There are few things more frustrating for a sketch artist than trying to get the perfect shade of someone’s skin just right. When you’re working on a portrait to give to a dear friend or family member, you want to make sure it truly looks like them.
Thankfully, the days of combining regular colored pencils to reach a semi-normal skin tone are over. There are several options for skin tone colored pencils on the market these days, making it easier to create vivid, lifelike portraits.
So, what are the best skin tone colored pencils? The best skin tone colored pencil sets come with both cool and warm undertones and a variety of light to dark skin tones. They’ll also have a thick, break-resistant core to help you color with ease.
We’ve reviewed some of the best skin tone colored pencil sets available right now to help you pick the perfect option for you. Let’s go over some of the basics when it comes to skin tone colored pencils, then get you ready to purchase a set of your own!
Shading With Skin Tone Colored Pencils
The first thing to remember when creating a portrait is the light source. You need to decide what direction the light is coming from in the picture so you can color in your highlights and shadows accordingly.
You’ll need a variety of tones to do a skin tone drawing. Decide on your highlight color, your mid-tones (which can be two or three depending on the person’s skin and the hue of the light source), and a dark shadow color.
For more advanced artists, you may even want to consider highlight colors for tinted light sources and secondary light sources. For very realistic artwork, you can even add peachy or reddish mid-tones to replicate subsurface scattering.
Start your portrait by creating a base with your chosen highlight color. Make sure you cover the whole surface of the skin, except for the lightest areas where the light would hit the skin.
Now you can go in and add layers of your mid-tones, saturating the picture to give the skin a fully fleshed-out color to it. The skin will look strange at first, but will start to come alive once you add more shades. Use a light hand in order to create a smooth look and go over places that need to be darkened with more layers.
After you’ve colored in the majority of the skin, it’s time to go back and add some dark shadow color. Keep in mind your light source and add the dark color where the light would cast shadows on the face.
Finally, you can add more highlights and detail work on the skin. This is where you can also add some undertones to the skin, like pink or yellow, to make the skin more lifelike. You can also add elements of texture like freckles, scars, wrinkles, and bumps.
Continue layering your highlights and midtones, blending until you’ve reached the desired final skin tone. Blending will always be your best friend. Color in small circles instead of back-and-forth lines to help with the blending and avoid any striped or streaky areas.
When it comes to skin tone colored pencils, you want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. There are plenty of options on the market, but it’s important to find a set that includes warm and cool undertones, a variety of skin tones, and a thick, break-resistant core.
Some colored pencils will be wax-based and some will be oil-based. Both of these are great options, and you can’t go wrong either way. Read on to see why the qualities we’ve listed are important and how they can help you be a better portrait artist.
1. Warm And Cool Undertones
One of the great things about humankind is our variety in appearances. No two people are exactly alike – even when it comes to twins!
The same goes for skin tones. There are warm and cool undertones, and there are pink and yellow (or olive) undertones. These undertones play a huge role in the way our skin looks, and if you don’t take them into account, your portrait will look off.
The best skin tone colored pencil sets come with colors that take these undertones into account. You may notice that some sets have bright yellow or pink pencils. This is not by mistake! This is to help you achieve perfect undertones to breathe life into your portraits.
Just as there are yellow and pink undertones, there are warm and cool undertones. Good sets will take this into account and offer a large variety of skin colors to help you achieve not just the warm tones, but the cooler tones as well.
2. Variety Of Skin Tones
If you’re doing a portrait of someone with extremely light or extremely dark skin, you may look at the opposite end of the spectrum and think you don’t need those colors.
But remember the light source. When creating a portrait, having that identified light source breathes life into the picture. And you can’t achieve accurate highlights and shadows without bright lights and deep darks.
For this reason, you should always look for skin tone colored pencil sets that have a variety of light to dark skin tones, with all the tones in between. Having a solid variety will be what elevates your portrait from flat to dynamic.
3. Thick, Break-Resistant Core
When you’re working on fine detail and shading in a portrait, every line counts. The division between an eyebrow and the bridge of the nose, or the top of the lip to the tip of the nose, are vital to get right.
You wouldn’t want to be working on these fine details and then have your pencil tip shatter, leaving you with a large, dark stamp of color where the broken pencil tip hit the paper.
The best colored pencils help you avoid this by providing thicker cores, resistant to easy breakage. Anywhere from 2-4mm core is solid, and it’s what you want to look for in your colored pencil set.
To help prevent breakage, try using a softer touch with the pencil, carefully pressing hard only when you need to achieve a deeper saturation.
9 Best Skin Tone Colored Pencil Sets
|1.||Prismacolor Premier Portrait Colors||24 set, warm and cool tones, undertone colors|
|2.||Faber-Castell Polychromos Pencils||120 set, 40 skin tone pencils, premium|
|3.||Castle Arts Portrait Collection||24 set, smooth blending, undertones|
|4.||Medihealth Skin Tone Colored Pencils||Dark and light sets, undertones, thick core|
|5.||Art-n-Fly Oil-Based Skin Tone Pencils||24 set, oil-based, blendable and buildable|
|6.||Giotto Stilnovo Skin Tone Pencils||12 set, hexagonal, blendable and erasable|
|7.||Lyra Color-Giants Skin Tone Pencils||12 set, thickest core, smooth blending|
|8.||MisuLove Charcoal Pencils, Skin Tone||12 set, charcoal based, thick core|
|9.||Crayola Colors Of The World Pencils||24 set, wide variety of tones|
1. Prismacolor Premier Portrait Colors
Prismacolor has long been one of the most well-respected artist brands available. They consistently provide top-quality art supplies to help anyone fulfill their artistic potential.
Their set of portrait colors is no different. With a variety of 24 colors, they’ve once again proven why they’re the best.
One of our favorite things about this set is the true variety of light to dark, and warm to cool. When looking at the colors, you can clearly see how P941 and P944 are great examples of warm and cool color options in similar tone depths.
They also provide bright whites, dark browns, and everything in between. With some solid yellow and pink colors to help you achieve those desired undertones, you simply can’t go wrong with Prismacolor colored pencils.
2. Faber-Castell Polychromos Pencils
With this premium set from Faber-Castell, you get 120 colored pencils in all colors of the rainbow, including an entire row of 40 skin tone colored pencils.
We’ve included this set for the serious artists who are willing to go to a higher price point to get the best quality. When it comes to blending, shading, and overall technique, these pencils can’t be beat.
Although this is a full set of colored pencils, and not just skin tone, we felt it was worth including with the rest of the options. As we’ve mentioned before, to truly achieve dynamic and lifelike skin tones, it’s all about the undertones.
When you get a full set of colored pencils, you get all the undertones you could ever need. You won’t just get two or three shades of pink and yellow, but a whole tray of them. You won’t just get one or two cool undertones, but a whole variety of them.
Aside from all the undertones, this set boasts the largest variety of skin tone options. If you’re willing to invest in your art career or hobby, this set just can’t be beat.
3. Castle Arts Portrait Collection
With strong 3.3mm cores, the Castle Arts portrait colored pencils are another fantastic option.
You may notice this set has included some purples and blues along with the yellows and pinks. This is to help you achieve those cool and warm undertones, as well as aiding in getting the shadows of your portrait just right.
These pencils blend smoothly, which we’ve noted is vital to creating a solid portrait. If you’re a beginner looking to get started with portrait drawings, this set it perfect for you.
4. Medihealth 1 Skin Tone Colored Pencils
These sets give you a true selection of dark to light, highlight to shadow, and warm to cool tones to play with.
These pencils have a wax-based 4mm core, ideal to help prevent excess breakage while working.
One of the great things about these sets is that the light tone selection has plenty of pinks to choose from, which can be a real help when it comes to shading in the lips and cheeks.
5. Art-n-Fly Oil-Based Skin Tone Pencils
In contrast to the option listed above, the Art-n-Fly brand is a set of oil-based colored pencils. This can be really helpful when it comes to blending and layering, as oil-based pencils can sometimes glide smoother across the paper.
We recommend this set for those artists who have some experience with blending and layering, as the colors offered may be a little confusing for beginner artists.
If you’re used to blending and laying to achieve dimension and vivid colors, though, this set is perfect. With a wide range of light to dark, including some reds we haven’t seen in the other sets on this list, it’s a great selection of skin tone colors.
6. Giotto Stilnovo Skin Tone Pencils
Although the Giotto Stilnovo colored pencils pack only offers 12 colors, those 12 colors can go a long way in the hands of the right artist.
The hexagonal shape to the pencil offers a comfortable and stable grip, helping you to achieve the finer details without the pencil slipping or wearing down your fingertips.
What we love about this set is that they’re easy to blend and easy to erase. The soft 3.3mm core creates a beautiful, smooth skin tone while standing up against constant breakage.
This set is also fantastic in the variety of darker tones it offers. Customers rave that these easy-to-use pencils create realistic and dynamic skin tones, bringing any portrait to life.
7. Lyra Color-Giants Skin Tone Pencils
The Lyra set is by far the best when it comes to the core. These color giants offer a 6.25mm core, the largest we’ve seen and the best when it comes to avoiding unnecessary breakage.
This set isn’t on here just for the large core, though. It also offers 12 skin tones in a variety of light to dark, ready to take your portrait to the next level.
These pencils go on smooth, helping you to create soft looks and smooth blending that can help you make your drawing even more lifelike.
Of course, because these pencils are larger, they’re also a solid option for those looking to color with children. If you’re helping your child to create realistic portraits of themselves, their family, and their friends, this set is the best option for little hands.
8. MisuLove Charcoal Pencils, Skin Tone
Seasoned artists tend to have particular mediums that they prefer over others. If you’re a sketch artist that prefers to use charcoal pencils over oil- or wax-based pencils, then this is the set for you.
The charcoal pencils set offers 12 colors, with an equal balance of light, medium, and dark tones, as well as nice green, red, and white colors to use as accents and advanced shading tools.
Although they can be used on any paper, these pencils really shine when used on tan sketch paper. The tan base really helps bring the light and dark tones of this set to life.
These charcoal pencils come with a strong 4mm core to keep you coloring longer and help you prevent waste when it comes to breaking tips.
You are sure to get a high-quality material for an affordable price when you buy these pencils.
9. Crayola Colors Of The World Pencils
A favorite among children and parents alike, Crayola once again proves why they’re a household name.
Offering 24 different skin tones, Crayola advertises their skin tone colored pencils set as being “Colors of the World.” They have certainly delivered on that promise with a wide variety of light to dark skin tones, in varying warm and cool undertone shades.
Even customers can’t stop talking about how many colors Crayola offers! Most reviews boast how much they love the wide variety, which they haven’t been able to find elsewhere.
If you’re looking to get more than one pack of colored pencils to fill a classroom supply list, they even offer a reasonably priced 6-pack of their 24-color skin tone sets here.
Up Next: Best Oil-Based Colored Pencils