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How Many Colored Pencils Should You Have for a Full Set?

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Woman sketching a chocolate milkshake with colored pencils.

As a popular and versatile dry medium, colored pencils have remained a beloved staple for artists of all skill levels since their invention in the early 20th century. With their vibrant hues and accessible price point for even those with a “starving artist” budget, colored pencils are a must-have for hobbyists and professional artists alike. 

When I got my first set of Crayola colored pencils in elementary school, I felt like a professional artist. After all, colored pencils were a huge step up from the humble set of crayons that kicked off my love of art.

While 12 colored pencils felt like a full set when I was a child, I have continued adding more colored pencils to my collection over the years.

If you’ve never tried colored pencils, you may be wondering how many colored pencils you should have for a full set. The answer to this question depends on your goals for using colored pencils, your budget, and several other factors.

We’ll discuss the perfect amount of colored pencils to add for a full set, as well as related questions about colored pencils, in the article below.

How many colored pencils are in a full set?

Arteza Colored Pencils, 48 Colors, Soft, Highly-Pigmented, Wax-Based Core Pencil Crayons, Art Supplies For Adults & Teens

While some say that a set of 48 colored pencils is an affordable option for the best range of colors to produce most types of art, others suggest that artists can get away with as little as three colors–red, yellow, and blue–to produce all the possible colors. 

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As adventureswithart.com points out, “sets of 48 colored pencils tend to offer a good balance between cost and the number of pencils provided.”

More than 48 colored pencils might provide exciting and enjoyable colors for the avid colored pencil collector, but it may also result in a bunch of unused colors. Less than 48 colors might limit even the most casual artist and stifle creativity.

The main drawback to large sets of colored pencils is the significantly higher cost. For those who have never used colored pencils, it is best to try a smaller set and expand it as you grow in skills and love for the medium.

Albrecht Durer 120 Watercolor Pencil Set Tin

In most craft stores and retailers that carry art supplies, colored pencils are usually sold in either prepacked sets or as individual pencils. This means that artists (and those buying gifts for the art lovers in their lives) can either pick and choose different colored pencils or opt for a convenient curated collection without too much thought.

It’s important to keep in mind that a prepackaged set of colored pencils is not necessarily what most would call a “full set” of colored pencils. Some packages of colored pencils feature several colored pencils that revolve around the same color theme, such as “portraits” for skin tones or special finishes such as metallics. 

Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils | Art Supplies for Drawing, Sketching, Adult Coloring | Soft Core Color Pencils, Portrait 24 Pack

Faber-Castell Metallic Colored Ecopencils - 12 Break Resistant Coloring Pencils

These sets might be a nice addition to a colored pencil collection, but they typically require other colors for creating a full range of artwork.

Of course, if you are only drawing portraits, a portrait palette of colored pencils might be all that you need. Likewise, if you are simply coloring basic coloring pages and want a glittery coloring experience, a set of glittery colored pencils might be a full set for you.

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Note that while you can create every kind of color with the traditional primary colors of red, yellow, and blue over white paper, you will not be able to control the shades. With a set of colored pencils that solely consists of red, yellow, and blue, you will be able to make red, yellow, blue, green, purple, and orange colors.

The exact hues of these shades will still be pretty limiting for the serious artist. 

If you want precise colors such as vermillion or cobalt blue, we recommend buying at least a set of 12 colored pencils to get started and expanding as your budget and skillset allow. Most art professionals agree that a beginner set of any medium should include the colors black, white, cool yellow, warm yellow, cool red, warm red, cool blue, and warm blue at a minimum.

This way, you can mix warm tones and cool tones in every primary and secondary color on the color wheel.

What counts as a full set of colored pencils depends on what you define as a full set of colored pencils. For some artists, a set of 120 colored pencils meets their needs for a variety of hues and shades.

For casual coloring book enthusiasts, a simple set of 12 colored pencils will allow them to indulge in their favorite pastime without breaking the bank or getting overwhelmed. 

Pentel Arts Colored Pencils, Assorted Colors, Set of 12

As thecuriouslycreative.com suggests, it’s a good idea to “create a color mixing chart if you have limited colors to see how your colored pencils blend.” This way, you won’t have to guess how different colors will interact when you put them on the page.

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Are watercolor pencils colored pencils?

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Contrary to popular belief, watercolor pencils are, by definition, not colored pencils. Although you are more than welcome to use watercolor pencils in a mixed media piece with colored pencils, watercolor pencils may act differently from traditional colored pencils. They may not blend well with colored pencils.

Because colored pencils have an oil-based binder for the pigment and watercolor pencils have water-soluble pigment, they are best used for different purposes. Oil-based colored pencils give deep, vibrant colors, while watercolor pencils can cover large areas with the minimal application if the artist applies water to the page after coloring with them. 

As many of us know, oil and water do not mix–mixing a water-soluble colored pencil with a non-water soluble colored pencil can have disastrous results like a ruined piece of art.

If your set of colored pencils is only complete because you are including some watercolor pencils in the mix, you may want to get oil-based colored pencils in the same color as the watercolor ones and use them for different purposes.

How do you blend colored pencils to create different colors?

A set of colored pencils with drawing.

For those who have a limited palette of colored pencils or want to achieve smooth shading, blending can be a great solution to stretch your creative limits. There are several ways to blend colored pencils. Traditional paper blending stumps, which are also used to blend graphite pencils and charcoal, can blend colored pencils quite nicely. 

If you want a clean blending tool that does not hold flecks of color from other pencils, a designated colored pencil blender might be the best way to go. Some colored pencil manufacturers make clear, colorless colored pencils designed to blend colored pencils seamlessly. 

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For “wet blending,” use a solvent such as rubbing alcohol, mineral oil, or turpentine to blend two or more colored pencils after applying them to dry paper. This method tends to blend colors more smoothly than dry blending methods like the ones mentioned above.

Finally, in a pinch, rubbing an area of colored pencil gently with the fingers often does the trick to blend it out. Blending with fingers is the least precise method while blending with a fine-pointed colorless colored pencil will provide the most control.

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