The best coloured pencils come in more styles, sets and choice than ever before. Whether you need hard or soft, muted or vibrant colours, in this guide we've selected the best options for adults and hobbyists, as well as the best professional coloured pencils for artists.
To create this list, we've tested some of these pencils ourselves, trying them out in all manner of projects including the best colouring books to put them through their paces, and also trawled the internet looking at user reviews, paying particular attention to those written by artists.
Once you've bought your pencils, get the most out of them with our collection of how to draw tutorials that cover the basics and more. And don't forget to pick up one of the best sharpeners to keep your pencils in tip-top condition.
The best coloured pencils available now
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The best pencils overall
Point type: Medium
Pack sizes: 72, 120
+ Easy to sharpen
+ Soft-touch finish
- Not a hexagonal finish
We'll start with the best of the best. These round-barrelled pencils from Castle Arts are the best coloured pencils available today, for most purposes.
With a soft-touch finish, they're a first-rate choice for blending and layering, comfortable to use over long periods and produce smooth, creamy hues. They stay sharp for longer than most coloured pencils, too.
They come in a protective, fabric zip-around case, and there's a tutorial that teaches you how to draw the picture on the front of the box. Plus the colours are clearly labelled so you don't have to spend time trying to find the right one. These coloured pencils are superb.
The best for portability
Point type: Broad
Pack sizes: 48, 72
Features: Strong tips
+ Break-resistant tips
+ Sturdy tin
- Wax bloom can occur
If you travel a lot, these water-soluble coloured pencils are a great option. With break-resistant tips and 4mm leads, they're less likely to shatter if dropped. And they come in a nice sturdy, double-hinged tin, making them easy to transport.
More generally, these lovely pencils produce vivid colours, although you need to avoid pushing down too hard or you may get an ugly wax bloom.
These are fully blendable, and superb for hatching and cross-hatching. Usefully, these pencils are labelled according to colour name and colour number, and there’s a colour chart in the tin, so it's easy to find the one you want quickly and easily.
Best value pencil set
Point type: Fine
Pack sizes: 240
Features: Metallics and neons
+ Huge variety
+ Unique colours
- Not so rich
This Kalour set of 240 of the best coloured pencils offers great value for money. Not only to you get lots of pencils but there's a unique range of colours, with metallics and neons joining regular CMYK pencils.
These pencils offer soft break-resistant cores and are perfect for colouring, sketching and blending. The metallic tin is a good addition too, and will keep your pencils safe.
While they are good pencils pros may find they lack the rich pigment of brands like Prismas and you will need to manually organise the collection, which takes time.
Best for lightfastness
Point type: Fine
Pack sizes: 12-120
+ High lightfastness
- Could be too soft
These pencils from Faber-Castell feature high-quality, acid-free pigments in bright colours, with excellent lightfastness (that is, they're resistant to fading when exposed to light). A thick 3.8 mm core offers high break resistance, and the wooden barrels are protected with a water-based 'eco' varnish.
These excellent coloured pencils are available in a wide variety of pack sizes, from 12 to 120. They also make a perfect couple with Faber-Castell's Albrecht Durer Watercolour Pencils, which are among some of the best watercolour pencils available today and worth buying.
Best for still life
Point type: Broad
Pack sizes: 6-72
+ Range of set sizes
+ Attractive box
- Soft leads require care
Drawing still life or landscapes? Then Derwent's Coloursoft Colouring Pencils are a great choice. With a round 4mm, velvety-soft core, they're great for building up colour quickly.
These coloured pencils are highly blendable, and thanks to their break resistant core, you can also sharpen them to a fine point. All this makes them perfect for a variety of projects, including still-lifes and landscapes.
These pencils are available in a large variety of box sizes too, from six to 72, which offers a degree of choice. They're also available in a presentation box, making them ideal for a special gift.
Good for everyday use
Point type: Bold
Pack sizes: 136-180
Features: Durable core
+ Durable core
- Weak cardboard case
Looking for reliable pencils that you can use day-in, day, out? Then the Shuttle Art Soft Core Color Pencil Set offers excellent value.
These round pencils are made premium quality wood for ease of sharpening, making them great for regular, everyday use. A thick 3mm break-resistant core provides durability. Even though they're budget-priced, they usefully feature colour names and numbers on the side.
They're pretty great in action too, with soft leads that produce vivid colours that are easy to blend, layer and shade. The cardboard box they come in is a little flimsy, but on the plus side, they are nicely laid out and it's easy to find what you're looking for quickly.
Unique triangular design
Point type: Fine
Pack sizes: 24
Features: Ergonomic design
+ Nice firm grip
+ Smooth colouring
- Harder to sharpen
The Staedtler Ergosoft Colored Pencils have a unique triangular design that ensures they won't slip when sketching and when placed on a desk never roll away.
These pencils have a nice non-slip surface so they feel great to use, and the ergonomic design filters into the pencil's case, which folds out as a stand.
They're as good to use too, as the colour lays down in smooth, creamy shades and these are also good to use with other brands, such as Prismacolor. The downside? That triangular shape means manual sharpening is the only way to get a perfect point.
Coloured plein air pencils
Point type: Fine
Pack sizes: 30
Features: 'Leather' pouch
+ Quality pencils
+ Easily carried
- Not actually leather
This Faber-Castell Polychromos coloured pencil set is a good option for artists who want to take their skills on the go; if you're a plein air penciller this is a good set.
The pencils have the standard Faber-Castell quality and come in HB and 2B hardness, ideal for sketching. These are waxy, water resistant pencils, too.
The star here is the 'leather' pouch that rolls the pencils up (it's not real leather) and comes with an eraser. There's room for 12 more pencils too, so you can add more.
Well-priced wax-based pencils
Point type: Medium
Pack sizes: 72
Features: Protective case
+ 3mm core
+ Very durable
- Paint brushes are bad
These Magicfly Colored Pencils are designed to last and they also come with a couple of paint brushes thrown in, though to be honest, these aren't great quality.
Like many of the best coloured pencils, Magicfly Colored Pencils have the colour name and number stamped on the outer surface, which is very handy. Layering and blending is easy, with rich and vibrant pigments. You can also get a Magicfly Watercolour Pencils set, too if you're looking to expand your art and techniques.
Designed to stay sharp
Point type: Fine
Pack sizes: 48
Features: Rich pigment
+ Quality black finish
+ Named colours
- Not the largest set
Do your pencils leads keep breaking when sharpened? Then check out these Monarch Premium Grade Black Widow Coloured Pencils, which boast 3.3mm thick leads that won't let you down. Also the hexagonal design is designed for ultimate comfort in your hand, and they won't roll away when you put them down on the table.
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 issue is that the maximum set is 48. So if you want more colours than this, another option might suit you better.
Good for shading
Best for soft shading
Point type: Soft
Pack sizes: 48
Features: Free sharpener
+ Rich pigments
+ Smooth colour laydown
- A little too waxy
Prismacolor's richly saturated pigments impress and are good for beginners and seasoned artists alike, though some may find the colours a little muted compared to other pencils on my list.
The advantage of Prismacolor's thick, soft cores means these are great for laying down smooth colour and blending and shading, though they are a little too waxy and can resist painting over.
The only real draw back is the hard tin the pencils come in, they are liable to shuffle around inside and with such soft cores the tin itself can result in blunting the tips. Perhaps Prismacolor is aware of this, hence why this set comes with a free sharpener designed for coloured pencils.
Best for hiding mistakes
Point type: Chisel
Pack sizes: 12
Features: Erasable finish
+ Vivid colours
+ Easily erase mistakes
- Limited to 12 pencils
If you happen to make a lot of mistakes in your and don't like finding ways to solve problems then Prismacolors' erasable coloured pencils are a nice set to have. These are particularly good for artists who like to create detailed and complex designs and patterns, or for adult colouring where every mark matters.
The sharp chisel tip allows for fine work and accuracy, but when you do stray any marks can be removed with a dry or damp cloth. This does have a downside, as the pigments aren't the richest of the pencils on my list. You also need to consider how you use them a little more, for example they work fine as a base for watercolour but we wouldn't use them on top of watercolour.
The best coloured pencils: frequent questions
How long do coloured pencils last?
Coloured pencils typically last for at least two to five years, if used sparingly or not at all. Store them carefully in cool, dark place and they may last much longer. Conversely, the more that coloured pencils are exposed to heat or sunlight, the faster they will absorb moisture and dry out. This will make the lead brittle and difficult to use.
How do you sharpen a coloured pencil?
Coloured pencils with soft leads should never be sharpened to a long point, because they are more likely to break. Instead, use a mechanical pencil sharpener (never an electric one) and sharpen to a short point. Test out different sharpeners to find the one that works best for you and your pencil – see our best pencil sharpeners guide for your options.
What are the best coloured pencils?
For our money, the best coloured pencils money can buy today come from Castle Arts. With a soft-touch finish, these round-barrelled pencils offer first-rate blending and layering qualities. They're comfortable to use over long periods and produce smooth, creamy hues. They also stay sharp for longer than most pencils, and the colours are clearly labelled.
What are the best cheap coloured pencils?
If you want quality coloured pencils, but don't want to pay high prices, we recommend Shuttle Art's set of 172. These round pencils are made premium quality wood and thick 3mm break-resistant core, making them great for regular, everyday use. They usefully feature colour names and numbers on the side. And they're pretty great in action too, with soft leads that produce vivid colours that are easy to blend, layer and shade.