Coloured pencils have not always been primarily used for creating artwork, originally coloured pencils were used for marking up and checking written and technical works. Although the origins of coloured pencils stem back to 1902, it wasn’t until later in the 20th century that coloured pencils were created with artist-grade leads. Since then the manufacture and development of coloured pencils have continued at great pace, producing a multitude of different finishes and qualities.
Across the art world, there are many different brands of coloured pencil, each one offering something quite different to the next, below is a an overview of different things to consider when choosing the right coloured pencils for you.
NOT ALL COLOURED PENCILS ARE CREATED EQUAL
All coloured pencils are made up of a coloured pigment and a binder, the binder keeps the pigment together and also gives each pencil its firmness level. When looking for a good quality pencil, your want one with more pigment that binder within its mix, this will give a richer colour and lean more towards a softer firmness which will allow for smooth and consistent shading. Within coloured pencils the core can be oil, wax or gum based, each one offering different qualities and finishes.
The key factors to think about when selecting coloured pencils are the firmness of the lead, erasing level, breadth of colour variants within the set, and obviously the cost of the set. One thing you can be sure of with coloured pencils is, you get what you pay for, a fine quality set of pencil crayons is an investment, and the quality will be reflected in your artwork for sure.
WAX BASED COLOURED PENCILS
In wax based pencils, the binder that contains the pigment colour is wax based. Basic school sets and the more cheaper end of the pencil crayon market is usually wax based. Cheaper types of wax pencil crayon have higher levels of binder and less pigment, giving a hard finish the the lead and a less vivid appearance of colour.
Wax based crayons have been popular with artists for years, although the quality is generally far better than the standard school sets mentioned above. This is mainly due to the higher levels of pigment vs binder, as well as the pigment quality being softer and of finer quality.
Although wax crayons can tend to be more fragile and break easier than oil based pencils, their blending quality is very good. This makes layering a lot easier and smoother due to their softer leads and less colour being laid on the paper, which can also be a great advantage when erasing. Unlike oil based crayons, wax crayons can leaves tiny residues of pigment as you draw, so do be aware to removes this by blowing it or using a soft brush regularly, the last thing you want is a shard of pigment to be dragged across your drawing.
one side effect of wax pencils crayons is whats known as bloom. Wax bloom is caused whent he coloured pigment settles down and the binder rises to the surface. This can create a dusty white haze on your artwork and is mainly found in lower quality wax pencils. This can be easily removed with a soft brush or cloth. Fixative can also be used to remove bloom, but if using fixative do a test run on another paper sheet. Using a spare sheet of paper, create a few solid blocks of colour, then spray it with fixative. This is always a good idea as fixative can effect the colour of your artwork.
OIL BASED COLOURED PENCILS
Unlike wax based crayons, oil based crayons don’t show any signs of wax bloom, this is due to it using a vegetable based oil binder to hold the pigment together. They still have a small amount of wax within their core but far less than wax based pencil crayons. The oil based binder gives a much firmer lead, less prone to breaking and pigment shards, but on a downside does not blend as easily as wax pencils and is more difficult to layer. If looking for oil based coloured pencils, you may be better sourcing a good art supplier as these are not readily available in a lot of high street shops
GUM BASED WATERCOLOUR PENCILS
Also know as water soluble pencils, these have a gum binder to hold its pigment together in the pencil core. This binder is activated by water allowing the pigment to flow in a very similar way to watercolour paints. This produces a very loose and free medium, unlike the other two types of coloured pencil. Its a pencil favoured by many artists for these qualities, as it gives more control than watercolours being in a pencil form rather than using a brush.
STILL NOTE SURE WHAT TYPE OF PENCIL CRAYON TO BUY?
As outlined above each type of pencil has its pros and cons. The best pencils to use, really come down to your style of drawing, maybe buy a few of each type and get a feeling for how they react and how they interact with each other. I often used wax and oil based crayons together, I find my darker top layers create a far more vivid appearance when using oil based pencils as they dont blend with the wax layers below and give a very true colour representation. Even throwing a water soluble pencil in the mix could bring its own unique qualities to a peice of artwork, a looser free style in contrast to the vivid precision of wax and oil based crayons.
THE TOP 5 QUALITIES TO LOOK FOR IN A COLOURED PENCIL
1. Top of my list is how vivid is the colour? the more vivid the better to bring your artwork to life
2. Layering capabilities, this is important when creating depth in your artwork. Remember wax based pencils work best for layering.
3. Burnishing capabilities, again an important factor, particularly when creating photorealistic or hyperrealistic artwork, so as to not have any visible pencil strokes.
4. Lead Strength, a strong pigment core is very important when capturing extra fine detail.
5. Price, we all have a budget, whether you’re a hardened professional or happy hobbyist.
MY TOP CHOICE OF EACH TYPE OF COLOURED PENCILS, FOR ALL LEVELS OF ABILITY
Wax Based Pencil Crayons
Professional Choice: – Prismacolour Premier Coloured Pencils.
Amazing pencils, delicate core, quite soft with amazing blending and burnishing qualities. A vast array of colours giving ultra vivid results.
Intermediary Choice:– Derwent Coloursoft Pencils
An excellent set of pencils, durable break resistant core, superb blending and layering qualities.
Beginners Choice:– Faber-Castell Case of 60 Coloured Pencils
Excellent colour range, break resistant leads, great for all levels or ability.
Oil Based Pencil Crayons
Professional Choice: – Derwent Lightfast
highly vivid colour, strong point, perfect for highly detailed work, smooth colour lay down.
Intermediary Choice:– Faber-Castell Polychromos
Amazing colour intensity, smooth blending, great colour selection, impressive packaging.
Beginners Choice:– Sky Glory 72 Set Oil Coloured Pencils
Excellent value for money, break resistant leads, great starter set for people new to coloured pencils.
Gum based Water Soluble Pencil Crayons
Professional Choice: – Derwent Inktense
Incredible versatility, smooth lay down and ultra vivid colour
Intermediary Choice:– Caran d’Ache Swisscolor
Vibrant colour range, amazing quality, great value
Beginners Choice:– Arteza Watercolour Pencils Triangle Shaped
Bold rich colours, great range of colours and tones, break-resistant