How Many Colored Pencils Do You Need?


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Quality art supplies can be expensive. That’s why it’s important to only buy what you need when you need it. This can be tricky for colored pencils that can either be purchased individually, or in huge sets that include hundreds of them. How many colored pencils do you really need?

A set of 48 colored pencils offers enough colors to make almost any piece of art at an affordable price. Beyond 48, colored pencil sets become expensive and have more pencils than needed within each shade of color. That’s why I recommend that artists need a set of 48 colored pencils for their art.

It sounds like an artist’s dream to imagine a huge pool of colored pencils that you could swim around in. Actually, that sounds a bit pointy and painful…

The more the merrier sounds like a good cliche to use when talking about art supplies. But, aside from running out of storage space and slowly getting devoured by a sea of watercolor paints, there are art-related reasons why you don’t want to buy the biggest set of colored pencils you can find.

Starting with a set of 48 colored pencils is my general recommendation. Let’s talk about why.

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The Colored Pencils You Need vs. the Colored Pencils You Want

It’s easy to confuse the amount of colored pencils we want with what we actually need. Think practically about your artwork and the amount of colors that are required. Limiting your colored pencil collection can help reduce overwhelm as you pick the colors to use for your work.

I have a beautiful set of 72 Arteza colored pencils. Even while I gush over them, I also realize that they’re more than I need. 

arteza colored pencils set of 72

Take a look at the range of colors here. Beautiful, I know! Overwhelming? A little. 

Some of the colors within this set look very similar. Now, this isn’t necessarily a problem. You may be drooling over all of these colors.

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But, we’re talking about how many colored pencils artists actually need in a practical sense. It’s unlikely you will need this many.

If you want 72 or more colored pencils, go for it! Splurging on art supplies can be fun from time to time. In this article though, we’re talking about a realistic amount of colored pencils that an artist would need on a regular basis.

There are an infinite amount of shades of color. If you’ve ever tried to pick the perfect color on a digital color wheel where every single color is available to you, you’ve probably realized how overwhelming it can be to have an infinite amount of choices. 

colored pencils and electric sharpeners
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In fact, having too many options can overwhelm our brains and make it harder to actually make a decision. This is called choice overload (source).

While you might think that having 20 shades of blue is going to give you more freedom with your art, it may do the opposite. It will likely be harder to choose 1 blue pencil out of a collection of 20 other blue pencils than it would be to choose 1 out of a collection of 5.

If you limit your colored pencil selection as much as possible, you’ll reduce the overwhelm that you might feel choosing your colors as you make your artwork. Who wants to be overwhelmed while making art? Not me. 

The Cost of Colored Pencils

When buying colored pencils, make sure to look at the per-pencil cost of any pencil sets you plan to buy. Sets of 48 colored pencils tend to offer a good balance between cost and number of pencils provided. That said, look at sales and promotions to see how you can get the best deal.

There’s a reason we all love Costco. Buying in bulk can often be the economical way to go. Did I really need that much cereal though? Probably…

Buying in bulk isn’t always cheaper per unit when we’re talking about colored pencils though. It’s important to divide the cost of the colored pencil set by the number of colored pencils you’ll be receiving to see the per-pencil cost. 

At the time of this writing, buying a 72 pencil set of Arteza colored pencils is almost the same per-pencil cost as buying a set of 48. That means that you won’t get a deal by buying the larger, 72 set.

Buying a set of 48 colored pencils gives you a good range of pencils to work with at a decent price. You’re also not missing out on a deal by buying in bulk.

How to Use Colored Pencils on Wood
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Do the calculations when you’re ready to buy and see how the numbers add up. If there’s a great promotion on a larger set of colored pencils, you may decide you want the larger set given the cheaper price. 

Make that decision based on the current prices and your current budget.

Land on the Number of Colored Pencils that’s Right for You

Buying a set of colored pencils isn’t a forever decision. You may decide that a set of 48 pencils is great to start, but you need more or less overtime. If you need more pencils, buy them individually or in small sets. If there are pencils you don’t need, store them away so they don’t overwhelm you.

It’s great to have a place to start. A set of 48 colored pencils is my general recommendation that gives artists the balance between costs and options they need.

That said, your art is unique. And so are you! While I try to fight the urge of diving into a mushy motivational speech, let’s get back to the point (never can pass up a colored pencil pun :D).

colored pencils expire
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If you have a set of 48 colored pencils, you can add to it or pull from it as needed. 

If you need more pencils, buy more. Your local art store or Amazon sells small sets of pencils and even individual pencils. Add a pencil or two based on your needs.

On the other hand, maybe there are pencils in your set of 48 that you don’t use. Instead of letting them sit there and overwhelm your decision making, pull them out of your collection and put them aside.

At the end of the day, the number of colored pencils you need will depend on your needs as an artist. While I believe that 48 pencils is a great place to start, let that shrink or grow based on your art.

Diana Fitts

Diana has been an artist for over 25 years and has training in drawing, painting, digital drawing and graphic design. Diana's latest obsession is digitally drawing with Procreate and creating t-shirt designs with Canva. Diana has experience selling her art across a number of platforms and loves helping other artists learn how to make money from their art as well.

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