My Virtual Studio: Colored Pencils

Colored pencils are the most intuitive medium to learn; we’re all used to using a dry writing instrument, so simple things like how to hold it are not a barrier to learning. There are tons of techniques that not only create beautiful artwork – but they’re a heck of a lot of fun as well!

Which brand?

There are a number of brands out there – as I always say, you get what you pay for, so if you choose to use dollar store pencils, you’ll get dollar-store results. Fortunately pencils are one medium you can get all the colors for, often for one nice reasonable price!

I have several brands, and preference between Prismacolor and Polychromos is a big debate in some circles. It is a matter of personal preference, although each colorist probably has lots of reasons for their choice of a favorite, and many like me will switch between them. I find that some defend one brand or another only based on something they read on the internet….and yet I see no evidence that they actually are USING the features of one brand or another. So beware. It’s personal preference.

The main difference is composition of the pencil. Polychromos are made in Germany and are oil-based. Prismacolor pencils are made by an American company and are wax-based.

Since oil is a more fluid medium than wax, the Polychromos have more ability to absorb into the paper while the Prismas sit a bit more on top of the paper. That means Prismacolors will have less ability to blend multiple layers before the paper will no longer allow an additional layer to adhere, so blooms can appear. In comparison, Polychromos will blend and blend having the more fluid medium of oil. My own style doesn’t press so hard as to even have to address the issue; coloring in soft layers provides a much better look for me than solid, heavy coverage, so I have never actually made any blooms arise. I use both brands interchangeably, often depending on just what’s at hand.

Prismacolor – wax-based pencils, 120 colors available. Barrels of the pencils are the color of the pigment. Numbers and names are printed on the pencils.

Polychromos, oil-based pencils, 120 colors available. Barrels of the pencils are the color of the pigment. Numbers and names are printed on the pencils.

Luminance, very expensive high-end pencils, nicely pigmented. 72 colors available. Barrels of the pencils are wood colored with pigment color on the back end of the pencils. Names are not printed on the pencils, just numbers.

Hex Chart Tips

The three available Hex Charts (available HERE) are NOT required for class. They may certainly help, but you needn’t use them; there are free charts listed in the Downloadable Resources section below.

  • Charts can be printed on whatever paper you can send through your printer. Cardstock is recommended, but even regular printer paper would give you enough of an idea what the colors look like.
  • If your printer ink flakes off – take the printed black and white file to your local copy shop and have them copy it onto your desired cardstock. Throughout class you can do the same with handouts to color.
  • While you’ve got pencils out, color a chart on a variety of colors of paper that you might use. For this class, color swatches on black will be helpful – and you should be able to print on black and see a faint representation of the chart. But you’ll want to have an easier-t0-read copy for reference so you can find the correct numbers and hexagons to color in. FYI you can’t print with white ink. If you want white numbers on the chart, write them by hand or follow the next tip below.
  • Your local copy shop can photocopy the chart onto acetate for you – there’s a special kind, not everything will work. But lay that overtop of your chart that may have covered over the text, and the acetate makes it viewable.
  • If you can make drawing paper go through your printer, you may try it of course – but know that textured paper will cause the ink to flake off in some cases. Photocopying shouldn’t have that issue.
  • For those who also use watercolor and watercolor pencils: There are no printers I know of that use waterproof ink. Therefore hex charts for water-based mediums will not be made. Sorry.

Pencils provide different textures

One of my favorite things about Colored pencils is that they can make all kinds of beautiful textures, depending on what technique you use, as in this video:

Join our creative community! Our Student Facebook Group is for all classes here …and while there are no finished projects in this class, you’re welcome to join the group and get an idea of what kind of beautiful works can be created from learnings in classes on this website!


I'm an artist, papercrafter, instructor, Youtuber - and all around creative geek! I love all the mediums and experimenting with styles. I especially love seeing others take a step on their own creative journey...whether for the first time, or leaping into new territory as a creative veteran!