A Colored Pencil Test

A Colored Pencil Test

When it comes to buy­ing art sup­plies for your class­room, how much does your bud­get influ­ence your buy­ing deci­sions? Do you some­times choose your cheap­est option just because, well, it’s the cheap­est? There’s such a range of qual­ity when it comes to stu­dent grade col­ored pen­cils and the dif­fer­ence in price doesn’t always make up for the dif­fer­ence in qual­ity. The next time you buy col­ored pen­cils, you could be bet­ter off spend­ing a lit­tle more. Here’s why…

Col­ored pen­cils are dif­fer­ent from the paints and mark­ers we use because we typ­i­cally have them a lot longer. They don’t dry out like mark­ers do, so buy­ing a fresh set each year isn’t nec­es­sary. And they don’t get used up as fast as mark­ers and paint do. Col­ored pen­cil is rarely the medium we choose for big projects — stu­dents would quickly lose patience fill­ing in large areas with pen­cil, and the qual­ity of their work would reflect that! So, we tend to use col­ored pen­cils for smaller, more detailed draw­ings… and there­fore they last longer. If you were to “amor­tize” your col­ored pen­cils over the actual num­ber of projects you use them for, you would likely find they’re a very good value as art sup­plies go.

There are many brands of stu­dent grade col­ored pen­cils to choose from, and they come in a range of prices. Should you let price alone deter­mine your pur­chase? Does qual­ity really mat­ter when you’re talk­ing about a col­ored pen­cil? And how can you tell what the qual­ity is any­way? Con­sid­er­ing their value and how long you’ll have them, I believe this is an area where it’s worth spend­ing a lit­tle more for a bet­ter qual­ity prod­uct. Any­one can get frus­trated when their work is lim­ited by the qual­ity of their sup­plies… using a bet­ter qual­ity prod­uct will usu­ally trans­late into bet­ter qual­ity work and more enjoy­ment in the process.

I recently tested six com­mon brands of stu­dent grade col­ored pen­cils: Sar­gent, Bazic, Prang, Rose Art, Cray­ola, and Cre­ative Arts. If you haven’t already stud­ied the chart above, can you pre­dict from the names alone which one was my top pick? Most peo­ple would prob­a­bly guess Cray­ola, thanks to their mas­sive adver­tis­ing pres­ence. But for qual­ity and color, I actu­ally chose Prang.

Here’s what I look for when test­ing col­ored pen­cils for quality:

Col­ored pen­cil col­ors should be rich and vibrant. The basic 12 color set should con­tain the range of basic col­ors that are used most often: black, white, brown, light blue, dark blue, vio­let, light green, dark green, yel­low, orange, red, and pink. (While you can do some color mix­ing by lay­er­ing and blend­ing col­ors, at this level it’s best to have a com­plete range of basic col­ors avail­able.) Also, a qual­ity col­ored pen­cil will have a creamy tex­ture (not waxy or scratchy) and should be easy to apply in a smooth, even layer. Hav­ing color names on the pen­cils may not be manda­tory, but I know that as a kid, this was really impor­tant to me!

So that’s it! Not too much to ask, right??

Based on that cri­te­ria, here’s my quick review of each of these brands:

#1… Prang - Rich, creamy, smooth, vibrant col­ors… includ­ing the white! And they even have the color names printed on the pen­cils in Eng­lish, Span­ish and French…. LOVE these!!

#2… Cray­ola - The col­ors were creamy, smooth and vibrant…. not quite as good as the Prang, but close. Color names were printed in 3 lan­guages, so that’s a plus. But my prob­lem with the Cray­ola set is that there’s no pink! Some­one should tell them that you really do need pink in a basic set. (But they have a great web­site, so they get points for that!)

#3… Rose Art - This brand had no white and the tex­ture was a lit­tle scratchy, but not ter­ri­ble. The blue was more of a teal. You may be able to get by with­out the white, so this could be an accept­able choice if price is an issue. (A while back I invested in a some indi­vid­ual white Pris­ma­col­ors, to get a really strong white for value draw­ing projects on dark paper, and they lasted for years. So that’s always an option if you choose this set.)

#4… Sar­gent — Basi­cally a pretty good range of col­ors, but the tex­ture was really waxy and uneven… the vio­let in par­tic­u­lar was very scratchy.

#5… Cre­ative Arts - These col­ors were dull and waxy, with no color names on the pen­cils…. right down there at the bot­tom of my list.… with Bazic.

#6… Bazic — No light blue??? What were they think­ing??! The black and the blue were both very dull, the blue, light green, and red were all a lit­tle “off” in terms of their hue, the tex­ture was scratchy, and there were no color names on the pen­cils. Rather than buy­ing this set, you may want to con­sider wait­ing and sav­ing up for some­thing a lit­tle better.

While I didn’t test these sets specif­i­cally for dura­bil­ity, I can say from per­sonal expe­ri­ence that the Prang and Cray­ola are both very durable.

(Note: I was not paid to test these col­ored pen­cils or to write this review, I didn’t receive any free prod­uct, and I didn’t even get to keep the col­ored pen­cils! My hus­band and his broth­ers have a busi­ness that deliv­ers sup­plies to school dis­tricts in our area, so I occa­sion­ally get to test art sup­ply prod­ucts for their cat­a­log. Just a fun perk to our fam­ily busi­ness, and I thought my find­ings might be of inter­est to you!) 

Student Grade Colored Pencil Comparison Test

Stu­dent Grade Col­ored Pen­cil Com­par­i­son Test

When buy­ing art sup­plies for your class, is price or qual­ity more impor­tant to you?

Have you found a dif­fer­ent brand of col­ored pen­cils that you recommend?

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12 Responses to A Colored Pencil Test

  1. Amanda Gabrici April 9, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

    What a great idea! I’m always curi­ous about the other brands since I usu­ally stick to the same few for my orders (usu­ally cray­ola or prang). If you get a chance, I’d love to see a close up shot of your com­par­i­son. Thanks for the post!

    • Cheryl Trowbridge April 10, 2014 at 10:36 am #

      Thanks, Amanda! That’s a good idea… I’ll add a close-up of my test to the bot­tom of the post!

  2. Amy April 9, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

    We have awful expe­ri­ences with the leads (not really leads are they?) of col­ored pen­cils break­ing after sharp­en­ing. They will break just below the wood and then the “lead” falls out. I won­der if you ran across this with any of these brands?

    • Cheryl Trowbridge April 10, 2014 at 10:43 am #

      Great ques­tion, Amy! I’m glad you asked, since this is the topic of my next post! I’ll explain then in more detail, but the short answer is that there are sev­eral fac­tors that cause the col­ored cores to break. This is a uni­ver­sal issue with col­ored pen­cils… even the artist grade pen­cils are not immune, with Pris­ma­color being one of the worst offenders!

      • Leah April 14, 2014 at 5:56 am #

        YES this is the issue I have as well. I always invest in pris­ma­color and as you know they are costly…I am ready for a cheaper alter­na­tive as I am so frus­trated with the bro­ken lead! I truly feel the lead is bro­ken inside before we even get the prod­uct! I can’t WAIT to hear what you have to say about this! I am order­ing sup­plies now so I am hop­ing to make a change ahead of time! THANK YOU so much!

  3. Erin April 15, 2014 at 8:36 pm #

    I have heard that you can microwave or bake in an oven — for min­utes or sec­onds — This melts the lead slightly. The result is no more bro­ken lead!

    • Cheryl Trowbridge April 15, 2014 at 9:20 pm #

      Yes, Erin, I’ve heard about microwav­ing col­ored pen­cils for 3–5 sec­onds to fuze the core. It seems like that could help, although I haven’t tried it myself yet!

  4. Susan September 16, 2014 at 5:24 am #

    Have you tried Lyra slim grove col­ored pen­cils? I think they are almost as good as Pris­ma­Color. I keep them in my travel art box because they are durable and inex­pen­sive. A lit­tle harder to find, but Office Depot/max car­ries them and they can be found online at Blick and Amazon.

    • Cheryl Trowbridge September 23, 2014 at 10:29 am #

      Susan, I have tried Lyra col­ored pen­cils and I really liked them, but I felt the cost would be a prob­lem for most teach­ers. Com­pared to artist qual­ity pen­cils they’re more afford­able, but for stu­dent grade they’re a lit­tle pricey. That dif­fer­ence in price can really add up when pur­chas­ing class sets! The lit­tle grooves along the cas­ing are a great idea, though — they make the pen­cils eas­ier to hold so hands get less tired. For teach­ers with a larger bud­get, I’d def­i­nitely rec­om­mend them. Thanks for the suggestion!

  5. jukeboxjoanie September 19, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    I had a set of Cray­ola Blenders once. Two dif­fer­ent shades of each color on one pen­cil. But it seems like they quit mak­ing them. Any idea if the­yare still avail­able anywhere?

    Also, please con­sider warn­ing against mark­ers since they are plas­tic and will last for­ever on our planet and thus not so good!

    • Cheryl Trowbridge September 23, 2014 at 10:36 am #

      I’m not famil­iar with Cray­ola Blender Pen­cils.… has any­one else seen them? As far as mark­ers go, it seems like they are here to stay, but with more and more plas­tics being recy­clable, maybe we’ll soon be able to recy­cle them when they dry up — that would be a pos­i­tive step!

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