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The best coloured pencils in 2021 for all budgets

Best coloured pencils
(Image credit: Pixabay)

There’s no shortage of options if you’re hunting for the best coloured pencils, which means it makes sense to be sure that you’re getting quality for your money. Here, we’ve put together a guide to the best coloured pencils for artists, so you can be confident you’re buying a good set, made with quality.

Whether you’re an artist, a parent buying for a child, or just someone who’s recently got into adult colouring, there are plenty of pencils to choose from. The coloured pencils on this list are great for hatching, cross-hatching, burnishing paper, or even creating rubbings from coins or fossils. To layer up colours, blend them and more, a good set of coloured pencils will deliver great results, no matter if you’re a total newbie or have been colouring for years. 

In this guide, we’ve restricted ourselves to coloured pencil sets that are labelled as being ‘artist quality’, as these will deliver the kinds of colours required by serious artists, and are guaranteed to provide value for money. Phrases like this are a good indicator of who a pencil set is aimed at – ideally you want something that’s designed for serious use, even if it’s not quite professional grade. 

Generally, coloured pencils come in huge packs. It’s common to see them in sets of 48, 72, 120, 160 and even more besides. We’ve generally gone for 72-pencil packs for this guide as this is likely the best number for most users. If you’re not sure whether you need more, you probably don’t. 

If you want tips on how to use your coloured pencils, don’t miss our guide to how to draw and paint. And if you’re happy to work in monochrome, check out our guide to the best pencils for artists. But for the time being, 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

Specifications
Point type: Medium
Number in box: 72
Other: Soft-touch finish
Reasons to buy
+Easy sharpening+Soft-touch finish+Also in a larger 120 Piece set
Reasons to avoid
-Round barrel not for everyone

The Castle Arts 72 coloured pencil set is the best all-around coloured pencil set right now. There are plenty of colours, the pencils are of good quality, and the set is well-priced – that’s a winner in our book! The pencils have blending and layering qualities, as well as a soft-touch finish, making them easier on the fingers over prolonged use. 

If 72 isn’t enough colours for you, these also come in a set of 120 pencils. The colours are well labelled and clearly marked, making it easy to select the shade you want, and the pencils lay down smooth and creamy colours. They are round-barrelled; some may prefer hexagonal, though this is a matter of personal taste. 

The pencils tend to hold their points well, with little to no crumbling, which is good for longevity. And, in a lovely touch, there’s even a tutorial included to teach you how to draw the unicorn on the front of the box. 

Best coloured pencils: Arteza Colored Pencils

(Image credit: Arteza)

02. Arteza Colored Pencils

Ergonomic design and break-resistant tips

Specifications
Point type: Broad
Number in box: 72
Other: Break-resistant tips
Reasons to buy
+Break-resistant tips+Also in 48, 120 sets+Very affordable
Reasons to avoid
-Wax bloom can occur

With break-resistant tips and 4mm leads that won’t shatter if dropped, this set of 72 Arteza Coloured Pencils is a hardy collection of pencils that’s good for taking on the go. The pencils are ergonomically designed and well labelled, each with its colour name and colour number for quick reference.

Fully blendable, and great for hatching and cross-hatching, these pencils will work well for everything from sketching to precise shading and creating gradients. The wax-based lead works well for creating vivid colours, though you do sometimes get wax bloom if you colour with a heavy hand, so go easy. There’s a colour chart in the tin, which is durable and double-hinged, making it easier to keep the pencils safe while out and about. 

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

Specifications
Point type: Broad
Number in box: 72
Other: Break-resistant tips
Reasons to buy
+Breakage resistant+Also in 24, 36, 48 sets+Comes with pencil case
Reasons to avoid
-Less good for fine detail

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

Specifications
Point type: Fine
Number in box: 60
Other: Break-resistant, Water-resistant
Reasons to buy
+Water-resistant+Also in 12, 24, 36, 120 sets+Soft but vibrant colours
Reasons to avoid
-On the expensive end

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 friendly 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

Specifications
Point type: Broad
Number in box: 72
Other: 88 percent lightfast
Reasons to buy
+Lightfast+Also in 6, 12, 24, 36 sets+Attractive wooden box
Reasons to avoid
-Soft leads require care

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. This means you do need to take extra care of them to make sure you don't break the leads, so they're not the best choice for travel. 

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

Specifications
Point type: Fine
Number in box: 48
Other: Rich pigment that layers like velvet
Reasons to buy
+Comfortable to hold+Nice black paint finish+Named colours
Reasons to avoid
-48 is biggest set

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. The only real rub is that you can only get them in a maximum set of 48, so if you want more colours than this another option might suit you better.

Best coloured pencils: Magicfly Colored Pencils

(Image credit: Magicfly)

07. Magicfly Colored Pencils

Well-priced wax-based pencils

Specifications
Point type: Medium
Number in box: 72
Other: Durable core, protective case
Reasons to buy
+3mm core+Protective case+Durable build
Reasons to avoid
-Included paint brushes are poor quality

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. They also come with a couple of paint brushes thrown in, though these aren't great quality and most people probably won't bother with them.

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

Specifications
Point type: Bold
Number in box: 172
Other: Durable 3mm core
Reasons to buy
+Durable core+Bumper pack+Well-labelled
Reasons to avoid
-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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Dan is the Editor of T3.com and covers the latest in computing, home entertainment and mobile tech. He's also the former Deputy Editor of TechRadar and former Editor of Lifehacker UK. Dan has written for numerous computing and lifestyle magazines and has also written a book, too. You'll see him pop up in numerous places, having been quoted in or on The Sun, BBC World Service, BBC News Online, ITN News, BBC Radio 5Live, BBC Radio 4 and Sky News Radio.