I bought several sets of coloured pencils from Amazon to compare their quality and use and will outline some differences I found and my opinion with a brief review. Hopefully, this post will give you a little insight into some of the colour pencils available and help you with making your own decision when it comes to choosing new pencils to try!
Coloured Pencils Set Review September 2023 Overview
This is only a small sample of the many kinds of pencils but I did try to focus on varying price points without looking at the absolute most expensive available (which is probably the Caran d’Ache Luminance sets). I’ve divided cost by pencil count as well for comparison but this does change depending on the set size you buy. Note that the price can change but that’s what I paid or their value as of August 2023 through Amazon AU. I’ll be looking at them through the context of graphic illustration or colouring books, not in realistic colour drawing.
There will be some notes on the quality/make of the set I purchased.
For each set, I created a swatch/test page where I looked at some of the colour selections and how the pencils felt on 110gsm cartridge paper.
Some of them were also tested on colouring pages I printed using cheap 80gsm copy paper - higher quality paper may allow for more extensive rendering and resist damage from the pencils.
I purchased the pencils myself and received nothing for writing this up, however I've included Amazon affiliate links which if you choose to use in buying something may provide me with a small commission that helps support me.
BiC Kids Evolution ECOlutions Colour Pencils (36 pack) | $11.00 | $0.30 per pencil | Buy on Amazon.com.au
Faber-Castell Black Edition Colour Pencils (36 pack) | $29.33 | $0.81 per pencil | Buy on Amazon.com.au
Faber-Castell Polychromos Colour Pencils (tin of 36) | $93.81 | $2.60 per pencil | Buy on Amazon.com.au
BiC Kids Evolution ECOlutions Colour Pencils (36 pack)
$11.00 | $0.30 per pencil | Buy on Amazon.com.au
These pencils are wood-free and made with a resin material so that they won’t create splinters if they break. They are supposed to be 55% recycled material, which I would assume is the body/shaft of the pencil. The resin sharpens fine but the thinnest part of the body around the pencil core becomes a bit crumbly in texture when sharpening. The colours of the pencils matched the shaft colour well and the colour range provided in the pack of 36 appears well balanced, but some of the colours are very similar or have very close values (light/dark) which reduces the ability to create gradients. No colour names or unique identification numbers were on the pencils. The pencils arrive in a very simple cardboard pack with smaller cardboard pockets inside holding two rows of pencils.
Unfortunately, the feeling of using them on the paper was quite scratchy so I did not find even creating the swatches enjoyable to use the pencils. Cheaper pencil cores can be more filler and less actual pigment, which makes the attempt to saturate colour pretty unsatisfying and require more pressure. They are limited in how many passes or layers of colour you can do over one area without damaging the paper. The blue and yellow spectrum pencils seemed to have softer cores and laid down colour a little easier. They are targeted towards kids so I did not expect too much from them, but I wouldn’t recommend these pencils. I’d suggest going for something like the Faber-Castell Classic Colour range which are similar student-quality colour pencils and are a little smoother to use.
KALOUR 72 Count Colored Pencils Soft Core
$27.00 | $0.37 per pencil | Buy on Amazon.com.au
The KALOUR pencils are a Chinese brand from Amazon. The pencils were in a simple cardboard pack with thin, cheap plastic moulded pencil trays. A swatch sheet was provided in the package, as well as a small booklet showing some basic pencil techniques. Interesting to note, there are several brands on Amazon or other marketplace websites that are Chinese manufactured (despite the company being based elsewhere), and some may be essentially the same pencils rebranded for different companies. The products tend to get replaced often with new iterations of the same pencils, changing the packaging or other minor product details.
(Edit: several weeks after writing this review, when looking for the original item I purchased my order linked to a similar KALOUR product with 120 pencils instead of 72, and I couldn't find the original product on Amazon. I did find a 72 count tin version which was more expensive at $52.25 here)
The pencil bodies were similar to the Polychromos, with their colour information and branding in metallic silver which looked more fancy. Each colour name and an ID number was written on the side of the pencil, and the colours matched the shaft. 7 metallic pencils were included in this range, however they looked similar to a gel pen with light silvery sparkles as if specks of silver glitter were just mixed into the pencil cores. So those 7 pencils I was not impressed with and wouldn’t bother using personally.
The cores are supposed to be soft, however I thought they were firmer and probably on the lower end of feel and with only minor scratchiness and resistance with the paper. The colour range provided for the price point is a big positive, so I’d recommend them as a cheaper option if you want a huge range of colours.
Faber-Castell Black Edition Colour Pencils (36 pack)
$29.33 | $0.81 per pencil | Buy on Amazon.com.au
This edition of Faber-Castell pencils have ‘super soft lead’ on the packaging. The colour of the pencil is ‘dipped’ on the end, but I found these did not match the actual pigment of the pencil that well. The set comes in a cardboard package, with cardboard inserts containing the pencils.
The wood is stained a deep black with a matt black coating and the pencils have a rounded triangle cross-section shape for the body/shaft. I suspect this is supposed to be an ergonomic or grip feature for younger kids. This made the pencil difficult to sharpen smoothly, as the sharpening blade hit each raised point of the triangle and had to cut into the coated exterior to shave a small piece off, before rotating enough to cut into the next point. The friction from re-starting the first ‘cut’ into the shaving meant that I broke a few cores just on a preliminary sharpening, and I actually splintered several of them where large chunks of the pencil split and came out during sharpening.
The pencil cores were soft enough and did not feel scratchy when colouring on paper, but they were not comparable to the more expensive pencils in creating really smooth colour. They laid down the pigment well when blending into each other and saturating an area with a single colour. They had a bit more of a reflective sheen under certain angles of light. In actual use, the pencils performed fine however the sharpening issue with the triangular bodies was a huge drawback for these pencils and I’d prefer not to purchase a triangular pencil again.
Derwent Chromaflow 36-Piece Pencils Set
$63.09 | $1.75 per pencil | Buy on Amazon.com.au
The Chromaflow range are wax-based pencils made in Britain. This 36 pencil set came in a metal tin, with three rows of thin plastic trays to hold the pencils. The Derwent website notes they are most similar to the Prismacolor pencils, which I’d agree with but the main difference I felt was the firmness of the cores. The appearance of the pencils is pretty basic, the wood is coated black with the pencil information and colour name/code in metallic gold and the ends of the pencil are ‘dipped’ in the colour to match. Some of the pencil bodies appeared a little textured and slightly pitted in spots, however I think that’s just from the natural texture of the wood and the coating not being as thick.
The core is soft, but it does feel a little stronger than the Prismacolor Premier pencils and kept the tip of the points fairly well without breaking. The colour range for the tin of 36 pencils I thought was good and it even had a few purple hue pencils. In performance I found these were very similar to Prismacolor, creating creamy vibrant colour on the paper. I think the key to good results is to build layers with Chromaflow pencils with lighter pressure. I’d definitely recommend these as an alternative to using Prismacolors or Polychromos, especially if you’d prefer a slightly firmer pencil.
Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils (tin of 72)
$101.46 | $2.20 per pencil | Buy on Amazon.com.au
Prismacolor Premier coloured pencils have a wax-based core and were the softest of all the pencils I tried. They might be one of the most popular ‘artist-grade’ coloured pencils for a broad variety of artists. The metal tin of 72 colours has a great range of colours and a lot of very natural muted tones as well as the super bright vibrant colours. There is a metallic gold and silver pencil included, which I found to be much more convincing in appearance than the cheap KALOUR pencils with their colour and the way they reflected light.
The soft waxy core means that pigment lays down very quick on the page with pressure, and will even show vibrantly on darker coloured paper. At times the creamy colour can be almost crayon-like, but it blends very well. If you sharpen these to a fine long point you’ll need to be mindful of your pressure as the tip will break off easily. I have used the Prismacolor pencils for several years and I can’t fault their quality, however some might find the cores just too soft and waxy or that the pigment goes down on the page too thick and fast. They can also crumble with too much hand pressure. I think they are a great overall option especially if you want very rich vibrant colour and I have used them on dark toned paper before with great effect.
Faber-Castell Polychromos Colour Pencils (tin of 36)
$93.81 | $2.60 per pencil | Buy on Amazon.com.au
The Polychromos are higher end colour pencils, manufactured in Germany. They have predominantly oil-based cores and keep their points quite well after sharpening. They are supposed to have superior lightfastness (longevity of the pigment over years/resistance to light).
A small booklet was inside the large metal tin, providing some basic pencil techniques and use for the pencils. The pencils were on a single row plastic mould keeping them in place. The tin of 36 colours has a great range of colours, perhaps slightly skewed towards warmer hues. Each pencil shaft is the colour of the pencil, with metallic gold writing on it’s side with the branding, pencil colour (German and English) as well as it’s unique identification code and a star rating for lightfastness.
During my swatch testing I found the pigment very consistent and smooth, without laying down so thick like a crayon. These pencils felt a bit more like a ‘traditional’ pencil to me compared to the Prismacolor or Chromaflow, with more of a soft grainy feel and creating less sheen than soft wax based pencils. They are great for building up layers of colour and creating smooth blends and I think that is where these pencils shine.
At the most expensive end of the pencils I looked at, I felt that the quality did match the price point in it’s packaging, appearance and performance so I look forward to working with the Polychromos more!
One of the key differences I found through trying each of these brands of pencils was that the more expensive the pencils were, the better the pigment and blending performance were. Highly pigmented colour pencils allows you to get more colour onto the page with less work and in the waxier pencils it made blending a little smoother and easier without as much technique. The Prismacolors, Polychromos and Chromaflow pencils are all very enjoyable to work with, with only some difference in their core consistency and set colour ranges, but I don’t think you can’t go wrong with any of them.
The cheaper pencils tend be less pigmented, and feel scratchier as you try to work the pigment off the pencil tip and onto the page. This means that it takes more work to get a nice result, and there are sometimes limitations to how much you can work an area of the paper without damaging it or how many times you can layer the colours on top of each other. That being said, I think that as long as you don’t go for the absolute cheapest pencils you can find, you can still get really nice results with the inexpensive brands and sets but you will need to be more patient.
It's true that there is an element of technique you can apply to any pencil regardless of brand/quality, and a more experienced artist will get a better result with a cheap pencil but it takes more work. Well known brands such as Derwent and Faber-Castell have an extensive line that includes both the top of the range studio artist quality tools as well as the cheaper alternatives aimed at students or casual artists. I mentioned the Faber-Castell Classic Colour sets as a cheap colour pencil alternative, Derwent also have their Academy and Studio sets which are about $1.00 per pencil. Personally, I’m curious what the even pricier pencils are like and in the future I’d love to try a set of the Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils, as well as the Derwent Lightfast.
If you have a favourite brand or set of pencils that you think I should try or want to share some tips, leave a comment here for me!