Professional and Artist Colored Pencils
Updated by Brandon F. on June 15, 2019
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
The Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer watercolor pencil set is a must-have for any serious pencil artist. There are plenty of set sizes to choose from and they go all the way up to 120. This, combined with the extremely good blending characteristics, means that you can achieve any color that you are after. Things really come alive when you apply water and the thick color application can be easily spread across great areas. And they look the part as well, with their attractive oil-based cores being wrapped in a quality hexagonal wood shell. However, expect to pay a premium asking price to enjoy these special pencils. But it is totally worth it.
Pros: Intense color, great control capability, perfect for large areas, good packaging
Caran d’Ache Aquarelle Museum Watercolor
The extra intense pigments that are inside the cores of Caran d’Ache Aquarelle Museum watercolor pencils are the real show-stoppers here. Thanks to the high concentration of these pigments, the color really comes alive when it hits the paper. The water-soluble core is easily controlled with just a bit of moisture and some really lovely color manipulation can then occur. The wax-based lead is surprisingly soft and has some characteristics that we are more used to seeing in oil cores. We really appreciate how the soft lead allows for a buttery smooth stroke. These hexagonal barreled pencils are available in sizes from 12 to 80.
Pros: Smooth buttery application, extremely vivid color, strong lead, beautiful packaging
Cons: Expensive, somewhat limited color choices
The trademark pencil set by the popular company, the Faber-Castell Polychromos colored pencils have been a popular premium pencil for many years. The oil cores simply excel at producing vivid color but still allowing for great user control. The blending is quite good and you can really mix in the various colors to fill in color gaps that may exist. However, with up to 120 count sets available, there shouldn’t be very many color gaps to worry about! This is a great pencil for beginner and veteran alike and we encourage everybody to experience the storied Polychromos set for themselves. The lovely core is surrounded by a round wooden barrel
Pros: Fantastic color intensity, good blending, great color selection, impressive packaging
Cons: Quite expensive
This is a solid set of colored pencils recently rolled out by Derwent. They strike a happy balance between the softness of the Coloursoft pencils and the firmness of the Artist Series pencils. The color output is fantastic and the blending isn’t too shabby, either. We recommend going with the 48 or 72 pack set to really take advantage of a nice color selection.
Pros: Very intense color, Nice balance between “soft” and “firm”, Very attractive styling, Above average blending
Cons: Can be expensive, Need to go with a larger set to fill color voids
Derwent’s first attempt at an oil-based colored pencil is a huge success. As the name suggests, these pencils have fantastic lightfastness in addition to extremely intense color output. They also excel at blending. Our only minor complaints are with the relatively small set sizes and the high asking price. But in terms of raw performance, these will go toe-to-toe with the very best in the industry.
Pros: Great color, Very good build quality, Easy to blend
Cons: Sets are quite small, Expensive
Arteza Professional Colored Pencils are one of the most cost-effective sets we have come across. They manage to have performance near the other premier colored pencil brands but for a fraction of the price. Great blending, good color output, and nice packaging are just a few reasons why you should check them out. They come with a wax core, hexagonal barrels, and are available in 48 and 72 count sets.
Pros: Good blending, Attractive packaging, Reasonably-Priced
Cons: Not all the colors are equally vivid
Caran d’Ache Luminance
We really enjoy the Caran d’Ache Luminance colored pencils. As the name suggests, you will find that these pencils produce very intense color that seems to “illuminate” the page. This makes them great for pieces that need to really on vivid colors. In addition, they are quite UV-resistant while directly helps in reducing lightfastness issues. The wax-based core has below average wax bloom and the application is buttery smooth and more resembles certain oil cores. The only minor issue is the lack of “dull” colors to choose from but that isn’t really what this set is intended to focus on. You can choose from 20 to 72 count sets of these round-barreled colored pencils.
Pros: Extremely intense colors, no lightfast issues, smooth application, great packaging
Cons: Pricey, only bright color choices
Arguably the most popular premium pencil line in existence, the Prismacolor Premier Softcore colored pencils are a staple for any serious colored pencil artist. You are reminded of the “softcore” in the name every time you use them thanks to the extremely gentle and silky smooth strokes that the pencils produce. The colors across all hues are fantastic and blending is effective both dry as well as with the addition of solvents. You may have to be a bit more gentle with the leads to avoid breaking them but this is really our only minor issue. And the fact that they come in at a much more affordable price point than many other premium sets makes any small concerns easy to overlook. You can choose from set sizes ranging from 12 to 150 count. Finally, the core comes in at 5mm and it is wrapped in an 8mm round barrel.
Pros: Wide range of colors, great intensity, excellent blending, superb price
Staedtler Professional Watercolor
While Staedtler has a variety of pencils at various price points, their premium Profesional Watercolor set is one of our favorites. You will notice a big jump in performance between these and their budget sets. This includes superior blending, much more intense color, a smoother application, and more diverse color options. As you might expect, this does also result in a higher asking price but it is more than warranted. The set sizes are a bit lacking, ranging from 12 to 60, so try to go with the bigger set if your budget allows. The cores are made of wax and are wrapped on a hexagonal barrel.
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 a 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 12, 24, 36, 50, 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
Bruynzeel Design Colour
A very fun pencil that produces loads of colors thanks to its super soft lead and a thick core. This wax pencil comes in a small but potent set but is lacking in color variety and comes at a high asking price. However, it does adequately compete with the top colored pencil brands out there. This set comes with a 3.7mm core with a round barrel and in sets of 12, 24, and 48.
Pros: Very rich color application, easy to sharpen, great packaging
Cons: Somewhat expensive, a lot of overlap with reds, limited set sizes
This is the workhorse set for Derwent. These pencils take a very proven method and deliver solid results that have helped to put Derwent on the map. The impressive set size range (from singles up to 120) means that everybody will be able to find something that meets their needs. The 4mm wide core finds a happy medium between size and control and allows these pencils to feel right at home in any setting. The combination of acceptable blending and good color intensity are icing on the cake. These wax-based pencils come wrapped in a 8mm round 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 another proven offering from the popular brand and are intended for artists who are ready to take their watercolor game to the next level. Coming in at a somewhat thin 3.8mm core, the Supracolor is perfect for highly-detailed areas that require good user control. And for those spots that need broader, more subdued color, a little bit of water can go a long way and allow the color to spread evenly. We also like how tough the cores are. They seem to handle quite a bit of pressure for their size. Overall, the pigments used are plenty vivid for our liking. Our only minor complaint is that these pencils may have some questionable lightfastness when used as a watercolor. Also, be expected to pay a high price for these advanced hexagonal-shaped pencils. They are available in sets ranging from 12 to 120.
Pros: Great variety of colors, quite vibrant, nice packaging
Cons: Expensive, minor lightfastness issues
These are a bit of a specialty pencil but they are very good in what they are designed to do. The Derwent Studio pencils come with a much smaller core than most which allows them to be perfect for fine details such as grass, feathers, and hair. And it makes them a great compliment to the larger and more robust Derwent pencil sets but not a great standalone set. You will find a decent set selection, ranging from singles up to 72 count sets. These petite pencils come with a proven 3.4mm thick wax core and a 6.9mm hexagonal barrel.
Pros: Good color selection, made for detailed work
Cons: Poor for large areas, subpar blending
The Derwent Watercolor pencils are another one of this large company’s staples. Similar to their popular colored pencil lineup, the watercolor line fines a happy medium between quality and control while managing to stay at a relatively acceptable price point. The soft wax core allows for very good blending and general color manipulation. As for set sizes, you can choose from singles all the way up to their relatively diverse 72 pack set. The core comes in at 3.4mm in diameter and is encased by a 6.9mm hexagonal barrel.
Pros: Good color selection, works easily with water, smooth application
Cons: Not very intense
Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor
An oil-based colored pencil of acceptable caliber, the Lyra Rembrandts are able to achieve the essence of blending and feel that is present in other premium oil colored pencil lines but for a fraction of the price. However, they do suffer from a somewhat scratchy application and the tips are easily broken. They have an oil core that is contained in a round barrel and come in sets ranging from 12 to 72 pencils.
Pros: Pleasant color output, above average blending, thick core, more affordable than most oil colored pencils
Cons: Fragile tips, somewhat “scratchy color application, still rather expensive
Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell Artists’ Colored Pencils
The Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell Artists’ Colored Pencils are a water-friendly lineup of pencils that take advantage of an oil core. In fact, the core is quite large coming in at 4mm diameter. Color output is quite nice and the application is quite smooth and really opens up with the addition of water. The pencil core is somewhat fragile, however. These pencils come in sets ranging from 12 to 72, have a hexagonal barrel, and are in the premium price range.
Pros: Smooth application, Color is easily spread
Cons: Fragile core, Still rather expensive
Koh-i-noor Progresso Woodless
The Koh-i-noor Progesso colored pencils are certainly one of the more unique sets we have checked out. They are unique in that they don’t have an outside wood barrel. Rather, the entire diameter is usable pigmented material. The lead core is injected with specialized oils which make them perform similar to many oil-based colored pencils. Specifically, you can look forward to thick, powerful strokes of color when used. With a whopping 7.6mm diameter core, you can cover a lot of paper very quickly with these but you may be somewhat limited in what you can do in regards to high detailed areas. Also, not having an outside core does impact how tough these are. Set sizes are small, coming in 12 and 24 packs.
Pros: Well-controlled color intensity, can lay down a lot of color, decent price
Cons: Not many color choices, somewhat fragile
The Derwent Colorsoft colored pencils really live up to their name as their extremely soft core is the real headliner here. They feel eerily similar to certain pastel pencils and, as such, you will find the blending to be quite good. Also, applying thick layers of color is extremely easy and doesn’t require a lot of application pressure. That being said, you will find that fine details will be a bit challenging thanks to the combination of the pastel-like core and the rather thick 6.9mm barrel. Quantities range from singles up to 72 count sets.
Pros: Good color selection, great blending capabilities, durable core
Cons: Not good for detailed areas
Caran d’Ache Pablo
The Caran D’ache Pablo colored pencils are another popular set from the renowned Swiss company. These pencils are very water-resistant and have the traits of a watercolor pencil hybrid. The core, despite being on 3.8mm in diameter, is surprisingly strong and can handle a lot of application pressure without chipping. In addition, the wax lead can be sharpened to a very fine point, making it great for detailed areas. As for application, it is buttery smooth and the wax core does a good job of masking most wax bloom. Color intensity is acceptable but you might have to make two or three passes over an area to get the deep intensity that you are looking for. Finally, you will enjoy a nice selection of set sizes, ranging from the small 12-pack set all the way up to the massive 120-count set.
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
One of Faber-Castell’s more unique art mediums, the PITT Pastel try to harness the best of pencils and pastels with these. They are also one of the few pencil-like mediums that Faber-Castell produces that aren’t oil-based. They are made of a sort of dry pastel but formed into a pencil to allow for greater user control. Because of this, you will enjoy the great color application of a pastel but the ability to do intricacies like you could with a pencil. The color range is acceptable, going up to 60-count and the colors you can choose from are very diverse. There may be a few color gaps but the blending is good enough to help you find the color you need. Finally, the color of these large pencils is of acceptable intensity.
Pros: Great for fine details, not overly messy, nice packaging
Cons: Not good for large areas, can be difficult to get color on paper
We really enjoy the overall “vibe” that we get with Tombow Irojiten colored pencils. You can quickly tell of their Japanese roots thanks to the styling of the pencils. They come in specialty sets, ranging from singles up to 30-count. And these sets will come with a theme such as “rainforests” or “woodlands”. This can be a good thing if you focus heavily on that particular theme but may become a bit frustrating if you are after something more generic. The medium wax core products acceptable color and the blending is not terrible, either. We are glad that Tombow decided to include some additives to the pigment as it helps to make them more vivid. These attractive pencils come in lovely packaging and are wrapped in a round wooden barrel.
Pros: Great for intended “themes”, beautiful presentation
Cons: Expensive, very poor color variety, somewhat light application
The Derwent Drawing colored pencils are a specialty line that is designed for features that have an “earthy” feel. This can include animals, skin tones, trees, etc. This makes them great for specific applications and not viable for other areas. The core is quite creamy and puts out nice vividness but we have found that we had to constantly go back to larger, more diverse sets to find the specific colors that we needed. They are available in singles up to 24 packs and the 5mm wax core is surrounded by an 8mm round wooden barrel.
Pros: Perfect for earthy tones, smooth application, strong core
Cons: Small color selection
They key to the Prismacolor Verithin colored pencils is their extremely hard wax core. This allows the extremely thin core to stay in one piece while being used and also allows you to sharpen it to an extremely sharp point. The Verithin’s happy place will be in the intricate details but it will struggle to handle spots where you simply want large areas of color. Also, the thin wax core doesn’t produce quite as intense of color as we are used to seeing from other Prismacolor sets. You can pick between 12 to 36 packs sets and the small core is wrapped in a hexagonal barrel.
Pros: Great for intricate details, good color in applied area
Cons: Poor blending, somewhat limited color selection
Koh-i-noor Gioconda Soft Pastel
The Koh-i-noor Gioconda Soft Pastel pencils are a sort of hybrid between a pastel and a pencil. Koh-i-noor has attempted to harness the blending ability and intense color of pastels with the user-control and durability of a pencil. This is achieve by adding potent pigments in with a calcium carbonate base for strength, allow with some other binding agents. The results are hit or miss and we feel some of the negative points of using pastels tend to resurface. The unique 4.2mm diameter core is wrapped in a round barrel and is available in sets ranging from 12 to 48 pencils.
Pros: Very vivid color output, nice packaging
Cons: Mediocre blending, there can be hard spots in the lead