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The best coloured pencils in 2021 for all budgets

Best coloured pencils: Arteza
(Image credit: Arteza)

The best coloured pencils are hardly the most difficult thing to buy, but you want to be sure you're getting good quality when you hand over your cash. That's where we come in with our guide to the best coloured pencils for artists. 

You might be in the market for colour pencils because you're into adult colouring and, naturally, any of these can also do the job, whether you're looking for something to colour in using hatching or cross-hatching, scraping or burnishing your paper or creating rubbings from coins or fossils if that's what you're interested in. You might also be layering up colours or blending them and these sets are great for that. Make sure you also take a look at our guide to the best pencils for artists

We're looking here at best coloured pencil sets labelled as artist-quality. You can also look out for similar language that indicates a coloured pencil set is intended for 'serious' use, such as pro, professional or expert. These colouring pencil sets will also be useful for school work if you're looking for that purpose, but these are not sets for basic pre-school or primary use. 

There is a huge range of pencils around and you can get a huge number in one pack - you'll see packs of 48, 72, 120, 160, and even more. How many you want to get is up to you, but here we're concentrating mainly on the best value packs, usually with 72 pencils included.

For tips on how to use your tools, see our guide to how to draw and paint. Meanwhile, read on for the best coloured pencils available now.

The best coloured pencils for artists

Best coloured pencils: Castle Art Supplies 72

(Image credit: Castle Art Supplies)

01. Castle Arts Coloured Pencils

A soft-touch finish and clear labels equals a very appealing set

Point type: Medium | Number in box: 72 | Other: Soft-touch finish

Easy sharpening
Soft-touch finish
Also in a larger 120 Piece set
None

Castle Arts 72 coloured pencils is a terrific set that offers the best of all worlds - they're well-priced, there are plenty of options and they enable you to layer up colours easily. Yes, they've got blending and layering qualities too as well as a soft-touch finish so they aren't harsh on your fingers during prolonged use. 

There's even an included tutorial to teach you how to draw the unicorn on the front of the box. Castle Arts coloured pencils are also available in a larger 120 pencil size while you can easily refer back to colours used thanks to clear colour labelling. 

Best coloured pencils: Arteza Colored Pencils

(Image credit: Arteza)

02. Arteza Colored Pencils

Ergonomic design and break-resistant tips

Point type: Broad | Number in box: 72 | Other: Break-resistant tips

Break-resistant tips
Also in 48, 120 sets
None

This set of 72 Arteza Coloured Pencils is well-thought out with break-resistant tips that should last well - the 4mm leads won't break if dropped, for example - and an ergonomic design. Each pencil is also labelled with its colour name, colour number for easy referral and lightfastness. 

They're great for all uses, whether you want to sketch or create gradients, detailed line drawings or hatching/cross-hatching. They're also fully blendable. 

A welcome colour chart is included inside the durable double-hinged tin, perfect for taking with you if you often create on-the-go. 

Best coloured pencils: Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils

(Image credit: Prismacolor)

03. Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils

There's plenty in the high quality pigments found here

Point type: Broad | Number in box: 72 | Other: Break-resistant tips

Breakage resistant
Also in 24, 36, 48 sets
None

These artist-quality pencils are billed as being good for "every level of expertise" with high-quality pigments and a "smooth colour laydown for excellent blending and shading", so they're a strong entry to our best coloured pencils list. 

The Sanford Prismacolor Premier colored pencils are 'soft core' so may not be to all tastes, but user reviews suggest they are really great to use for blending, with great quality results. The tips aren't fine, so you may want to look elsewhere for fine detail. 

Each colour is named and numbered on the pencil itself and the leads are breakage-resistant. All the pencils come in a high-quality case measuring around 21 x 21 cm which doesn't open up when in a bag. Sanford Prismacolor pencils are made in the USA. 

Best coloured pencils: Faber-Castell Polychromos Colour Pencils

(Image credit: Faber-Castell)

04. Faber-Castell Polychromos Colour Pencils

These traditional pencils are water-resistant and smudge-proof

Point type: Fine | Number in box: 60 | Other: Break-resistant, Water-resistant

Water-resistant
Also in 12, 24, 36, 120 sets
None

Founded in 1761, German company Faber-Castell produces some of the finest artists' equipment around, so it's no surprise that they make some of the best coloured pencils. 

Faber-Castell Polychromos Colour Pencils have a 3.8m thick oil-based lead bonded to prevent breakage that gives a water-resistant and smudgeproof finish. The pencils also use an environmentally water-based varnish and have a consistent, soft but vibrant colour laydown.  

These pencils are also available in a wide variety of pack sizes, from a compact 12 pencil set up to a huge 120 unit pro-orientated case but here we're looking at the 60 packs. They also so watercolour-specific pencil sets, too. 

Best coloured pencils: Derwent Coloursoft Colouring Pencils

(Image credit: Derwent)

05. Derwent Coloursoft Colouring Pencils

These pencils are breakage-resistant

Point type: Broad | Number in box: 72 | Other: 88 percent lightfast

Lightfast
Also in 6, 12, 24, 36 sets
None

Another option on our list of best coloured pencils, these are available in a large variety of sizes ranging from a tin of just 6 up to this one with 72. There's also an option of 24 and 48 pencils in a presentation wooden box, which is a great idea if you're looking for a present. 

Suitable for a wide range of drawing styles, the Derwent Coloursoft Colouring Pencils give you a quick and dense application of bold, vibrant colour. As they're also soft, they're highly blendable for all applications from landscapes to detailed illustrations. These are also able to be sharpened to a fine point. 

Best coloured pencils: Monarch Premium Grade Black Widow Coloured Pencils

(Image credit: Monarch)

06. Monarch Premium Grade Black Widow Coloured Pencils

With a point that's designed to stay sharp

Point type: Fine | Number in box: 48 | Other: Rich pigment that layers like velvet

Comfortable to hold
Nice black paint finish
Named colours
None

These Monarch Premium Grade Black Widow Coloured Pencils are a premium set with fine points that don't break when sharpened (the leads are 3.3mm thick). Like many of the others here, these pencils are water-soluble, so they aren't meant for watercolour use. The hexagonal design is designed for ultimate comfort in your hand, while they won't roll away when you put them down on the table, either. 

The rich pigment results in a waxy finish with deep colour. They're easily blendable and comfortable to hold with a 'spider black' finish for that premium appearance. Each colour name is stamped onto the pencil alongside a catalogue number. 

Best coloured pencils: Magicfly Colored Pencils

(Image credit: Magicfly)

07. Magicfly Colored Pencils

Well-priced wax-based pencils

Point type: Medium | Number in box: 72 | Other: Durable core, protective case

3mm core
Protective case
None

With a 3mm core, these coloured pencils are designed for durability and ease of sharpening, though Magicfly recommends manual sharpeners rather than an electric sharpener. The tin box is designed to be sturdy and protect the pencils while enabling you to easily select the right colour. 

Like many of the best coloured pencils, Magicfly Colored Pencils have the colour name and number stamped on the outer surface of the pencil so you'll always know what you used before when you come to pick up the same hue again. Layering and blending are easy, with rich and vibrant pigments. 

You can also get a Magicfly Watercolour Pencils set, too.

Shuttle Art

(Image credit: Shuttle Art)

08. Shuttle Art Soft Core Color Pencil Set

Great all-rounder pencils that are suitable for all

Point type: Bold | Number in box: 172 | Other: Durable 3mm core

Durable core
Bumper pack
Cardboard case, so not for travelling

What a bumper pack - 172 pencils. The Shuttle Art Soft Core Color Pencil Set is one of the best all-rounders. The pencils have a bold but soft-core lead with premium quality wood for ease of sharpening. They're round, which may not be to all tastes, but even though they're budget-priced, they boast colour names and numbers on the side. 

They do come packaged in cardboard though, so they're probably not what you're looking for if you're often going to be taking them out and about. However, they still come laid out in trays for easy colour selection. 

A thick 3mm break-resistant core means you won't find yourself with broken pencils that readily and they'll last longer. 

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