5 Best Colored Pencils for Portrait Drawing in 2024

Realistic Drawing of a Portrait made with colored pencils
(source)

Drawing portraits can be quite tricky, but with the right pencils it can become a lot easier.

With the right pencils you can more easily create the soft color nuances of the skin and draw details like the hair strands and wrinkles.

Here are my top 5 best colored pencils for drawing portraits and the color nuances and details that come with portrait drawing.

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What are the Best Colored Pencils for Drawing Portraits?

  1. Caran d'Ache Luminance
  2. Prismacolor Premier Soft Core
  3. Derwent Chromaflow
  4. Faber-Castell Polychromos
  5. Derwent Lightfast

1. Caran d'Ache Luminance

Top Choice: Best for Drawing Skin and Great Lightfastness

Realistic Car Drawing next to a box of Caran d'Ache Luminance Colored pencils

The Caran d'Ache Luminance pencils are often seen as the holy grail of colored pencils. They blend effortlessly, the colors are very pigmented and vibrant, and each color is fade-resistant.

Great for Drawing Skin

The Caran d'Ache Luminance have a smooth and creamy lead which makes blending and creating a soft finish super easy. This makes them perfect for drawing skin and all the color nuances skin has.

Great Color Selection with Lots of Skin Tones

The Luminance come in 100 different colors with plenty of skin tones. Light, medium, dark, pink undertones, green undertones, anything you want they have.

Highly Pigmented

The Luminance colored pencils are very pigmented. They easily cover the paper and you can create the most vibrant colors with them.

Lightfast Colors

The Caran d'Ache Luminance pencils are very fade-resistant. 81 of their colors have a lightfastness rating of I which means they won't fade for over 100 years. This ensures that your drawing will look good even after years and years of being displayed.

Break-Resistant Core

The core of these Caran d'Ache pencils is the most break-resistant of all colored pencils I've tried. Even when you drop them from your table they won't break. 

A Bit Too Soft for Fine Details

These pencils are however a bit too soft for drawing hair and eyelashes. You need to sharpen them quite often to keep a sharp point.

Top Quality Does Have a Price

However, top-notch quality does come at a premium. The Luminance pencils can be a significant investment, but for many artists (including me), the quality and performance justify the price.

Read my full review here.

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2. Prismacolor Premier Soft Core

Most Affordable and Great for Drawing Skin

Prismacolor Premier Soft Core colored pencils have been favorites among artists and illustrators for decades, and it's no mystery why. These pencils have remarkable blendability and rich, vibrant colors - two attributes that are paramount when drawing portraits.

Great for Drawing Skin

The Prismacolor pencils have a very creamy and soft core which makes it very easy to blend and create subtle color nuances. This makes them a great option for drawing skin.

Great Color Selection with Lots of Skin Tones

The Premier Soft Core pencils are available in 150 colors with plenty of skin tones. You can create any skin tone you want with these pencils.

Very Opaque Colors

The pigment of these pencils is of of the most opaque I've ever seen. They cover the paper pretty well and the colors appear very vibrant, even when you try them on darker-toned paper. This makes them great for drawing on toned paper.

The Core Breaks Easily

One big downside to these pencils is that the core breaks very easily, even when you're just sharpening them. This makes them a bit frustrating to work with.

Very Affordable

For those who prioritize blendability and a diverse color range, Prismacolor Premier Soft Core colored pencils are an invaluable asset. They strike a balance between performance and price, offering incredible value to both professional artists and hobbyists.

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3. Derwent Chromaflow

Great Quality and Perfect for Drawing Skin

When it comes to achieving smooth blends and rich hues, the Derwent Chromaflow colored pencils stand as a commendable choice. They might not be as renowned as some of the heavyweights in the colored pencil industry, but they've quickly made a mark with their performance, especially in the realm of portraiture.

Perfect for Drawing Skin

Just like the previous two brands, these pencils are great for drawing skin as they have a smooth and creamy texture. This makes them easy to blend and create the subtle color nuances needed to draw skin.

Decent Color Range with Just Enough Skin Tones

The color range might be a little limiting. There are 72 colors available and there are few light, medium, and dark tones. However, you need to do some more mixing compared to the previous brands to get the color you need.

Not the Best for Finer Details

As the core is quite soft (which is great for blending) they are not the best at drawing fine details. If you want to draw hair and eyelashes with these pencils you'll need to sharpen them frequently.

Good Price Quality Balance

If you're in search of a set of colored pencils that combines affordability with performance, especially in portraiture, the Derwent Chromaflow is worth considering.

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4. Faber-Castell Polychromos

Perfect for Drawing Hair and Other Detailed Things

Realistic Car Drawing next to a box of Faber-Castell Polychromos Colored pencils

The Faber-Castell Polychromos are undeniably an artist's delight, especially when it comes to the intricacies of portrait drawing. These pencils have cemented their place as one of the foremost choices for professionals around the globe.

Perfect for Drawing Details

Unlike the previous three brands, the Polychromos have a hard core which makes them perfect for drawing all the details you need when drawing portraits. With these pencils you can easily draw the finest details, skin textures, eyelashes, etc.

Great Color Range for Drawing Skin Tones

The Polychromos come in 120 different colors with plenty of light, medium, and dark skin tones and all the color nuances you'll need when drawing a portrait.

Very Vibrant and Pigmented Colors

The colors of these pencils are the most vibrant of all brands I've tried so far. They are very pigmented and rich in color.

Lightfast Colors

The Polychromos colored pencils are also quite lightfast. 102 of the 120 colors are fade-resistant for over 100 years.

You Need Some Patience to Blend These Pencils

Blending however is a bit more difficult with these pencils. As the core is quite hard it takes more time and layers to blend these pencils smoothly. But with some practice this won't be a big problem.

Great Value for the Price

Despite some minor points, the Faber-Castell Polychromos remain a premium choice for portrait artists, delivering consistent quality with each stroke.

Read my full review here.

Check the Price

5. Derwent Lightfast

Perfect Balance Between Drawing Details and Skin

Realistic Car Drawing next to a box of Derwent Lightfast Colored pencils

Derwent is a brand that has etched its reputation in the annals of artistry over the years. Among their range, the Lightfast series stands out, especially for portrait artists who are keen on delivering realistic and lasting impressions of their subjects.

Great for Drawing Skin

These pencils have a very creamy texture and lay down very smoothly on the paper. This makes them great for blending skin tones and creating those subtle color nuances of the skin.

Pretty Good for Fine Details

The Lightfast pencils are also great for drawing details. The core is just about hard enough the maintain a fine point when drawing details which makes them great for drawing hair, eyelashes, and other details.

Lightfast Pigments

As the name suggests, these pencils are 100% lightfastness. All colors won't fade for over 100 years in museum conditions. The colors have a rating of I or II which means they are highly lightfast.

Good Enough Color Selection

The Derwent Lightfast pencils are available in 100 colors, though the number of light skin tones is a little limited. You'll need to do some more mixing to create those compared to other brands. However, there are plenty of medium and dark skin tones available.

A Premium Price for Premium Pencils

While Derwent offers various pencil ranges, the Lightfast series is undoubtedly a frontrunner for artists focused on portrait work. Their blend of durability, precision, and bendability makes them an indispensable tool for any professional looking to capture the depth and nuance of the human face.

Read my full review here.

Check the Price

What Determines which Colored Pencils are Best for Drawing Portraits?

Portraiture is one of the most nuanced forms of artistry. It's not just about capturing a likeness but also the soul, essence, and emotions of the subject. This intricate process demands specific qualities in colored pencils. 

So, what makes certain pencils excel in portrait drawing?

Blendability

Portraits involve intricate shading and transitions, especially when it comes to facial features and skin tones. The ability to blend colors smoothly is paramount. Pencils that offer a creamy texture can help artists achieve those soft gradients and subtle color shifts that bring a portrait to life.

Wide Color Range

Human skin comes in a plethora of shades and tones. A broad color range in a pencil set ensures that an artist can depict skin tones with accuracy, capturing the unique complexion of every subject.

Fine Detailing

The beauty of a portrait often lies in the details - the strands of hair, the twinkle in the eyes, the texture of the skin, and the minute shadows that define facial features. Pencils that can be sharpened to a fine point, and which maintain that point without breaking, are essential for capturing these details.

Consistency and Texture

For portraits, artists often need a pencil that strikes the right balance between hardness for precision and softness for blending. A consistent texture ensures even application, which is crucial when trying to depict the smooth surface of the skin or the gradient of a blush.

Durability

When working on a detailed portrait, the last thing an artist wants is a pencil that breaks easily. Durable pencils that can withstand repeated sharpening without crumbling are preferred.

While many colored pencils might be suitable for general artwork, portrait drawing requires tools that offer a specific set of attributes. It's this combination of features that allows an artist to capture not just the appearance, but also the personality and emotion of their subject.

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