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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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  1. 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!

  2. 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?

    1. 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!

      1. 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. 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!

    1. 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. 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!

    1. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. How do you feel the brands you tried stack up against the higher priced, pro brands like Prismacolors? Is the Prang comparable?

    1. To be honest, Jen, I haven’t done a specific test of the professional grade pencils to the student grade ones. I’ve personally used several of the professional grade colored pencil brands, and that can really spoil you! If a teacher can afford the higher quality pencils, I’d say this is one medium where it’s really worth it to invest in the best you can get. Sadly, most teachers won’t be able to do that, especially for large class sizes. But in my opinion, Prang colored pencils will give you ‘the most bang for your buck’…. the price is very reasonable, students enjoy using them, and the difference in quality will show!

    2. Hey Jen! I am a leave replacement teacher this year and I have to make due with what supplies the tenured teacher has on hand. I can tell you that of the school-grade pencils, your students will have the best luck achieving color blending with Prang, but they have to work in thin layers to avoid burnishing too soon. The Prang pencils are not as soft or pigment-rich as Prismacolor, and they come in a much smaller range of colors (what I wouldn’t do for some tan, indigo and tuscan red pencils!!!), but they DO work to teach the concept and practice blending colored pencils. Creative Arts pencils are HORRIBLE and almost don’t blend at all, even with a Prismacolor colorless blender! I hope this was helpful.

  7. Prismacolor Only!!!! and I teach jr. high. they make uch a difference in the work!!

  8. Wow – I’m really surprised to hear that! That wasn’t my experience with Prang at all. I guess the lesson here is to buy a small pack and test them before buying a class set. Manufacturers do change their formulas from time to time. The broken pencils are so frustrating, too!

  9. Hello, last night I got a blister sharpening my 8yr old granddaughter’s colored pencils. I figured out best to sharpen by hand using the big hole. Then I thought I wonder if I could heat to solidify the core? She has Cra Z Art, Crayola regular, Crayola Watercolor (not great, colors are off), a couple Prismacolor, plus a big can 120ct of Play Day pencils.

    While sharpening I decide to swatch to pass the time and give my hands a break. What I found is that the Play Day (a Walmart brand) was an equal or better color, smoother stroke, saturation – shading or lining compared to the regular Crayola pencils. However, I notice more breakage during and after sharpening. Some pencils seemed dryer, still I’m thinking a top notch sharpener and some heat might solve that issue in part. I know I once accidentally dropped the entire can on a tile floor.

    Play Day has a really good assortment of colors, 24. Picture on can does not do them justice. I paid like $10 for the 120ct a couple years ago. I’m lucky if I can get a stick person to look right, so my blending skills are not good. I was able to blend some and it didn’t look bad to me. They include white, grey, and some pinks. Although, no light pink.

    I don’t think these are Jr. or Sr. high quality pencils, but for beginning littles I think they are a good price for the amount and money. I may take up adult coloring, still, I have always been bad at coloring. My granddaughter amazes me with her eye for color (Pink, Orange, or Salmon) and her free hand abilities. I found this blog today because, I read a post on another site artwithmre March 7th 2017 which mentioned this blog. I’ve been researching today because we school at home and I have to figure out how to support her “possible” budding talent. Her twin brother can’t hold a candle to her! I know she gets frustrated with some of her pencils. I’m just searching the web for what I should consider purchasing for her that’s super budget friendly and mindful of her needs. She also colors adult coloring pages and prefers pencils.

      1. We did a 504 today, with maybe an IEP in the near future. Art is her thing, she arts everywhere and collects things to art with. Boxes, art supplies, and recently decided that she could use colored tissue paper for something in the future. If I could do anything for her, it would be to build her out a sunlit room with lots of windows and stock it with everything to make art! Art is her zen, her own little place of peace . She laughed at me when we went to an office supply store. I told her folders, post-it-notes, and colored paper clips were my thing like glue and colored pencils were her thing. She giggled. Her creations litter our house. I said my ADHD/OCD can’t take this. We’re gonna have to buy you a huge binder to keep it nice and neat in one place. I’m trying to teach her organization and even the plastic pringle chip and peanut butter containers are great for putting supplies in. I’m the one who is truly lucky!