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I used to say that you can expect to pay around £1 a pencil for those sold in sets, but these days (mid 2015) most good pencils are around £2 and sets come in at nearer £2.50 per pencil unless they are on a very special offer.

Individual pencils purchased ‘off the shelf’ will cost around £2 , but there are exceptions.  

These loose pencils are commonly referred to as ‘Open Stock’ and are invaluable for re-stocking your supply.

If you are paying below £1.50  a pencil and it is not an exceptional or special offer then it is likely that you are not getting artist quality but are in one of the ‘Student’ ranges.

If you are looking for a full set of - say - Polychromos, which market at an RRP around £200 for a box of 120 pencils and sell singly for around £1.60 each, you may pay anything down to £150 or even less in a very special Internet deal.  (Prices of European manufactured pencils have tended to rise quite a lot in the last years as the value of the £1 has changed against the Euro.

We used to pay around £100 for a box of Polychromos  when I bought mine 10 years ago )

Coloured Pencils tend to be much cheaper in the USA where the market is very big and more competitive, so buying them on a USA visit makes sense - especially if you are visiting relations who can mail order them in advance for delivery to a US address for you .

Take care over buying mail order from the USA for delivery direct to the UK, as shipping can result in a compulsory VAT bill on the import as well as Import Duty and high shipping charges.  You also have the problem over resolving queries over damaged goods - much easier if the retailer is in your own country !

Derwent sets can be found from time to time in selected retail outlets at very special prices and can be worth buying even if they are not immediately needed.  The set of 72 Coloursoft can sell at prices as low as £75 on Internet sale with a recommended retail price of over £100.  Keep an eye on offers at shows where art materials are sold. It pays to know the ‘going price’ though - check the Internet before you attend the show, so that you don’t pay more for a ‘special offer’ than can be paid normally over the Internet.

Look out for old designs that have been replaced (though care will be needed over old formulations of pigment - see lightfastness) These deals will be very cheap, but may not be as good a buy as they seem if the old formula is a poor one.


Dry Point Pencils ( Non soluble ones which are used dry ) are made with either WAX or OIL to bind the pigment to the paper.  

The two types of pencil are intermixable when used dry.  Oil based Pencils are generally made in Europe (outside the UK) and are often slightly harder than wax. This is not a problem and the oil pencils work very well.  

The main wax brands tend to be softer to the touch and come from Derwent in the UK and from Prismacolor in the USA   ( But see Caran d’Ache Luminance - below ).

Very heavy layering of wax pencil on paper can result in a grey ‘wax bloom’ starting to appear on the picture surface which obscures the sharpness of the picture and can be annoying if the picture has to be removed from the frame to correct it.

This bloom does not occur with oil based pencils.  It usually occurs in hot and humid climates and particularly when heavy applications of wax coloured pencil have been laid down on the paper.

Wax bloom can be removed and there are sprays available in the USA to protect the wax surface from developing the haze, but most users of European made pencils will never have to worry about this problem.  The sprays are not generally available in the UK for this reason.   There is a page on wax bloom further in the Topics site

BUT  if you want a SOFT pencil that is NOT subject to wax bloom, Caran D’Ache make a oil based pencil (Luminance) in Switzerland which is fully lightfast, notably more expensive than all the others, it has a very high pigment level and is manufactured by a special process to avoid wax bloom.  The 72 set is sold in the UK at an Recommended price of £200 but is available on the Internet for around £170 and less.


The colour component of the pencil colour strip, the pigment, is broadly the same as the pigment found in any other art medium.

The pigment may be made from a traditional natural source ( e.g. Ground earth - Umber , Ochre etc ) or it may come from a chemical source ( such as Phthalocyanine or Quinacridone ) usually from a result of the oil processing world and the development of organic compounds that stain and colour.  

In addition, a coloured pencil core will contain gums and possibly clays to give strength to the core, There will be fillers to adjust the colour to give pastel shades, and the waxes and oils described above which enable the colour to move smoothly and stick to the paper.  There is a whole topic on the use of waxes and oils in a later section which you can refer to

When buying the dry point wax type pencils, Look for transparent colours which will layer well and enable a greater depth of colour as layers of different pencil are laid down.

Natural pigments used in SOLUBLE ( Aquarelle) pencils can be used in the same way as those found in artists watercolours, as many will lift from the paper or react together to form a granulating mixture that develops a look of dappled leather or stone on the paper surface.  Other modern organic pigments can be more permanent and more staining and react like student quality watercolours.

Faber-Castell ‘Albrecht Durer’ Aquarelles act more like watercolours and many colours can be lifted from the paper if they are not left too long to dry and set.  

Derwent Inktense are similar to inks, permanent once wet, so can be used for silk painting and ( they say ) washed in a warm wash.

Inktense are also sold in block form.

Watersoluble coloured pencils  are acceptable for international competitive exhibition provided that they are used entirely dry.  

They are NOT accepted when dissolved with water and they are then classed as Mixed Media.

Don’t blame me!  I don’t write the rules and I don’t understand the thinking either, but I suppose that it is some sort of improvement on the position a year or so ago, as Pastel Pencils are now acceptable as a component of ‘Mixed Media’

Latest revision October 2016