7 Genuinely Good Reasons to Buy Cheap Colored Pencils

By Carrie Lewis in Art Tutorials > Drawing Tips

Most professional colored pencil artists recommend that new artists buy the best pencils they can afford. I usually make that recommendation as well. Starting out with the right tools gives you a much more accurate picture of the medium, no matter what the medium is.

But there are times when the better choice is to start with something other than the best. So today, I want to give you six reasons to consider scholastic or student grade colored pencils.

Yes, I’m serious.

I know that I spend a lot of time talking about making the best art possible using the best tools possible, including pencils. But that’s because I make art to sell and exhibit, so it needs to last a long time.

The truth is, not every artist cares about exhibiting or making art that lasts for decades (if not centuries). So you don’t need to feel guilty about buying pencils that are less than the best. In fact, here are 6 great reasons to do just that:

Reason #1: They’re inexpensive

Student grade colored pencils are almost always cheaper than artist grade pencils. And scholastic pencils are almost always cheaper than student grade pencils. Want to know why?

Both types contain more binder than artist grade pencils. In other words, there’s more filler and less color.

In the end, it’s all about money. The filler that scholastic pencils use (typically wax) is much less expensive than pigment, so by stuffing more wax into their pencils, the less they have to charge for it.

But they still color! And some of them color quite nicely, even if they don’t do quite as well as artist grade pencils. So sometimes a cheaper pencil is simply a better choice at the time.

Reason #2: You’re just trying out the medium

A lot of people dabble in a lot of things before deciding whether or not they want to stick with it. I understand that. I much prefer dipping a toe in the shallow end to jumping head first into the deep end in any new endeavor. (Something that drives my husband nuts!)

But it just makes sense to test out the cheap version of something before diving in completely. If you like them, you can move up to better pencils. If you don’t like them, well, no harm done.

Reason #3: You can get them anywhere

Almost everywhere I go, I can find scholastic grade colored pencils. Especially in the fall when schools are getting ready to open, you’ll find them at:

• Art and craft supply stores
• Office supply stores
• Drafting stores
• Department stores
• Even the grocery store!

They all carry scholastic grade pencils, and some even carry student grade pencils. So if you want to try colored pencils, but don’t have time for more than just the normal shopping, walk through the office supply or school supply aisle and see what you come up with.

Reason #4: You just want to color

I’ll grant you this: if all you want to do is relax by filling in an adult coloring book once in a while, then you’ll do fine with scholastic or student grade pencils.


I’ve used colored pencils for fine art for so long that I tend to think everyone who picks up a pencil is also interested in fine art—but that’s just not true. If you only want to color, those less expensive pencils are really all you need.

Reason #5: You’re doing crafty things

There are a lot of artists who make things like gift cards, and art trading cards. These are the kinds of things designed to be traded or given away.


For projects like these which aren’t expected to last a long time, scholastic and student grade pencils are ideal.

Reason #6: Sometimes they’re BETTER (or different!)

Did you know there are several companies that now make scented colored pencils? They do! Fragrances tend to match colors. For example, the orange pencil smells like an orange, the yellow pencil smells like a banana, and the purple pencil smells like a grape. That’s not my cup of tea, but if you love fragrances, then you have to buy some of these and give them a try.

If you want to try these, you will have to buy scholastic grade pencils, because they’re just not available in artist grade pencils.

Reason #7: You can always let your kids use them

If all else fails and you decide to give up on colored pencils, you can give your cheap colored pencils to your kids without remorse. I mean, they were made for kids in the first place, right?


As I finish up writing this article I can almost hear the cries of dedicated fine artists everywhere. I know, I know—it’s next to impossible to get a true feel for any medium by starting with cheap supplies. And I have to confess, I had difficulty with this post until I remembered one thing.

I first started painting with paint-by-number oil paints. In the 1970s.

You can hardly get any cheaper than that, right? But those inexpensive paint sets created an interest in oil painting that lasted for decades, and the longer I painted, the more I kept upgrading my materials until I WAS using artist grade oils.

So here’s the bottom line:

If you’re really interested in trying colored pencils and the choice is inexpensive colored pencils or no colored pencils, buy the cheap ones! You’ve got a great reason for it, and there’s absolutely no reason to feel bad about it!


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