Firstly, I'll start with a Glossary of terms for types of pens & pencils.
- Fineliners - Very fine tipped pens, usually 0.3-0.4mm. Used for very small spaces. Popular brands: Staedtler Triplus, Stabilo.
- Waterbased pens- This ink does not bleed through most papers and is ideal for double-sided books (always check first). The ink doesn't blend and can look streaky. Waterbased pens are often cheaper and more common than other inks. Popular brands: Staedtler Triplus, Tombow, Crayola.
- Alcohol markers- This ink will bleed heavily through most papers, but has excellent blending capability and colour range. Crafters use these types of pens as they give seamless colour and don't streak. Popular brands: Spectrum Noir, Letraset Promarker, Copic, Touch.
- Wax based pencils- A wax core is very common in coloured pencils. They're often cheaper, and can develop a 'wax bloom' over time (a milky film). However, they are mostly soft, rich in pigment and blend well. Popular brands: Prismacolor Premier, Staedtler Ergosoft.
- Oil based pencils- These pencils are less common. The lead is little harder, but this makes them stronger, and they blend and layer well. Popular brands: Faber Castell Polychromos, Marco Raffine, Lyra Rembrandt.
- Watercolour pencils- Water can be added to these pencils to create a watercolour effect, either using a paintbrush, water-filled aquabrush or by dipping the pencil directly into water. Popular brands: Derwent Inktense (this is actually an ink pencil), Faber Castell Albrecht Durer, Staedtler Karat Aquarell.
- Gel pens- Gel ink. Lays down thickly on the paper and has to be left to dry otherwise smearing will ensue. There are loads of different types of gel ink and they are widely available. Popular brands: Uniball Signo, Sakura Gelly Roll.
- Chalk Pastels- These are what most people use to create those lovely soft backgrounds. Not to be confused with oil pastels which won't have the same effect. Popular brands: Inscribe, PanPastel.
- Open Stock- This means buying single pencils individually rather than in sets. I often recommend you try a few open stock before purchasing a set, especially with the more expensive pencils like Polychromos, just to ensure you get on with them before laying lots of money out.
Now I'll list products in order of cost and quality. You may be able to find cheaper pencils & pens out there, but I've chosen products that offer quality at low prices, rather than- to be frank- cheap tat. Each product I'm showing has an accompanying picture that I've coloured using them, so you can see how they perform on paper.
If you're looking for great quality and quantity at a very low price, look no further than Marco Raffine pencils. They are hands down the best budget pencils in my opinion, owed in part to their oil based lead- the same as Polychromos. No, they're not as soft and blendable as the Polychromos, but they're the closest you'll find at an affordable price. They come in sets of 24, 36, 48 and 72, the latter only costing around £16 which is fantastic for that number of colours.
I've written a more in depth review of the pencils here, which I recommend you read to find out more.
Don't be fooled into thinking they're just for kids by the Crayola name- these pencils are high pigment, long lasting and come in a maximum 30 different shades. As you can see by my skull picture, the colour packs a punch. Vibrant, easy to lay down and silky on the page, these are my go-to product every single time someone asks me for cheap-but-good pencils. They don't even need sharpening! Getting them to a sharp-ish point is a case of colouring using one side of the tip, which wears it down and creates a point on the other side.
There's not massive blending capabilities with these pencils, so if that's what you're after, check out the next product which is in tied place with these on the Low Budget option.
N.B. Don't get confused with the Crayola Twistable Crayons- they're shorter & fatter, harder to manipulate and don't colour all that well.
I know I'm including three low budget options here but that's because these pencils are too good to leave out, and if you want purse-friendly pencils that blend these blow the rest out of the water. They come in a maximum 24 colours (I wish there were more) and not only feature casing that's soft to the touch, but the leads are also super soft on the page. The break-resistant coating around the core helps keeps them safe from lead snaps, and they sharpen to a strong point. As I say, blending is achievable with these but coverage is not 100% (they leave white spots showing through if you don't press hard), but that's because they don't have the same amount of pigment as higher end pencils. In my opinion, these are the best pencils you can get for under £15.
**Another low budget option is WHSmith Artist's Pencils at £5 for a pack of 36. As I have never tested them I can't comment on their performance, but I have only heard very good things! Hopefully I'll have these to try soon and can add them to this post.**
Coloursoft are the closest performing mid-range pencils I've found that compare with high end pencils like Polychromos and Prismacolor, as they have very soft lead, high pigment, and velvety laydown on the paper. They blend beautifully and come in a maximum 72 different colours, and will definitely be suitable for most colourist's needs. You can read a bit more about them and other Derwent products in my comparison review here. If you're looking for something even softer with the maximum blending abilities, you'll need to spend a little more money...
These pencils are the crème de la crème of the colouring world, and indeed the amongst the most expensive coloured pencils you'll find on the market. The reason they are so sought after is simply because they blend like a dream, they're oil based not wax based (better quality), and they come in 120 different colours.
Another popular choice, Prismacolor are the go-to artist's quality pencil for those who work better with wax. These pencils are the softest around with rich, buttery lead which lays down & blends with ease. They come in a massive 150 colours and can be bought open stock. These are the pencils I use most often.
NB. You can read my comparison of Polychromos & Prismacolor here.
I don't have several options for watercolour pencils as I have only ever tried Inktense, but I think you'll get similar effects from most watercolour pencils as they all use the same process of adding water to 'activate'. Inktense in particular are so highly recommended because the lead is made from ink rather than oil or wax, which means you get very bright and intense colour from them when mixed with water. They are used by firstly colouring normally, if not a little lighter pressure than you usually would, then taking either a water-filled Aquabrush or wet paintbrush to paint over and trigger the vivid colour. You can read more about Inktense pencils on my blog post here.
I haven't had these pens for very long (as you can tell by the unfinished picture) but they seem to be a great budget alternative to other fineliners out there. They only come in 20 colours, which is a little restrictive, but if you're just starting out and need something to get into those small spaces, the tiny 0.4mm tips will certainly do that. I've heard some talk that they don't last very long, but as I've only owned them a short time I can't comment. The colours are bright and the ink flows well without scratching, which is why I've chosen these over Stabilo's, a similarly priced product.
These 0.3mm pens are my absolute favourite to colour small areas with. The nibs are rounded and smooth, the ink is bright and bold, they come in 30 colours and they last AGES. I don't really use any other fineliners, so I heartily recommend that you purchase these if you can afford it. They come in so many unusual tones; Bordeaux red, pastel lavender, French green- they're just a joy to use! Staedtler also make thicker 1mm felt pens in most of these colours, which are great for colouring larger areas.
There are only 20 colours in this set, but the price comes more from their ability to stick to each other! Each pen contains magnets for you to build structures with or just keep the pens all in one place! There are other accessories available too. Performance-wise, the 0.4mm tip glides smoothly across the page, they have quality construction and you can buy refills, making them economic.
Watch my review of the pens here.
Brush Tip Pens
These pens are very cheap yet still give vibrant colour. The brush tip is thick and juicy and covers a wide area very quickly. You can read my review of Manuscript pens here.
These pens have dual tips (bullet & brush) and have a very fine brush that is able to colour small areas as well as large. They come in 36 different colours which is enough for most colourists, and are quite diverse. You can read my full review of these pens here.
These pens are so versatile because not only can you colour with them, but you can apply them from a palette like watercolour paints. The brush tip is great quality and they come in a massive 96 colours, but the cost is substantial. You can read my full review of Tombow Dual Brush Pens here.
Here are some pages I've coloured with Alcohol markers so you can see how they perform.
Pastel backgrounds can drastically change your colouring pages, giving that extra dimension and making your colours 'pop'. It's diffcult to cover large areas with coloured pencil without seeing lots of lines, so that's where chalk pastels come in. Inscribe pastels are very cheap but do a great job covering large areas, especially when using cotton buds like my video tutorial here. You do need to use a lot to build up the vibrancy of colour (unless you're going for a very delicate, subtle look) because there's not a great amount of pigment in them, which is what you find in higher end pastels such as...
These are to pastels what Polychromos are to pencils: the best of the best. You only need the smallest amount for strong colour, there's barely any dust, they come in 92 different colours and are absolutely loaded with pigment. They come in flat 'pans' allowing you to mix and apply directly from the palette. You can read about them in more depth on my blog post here, and check out my PanPastel background video too.
If you have any other questions just let me know and I'll try my best to answer them. Now you've got your pens & pencils sorted, check out My Recommendations for which books I like best, and of course my Review Index so you can look through over 200 book reviews I've completed and see before you buy :)