Student Grade vs Artist Grade Colored Pencils - Which One Should You Buy

Colored pencils come in a variety of grades, with the two most common being student grade and artist grade. It's important to understand the differences between these two grades so that you can make the best choice for your needs and artistic goals. So let's chat about these two types of colored pencils and find out which one might be the best choice for you.

For a list of the best colored pencils, check out this article.

What are the differences between student-grade and artist-grade colored pencils?

The differences between student-grade and artist-grade colored pencils primarily lie in the quality of materials, pigmentation levels, range of colors, lightfastness, price, target audience, durability, and blending capabilities.

Student-grade pencils are more affordable and designed for beginners, students, or casual artists, while artist-grade pencils cater to professionals and serious hobbyists.

Artist-grade pencils offer higher-quality materials, more vibrant pigmentation, a wider color range, better lightfastness, increased durability, and superior blending capabilities.

In contrast, student-grade pencils have lower-quality materials, less pigmentation, a limited color range, lower lightfastness, and reduced blending capabilities.

1. Quality of Materials

Student-grade colored pencils are designed for beginners, students, or casual artists. They use a mix of pigments and binders that are generally of lower quality compared to artist-grade pencils. This makes them more affordable but also less vibrant and smooth.

On the other hand, artist-grade colored pencils are made with higher-quality materials, such as purer pigments and more refined binders. As a result, they produce more vibrant colors, smoother application, and greater overall performance.

My Take: There's no denying that artist-grade colored pencils offer a superior experience in terms of material quality. However, if you're just starting out or on a tight budget, student-grade pencils can still be a good option.

2. Range of Colors

Student-grade colored pencils usually come in a limited range of colors. Most sets contain basic colors, which can be suitable for simple sketches and learning the basics of color theory.

Artist-grade colored pencils, however, offer a much wider range of colors. Some sets even contain several hundred shades, allowing artists to create intricate and realistic pieces. The extensive color range can also make it easier to blend colors and achieve unique effects.

My Take: If you're serious about your art and need a diverse color palette, artist-grade pencils are definitely the way to go. But for beginners or casual users, the limited color range of student-grade pencils should suffice.

3. Pigmentation Level

Student-grade colored pencils typically have lower pigmentation levels. This means they produce less vibrant and less saturated colors. You might need to apply more pressure or multiple layers to achieve the desired intensity.

In contrast, artist-grade colored pencils have a higher level of pigmentation. They provide rich, vivid colors with a single stroke, and the color payoff is usually consistent and reliable.

My Take: If you value rich, vibrant colors and a smooth application, artist-grade colored pencils are the better choice. For casual coloring or sketching, the lower pigmentation of student-grade pencils might not be a deal-breaker.

4. Lightfastness

What is Lightfastness?

Lightfastness refers to a pigment's resistance to fading when exposed to light. It's an important factor to consider if you want your artwork to remain vibrant and unaffected by sunlight or other light sources over time.

Student-grade colored pencils generally have lower lightfastness ratings. This means that your artwork could fade or change colors over time when exposed to light.

Artist-grade colored pencils, on the other hand, typically have much better lightfastness ratings. This ensures that your artwork will maintain its original colors and vibrancy for a longer period.

My Take: For professional artists or those planning to display or sell their artwork, the improved lightfastness of artist-grade colored pencils is a must. However, if you're mainly creating art for your own enjoyment or practice, the lower lightfastness of student-grade pencils may not be a big concern.

5. Price

One of the most noticeable differences between student-grade and artist-grade colored pencils is the price. Student-grade pencils are generally more affordable, making them an attractive option for beginners or those on a tight budget.

Artist-grade colored pencils, with their higher-quality materials and performance, come at a higher price. The increased cost can be justified by the improved experience and longevity of the artwork produced with these pencils.

Factors Affecting Price

Various factors affect the price of colored pencils, including the quality of materials, brand reputation, and the number of colors included in a set. Generally, the better the materials and the more colors in a set, the higher the price.

My Take: While the higher price of artist-grade colored pencils might seem daunting, the investment is often worth it for those serious about their art. However, if you're a beginner, a more affordable set of student-grade pencils can still help you learn and practice without breaking the bank.

6. Target Audience

As the name suggests, student-grade colored pencils are targeted toward students, beginners, and casual artists. They offer a more affordable and accessible option for those who are learning or just want to enjoy coloring without worrying too much about the quality of their materials.

Artist-grade colored pencils cater to professional artists, advanced hobbyists, or anyone serious about their art. They provide a higher level of performance, enabling artists to create more intricate and detailed pieces.

My Take: Your choice between student and artist-grade colored pencils should be guided by your skill level, artistic goals, and budget. Both options have their place, but it's important to choose the one that fits your needs best.

7. Durability

Student-grade colored pencils may be less durable than their artist-grade counterparts. They might break more easily or wear down faster due to the lower-quality materials used in their construction.

Artist-grade colored pencils tend to be more durable, thanks to their high-quality materials and construction. They're built to withstand the demands of professional artists and offer a longer lifespan.

My Take: If durability is a priority for you, artist-grade colored pencils are the better choice. However, if you're just starting out or only use colored pencils occasionally, the reduced durability of student-grade pencils might not be a significant issue.

8. Blending Capabilities

Student-grade colored pencils typically have lower blending capabilities. The lower-quality pigments and binders used in these pencils can make it more challenging to create smooth transitions between colors and achieve desired effects.

Artist-grade colored pencils, with their higher-quality pigments and binders, offer superior blending capabilities. They allow artists to create seamless color transitions and achieve a wide range of effects with ease.

My Take: For artists who rely heavily on blending techniques, artist-grade colored pencils are the clear winner. However, if blending isn't a major concern, you might still find student-grade pencils suitable for your needs.


In summary, the key differences between student-grade and artist-grade colored pencils lie in their quality of materials, range of colors, pigmentation level, lightfastness, price, target audience, durability, and blending capabilities.

For professional artists or serious hobbyists, investing in artist-grade colored pencils is a wise choice, as they offer superior performance, durability, and lightfastness. These pencils are designed to provide a rich, vibrant color experience, and they allow for better blending and more intricate, detailed artwork.

However, if you're a beginner, a student, or a casual artist, student-grade colored pencils can still be a great option. They're more affordable and provide a decent range of colors for practice and exploration. Just keep in mind that their lower-quality materials and pigmentation levels might limit your ability to create more complex and long-lasting pieces.

Ultimately, the right grade of colored pencils for you depends on your skill level, artistic goals, and budget. As you grow and develop as an artist, you might find yourself leaning more toward artist-grade pencils to take full advantage of their superior performance.

Whatever your choice may be, the most important thing is to enjoy the creative process and continue to hone your skills. After all, the true magic of art comes from the passion and dedication of the artist, not just the tools they use.

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