Coloured Pencils - Brands and Manufacturers


EITHER Scroll down this page to see

an alphabetical index of reputable brands of coloured pencils suitable for coloured pencil artists

plus my reviews.  These include links to the manufacturer's brochure and colour chart where available.

AND/OR Eliminate scrolling by Click links below to view information from manufacturers
and comments by me about the brands I've personally tried
Caran d'Ache (Switzerland); Derwent (UK); Faber Castell (Germany);
Lyra (Germany); Sanford (USA), Royal Talens (Netherlands)
Note: Not all brands are available in every country and even leading art stores often only stock one brand. 

Resources for Coloured Pencil Artists

What the 2012 POLL indicates
  • The Favourite Artist Grade Coloured Pencil in 2012 - Faber Castell Polychromos (33.4%)
    • 2nd - Sanford Prismacolor Premier (15%)
    • 3rd - Derwent Coloursoft (8.4%)
    • 4th - Caran d'Ache Luminance (6.6%)
    • 5th - Caran d'Ache Pablo (5.5%)
  • The Favourite Lightfast (6901) Artist Grade Coloured Pencil in 2012 - Caran d'Ache Luminance (this is a pencil which is accredited as being compliant with the standard ASTM D-6901 for testing Lightfastness in Coloured Pencils created by the American Society for Testing and Material).
  • The Favourite brand of Artist Grade Coloured Pencil Media in 2012 - Faber Castell Polychromos - by a mile!
Historically the market for coloured pencils for artist grade pencils has been an oligopoly - a few firms competing for the demand from various types of audience. Some might call it a duopoly. Two firms, two brands and two pencils alone (Faber Castell Polychromos and Sanford Prismacolor) used to account for very nearly 60% of the market - in terms of brand preference.

However in the last five years there has been something of a sea change. This has been influenced by
  • changes in brands and how they are manufactured
  • people buying more online and hence not being limited by what the local art store stocks.
  • commercial graphic artists now doing more work in digital media and less in coloured pencils - hence the fine artist and their demands for lightfastness has become more important. (The dominant market for lower grade pencils remains children and students)

Faber Castell Polychromos is now the dominant artist grade pencil.
Over the last five years the winners and losers are as follows
  • GAINERS: Faber Castell, Caran d'Ache
  • LOSS OF SHARE: Prismacolor, Lyra Rembrandt
  • NEUTRAL: Derwent, Blick and Talens Van Gogh

  • Sanford Prismacolor continue to place second however they have been consistently losing market share for the last five years and now appear to enjoy only half the market it had back in 2008.  This is in part due to the deterioration in the quality of the pencils which are no longer made in the USA.  Artists experience problems with both wood and coloured core when sharpening.  More effort seems to go into changes of colours rather than into addressing the basic problems relating to quality.  It's unlikely that Prismacolor pencils - now made in Mexico -  would continue to do so well if some of the European pencils were more widely available in the USA.
  • Derwent's share has been steadily reducing over time - although Coloursoft still take a very respectable 8%
  • Caran d'Ache has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity due to its new brand of Luminance Pencils which have been very well received both in terms of performance and because they are accredited as lightfast
  • Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor continues to be a minor player but also continues to maintain a share of the market. It's a brand which certainly will always find a home in my pencil tub.
  • Talens Van Gogh pencils continue to attract few votes despite being predominantly lightfast and an excellent pencil to use. Again I think the issue relates to availability.

Making a Mark reviews......

 as per Manufacturer / Brand
(click hyperlink to go to manufacturer's website)
A swiss company producing superior quality artist pencils.
CARAN d'ACHE - Luminance 6901
  • New smooth and permanent lead for artists and creative professionals. BROCHURE
  • Lightfastness in compliance with the highest international standard: ASTM D-6901.  
  • Wide range of colours developed with a large variety of highly concentrated pigments. COLOUR CHART
  • Available as singletons or as metal boxes
  • 6901.316 Metal box of 16 colours
           .338 Metal box of 38 colours
           .376 Metal box of 76 colours
They're very good coloured pencils - they're pigment rich and sharpen well, but they cost a lot more than other pencil. My strategy is to buy them and extend the range of colours I have slowly so the cost doesn't seem quite so "ouch"!  The polls also indicate that there's more than a few people doing the same thing as me.
This photo is of my latest purchase.  As you can see the issue, on launch, about not being able to tell which pencil is which has now been resolved by using a colour cap at the top of the pencil rather than just a colour on the end.  The colours indicated are pretty accurate.
The pricepoint they are sold at makes them seem a lot more expensive than other coloured pencils. My feeling is that their covering power means you now have to be very careful when comparing pencils as these are very superior.  You'd need to use more of some other pencils to get the same effect.

When they were first launched I couldn't find a lot of evidence of the new Luminance lightfast range in art shops or online. However I'm now finding more and more stores are stocking them.  I favour stores (B&M and online) which stock singletons in open stock.
CARAN d'ACHE - Pablo 
"Pablo" is the brand name of the artist quality pencils .  BROCHURE
  • Dry and permanent lead resistant to any powder formation.  
  • Excellent luminance / opaqueness ratio.  
  • Wide range of colours - COLOUR CHART
They are available as sets in:       312 Metal box of 12 colours
       318 Metal box of 18 colours
       330 Metal box of 30 colours
       340 Metal box of 40 colours
       380 Metal box of 80 colours
       420 Metal box of 120 colours
       920 Wooden case of 120 colours
These are a good quality artist grade pencil.

What I really like about the Pablo range is it includes a lot of colours which other brands don't have - for example, their range of colours involving olive is awesome!

CARAN d'ACHE - Museum
Set of watercolour leads instantly water-soluble.
  • Very high pigment concentration
  • 6 monopigmentary tints
I've purchased these - and they are 100% woodless pencils.  You really need to have an appropriately sized mechanical pencil holder to use them properly as otherwise they break in your hands
CARAN d'ACHE  Supracolor
  • Soft and water-soluble lead.  
  • Excellent luminance / opaqueness ratio.  
  • Wide range of colours
I find these harder than Pablos when used dry and they don't 'let go' of pigment quite so easily meaning it takes a lot more layers to achieve the same effect - unless of course you use them as they should be used - with water!
CARAN d'ACHE - Prismalo
  • The first water-soluble colour pencil since 1931.  
  • Thin lead allowing a clear and precise trace.  
  • High pigment concentration
Derwent                                                                                                            back to top
Derwent are a major UK pencil company based in Cumberland. They produce a range of pencils for artistic and graphic purposes.
Derwent Artists (WAX)
The first colour pencil Derwent ever developed, and still one of the most popular on the market. Artists has a traditional, round wooden barrel and a large diameter, break-resistant colour strip. Artistsí slightly waxy texture is ideal for multiple layering and blending to produce an infinite spectrum of subtly different hues and tints. Available in a range of 120 colours.

Colour chart and lightfastness rating (by Derwent)
This is a very long established brand which I have grown to like an awful lot.   They're on the dry side but that means they have fantastic layering abilities and never ever "blob" as some of the pencils do when very warm from layering.  However lightfastness is a weakness for some colours.  If Derwent brought the whole range up to the lightfastness standard this range would be a best seller.

These pencils are favoured by botanical artists such as Susan Christopher Coulson.
Derwent Coloursoft (WAX)
This is Derwent's  softest pencil which is perfect for mixing and blending. Despite its soft texture, Coloursoft sharpens to a fine point. Available in a range of 72 colours.
Colour chart and lightfastness ratings
Colpour chart and lightfastness ratings (page 2)
Coloursoft is the brand which Derwent positioned to replace the very popular Karisma pencil. Derwent have certainly achieved the degree of softness which a lot of coloured pencil artists like.

I wasn't wholly enamoured when they first came out but that might have been because I was still mourning the loss of Karisma and in possession of an enormous stock.  However I've started to use them over time and begun to like them more and more.  They're not hard enough for my liking for very precise work as they're softness means they lose their point faster than the Artists Pencils but they are good for layering.

Derwent Drawing
Derwent Drawing Pencils are very soft and creamy.  The colour strip is extra wide and needs the Derwent Sharpener. Produced in 24 subtle shades, including a wide selection of traditional sepia tones together with soft neutral greys, greens, blues and creams.
These are particularly suitable for those attending life drawing classes and/or otherwise drawing people as the range of colours are particularly suitable for flesh ans skin tones

Faber Castell
Faber Castell - Art and Graphic Range (OIL based)
FABER-CASTELL sets high manufacturing standards for artists' colours. Top priority is given to the use of high-quality materials, including light-fast pigments.  The tough leads are the result of Secural bonding.
Faber Castell Polychromos

POLYCHROMOS artists' colour pencils have particularly soft waterproof wax leads. They are pigment rich and produce a smooth effect which is resistance to smudging.  The leads are not brittle, and can be sharpened to a very fine point very easily.

The colour chart for the Faber Castell polychromos range lists all colours plus numbers against a block of colour which is - at least on my screen - very accurate as to the colour in reality

These pencils are the most popular pencil made in Europe.  They are frequently the pencils of choice for artists involved in producing fine and detailed work - especially botanical artists.

I just love the fact that they are 100% reliable and consistent across the range.  Every pencil I buy is the same as every other pencil and has been now for years.  They're a top notch pencil which maintains its standards.
ALBRECHT D‹RER watercolour pencils are high-quality artists' colour pencils for drawing and colouring which can be used to produce watercolour effects.  The 120 colours can be blended to form an unlimited number of new hues, either in sharp contrast to each other or merging imperceptibly.

I don't tend to use watercolour pencils but if using them I'd be looking to make a serious investment in this brand due to the range of colours.
Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor
Lyra Rembrandt is top quality artistís pencil for artists, graphic artists, designers and architects etc. There is a choice of 78 colours which are pigment rich, very smooth and water resistant. Colour can be applied to paper, synthetic materials, wood and textiles.
I've been using this pencil for well over twenty years and it's remained a favourite all the time I've been trying out and using other pencils.  The Polycolor pencil works particularly well with the Polychromos. It's a brand which always finds a home in my pencil tubs and it also does pretty well on the CPSA ightfastness tests.

Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell  colour pencils offer 72 distinctive shades for the artist who requires pencils of a very high standard. The finest pigments in the coloured leads (4mm diameter) can be dissolved almost completely with water. Not easy to find.
Sanford Prismacolor Details of the Prismacolor range of pencils - including the new lightfast pencils.

(Karismacolor - the European version - has been discontinued)
I do like the smoothness and creaminess of the Prismacolors.  However Prismacolor Pencils are not my pencil of choice because of the way they break.  For all those reading this who have never ever tried any other pencil, you need to know that the rate of breakages with these pencils far exceeds that found in any other brand of coloured pencils - using exactly the same pencil sharpeners.  I sometimes find myself sharpening most of a pencil away simply because of the breakages.  This is wholly unsatisfactory and hence I now invest in other pencil brands

Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils
Artists' quality colored pencils for every level of expertise. High quality pigments for a rich color saturation. Soft, thick cores create a smooth color laydown for superior blending and shading
Available in 132 brilliant colors sold individually or in sets of 12, 24, 36, 48, 72, 120 & 132

Now listed as Prismacolor - Premier Soft Core
It's unclear which lightfast colours have been included in this brand.  The Lighfast colours do not now appear to be getting any specific promotion and it is unclear whether or not they have been discontinued.  The lightfastness of specfic pencils is also unclear on the website.
See also Prismacolor Premier Lightfast Colored Pencils below
Prismacolor - Premier Verithin®
Hard, thin cores can be sharpened to a fine point.  Ideal for outlining, detailing, lettering and cleaning up edges. 
Available in 40 brilliant colors that match Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencil, Prismacolor Art Stix and Prismacolor Watercolor Colored Pencil palettes.  Sold individually or in sets of 12, 24, & 36
Prismacolor - Col-Erase®
Strong medium-point colored pencil leads that erase effortlessly. Available in 24 brilliant colors sold individually or in sets of 12 & 24
To be absolutely honest I'm not sure these are any more erasable than other colours.  I've bought some in the past but never felt the need to buy any more.
Premier Art Stix® - the same as the core of Prismacolor pencils.  Available in 48 brilliant colors sold individually* or in sets of 12, 24, 36 & 48 (*Only 24 colors are available individually) These are brilliant for covering large areas and use with water to get an underpainting down.
Royal Talens
Royal Talens: Van Gogh Lightfast pencils (Choose country/products/pencils from the menu)
This is one of only two brands tested during the initial research into a lightfastness standard. They also do very well in the CPSA lightfastness tests.
Royal Talens states: "These pencils are unique due to their guaranteed lightfastness. Royal Talens has combined its expertise in the use of pigments in artists' paints with the specific properties of pencils. The result is a complete range of fine art pencils with an excellent colour transfer and colour intensity."
These are excellent pencils with the bonus of also being lighfast. Their apparent unpopularity is likely to be due to the availability of this brand in open stock - it's not easy to find.  Better distribution would help to boost market share.

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Berol Karisma - Discontinued 2005
This brand was the European equivalent of Prismacolor but was discontinued in 2004 as the marketplace changed due to the switch to digital illustration.
Karismacolor are no more. They are deceased. They have passed over to the great sharpener in the sky. They have fallen out of their box. They have been permanently erased - they are GONE. 
Bob Ebdon
Derwent Signature - Discontinued Decmeber 2007
This is one of the two brands tested during the initial research into a lightfastness standard. I can still find them in shops and I'm still buying them!
Prismacolor Premier Lightfast Colored Pencils
Complies with ASTM D 6901 for lightfastness; Highest ASTM approved lightfast ratings (I or II) . Available in 48 brilliant colors sold individually or in a set of 12, 24 & 48

2010:  No longer listed by brand name - It is very unclear how these have been incorporated into main product line as no information about lightfastness provided on the website
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