Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Great Colored Pencil Comparison (or Are All Colored Pencils Created Equal?)

Yes.  Yes.  I really am writing a blog post about colored pencils.  But believe me, it's not as desperate as it may seem.  Or maybe it is.  Does it sound like I'm scraping the bottom of the blogging barrel??  I'll let you decide. 

I love art supplies.  

Especially colored pencils.  

We have a variety of colored pencils to prove this point.  

They're so pretty!  

So colorful!  

So full of possibility!  

I even take a lot of pictures of colored pencils to prove how I feel about them.  Look, here's the wallpaper on my phone....

Ok, so two summers ago I bought three sets of "specialty" pencils to use for our drawing lessons.  One was fairly inexpensive, but was purchased at a specialty arts and craft store, so I was under the impression they were of a quality worthy of real artists (the Loew Cornell Simply Art pencils).  The second was a German brand well-loved by instructors of the Waldorf method of art (the Lyra Super Ferby pencils).  The third was a moderately expensive (as far as pencils are concerned) set - a pencil made for young art students by a premier pencil/art supply company (the Prismacolor Scholar pencils).  All the the other sets we had were your run-of-the-mill colored pencils picked up in the back-to-school section of Target. 

Naturally, I started to wonder why the difference in price? and isn't a pencil just a pencil?  and is it possible that expensive pencils actually work better than cheap pencils?   

"Are all colored pencils created equal??" I cried into the void.

If I was grappling with these and other important questions regarding colored pencils, it stood to reason that others were trying to work through similar issues. You are working through these issues, right?  Right.  I decided to get to the bottom of the unanswered questions and controversy swirling about colored pencils.    

Here are the eight varieties of pencils I employed in my comparative study:  

(8) Up and Up Colored Pencils (Target Brand)

In addition to observing how the pencil "felt" as it was applied to paper (I used medium-weight sketch book paper) and whether it covered evenly or not, the three main things I tested for were... (1) how well could you control the strength of color from light to dark,  (2) how well could the pencil color over itself,  and (3) did the pencils blend well.   

My results??  All colored pencils are not created equal.  

The very worst colored pencils were the Loew Cornell Simply Art Pencils.  They were so bad I want to shout it from the roof tops and make sure everyone knows.  So. so. bad.  Don't buy them, or return them if you have.  

The next worst were the Sargent Art.     

The  Melissa and Doug Triangle pencils, Target Up & Up pencils, and the Kid Made Modern pencils were ok.

I was very surprised at how well the Crayola pencils performed (happily surprised!)  They are very respectable pencils and in fact, performed much better than some of the pencils that were double their cost.   If you only have $5 or so to spend on pencils, do not feel bad about choosing Crayola!  

The second to best were the Lyra Super Ferby pencils.  They're enjoyable to use - the colors are vibrant, go on very smoothly, and blend fairly well.  These pencils are thick though and they aren't great for detail work, so my older kids usually bypass them for other pencils. They're perfect for my younger kids though, and get used very often.  We like them enough that I wish they had more colors (the largest set has 18 colors.) 
The best were by far the Prismacolor Scholar Pencils.  You can absolutely feel the difference when applying them to paper.  They are smoooooth like Kenny G.  You, the artist, have total control over what they do.  The blending is superior to any of the other pencils I tried.  

Here are some pictures and more specifics if you're interested in viewing the highly scientific and objective tests I conducted to come to the above conclusions.

The Melissa and Doug pencils got "scratchy" as I pressed harder and overlapped strokes.  Their triangular shape makes them a favorite of parents with little kids because they can't roll off the table.  These pencils are great for little kids, but aren't the best for big kid art or drawing lessons (in my opinion.  obviously.  everything here is my opinion...)  If you're going to get these pencils, don't forget that you're going to need a pencil sharpener that can handle wide pencils :) 

Like I said, what a surprise performance from Crayola!  I was very easily able to control the light-to-dark shading in the first picture.  As I layered the pencil over itself in the first and second pictures, it went on very smoothly and darkly.  The blending of colors is decent. I hate to keep using the word smooth but these were just that - they went on the paper the way I wanted them to - it felt smooth and it looks smooth.   In my opinion, there is no need to test out any other low-cost pencil ever again... these are my go-to pencil when we need to replenish the inexpensive colored pencil supply (and they come in packs of up to 50 different colors!!!) 

Oh my gosh, the horror!  These pencils were awful.  You can see as I tried to get darker these pencils got "blotchy" and "scratchy."  I was not able to get an even color whatsoever.  I couldn't even get a very dark shade.  No control.  (I hate not having control.)  Even the light areas were hard to keep even.  Don't buy these pencils.  I don't know how they can even put the word "art" in their name...  these are NOT art pencils.  

It's hard to imagine a pencil being worse than those Sargent Art ones.  But the Loew-Cornell Simply Art pencils win the prize for worst pencils ever.  Hands. Down.   As you can see from the first photo, they are practically incapable of producing more than one shade.  It hardly matters how hard or light you press, they stay about the same shade.  That's dumb.  I tried so hard to get that pencil to darken up that I ended up tearing the paper - it actually was the pencil's fault - they apply very "scratchily" (not like Kenny G at all).  Using this pencil is like feeling a cat's tongue.  These pencils (for some reason which I cannot fathom) have a really hard time coloring over other Loew-Cornell pencil marks.  You can see that it was tricky to make the stars darkly or evenly over the same color.  And for this same reason, blending is awful.  Practically non-existent.  How much more can I say to convince the world that these pencils are best used for fireplace kindling... or for those Pinterest projects where you cut up pencils and make cute things out of them.  Like bracelets.  Hmmm... as much as I would LOVE a colored pencil charm bracelet, it might hurt too much to know that I was wearing a Loew Cornell brand bracelet.  Ok.  Enough already.  Moving on...

These pencils were ok.   I think their natural shafts make them pretty.  And they perform, eh... ok.  One of the strange things about these pencils are the colors - there is no decent brown or red, and many of the other colors are just... different.  The names of some of the colors are fun though, like "sludge," "dijon", and "azalea."  I guess in the end, I think these pencils are pretty to take pictures of (for a long time, they were featured in my blog header :) ) but you could do better for actual usage.  

So, here are the great ones.  Can you see the difference?  The light-to-dark red test splotch practically looks like paint.  It feels like paint using them!  If you look closely in the second picture you can also see that they blend beautifully.  I bought the set of 6o different colors - it's so much fun looking for the perfect one!  They're all so lovely.  Because these pencils were pricey, we tend to save them for special art projects.  If the kids want to use them outside of our art and drawing "lessons" they need to ask permission (but I hardly ever grant it...)  I really want them to last so I reserve them for special projects and I don't usually let the kids sharpen them either since they tend to stick a pencil in the sharpener and let it run and run until half the pencil is gone.  These are too great to waste!  If your kids are into drawing, these pencils are worth every penny.  For older kids, look into the traditional Prismacolor pencils, which I believe have a softer core for even more artistic control.

These pencils are chunky and fun.  Again, make sure you have a pencil sharpener that can handle them!  The colors are vibrant, apply easily, and blend well.  No real complaints :)

Eh.  So so.  No need to buy these pencils with so many other great options to choose from. Unless you work at Target and get a deep discount buying their brand.  Then maybe you could use these for that charm bracelet ;)  

So those are my results.  Hit me with your questions if you've got any!  Or leave a comment below on your favorite colored pencils or other art supplies! 
*   *   *   *   *   *

Bonus material...

We had this pencil sharpener for a while and loved it.  It could handle ANY size pencil or crayon.  But... then one of my children put the eraser end of a pencil in there and the metal jammed the blades.  It could not be repaired.  I highly recommend this pencil sharpener if you have responsible, trustworthy children who aren't always wondering "what if" and trying out various "experiments." 

After we lost this baby to curiosity, we've been making do with a $10 jobbie from Target.  Something sort of like this.

You may also like...

Awesome Art Supplies for When You Don't Want a Mess


  1. So I think it's safe to say that I have never once thought about our colored pencils (except to wonder why they sit in the jar in the hutch and whether the kids will ever actually use them for something someday) but you managed to actually interest me in the controversial colored pencil issue and now I can pretend I really knew what I was doing when I picked those Crayolas ;) Love you!

  2. Oh my word, you make me smile. Good to know that I haven't wasted my money when I stock up on Crayola when they are only $1 per box in August!

    1. Don't you just love when school supplies go on sale!?!

  3. Thank you! I'm so sick of endlessly sharpening pencil crayons for my children because the leads break so quickly. I recently bought a set of Faber-Castell colored pencils on the recommendation of a friend but will try prismacolor if these don't work out.

    1. I've heard good things about F-C pencils, too, but have never tried them. I'd be interested in hearing what you think!

    2. This is my problem with colored pencils. We've only used Crayola but the leads are always falling out and when you sharpen them they don't get sharp evenly so you have a sharp angle of wood that scratches the paper if you dont' hold them in the right direction. Ugh! Does another brand sharpen better?

  4. Oh, how I love a good scientific art supplies comparison! We have a gazillion colored pencils that have accumulated around here over the years. I'll have to see how they all stack up - I think there are some prismacolor ones around somewhere. - nancyo

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Nancy! But in the future, all my readers and I will defer to you in all matters of art :)
      (I love your blog name. I'm humming Handel's "Every Valley" even as I type this ;) )

  5. The Scholar line is decent, but if you ever get *really* serious about good pencils you'll want Prismacolor Premier. Those things... just wow.

    Good to know Crayola is still making respectable art supplies though. No other crayons have come close (at least that I've tried).

    1. Thanks for the tip! And thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  6. The scholar Prismacolor is fine but if you really want to do it right, get the premier line... They are so smooth. Like buttah!! :) also get a hold of a colorless blender to really rock your world. They blend out the stereotypical colored pencil look and give you smooth painterly effects. Also use a hand held pencil sharpener to conserve your pencils.
    For my high school kids I get all Prismacolor pencils
    I would never buy store brand art supplies- ever. Usually crayola is a great brand, but I don't use their colored pencils for art
    Great Article

  7. The best were by far the Prismacolor Scholar Pencils. You can absolutely feel the difference when applying them to paper. They are smoooooth ...

  8. Thank you so much!
    This is exactly the information I was looking for.

  9. My "coloring" friends and I all agree that Prismacolor Premier are the best pencils to use. They have the most vibrant color.

  10. Hey Theresa, I love your comparison! I can now fairly say that my perspective towards coloured pencils has changed and My personal favourite are the prisma colour they are smooth as silk!

    - Love from Reena of Fabriano Boutique!

  11. Hey. I do card making. Coloring is all the rage right now. I got the artzea colored pencils. Do you know how they are? Novice at best. 😁


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