Professional and Artist Colored Pencils
Professional-grade pencils are intended for those who have significant experience in various mediums and projects. They have a deep understanding of color theory, blending techniques, application procedures, etc. Generally, these will be people who do this for a living or very passionate hobbyists who can justify the significant costs associated with it.
These will have very soft cores that are capable of significant color output. This also results in the ability to really vary how much color is outputted due to the amount of pressure applied, which opens up many more interesting possibilities for a piece. Blending is generally very good to excellent, and stacking layers to create added effects is pretty common. Color choices are vast, and either can come in a very large set or one of the many specialty sets that will focus on a specific mood or feel.
These may not be as durable and the fact that you can apply so much color in a pass means that you can go through a pencil pretty quickly. This coupled with the fact that they are quite expensive means that these would not be good for a classroom environment.
Packaging can be very elaborate and aesthetically pleasing. Metal tins and wood cases are common, and the pencils themselves are often adorned with gold accents and nice labeling.
As expected, these can be expensive. Prices can be anywhere from around $1.00 up to $3.00 or more per pencil, making them more expensive than both the student grade and scholastic grade pencils we review. Since a lot of the subtle benefits of premium lines cannot be noticed and taken advantage of by many, these types of pencils are best-retained for those who have a good artistic understanding as well as deep pocketbooks. They may also be intended for classroom settings in college-level art courses.
If you would like to see how all of the professional-grade colored pencils match up to the other tiers head on over to our Colored Pencil Comparison Chart to see a full table of all of our reviews.
Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer
Faber-Castell’s primary watercolor line, the Albrecht Dürer are an excellent premium offering. With sets ranging from singles all the way up to 120, just about any color desired can be achieved. These colors come off in a lovely thick, somewhat chunky application and with the addition of water, fantastic blending can be experienced. Like other Faber-Castell lines, these come at a premium but for those wanting some of the best, you can’t go wrong with these. The thick oil-based core is wrapped in an attractive hexagonal wood exterior.
Pros: Intense color, great control capability, perfect for large areas, good packaging
Caran d’Ache Aquarelle Museum Watercolor
The Caran d’Ache Aquarelle Museum watercolor pencils are unique in that they combine extra-fine pigments in high concentration with the water-solubility of their standard watercolor lines into this bright and vibrant premium pencil line. The 3.8mm lead is soft and quite versatile, being just at home in detailed areas as in larger areas. Application is smooth and buttery and blending is a breeze. This product is wax-based, wrapped in a hexagonal barrel, and are available in sizes ranging from 12 to 80.
Pros: Smooth buttery application, extremely vivid color, strong lead, beautiful packaging
Cons: Expensive, somewhat limited color choices
One of Faber-Castell’s primary offerings, these oil-based colored pencils emboss the fantastic quality that we have come to expect from this company. The unique core design results in a thick, pigmented application that is right at home with aggressive blending and shading. The color manages to feel soft and thick while still being easy to work with. With a huge color choice of up to a 120 set available, just about any color approach imaginable can be achieved with these. The hearty core is wrapped around in a round wooden exterior.
Pros: Fantastic color intensity, good blending, great color selection, impressive packaging
Cons: Quite expensive
Caran d’Ache Luminance
The Caran d’Ache Luminance colored pencils are a premium offering for those looking for extremely intense, UV-resistant colors that will make your works jump off the page. Despite being wax-based, there is little wax bloom and application is smooth and layering is a breeze. Color options are a bit more limited in that subtle and dull colors aren’t included but with options from 20 to 72 piece sets it is still more than serviceable. The lead is contained in a round barrel.
Pros: Extremely intense colors, no lightfast issues, smooth application, great packaging
Cons: Pricey, only bright color choices
The Prismacolor Softcore colored pencils are one of the must-have choices for anybody who is wanting some of the best soft wax colored pencils you can get. These pencils are silky smooth, have excellent color choices, and are fantastic at blending. Minor complaints such as breakage and lead shattering are overlooked when you look at the bargain that these are compared to other higher-end brands. They come in packages ranging from 12 to 150 count and have a 5mm core and 8mm hexagonal barrel.
Pros: Wide range of colors, great intensity, excellent blending, superb price
Staedtler Professional Watercolor
These are Staedtler’s high-end offering for those interested in watercolor pencils. Everything about this is upgraded from their lower lines: better blending, more vivid colors, smoother strokes, and more color options. Obviously, this comes at a higher price but for the package you get with these, it is definitely justifiable if you are interested in a long-term, top shelf offering. Sets range from a 12 piece all the way up to their largest example, a 60 piece. These are wax-based and hexagonal-shaped and sure to fill just about everybody’s needs.
Pros: Fantastic color depth, great mixing capabilities, good color selection, attractive packaging
Cons: A bit pricey
Caran D’ache Prismalo Aquarelle Watercolor Pencils
Arguably the originator of true watercolor pencils, the Caran D’ache Prismalo Aquarelle let their experience speak for themselves with one of their most popular water-soluble sets. The more affordable but less versatile sister set to their storied Museum Aquarelle line, these focus almost exclusively with wet applications with their harder lead and smaller lead size. Sets vary from 12 to 80 pieces and the barrels are hexagonal.
Pros: Excellent control when exposed to water, Deep vivid colors, Great for intricate details
Cons: May struggle when applied dry, Expensive
These colored pencils are very expensive but offer an extremely unique experience thanks to their specialized core that consists of multiple ingredients including oils, waxes, and even fats. Application is buttery smooth and the color is bright. Blending is a bit lacking, however. They come with a 3.8mm core with a round barrel and in sets of 100 and 150.
Pros: Barrel color accurately depicts core color, vibrant color output, very soft and buttery application, great variety of bright colors
Cons: Extremely expensive, can be a bit messy in application, somewhat lacking in browns and grays, not great at blending
These could be considered some of Derwent’s “bread and butter” standard colored pencils. They come in a wide array of sizes, ranging from singles all the way up to the behemoth 120 count set. Their wider 4mm core allows for wider brush strokes and can make these viable for landscapes and other medias that require broad applications of color. The wax core is wrapped in a round 8mm wood barrel.
Pros: Good color selection, vivid output, great blending
Cons: Minor flaking issues
Caran d’Ache Supracolor Watercolor
The Caran D’ache Supracolor watercolor pencils are a soft watercolor pencil that are intended for passionate professionals or those ready to move up to the next level in watercolor pencil performance. The relatively thin 3.8mm core means that high-detail areas can be controlled with precision but the core is strong enough to handle liberal amounts of pressure. They have very strong pigmentation and effective color manipulation both dry as well as when exposed to water although they can have questionable lightfastness when used as a water color. A high quality hexagonal-shaped pencil but at a high quality price, they come in 12 to 120 pack sets.
Pros: Great variety of colors, quite vibrant, nice packaging
Cons: Expensive, minor lightfastness issues
A great compliment to the other Derwent lines, these studio pencils specialize in the fine details. Their smaller core and harder wax core mean that the intricate areas such as feathers, grass blades, etc. are where these shine. Available from singles all the way up to a 72 count set, there is a decent range of color selection for any project. The 3.4mm core is wrapped on a 6.9mm hexagonal barrel.
Pros: Good color selection, made for detailed work
Cons: Poor for large areas, subpar blending
Derwent’s primary offering for watercolor pencils. These are great for mixing and their soft texture allows them to be blended easily. These can be purchased from singles to 72 packs which allow for quite a bit of color flexibility. The soft wax core is 3.4mm diameter and is encased in a hexagonal 6.9mm barrel.
Pros: Good color selection, works easily with water, smooth application
Cons: Not very intense
Koh-i-noor Progresso Woodless
A unique offering by Koh-i-noor, these colored pencils contain new outside wood body and instead, the entire diameter is usable pigmented lead. The lead is injected with special oils so as to allow dense, lively strokes of color to come off when applied to paper. The large 7.6mm diameter lead tip means that you can produce a lot of color with these and cover a lot of area. However, not having the wood outer layer does mean these aren’t quite as strong as conventional pencils. Packs come in 12 to 24.
Pros: Well-controlled color intensity, can lay down a lot of color, decent price
Cons: Not many color choices, somewhat fragile
While these aren’t pastel pencils, they are soft enough that you’ll have to remind yourself that they aren’t. The soft cores allow for great blending and the ability to lay down a pretty heavy coat if desired. However, doing fine details with these might become a bit burdensome. They come quantities from 1 to 72 count and have a thick 4mm round core and a 6.9mm barrel.
Pros: Good color selection, great blending capabilities, durable core
Cons: Not good for detailed areas
Caran d’Ache Pablo
The Caran D’ache Pablo pencils are a water-resistant line of premium pencils offered by the Swiss company. The small 3.8mm diameter oil-based lead is quite strong and can easily be sharpened to a fine point, making it effective for detailed areas. The color application is quite smooth and is void of wax bloom and the color intensity can be very good, although it may take a few passes. With sets from 12 all the way up to 120, color selection is plentiful and varied. All of this is packaged in an attractive hexagonal wood barrel.
Pros: Many different color set options, good user control, no wax bloom, nice packaging
Cons: Might need several passes to get desired depth, expensive
Faber-Castell PITT Pastel
These are unique offerings from Faber-Castell in that they aren’t oil-based. They are a dry pastel they can be used to compliment general pastel works or even on their own where more detail is necessary. Being in pencil form, they are not as messy as conventional pastels and the sharp-friendly point is great for this intricate details. The color range is relatively large with choices from singles to 60-count sets. Color is generally vivid and blending is quite simple.
Pros: Great for fine details, not overly messy, nice packaging
Cons: Not good for large areas, can be difficult to get color on paper
Tombow is a Japanese-based company, and from looking at their colored pencils you can definitely feel the Asian heritage injected into them. Their colored pencil sets range from singles up to 30 pack sets, with the larger sets focusing on certain ideas such as “rainforests” or “woodlands”. The medium wax core allows for good color application and decent blending. The addition of additives to the pigment can give off good color, although nothing extraordinary. They core is wrapped in a round wooden shell.
Pros: Great for intended “themes”, beautiful presentation
Cons: Expensive, very poor color variety, somewhat light application
Another unique offering from Derwent, these colored pencils go for a more “earthy” feel in their color selection. The creamy core is great for wildlife and landscapes, but general applications might leave you having to dig into other sets for the right colors. They are available in singles up to 24 packs and have an extremely thick 5mm core and round 8mm barrel.
Pros: Perfect for earthy tones, smooth application, strong core
Cons: Small color selection
The Verithin line by Prismacolor is made of a harder wax core which is good for working on areas that require great detail. Being a thin and hard material, the wax doesn’t put out the same deep, opaque colors that conventional softer-wax pencils would, but they still have a purpose in any artist toolbox. Color sets are available in 12 to 36 pack and these pencils have a relatively small core with a hexagonal outside.
Pros: Great for intricate details, good color in applied area
Cons: Poor blending, somewhat limited color selection
Koh-i-noor Gioconda Soft Pastel
Different than your typical colored pencils, these are a sort of pastel pencil hybrid that attempts to capture the great blending ability and vibrancy of pastels with the control and less-messy pencils. The pigments used are mixed with a base of calcium carbonate and other agents to create the unique look. This is outputted through a 4.2mm diameter lead point. These have their pros and cons and the mess that can occur with pastels still lingers. They do have decent color, however. Sets range from 12 to 48 pieces and are round.
Pros: Very vivid color output, nice packaging
Cons: Mediocre blending, there can be hard spots in the lead