Zenacolor Colored Pencils
72-160 count pack
Enormous Color Selection
Good Performance for the Price
Hard to Tell Difference in Some Colors
Blending not as Good as Higher-end Pencils
Some Differences in Application Texture and Consistency
Lack of Lightfast Information
Zenacolor Colored Pencils Review
Last updated by Brandon F. on 11/2/2020
The list of new colored pencils brands hitting the market seems to never end, and Zenacolor is another worthy name to add to that list. This brand hopes to stand out from the crowded market thanks to their huge selection of color options (up to 160), going with an oil-based core instead of wax, and being offered at a very reasonable price.
But coming in at such an attractive price point tends to mean that there are some negatives. In this review, we will go over Zenacolor Colored Pencils and discuss how well the pencils perform and if they are worth your money.
Visual Appeal – 34/5
It seems more and more common these days that brands are expanding their set sizes to offer more colors. The smallest size that Zenacolor offers right now is “only” 72 pencils. 10 years ago, a 72 count colored pencil set would have been on the larger side. Today, this could be considered average if not a bit on the smaller end of things!
To go with their 72 count set, Zenacolor offers a 120 pack and a gargantuan 160 pack. Now there is a limit to how much more usability one gets out of a set as the quantity increases. There is a point where it is basically impossible to tell the difference from one color to the next.
And sure enough, you will find that in the largest set, it will be almost impossible to tell the difference between two similar colors. For instance, we had a hard time deciphering any difference between “Moon Yellow” and “Canary Yellow”. Another example of this is between “Pink” and “Light Pink”. We could go on.
That isn’t to say that all colors are like this. There are some truly unique colors, many of which also happened to be some of our favorites in terms of performance. We were quite impressed with the color intensity of “Dodger Blue”. And we found ourselves continuously coming back to “Heliotrope” and “Metallic Forest Green”. These colors performed admirably and really lit up the page.
But there were also quite a few colors that didn’t really inspire us. These colors seemed to sit in their packaging and not be picked up.
In other words, this set has a bit of everything. Wonderful colors that really stood out and “boring” colors that we didn’t find much use for. But don’t let that scare you away: this sort of thing is pretty common in colored pencil sets of this size.
As you might also expect, with the sets of this size, there really aren’t going to be any major color gaps. That being said, certain color spectrums were better accounted for than others, almost to the point of being overkill.
You will find that there are simply too many yellow and pinks to choose from. Conversely, we found that the number of blues and greens were a bit lacking. We would have liked if Zenacolor would have opted for more blues and greens at the expense of yellows and pinks.
These pencils are also oil-based. We love oil-based pencils and their unique characteristics compared to wax pencils. We will get more into that in the next section but oil pencils can blend in ways that wax pencils may struggle with. This allows you to help produce colors that may not be present in the sets. This isn’t so much an issue with the 120 and 160 pack sets but would be more helpful in the 72 pack set as there are slightly larger color gaps.
We are overall satisfied with the color output. Certain colors “popped” more than others, of course. But 1 to 2 layers of color is all that we needed to produce the color that we were looking for.
One complaint is the lack of lightfast information. This makes it hard to tell how long these colors are intended to last. Typically, we assume that if a company isn’t providing this information, it is because they don’t want us to know the results.
Usability and Durability – 3.5/5
We really enjoyed experimenting with Zenacolor Colored Pencils. Being an oil-based lead, they go on the paper in a totally different way than wax pencils. The application was overall smooth. There were some areas of certain pencils that were a bit “scratchier” than we would have liked. And for those of you who enjoy the truly buttery smooth application of, say, a high-end set of Faber-Castells, you won’t get that here. But considering the price and target audience, we can’t complain.
The pencil core is 3.3mm in diameter. This falls right in the middle of the spectrum. We enjoy pencil cores that are around this size. They are large enough to allow for broad color application but small enough to sharpen to a point and work around highly detailed areas.
Speaking of sharpening to a point, these tips are relatively strong when sharpened to a point. We have worked with pencils that were nearly impossible to sharpen to a fine tip and even if you were able to, they would instantly break when slight pressure was applied. We were able to get these to a nice point and use it without them instantly chipping. This can likely be attributed in part to the oil core.
Depending on who you ask, a round barrel may be preferred while others enjoy a hexagonal barrel. We personally enjoy a hexagonal barrel for the added grip but this is a minor complaint.
Layering and blending overall is quite good. Since these are oil cores, you don’t have to concern yourself with wax bloom. This means that you can stack up 3 or more layers and not have the “sheen” that wax pencils will give. Blending is fun and we enjoyed experimenting with different colors to see what the results were. Applying water or solvents will produce unique effects that are different than what you would expect with wax pencils. We didn’t have a long enough time experimenting with solvents to come to any sort of conclusion.
Overall build quality isn’t bad. These don’t have the luxurious feel of more expensive sets. It may be the wood barrel that was used. It is a bit on the light side. But seeing how these pencils are extremely affordable, shortcuts had to be made somewhere.
Packaging and Presentation – 3/5
Depending on if you go with the 72, 120, and 160 pack Zenacolor Colored Pencil set, you will have a varying number of plastic sleeves contained within the box. The box is nothing special: just cardboard. This is in contrast to tin or even wood boxes that other, more expensive, colored pencil brands use. But again, we can’t be picky given the price point.
The pencils are also pretty straightforward. They don’t have any sort of fancy dipped paint base or gold leaf trim. Instead, they take the simple route. You will find the Zenacolor brand name, the color, and the color code stamped on the pencil. Nothing more, nothing less.
While some people may be turned off but not having the luxurious aesthetics that higher-end brands possess, we feel that most people would prefer the significant cost savings that you enjoy with these at the expense of a fancy barrel. And if we had to choose, we would have picked a more robust box and thicker sleeves for better protection instead of fancier stamps on the pencil barrels.
Cost – 5/5
It goes without saying that the attractive price point of Zenacolor Colored Pencils is a big reason why they have become so popular. And to maintain such a reasonable price given the large selection of colors in addition to surprisingly impressive performance is the icing on top.
Another aspect of pencils at this price range is that Zenacolor Colored Pencils have an oil core. This is something that is a bit of a rarity in the art world. Traditionally, oil-based colored pencils fetch a much higher asking price. And while these pencils won’t necessarily go toe-to-toe with the top oil colored pencils on the market from the likes of Faber-Castell and Derwent, they are no slouches. They strike an excellent balance of cost vs. value. And they offer up the unique characteristics of oil pencils at a price point that will be much better on a beginner’s wallet.
Overall Ranking – 4/5
We left our first experience with Zenacolor Colored Pencils extremely impressed. While they aren’t perfect, the combination of great color selection, impressive performance, and attractive price point check most of our boxes.
There are a few minor issues such as noticeable overlap between certain colors, difficulty discerning certain colors from similar colors, and mediocre packing and labeling. But these are only minor qualms that are easily trumped by the significant pros of this set.
For professional artists or those after the very best (and the skills to tell the difference), these pencils will not be adequate replacements for the top of the top. There are subtle performance notes that the extremely impressive and proven professional brands have that are unmatched by these “budget” brands. Specifically, this involves color intensity, blending, and the overall feel of the pencil.
But quite frankly, most people will have a hard time telling the difference. And the difference in their wallets will be much more noticeable. And for that reason, we highly recommend Zenacolor Colored Pencils.