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Do you remember the first time you made your way around a massive colored pencil set—one of those voluminous, veritable treasure chests stuffed with more colors than you could have ever imagined? Recreate that wonder with a professional colored pencil set. Our favorites are positively awe-inspiring, not just for their overwhelming color spectra but their sheer quality. Suffice to say these aren’t your preschooler’s colored pencils: To make our list, these implements needed to be able to blend nicely, stand up to layering, keep a dense color line, and do it all while looking vibrant on the page. As a bonus, all of our picks are available individually as well as in sets, in case you need to add or replace particular colors. Here are our five favorites.
Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils and Sets
We hereby bestow Prismacolor with the Best All Around award. Finer, higher-end colored pencils might exist, but none can top Prismacolor’s range, approachability, and variety. These blendable, water-resistant pencils come in 12-, 24-, 36-, 48-, 72-, 132-, and (deep breath) 150-piece sets, or you can order your favorites à la carte for not much more than a dollar. We especially love the curated theme packs: Prismacolor sells a 24-pencil set specifically for shading and highlighting, as well as 12-pencil sets for landscapes, seascapes, and botanicals. Prismacolor’s gives you a great per-unit value: Blick sells the complete 150-pencil set for less than $100. Need we say more?
Purchase: Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils and Sets, $1.35—$99.74 on Dick Blick
WE ALSO LIKE
Faber-Castell Polychromos Pencils and Sets
We’re drooling over this set, and we wager you will, too. For more than a century, the German art supply manufacturer has produced a gorgeous colored pencil line. The cedar barrels of these pencils encase richly pigmented 3.8-millimeter leads that are resistant to water, breakage, and smudging. In many cases, they’re fade-resistant, too: Faber-Castell ranks every single hue by lightfastness, with the highest-ranking ones said to last more than 100 years. You can pick from sets of 12, 24, 36, 60, and 120, or buy individual pencils. And if you’re the type of person to shell out extra for a collector’s item, don’t miss Faber-Castell’s gift packs, which arrive in luxe boxes, or its limited-edition 12- and 24-pencil anniversary sets. The latter’s ornate tins pay homage to the original packaging of Faber-Castell’s 1908 Polychromos pencils.
Purchase: Faber-Castell Polychromos Pencils and Sets, $2.23—$325.00 on Dick Blick
Blick Studio Artists’ Colored Pencils and Sets
Think of these as Blick’s budget-conscious answer to the above three sets, making them a good choice for the classroom. Each pencil is made with California cedar surrounding a 3.8-millimeter lead that delivers fade-resistant lines. Their design was influenced by feedback from the Colored Pencil Society of America (yes, really), so you can count on their quality. Blick offers single pencils and assorted sets in counts from 12 to 72; taking a page from Prismacolor’s book, the company also offers landscape- and portrait-themed 24-piece arrays.
Purchase: Blick Studio Artists’ Colored Pencils and Sets, $1.21—$68.75 on Dick Blick
A GREAT ALTERNATIVE
Derwent Inktense Pencils
Water resistance is a calling card of the other colored pencils on our list. Not so for Derwent’s iconoclastic, hyper-firm leads. The Inktense pencils’ vivid lines can be used dry or daubed with a little water to soften, spread, or thin out the color. Think of them as a hybrid between a professional-quality colored pencil and a watercolor pencil. Their colors may change slightly when wet, but boy, are those colors gorgeous—think jewel tones or stained glass. The pencils come in sets of 6 to 72 pieces or can be purchased singly.
Purchase: Derwent Inktense Pencils, $1.50—$107.75 on Dick Blick
TOP OF THE LINE
Caran d’Ache Luminance Colored Pencils and Sets
If you’re concerned with the longevity of your artworks, invest in this impressive line by Swiss manufacturer Caran d’Ache. Each colored lead has been specifically formulated and tested for UV resistance, meaning these are the most lightfast pencils on the market. They’re hard enough to create bold lines but soft enough for delicate shading and blending work. Plus, they arrive in a plush, foam-padded tray that protects the pencils from breakage or other damage. The price tag on these sets may be eye-popping—nearly $5 each when bought singly; somewhat less in sets. But trust us: They’re worth every penny.
Purchase: Caran d’Ache Luminance Colored Pencils and Sets, $2.40—$349.99 on Dick Blick