Given the sheer variety of colored pencils available, it is easiest to categorize them by professional level since most “colored pencils” are indeed not colored pencils, but a specialized medium in colored pencil form.
Here, you’ll find that we divide colored pencils into three categories, ranging from beginner to professional level as follows: Novice grade, scholastic grade, and artist grade.
We also assign each brand of colored pencil a performance rating based on factors such as lightfastness, sturdiness, price, binder and durability.
Explanation of Categories
Novice Grade Colored Pencils
The type of colored pencil that falls under this category is the closest to our general understanding of “colored pencil”, i.e. the ones we used back in grade school to illustrate the differences between a prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell.
Designed for wide-ranging use, novice grade colored pencils are generally wax-based with a hard core and sturdy wooden casing. These pencils are very durable, easy to control, and made for multiple rounds of sharpening.
Novice grade colored pencils can come in a variety of different colors, however they have very poor pigment density compared to higher grades. Since these are not marketed for artistic use, the colors advertised on most packaging is not as precise, either by individual color or color range within a set.
Despite their shortcomings, novice grade colored pencils are the cheapest type you can purchase and beginners can use them very effectively to practice with technique and pressure control.
Scholastic Grade Colored Pencils
Scholastic grade colored pencils are what you discover after finding that you’re exceptionally good at coloring in those cell diagrams and want to officially add the art of coloring to your list of hobbies.
Developed for people who’ve already grasped the basic coloring techniques, scholastic pencils cater to these growing abilities, with wax and oil cores that are easier to blend.
While this type of pencil provides rich color intensity and lends itself to more sophisticated coloring techniques, it still retains some of the durability of a novice grade pencil and boasts a long shelf-life.
When working with scholastic grade pencils, exceptional skill can definitely produce professional grade results. The advantage here is cost. While it will take more effort to produce fine art with a scholastic grade color that with its artist grade counterpart, you’ll be saving your bank account.
This grade is an ideal option for an artist who takes his work seriously and respects his pocket change. Not “premium”, but absolutely great quality.
Artist Grade Colored Pencils
The artist grade pencil, or “professional” grade pencil is exactly what it sounds like. These are the tools of the trade- the high-paying trade, that is. But it’s not only the price that sets this colored pencil apart.
The pigment density in an artist grade color is visibly superior to other colored pencils. The difference comes from a high content of pigment proportions as opposed to filler material.
While the quality of this pencil is outstanding, it can be hard to work with if your skill level is not at the professional level. This type of colored pencil is meant to be used by an artist with thorough understanding of color theory, application procedures, blending techniques, and pressure control.
Artist grade pencils are also quite short-lived. The fact that you can lay such intense color in one stroke means that you can go through pencils quite fast. Additionally, most premium colored pencils are sold individually, easily costing a few bucks each.
We have a deep appreciation for the quality of an artist grade colored pencil, however cost per value is really a matter of how well you wield your colors.