Professional and Artist Colored Pencils

Updated by Brandon F. on 12/22/2022

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 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.  These are pencils that you will proudly display in any art toolbox.

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 Albrecht Dürer Watercolor PencilsBCP Rating

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

Cons: Expensive

Read Review of Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer Watercolor Pencils

Caran d’Ache Aquarelle Museum Watercolor

caran d'ache museum

BCP Rating4.5 star

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

Read Review of Caran d'Ache Aquarelle Museum Watercolor Pencils

Faber-Castell Polychromos

Faber-Castell Polychromos Colored Pencils

BCP Rating:

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

Read Review of Faber-Castell Polychromos Colored Pencils

Derwent Procolour

derwent procolour colored pencils review


BCP Rating

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

Read Review of Derwent Procolour Colored Pencils

Derwent Lightfast

derwent lightfast colored pencils review


BCP Rating

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

Read Review of Derwent Lightfast Colored Pencils

Arteza Professional

arteza professional colored pencil review


BCP Rating:

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

Read Review of Arteza Professional Colored Pencils

Caran d’Ache Luminance

caran d'ache luminance

BCP Rating4.5 star

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

Read Review of Caran d'Ache Luminance Colored Pencils

Prismacolor Softcore 

Prismacolor Softcore Colored Pencils

BCP Rating: 

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

Cons: None!

Read Review of Prismacolor Softcore Colored Pencils

Staedtler Professional Watercolor

Staedtler Professional Watercolor Colored Pencils

BCP Rating

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

Read Review of Staedtler Professional Watercolor Colored Pencils

Caran d’Ache Pastel Pencils

caran d'ache pastel pencils review


BCP Rating

If you are after a fantastic set of pastel pencils, then this is your answer.  These pastels produce immense levels of color, blend well, and look great while doing so.  The large core means that you can put a lot of color on the page with ease.  The packaging is also up to Caran d’Ache standards.  But these pencils are quite pricey and may struggle in highly detailed areas due to their size.


Pros: Great color output, Easy blending, Lovely packaging

Cons: Expensive, Will not be great for intricate areas of a canvas

Read Review of Caran d'Ache Pastel Pencils

Caran D’ache Prismalo Aquarelle Watercolor Pencils

Caran d’Ache Prismalo Aquarelle Watercolor Pencils Review

BCP Rating4 star

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

Read Review of Caran D’ache Prismalo Aquarelle Watercolor Pencils

Mitsubishi Uni Colored Pencils

Mitsubishi Uni Colored Pencils review


BCP Rating4 star

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: Good color production, Attractive packaging, Good core size, Large set sizes available

Cons: Can be expensive, No lightfast ratings, Some colors are a bit “scratchy”

Read Review of Mitsubishi Uni Colored Pencils

Holbein Artist


BCP Rating4 star

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

Read Review of Holbein Artist Colored Pencils

Bruynzeel Design Colour

Bruynzeel Design Colour Colored Pencils Review full

BCP Rating4 star

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

Read Review of Bruynzeel Design Colour Colored Pencils

Derwent Artists 

Derwent Artists Colored PencilsBCP Rating

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

Read Review of Derwent Artists Colored Pencils

Caran d’Ache Supracolor Watercolor

supracolor pencils

BCP Rating4 star

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

Read Review of Caran d'Ache Supracolor Watercolor Pencils

Derwent Studio

BCP Rating

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

Read Review of Derwent Studio Colored Pencils

Derwent Watercolor

Derwent Watercolor Colored PencilsBCP Rating

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

Read Review of Derwent Watercolor Pencils

Koh-i-noor Tri-Tone

koh-i-noor tri-tone colored pencil reviewBCP Rating

These are certainly one of the most interesting colored pencil sets that we have tried.  They combine 3 colors into each pencil.  And the results are very unique!  This can result in increased depth to a piece with little extra effort.  But the applications are limited and the relative cost is high.  So this set is best used as an accessory set to a larger, more traditional colored pencil collection.

Pros: Fun to use, Unique idea, Great blending

Cons: Pricey, Limited applications, cores are more fragile

Read Review of Koh-i-Noor Tri-Tone Colored Pencils

Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor

Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor Colored Pencils Review full

BCP Rating

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

Read Review of Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor Colored Pencils

Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell Artists’ Colored Pencils

Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell Artists’ Colored Pencils full

BCP Rating3.5 star

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

Read Review of Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell Artists' Colored Pencils

Koh-i-noor Progresso Woodless

Koh-i-noor Progresso Woodless Colored Pencils

BCP Rating:

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

Read Review of Koh-i-noor Progresso Woodless Colored Pencils

Derwent Colorsoft 

BCP Rating

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

Read Review of Derwent Colorsoft Colored Pencils

Caran d’Ache Pablo

caran d'ache pablo

BCP Rating3.5 star

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

Read Review of Caran d'Ache Pablo Colored Pencils

Faber-Castell PITT Pastel

Faber-Castell PITT Pastel Colored PencilsBCP Rating

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

Read Review of Faber-Castell PITT-Pastel Colored Pencils

Tombow Irojiten


Tombow Irojiten Colored Pencils

BCP Rating

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

Read Review of Tombow Irojiten Colored Pencils

Derwent Drawing 

derwent drawing pencils

BCP Rating:

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

Read Review of Derwent Drawing Colored Pencils

Prismacolor Verithin


Prismacolor Verithin PencilsBCP Rating:  

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

Read Review of Prismacolor Verithin Colored Pencils

Koh-i-noor Gioconda Soft Pastel

BCP Rating

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

Read Review of Koh-i-noor Gioconda Soft Pastel Colored Pencils

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