What do the Categories Mean?
Student Colored Pencils
Student-grade pencils are intended for those that are just beginning and in general novice student settings. These pencils are generally wax-based and oftentimes will have a much harder core than other, more advanced options. This allows them to be easier to control, be more durable, and be more simple to sharpen. However, this comes at the cost of having generally sub-par blending and less intense colors than some of the higher-end brands. In addition, student-grade pencils can also deviate from the advertised color somewhat, and the available color options can sometimes be polarized down to mainstream colors.
Packaging is generally pretty bare with these, and most will come in a standard plastic or cardboard sleeve. The pencils themselves will also generally be pretty standard, which is fine for their target audience.
However, they do come with their merits as well. As expected, these are generally among the cheapest sets you can buy, and in some cases the slight loss of pencil performance is easily trumped by the fact that they can be 20% or less of the cost of the high-end premium lines.
For someone starting out who has not yet grasped advanced blending techniques and proper pressure control, these starter pencils are recommended. The good price point makes the barrier to entry quite low and, with proper homework (and of course reading the reviews on this site) an educated purchases can be made that will result in great results.
Scholastic Colored Pencils
Scholastic-grade pencils are defined as being the next step up from student-grade, and intended for people who have some experience in using colored pencils on various mediums and applications. Blending and color intensity is generally better with these, and the cores are typically made of wax or oil. In addition, the core material is usually softer which allows for better color control and feel but can come at the cost of durability and ease-of-use. However, they are still user-friendly enough to not be overwhelming. They won’t quite have the feel and blending ability of some of the premium, professional-grade lines but they do find a happy medium.
This class introduces more specialty offerings such as certain sets that hone in on earthy tones or pencils that might have smaller cores which are intended for detailed areas. There are also plenty of broad sets that dip into all areas of the color wheel.
Packaging is usually a bit better, both in terms of the housing as well as the pencil itself. Higher-quality materials are used to construct the pencil and for someone with a bit of hands-on experience in colored pencils they might be able to appreciate it.
Cost-wise these are a step up from beginner lines, but you are paying for a higher-performing product. This is a great middle-of-the-road option for someone experienced in pencils that is ready to take that next step in their artistic endeavors without breaking the bank in the ultra premium offerings.
Professional and Artist Colored Pencils
Professional-grade pencils are intended for those who have significant experience on 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 pressures, 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. 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.