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 as paper quality varies). The ink doesn't blend and can look streaky. Waterbased pens are cheaper than other inks. Popular brands: Staedtler Triplus, Tombow, Crayola Supertips.
- 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, Promarker, Copic, Touch, Chameleon
- 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 harder than wax, but this makes them stronger, and they blend and layer well. Popular brands: Faber Castell Polychromos, Marco Raffine.
- 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 subtle 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.
Don't be fooled by the Crayola name into thinking they're just for kids - these pencils are high in 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 the cheapest, brightest 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 aren't massive blending capabilities with these pencils, so if that's what you're after, check out the next 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.
If you're looking for great quality and quantity at a very low price, Marco Raffine pencils fit the bill. They're fantastic budget pencil 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 have super translucent cores and blend really well when layered. They come in sets of 24, 36, 48 and 72, the latter only costing around £19 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.
If you want purse-friendly pencils that blend well you'll love the Ergosoft. They not only feature casing that's soft to the touch, but the leads lay down 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 they are on the harder side so using light layers is your best option. In my opinion, these are the best pencils you can get for under £15.
Arteza pencils in their largest set of 72 take us right to the top of a low budget at £30, but they are SO worth it. In my opinion these pencils are hands down the best you can buy on a budget, with smooth wax-based cores, tonnes of vibrant pigment and the strength of a oil pencil. Some colourists prefer these to pencils costing over £100 a set, so if you're new to colouring and want to dip your toe in the water, Arteza pencils are a fantastic choice.
These pencils are the crème de la crème of the colouring world, and indeed 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, and they come in 120 different colours. As I mentioned earlier oil pencils are generally seen as being higher quality than wax but you do have to work a bit harder with them as they require lots of light, soft layers to build up the opacity of colour. Polychromos are incredibly durable with no breakage issues to speak of and to me they feel like the best quality pencils I own, even next to higher priced pencils.
Another popular choice, and my personal favourite pencil, Prismacolor Premier 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 that lays down and blends with ease. You don't have to spend an age layering them and it's completely effortless to create seamless blends and gradients. They come in a massive 150 colours and can be bought open stock. Even though you can get wax bloom if you burnish using hard pressure, this isn't usually a massive problem in colouring books I've found, and you can always wipe off any bloom with tissue. The colour range is unmatched, featuring many light, delicate mid-tones and pastels.
NB. You can read my comparison of Polychromos & Prismacolor here.
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 :)