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Comparing Crayola and Prismacolor Pencils

Comparing Crayola and Prismacolor Colored Pencils

Today, I’m comparing Crayola and Prismacolor colored pencils in response to a reader question. Here’s the question.

Crayola Colores of the World: These are supposed to be skin tone colored pencils. Recently purchased. How do they compare with Prismacolor?

First, let me do a general comparison, brand to brand.

Then I’d like to share a few thoughts on skin tone colors.

Let’s get started.

Comparing Crayola and Prismacolor Colored Pencils

I only recently came into possession of a large batch of Crayola colored pencils, and have experimented with them enough to discover that they’re great coloring book pencils.

But they’re not very useful for fine art. I show you why in a moment.

The reason is that Prismacolor pencils are artist quality pencils. Despite all their quality control issues, they have more pigment so they lay down color better, faster, and more smoothly. They also contain less fillers and binding agents than Crayola, so they’re easier to use.

However, every pencil works differently for each artist. A lot depends on what you hope to accomplish with your art (is it just for fun, or do you hope to sell it,) your skill level, and your dedication to long-term colored pencil use.

So what works for me may not work for you, and what doesn’t work for me may work wonders for you.

A Couple of Tests

I did a couple of shading tests with Crayola and Prismacolor colored pencils, just to see how they performed side-by-side.

Pressure Test

First, I made three color bars with the heaviest color at the top and bottom of each bar, and the lightest in the middle. The Crayola color bar is first, followed by the Prismacolor color bar.

You’ve no doubt noticed that I got smooth color and transitions with both brands of pencils. The Crayolas were actually a bit smoother. That surprised me. I expected the scholastic grade pencils to be a lot less vibrant in color, and more difficult to use. They were neither.

Comparing Crayola and Prismacolor Colored Pencils
Shading color with Crayola colored pencils
Comparing Crayola and Prismacolor Colored Pencils
Shading color with Prismacolor colored pencils

What I did notice at once was that it was difficult to make color stick to previous layers of color with the Crayola pencils. The difficulty was most pronounced where I’d used heavy pressure, but it was noticeable even in the lighter pressure areas. I couldn’t even get blue to show up layered over yellow.

The Prismacolor colors layered beautifully, top to bottom.

My conclusion? Crayola’s are good for putting down saturated color (no paper holes showing through) if you don’t intend to layer another color over the first layer. You can get value transitions by changing the pressure with which you apply color, but that was about the only way.

Layering Test

I tested that theory further by alternating layers of yellow and blue, choosing comparable colors in each set. Once again, the Crayola sample is first, followed by the Prismacolor sample. I used light pressure for all layers with both types of pencils.

Comparing Crayola and Prismacolor Colored Pencils
Blending yellow and blue to make green with Crayola colored pencils
Comparing Crayola and Prismacolor Colored Pencils
Blending yellow and blue to make green with Prismacolor colored pencils

As you can see, there isn’t as much difference between the two brands of pencils when I used them this way. However, although these two samples look very close in a digital format, the Prismacolor sample is slightly more green in real life.

What’s more, it was quite a bit easier (and faster) to get to this level with the Prismacolor pencils.

I conducted both tests on inexpensive paper (a medium-weight sketch pad, in fact.) I haven’t used the Crayola pencils on better paper or used them enough on the sketch pad to know how they would perform in a drawing.

However, it’s my opinion that any artist who intends to blend color by layering should probably not start out with Crayola colored pencils. They will be frustrating to use for that purpose.

Thoughts on Skin Tones

I’m always a little hesitant to recommend sets of “skin tone colors,” for the same reason I hesitate to buy sets of landscape colors or portrait colors.

The reason is simple.

There are so many variations to consider that no set, not even the Colors of the World set from Crayola, can accurately produce every type of skin color imaginable.

I took a look at the set online and even with 24 colors, it barely scratches the surface of possible skin tones.

However, colors are arranged in three basic color groups, and the set includes a selection of gradations within each family. So they provide is a nice line of base colors.

Or coloring book colors.

The fact that it’s difficult to alter the colors by layering other colors over them further complicates the problem.

But even the marketing for these pencils indicates they’re designed for about First Grade students. In other words, artists who won’t know much about layering or blending and will most likely apply color heavily to cover the paper. These pencils are perfect for that.

Prismacolor does not offer a similar set of colors, but they do offer similar colors available open stock. The cost will be higher, but not significantly. If you want to layer and blend colors, Prismacolors will be a much better buy in the long run.

Final Thoughts on Comparing Crayola and Prismacolor

Since this reader has already purchased the Crayola colored pencils, I suggest trying them out with a few drawings or sketches.

It is my opinion, however, that any artist interested in doing human portraits is better off buying similar Prismacolor colors to get started. You can also more easily test other brands by buying open stock.

Better yet, one of the medium sized sets of Prismacolor would be an even better purchase overall.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!

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Is there a Published Guide for Skin Tones?

Welcome back to Q&A Wednesday. Today’s reader asks about a published guide for skin tones. Here’s the question.

Hi Carrie ,

Is there a published guide to the mix of brands pencils to particular skin tones? For example, which Prismacolor pencil blends would I use to create sallow skins , pink skins, brown skins, etc.?

And which would be good tones to use for highlights and shadow in those same skin tones?

Or Derwent pencils? Or Faber -Castell?

Thank you


Is There a Published Guide for Skin Tones?

Thank you to Karen for asking her question. I know that there are others also wondering about which colors to use to draw different types of skin tones.

Is there a Published Guide for Skin Tones?

I don’t do human portraits very often, and never in colored pencil. So I cannot offer personal advice on this topic. However, I did a little research into the matter, and am happy to share how I looked and what I found.

Where I Looked and My Search Results

The short answer is, yes. There are dozens of published guides for skin tones. My first search (guides for skin tones) produced thousands of links. Most of them were for makeup and hair dressing!

So I narrowed my search to “guides for skin tones for artists.” Again, thousands of results. However, a lot of these were for painters.

A search for colored pencil related skin tone guides resulted in links to videos and supplies, but very few published guides.

And I found nothing listing specific colors for Prismacolor, Faber-Castell or any other brand of colored pencils.

So I next checked Dick Blick (my favorite online art store) for sets of “skin tone” colors. Neither Prismacolor nor Faber-Castell offer such sets.

Why It’s so Difficult to Find Reliable Published Guides

Unfortunately, there is no established color palette in any brand of pencils that works for every skin tone. Nor do I know of a guide listing individual colors for skin tones. There are probably some available, but I couldn’t find them.

The reason is that there are so many varieties of skin tones from very light to very dark that no brand of pencil has every color you’d ever need to draw all of those variations. The fact is that combining all the popular brands wouldn’t even give you all the colors you need without mixing.

I’d have the same problem if I looked for a guide on drawing portraits of chestnut horses. Even if I could find a published guide listing pencil brands and color names, it would only be a starting point. Why? Because there are so many shades of chestnut horses from very pale to very dark. No one color set works for every shade!

And the same is true for human skin tones.

You also need to consider the lighting of your subject. The same person seen in bright sunlight and colored artificial light would require two different sets of color for the skin tones.

Where to Find Help

The best source of information is probably going to be an online course or video. But don’t limit yourself to one video or one artist, especially if you go the YouTube route. No two artists work exactly alike, and it’s unlikely you’ll find one artist who has an answer that will help you all the time. That’s certainly been my experience in researching how to draw various horse colors.

But a lot of the artists who produce how-to art videos list the brands and colors of pencils they use for each tutorial, and that can be a huge help.

Then when you find an artist whose work is similar to what you want to accomplish and whose teaching style is a good fit, join them on Patreon if they have a Patreon channel. For just a few dollars a month, you’ll get more in-depth teaching month by month, without committing to months of study.

If you’re looking for a portrait artist who specializes in colored pencil and portraits, check out John Middick’s Sharpened Artist Academy*. He offers everything from free classes to full up portrait courses that go far beyond a basic tutorial.

You might also consider buying Alyona Nickelson’s book, Colored Pencil Painting Portraits. You can buy an autographed copy (with free samples of some of her other products) here, or buy a print or ebook here. The book covers all aspects of colored pencil portrait work from posing models to color selection. While it may not provide specific lists for any brand of pencils, it will help you grasp how color works, and that will help you.

Your Best Guide for Skin Tones

I hope that helps Karen and everyone else looked for the best colors to use for skin tones. It would be nice if there was a published guide for skin tones, but I don’t know that there is.

The best answer is to study your reference photo, determine the colors that you see in that photo, and then choose pencil colors accordingly. If you have more than one set of colors, use all the colors that apply. Most brands of colored pencils work well together and can be mixed without worry.


After this post published, a reader emailed me to let me know that Ann Kullberg had a skin tone guide available on her website. So I searched for skin tone tools and found the Portrait Skin Tone Value Viewer Replacement. It’s not a guide, per se, but is a value viewer pre-printed with a variety of skin tones from very light to very dark. It’s not exactly what Karen was looking for, but it could be helpful.

In researching another article, I also found some colored pencil sets designed for portrait artists, including one by Derwent.

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!

* Contains an affiliate link