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The Ultimate Guide to Colored Pencils: find the best colored pencil for you

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Coloring pencils are a crucial component for fully enjoying the popular pastime of adult coloring books, which provide a fun and relaxing way to unwind and express creativity. The right tools are important for maximizing the coloring experience, and choosing the best type of coloring pencils is one of the most important decisions to make.

Wax or Oil based, Aquarelle or Chalk-Pastel Colored Pencil know them all

Colored pencils guide
Coloring "Colors of Daydreams" with my colored pencils

With so many different options on the market, it can be overwhelming to know which ones are best for coloring books. In this article, we will explore the different types of colored pencils available and their benefits for coloring books, so you can make an informed decision and unlock the full potential of your coloring book.

Defining Key Terms

Pigment: Pigment is a substance that gives color to other materials. It is usually made of a powder or liquid that is mixed into paint, ink, or other substances to create different shades and hues. The word "pigment" comes from the Latin word "pigmentum," which means "coloring matter."

Colored pencil: A colored pencil is a type of writing tool made of a thin cylindrical core of colored pigment, usually wax or oil-based, surrounded by a wooden casing. They are used for drawing, coloring, and shading and come in a wide variety of colors. The word "colored" refers to the colored core, while "pencil" comes from the Latin word "penicillus," meaning "little tail," referring to the brush-like appearance of the writing end of the tool.

Lightfast: Lightfast refers to the quality of pigments that can maintain their original appearance and color over time when exposed to light. This is a crucial aspect for artists to consider when creating pieces that should last for a long time. The word "lightfast" is a combination of "light" and "fast," where the latter comes from the Old English word "fæst," meaning "firm" or "secure." Essentially, a pigment that is lightfast is said to be firm and stable, able to resist fading or discoloration when exposed to light.

Binder: A binder is a substance used to hold together pigments in colored pencils. It is the glue-like material that binds the pigments together and helps the color transfer onto paper when the pencil is used. The term "binder" comes from the verb "to bind," which means to hold together or unite. In the context of colored pencils, the binder helps to create a cohesive and usable tool that can produce vibrant and long-lasting color. Some common binders used in colored pencils include wax, oil, and gum arabic.

Gum arabic: Gum Arabic is a natural, water-soluble resin obtained from the bark of various species of acacia trees. It is used as a binder in many art materials, including colored pencils, inks, and watercolors, to hold pigments in place and improve the consistency of the material. The word "gum arabic" is derived from the Arabic word for acacia trees, "al-ʿarabiyyah."

Lead: "Lead" in a colored pencil refers to the core material that is used to produce the color. It is not actual lead, but a mixture of pigments, minerals, and binders that are combined to create the coloring material. The word "lead" in this context likely comes from the use of lead as a term for the core of a writing implement, dating back to the use of lead styli for writing on wax tablets in ancient times.

Pastel: Pastel is a medium for drawing and painting that consists of a stick made of pure powdered pigments and a binder, usually gum arabic. The word "pastel" is derived from the Italian word "pastello," which means "to paste."

Wax-based colored pencils

Colored pencils

Wax is a common binder used in colored pencils and it plays a crucial role in determining the final quality of the colored pencil. One of the key attributes of wax is its smooth and creamy texture, which makes it easy to blend and layer the colors. This makes it ideal for artists and professionals who want to create smooth and seamless color transitions in their work.

Another attribute of wax that makes it a popular choice for colored pencils is its flexibility. Unlike other binders, wax is flexible and resilient, making it resistant to breaking and cracking. This means that colored pencils made with wax will last longer and retain their quality even after extensive use. This is especially important for artists who use colored pencils frequently and want to ensure that their tools will last for a long time.

Finally, wax also provides a glossy finish that helps to enhance the vibrancy and vividness of the colors. The shine that wax imparts on the colored pencils makes them stand out and look even more eye-catching. This makes them ideal for artists who want to create bold and dramatic artwork that demands attention. In conclusion, wax is an important component of colored pencils that contributes to their overall quality and performance, making it a popular choice among artists and professionals.

However, one of the downsides of wax-based colored pencils is that they are not as lightfast as some other types of colored pencils, meaning that the colors may fade over time if exposed to sunlight.

There are several benefits to using wax-based colored pencils in coloring books:

  1. Easy to use

  2. Vibrant Colors

  3. Easy to layer

  4. Fine lines and details

  5. Affordable

  6. Versatile

  7. Good for both beginners and experienced colorists

Some specific names of wax-based colored pencils include:

These are only a few brands that offer wax-based colored pencils. You can discover additional brands at your local store that provide this type of pencil.

Oil-based colored pencils

Colored pencil set
Lyra Rembrandt Polycolour Pencils

One attribute of oil as a binder is its rich, velvety texture. This texture gives colored pencils a deep, luscious look that is appealing to artists who want to create stunning and vibrant works of art. The velvety texture also allows for easy blending and layering, which is essential for creating complex shading and coloring techniques.

Another benefit of using oil as a binder is its slow drying time. This feature allows artists to work with the colored pencils for longer periods of time, giving them more opportunities to blend and layer colors.

The oil binder that is commonly used in oil-based colored pencils is a type of vegetable oil, such as soybean oil or safflower oil. These oils are non-toxic and safe to use, and they provide a smooth and creamy consistency that is easy to apply and blend. They also allow for the pigments to be mixed together (require solvents), creating a wide range of shades. Some manufacturers may use different kind of oils, like linseed oil, which can also provide a good binder and blending properties. It's important to note that oil-based colored pencils are not the same as oil paint sticks, and the oil used in oil paint sticks may be different.

Benefits of using oil-based colored pencils in coloring books:

  1. Rich, deep colors

  2. Durability

  3. Lightfastness

  4. Good for layering

  5. Versatility

Some specific names of oil-based colored pencils include:

  1. Faber-Castell Polychromos

  2. Caran d'Ache LUMINANCE 6901®

  3. Lyra Rembrandt Polycolour Pencils

  4. Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth Polycolor

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list and there could be other brands that make oil-based colored pencils.

Wax base vs. Oil base

Wax-based colored pencils are known for their smoothness and easy blending capabilities, making them ideal for blending colors and creating soft, gradient effects. They are also generally less expensive than oil-based colored pencils. However, wax-based pencils can be more prone to breakage and the colors can smudge if not fixed with a fixative.

Oil-based colored pencils, on the other hand, have a more solid texture and are known for their high lightfastness and vibrant colors. They also have a much longer lifespan than wax-based colored pencils and are more resistant to fading and wear. However, oil-based pencils are more expensive and harder to work with than wax-based colored pencils, as they can be more difficult to blend and often require solvents to blend colors smoothly.

Aquarelle colored pencils

Aquarell Colored Pencils

Watercolor pencils are a type of colored pencil that can be used wet or dry, and they can be used to create a wide range of effects, from delicate washes to bold, vibrant strokes. They are composed of a water-soluble core.

The combination of Gum Arabic and wax as binding agents in Aquarelle colored pencils provides valuable properties for the artist. Gum Arabic offers a translucent and matte finish, perfect for delicate watercolor-like effects, and is water-soluble for easy use in watercolor techniques. Wax, on the other hand, gives a smooth and creamy texture for easy blending and layering, and has the added benefits of flexibility to resist breaking and cracking, and a glossy finish. With both of these binders, Aquarelle colored pencils offer a wide range of artistic techniques and effects.

Aquarelle colored pencils can easily be identified by their labeling on the packaging, setting them apart from traditional colored pencils. However, it's important to note that once the colors are applied to a page, the artwork must be protected from water to prevent any smudging of the colors.

Here is a video for you to see how they can be used.

The characteristics of watercolor pencils include:

  1. Versatile: Watercolor pencils can be used wet or dry, and can be used to create a wide range of effects, from delicate washes to bold, vibrant strokes.

  2. Blend-able: Watercolor pencils can be blended together using water to create smooth gradations of color.

  3. Lightfastness: They are made with lightfast pigments that can withstand light exposure and maintain their color over time.

  4. Pigment concentration: They have a high pigmentation concentration which results in bright and vivid colors.

  5. Water-soluble: They are water-soluble, which means they can be dissolved in water, creating a paint-like effect.

Chalk-Pastel colored pencils

Test of Pastel Colored Pencils from Bruynzeel on a black paper
Bruynzeel Pastel Colored Pencils on black paper

Pastel colored pencils are a type of drawing tool that are characterized by their soft and powdery texture. Here are a few key characteristics of pastel colored pencils:

  1. Soft texture: The soft and powdery texture of pastel colored pencils makes them different from traditional colored pencils. This texture allows for smooth and easy layering, blending, and shading.

  2. Vibrant colors: Pastel colored pencils are known for their vibrant and intense colors. The soft texture of the pastel lead allows for intense color saturation and maximum light reflection.

  3. Versatile: Pastel colored pencils can be used for a variety of techniques, including layering, blending, and blending with other mediums such as pastels and charcoal. They are ideal for creating delicate and smooth effects, as well as for adding details to drawings.

  4. Blending: The soft texture of pastel colored pencils makes them ideal for blending with other pastel colors and other mediums such as charcoal and pastels. This allows for a wide range of artistic effects and techniques.

Pastel colored pencils are a unique type of colored pencil that are known for their rich and vibrant colors. Unlike other colored pencils, they work well on a variety of paper surfaces, including dark paper such as black.

Stabilo CarbOthello Pastel Colored Pencils
Stabilo CarbOthello Pastel Colored Pencils

Pastel colored pencils are prone to smudging and smearing because of their soft and powdery texture. To prevent this and preserve the integrity of the artwork, it is necessary to "fix" the drawing. Fixing involves setting the pastel pigment in place so that it does not smudge or smear. This can be done using a fixative spray, which is a special type of spray that creates a protective barrier over the pastel drawing. Simply hold the can of fixative spray at a distance of about 30 cm from the surface of the artwork and spray it evenly. It is important to let the fixative dry completely before handling the artwork or applying additional layers of pastel. Fixing is an important step in the creation of pastel drawings and can greatly enhance the longevity and stability of the finished piece.

Some popular brands that offer pastel colored pencils:

  1. Prismacolor

  2. Faber-Castell

  3. Derwent

  4. Caran d'Ache

  5. Stabilo

  6. Staedtler

  7. Winsor & Newton

How to protect your colored pages from sunlight?

Manufacturers of colored pencils are continually developing new ways to improve the vibrancy of their products and increase resistance to sunlight. This results in a better-quality product for artists to use and enjoy. You will see it written on the packaging box: "Lightfase." But I think it is important to know to protect your artwork anyway. There are several things that can be done to avoid the colors from fading over time if exposed to sunlight:

  1. Store your coloring books and colored pencils in a cool, dry place: Keeping your coloring books and colored pencils in a place with low humidity and away from direct sunlight can help to prevent the colors from fading.

  2. Use UV-resistant protective sleeves or covers: Using UV-resistant sleeves or covers can help to protect your coloring books from sunlight and prevent the colors from fading.

  3. Display your coloring books in a place that is not exposed to direct sunlight: If you would like to display your coloring books, make sure to place them in a room or area that is not exposed to direct sunlight, this will help to prevent the colors from fading.


In conclusion, if you're a fan of coloring books, drawing, or sketching, there is a variety of colored pencils to choose from, each with its own unique attributes and price range. Don't limit yourself to just the well-known brands, as there may be other lesser-known options available at your local store with similar qualities.

And don't forget that colored pencils can be difficult to apply color to a page due to several factors:

  1. Hardness of the lead: If the lead is harder, it will be more difficult to transfer color to the page, as it requires more pressure to apply the color.

  2. Quality of the paper: If the paper is too smooth or too rough, it can make it difficult for the color to adhere to the surface.

  3. Dryness of the lead: If the lead is dry, it will not transfer color to the paper easily, as it requires more moisture to help transfer the color.

  4. Composition of the lead: The type of binder used in the lead can affect the ease with which color is applied. Some binders are more prone to smudging or fading, making it difficult to achieve consistent, vibrant results.

By understanding these factors, you can choose the right colored pencils and paper to ensure they can apply color easily and effectively. Be sure to carefully read the packaging to understand the properties of the colored pencils you have in your hand.

And for the coloring book enthusiast I have a good news for you: I've meticulously picked out the finest quality paper for all my printed coloring books, ensuring they can accommodate a wide range of mediums and more. You can color each page with a different one. This makes my books perfect companions for both your coloring book collection and your colored pencil sets. Please share with me the brand and type of colored pencils that work best for you.



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