Despite what you may have learned in grade-school, choosing a colored pencil is a bit more complicated than calling dibs on the good red one, especially if you want to improve your coloring skills.
What you’ll learn real quick is that not all colored pencils are the same. For basic coloring practice, beginners can pick up a basic set of Crayola or even Prangs, but we’re here to set you off on the right path, so let’s review all your options.
What to Avoid
Don’t think that because you’re a beginner, there isn’t a colored pencil you can’t use. There are cheap colored pencils that are not cheaply made and then there are colored pencils that are cheap to their very core. No matter how tight your budget, believe me, you cannot afford the latter choice.
Artist grade colored pencils can be on the expensive side and one single professional grade pencil can cost the equivalent of an entire pack of cheaper pencils. That being said, there are affordable compromises.
Avoid cheap colored pencils of an unknown brand, they tend to be poorly made, fall apart, and have pale leads that are impossible to work with.
What to Look For
The most valuable trait a beginner should look for in a colored pencil is workability. An artist with more practice looks for things like lightfastness, premium pigment quality, and a soft, paint-like core. A beginner, on the other hand, wants something to practice with, so as long as the colored pencil is physically well-made and susceptible to basic coloring techniques, it is a good candidate to begin with.
When choosing a colored pencil, try to get your hands on a sample so that you can inspect it- look at the unsharpened end of the pencil to determine whether the core is well-attached to the inside of the wooden casing. If the wooden part of the pencil is stained a bit with the color, it usually means that the lead is securely attached.
A softer lead means that the pencil will be easier to blend, but softer leads usually indicate a specialized paint core and a hefty price tag. Not to worry. Even though you’ll find it easier to work with a premium grade colored pencil, a beginner should learn pressure control before trying them out. Look for a colored pencil with good give, but not necessarily a soft core.
Wax bloom: lower grade colored pencils tend to leave a residue known as “wax bloom”. While this won’t be much of a problem, especially for practicing techniques, if you want your work to last, use a fixer.
To cut down on cost, especially if you go for one of the more expensive brands we’ll recommend, always buy the pack with the smallest count and then buy individual pencils to round out your set.
Beginners on a Budget
Always buy the best colored pencils you can afford, but if your budget is really tight, there are two brands that are excellent choices for beginners.
A woodless colored pencil with great versatility for use, Koh-I-Noor colored pencils are an excellent choice for beginner artists. Made with a medium-soft core, this brand makes colored pencils that are extremely easy to sharpen and produce rich, bright colors.
Because these are woodless colored pencils (coated in a lacquer finish), they are also very long-lasting.
Faber Castell produces some of the finest colored pencils on the market, also some of the most expensive. Fortunately, the company also makes a cheaper novice-grade colored pencil that is an exceptional choice for beginners.
Like an upgraded version of Crayola, Faber Castell’s scholastic colored pencils are cheap, yet of very good quality for those who want to pursue coloring seriously.
While this is an artist-grade colored pencil, Prismacolor is kind enough to produce great quality colored pencils for an affordable price. These colored pencils come in sets as small as 6 pencils and are also sold individually. With soft cores and a rich, velvety application, these are the the absolute best and most cost-effective colored pencils for beginners.
These are water-soluble colored pencils, but since they can be applied dry, they are a nice hack to get an intense colored pencil for an affordable price.
Since these are dual-use colored pencils, they are also great for beginners because they enable a wider range of technique practice.