzeel.

Prismacolor Premier pencils aren't glued along the length of the lead, so a lot of breakage happens if the sharpener causes the lead to twist — so make sure your sharpener is sharp. Something with changeable blades is a good idea. Also, watch out for pencils where the lead isn't dead center in the pencil.
posted by jimw at 10:30 PM on October 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have the Prismacolor Premier pencils, along with a Prismacolor branded pencil sharpener that sharpens to two different widths (narrow, longer tip and wider, shorter tip). I love them both. You will be sharpening a lot though, because they are soft leads.

Because of the wax used in the leads, you could also get yourself some artists solvent (baby oil works too) and some paper stumps in different thicknesses, and create some lovely blending effects!

Papernlaceprincess on youtube has a series of three tutorials on blending with solvent and paper stumps that have taught me a lot. The first one is here.
posted by eloeth-starr at 2:13 PM on October 17, 2015

I recently purchased a Marco Raffine 72-color pencil set on Amazon. Great price and quality.
posted by Neekee at 2:50 PM on October 17, 2015

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