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Art Supplies for Colorists

Getting started with coloring can be as easy or as difficult as any other creative pursuit. Some supplies I bought when I first started coloring were not very good while others weren't quite suited to my purposes. Looking back, I could have saved myself a hundred bucks or so if I had given some of them a miss or if I had known then what I do now. So I figured I might as well write down my mistakes to help others avoid them.

When it comes to art supplies, it's a simple matter of price vs quality. You do get what you pay for but it doesn't automatically mean you've to spend thousands on the best pens, pencils or paints. The paper quality in adult coloring books can vary quite a lot so the most versatile medium is colored pencils. They won't bleed through even the worst quality paper, so you can use them without fear.

So my first post on art supplies will focus on colored pencils.

Colored Pencils

Scholastic Grade

The cheapest pencils you can get would be something at your local supermarket for kids. Although talented artists can create beautiful art even from those, I wouldn't recommend it. These pencils don't contain much in the way of pigment and you'll need to press very hard to get any color on to the page. Sooner or later, you're bound to get frustrated (I know I did). However if they're all you can afford, they're certainly good enough to do the job.

Student Grade Pencils - Enough or Move up?

A step up would be student grade pencils. They are easier to work with than supermarket pencils but not as expensive as artist grade ones. There are many, many brands available in this price range (typically $20 or less for 72 pencils) that it can be difficult to pick one. The Marco Raffines on Amazon are pretty good value and will suffice for many people. These were the second set I picked up and was pretty happy with them for a while.

Artist Grade Pencils

However some people are bound to look for even better quality supplies. This is where artist pencils come in. They come in 2 types - wax based and oil based. Each has its pros and cons and you'd find artists who swear by one or the other but it all comes down to personal preference in the end. Artist pencils can be bought individually, so you can always test a few brands for yourself. Generally speaking the differences are:

Wax based pencilsOil based pencils
Creamy and softer than oil pencilsHarder than wax pencils but still soft
Easy to create vibrant shadesNeed more layers to get vibrancy
Wax bloomNo wax bloom
More prone to breakageLess prone to break
Difficult to hold a point for longPoint holds for longer
Get used up quicklyLast longer

It's important to note that each brand will have their own strengths and professionals typically use more than a few sets. Derwent, Prismacolor and Tombow Irojiten are all wax based pencils. Out of these, I'd recommend Prismacolor Premier (about $40 for 72 pencils). In fact they are the most popular pencils used by colorists and you can even find detailed tutorials on youtube for your favorite coloring books with them. There are many options for oil based pencils too - Faber Castell, Lyra, Koh-i-Noor, Caran d'Ache etc.

Personally I ordered the smallest sets in Prismacolor and Polychromos to see which I liked best. The Polychromos pencils won hands down - I loved the way they glided on the paper, held a sharp point and how they layered. So I went ahead and ordered the biggest set of 120 pencils that you saw at the top of the post.

Always test a few pencils before spending more than $50 on a set!

Polychromos Pencils
My recommendations:

  • Inexpensive: Marco Raffine
  • Best Value: Prismacolor
  • Money no object: Faber Castell Polychromos, Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor, Caran d'Ache Pablo
Stay tuned for my next post on pens and markers.


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