The Best Colored Pencils

Colored pencils, when used properly, can impart a wonderful quality to artwork. When combined with markers, colored pencils can add tints and values to an otherwise flat image. Having said this, I haven’t always been so fond of colored pencils (or pencils crayons as we used to say in Canada) for use in the elementary classroom.

Unless you use the good ones, the results can be less than satisfying. Cheap pencils can leave the art with an  “unfinished” quality. I don’t like to nag children to press harder, so I searched for better quality pencils. After 8 years of experimenting, I finally decided that my favorite brand is:


Like the name suggests, these beauties are woodless, which means that they are all lead. The color lays down velvety smooth and encourages even coloring and dark tones. Almost as good as painting! The only drawback (okay, there are two) is that they have a tendency to snap  and they are expensive (but only compared to the cheaper ones.)

A set of 24 is only $10.92 at Dick Blick. Do not go to a craft store and purchase these. Very expensive there!

Another thing I like about them is that they are super weighty. Really feels like you got something worthwhile in your hands. I know my students love them, too. They take very special care with them.

Other Brands:

Since I purchased the Koh-I-Noor brand, other woodless pencil sticks have surfaced. Prismacolor has some and so does Crayola. I don’t like the short sticks as much because you don’t get a good point but Crayola has a large variety of kid-friendly pencils that won’t break the bank (although their woodless pencil sticks are as expensive as the brand I prefer).

I adore Prismacolor for the application and color intensity but dang it all, they are really hard to sharpen without the lead breaking.

I did a little demonstration to show the color intensity the different colored pencils. It was not at all scientific. I just tried to place equal amount of pressure per pencil rendering.

For me, the Koh-I-Noor are the best at laying down a good saturation of color. What are your favorite brands? Do you go all out and buy the expensive ones or do you try to get by with the office supply store specials?

Do you have a favorite colored pencil art project?

Here are a couple of art projects in which we used these pencils:

Pre-Historic Fish 

How to Draw a Bird

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  • angie

    I love prismacolor pencils…and I am lucky enough to live in the town where they are made! Sometimes I am blessed with donations…
    I have just ordered some of the color sticks (woodless pencils), and am hoping for the best. I get so tired of sharpening pencils!

    • Pam

      Yes, isn’t it funny how much time we spend sharpening pencils. I have lots of crayola colored pencils to use up before I can get any new ones. But at the rate they are being sharpened and the tips broken off again, it won’t be long. I keep thinking about the woodless kind, in a dreamy, wistful sort of way.

      It seems that it would save money in the long run to buy the good woodless ones since most of the regular colored pencil ends up in the pencil sharpener because the tips break off in there, anyway! Maybe it is my pencil sharpener. Do you have a good one to recommend?

      • jess ott

        I have an xacto pencil sharpener and it rocks. expensive, but awesome. The kids like using it too much and I have to watch so that I don’t end up with nubs for pencils.

        I agree that prismacolor is the best, but I usually use mostly crayola (I am a personal crayola lover.)


        • Noreen

          My Montessori class has a new Bostitch that can handle colored pencils and stops automatically when pencils are sharp. In the past, we’ve sharpened the colored pencils by hand because they seemed to jamb the sharpener – whew – glad not to have to do THAT anymore!

          Patty, happy to find you. See you at BYW!


      • Jessica

        We use the KUM brand that came with the very large set of prismacolors. Now it is the only sharpener I use for ALL pencils. You can also purchase the sharpeners separately (about $2-4 a piece, but very worth it). I have used them in both primary and elementary Montessori classes, our current Montessori co-op, our homeschool and a couple of CGS atriums and all the children have been able to sharpen with wonderful results.

        I’ve not had the problem with pencils breaking unless I’m using any other sharpener, so I am not much help there.

      • Heather

        I personally like the Crayola brand. I had a more expensive Dutch? or German brand that I could add water for a watercolor effect, but I actually like the colors of Crayola better (especially the blues and purples, as they are my favorites to use.) Anyway, one thing that I do to keep the pencil lead from breaking, is I use a makeup sharpener which has a small regular sharpener, and a wider sharpener next to it. I use the wider sharpener for my pencils, because the color has more base as it is being sharpened, so it is less apt to break. Hope that might help some of you!

  • J. Cooper

    I love Prismacolor pencils. They’re the only thing I use in my own work because of how much depth and layering are possible. Also, with the Prismacolor colorless blending marker, the colored pencils will bleed and blend further and this creates a watercolor look to the pencils. Try it sometime – you’ll love the effect!

    • Patty

      Prisma colors seem to be the most favorite. I’ve used a blender in my own work before but not with my students. Totally need to get some!

  • Anna

    I know with prisma colors you can heat them in the microwave a little bit if they are breaking a lot. It melts the color inside back together. I haven’t tried that though with regular colored pencils. Might be worth a shot if your colored pencils have a lot of breakage running through them!

    • Cheri

      How do you do that? How long, how many at a time, any danger of starting a fire or ruining the microwave???

      • Patty

        I doubt fire would be a danger. Although I’ve never tried it, I assume you would microwave for just a few seconds (maybe 30?)

  • K-Sue

    Wow, what a helpful post and helpful comments. We like Prismacolors, too, and my daughter has a set of other pencils, no name on them, that came from an art set from Coldwater Creek. Those pencils are great! You can never tell until you start coloring with them.

  • Street Art

    I’ve tried all these steps including commenting on other blogs.. but I never got any comments on my post. Hard Luck for me.


  • Jen

    Thanks for the great feedback on KIN’s progresso woodless pencils! I work for the company that distributes these and it’s always great to see a review like this 🙂

  • justine

    Terrific! I have just started messing with pencil sketching and grabbed a package of colored pencils.
    My simple doodles hopefully will coem to life with some color 😉

  • Caroline

    The only colored pencils I have ever used with my children are Lyra brand from Germany. They are are very expensive, about $2.25 per pencil when bought individually at waldorfsupplies.com Dick Blick has skin tone, color, and metallic sets, all three are the best prices on the web. I only use the Lyra Color GIANTS. (The other thin pencils Lyra makes, break quite easily, in my experience.) Can’t wait to use them on all of the cool art projects on this site. We are homeschoolers and the pencils are obviously very cost-prohibitive for a class room.

    • Tammy

      I agree, I taught art at a Waldorf school, which my kids also attended and a large portion of the art and their lesson books where done with these (brand Lyra type was Stockmar or maybe visa versa). Expensive but worth it…they last a very long time and great saturation and they just feel good in your hands…HIGH QUALITY! AND you can also use the “splender” to blend the colors and soften them…wonderful!

    • Dan

      I’ve been using the Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor range, which are thin, but seem quite durable. They are fairly cheap where I live though, cheaper than Prismacolor.

  • Rebecca

    I was very fortunate my dad use to be a chemist at Empire Pencils where they made Prismacolors. Us five kids would be his quinine pigs for all the new graphites he created and we just ended up with free stuff. I’m glad I got the exposure to good quality materials at a young age, because now as an art teacher I know it’s worth the money to invest in quality materials. The kids I notice take more ownership in their artwork because they use professional grade materials.

    • Patty Palmer

      Oh goodness…how I would have loved having my dad bringing me home colored pencils! Very cool!

  • jkleasa@hotmail.com

    Does anyone know if you can find Koh-I-Noor woodless in Canada?

    • N

      I bought mine from DeSerres

  • Art supplies

    Nice and informative post because we use color pencils in our day to day life from childhood but rarely think about these vast benefits that you have discussed. I like Mont Marte color pencils.

  • Beth Marinelli

    I too have tried many, many colored pencil types with my students, over the years. I teach for a large school district and sometimes have a very small budget, so I can’t afford Prismacolor. I avoid Crayola because I noticed they break constantly when sharpened and so much gets wasted. I’ve found 2 brands I always order, so I have a variety of colors. The first was Noris Club Hexagonal by Staedtler Colored Pencils. I am really disappointed, as I see they have seemed to stop carrying it at Blick, Nasco and Triarco! There is a new type by Staedtler, a triangular shaped one, that I will try. This seems to be a high quality brand, color is rich, and the assortment of colors are nice. The other and more cheaper sets I order are the Sargent Art® “Best Buy” Colored Pencils – Classroom Pack of 250. I was leery of this brand initially in general, as their prices are so cheap. So far, everything I’ve ordered by them have suited my classes fine, and lasted well. I’ve found the Nasco brand pencils to be very poor at sharpening, often wasting away into a little nub after the first go with the sharpener. (same w/Crayola in my opinion)

  • Jessica Wang

    I just had to comment to say that your review on the colored pencils (KohINoor) was super informative. I really like how you had a picture of the comparison between other brands… It really really helps. I am going to get the KohINoor pencils.

  • Laurie

    My daughter loves these colored pencils.

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