A colored pencil (American English), coloured pencil (Commonwealth English), pencil crayon, or coloured/colouring lead (Canadian English, Newfoundland English) is an art medium constructed of a narrow, pigmented core encased in a wooden cylindrical case. Unlike graphite and charcoal pencils, colored pencils' cores are wax- or oil-based and contain varying proportions of pigments, additives, and binding agents. Water-soluble (watercolor) pencils and pastel pencils are also manufactured as well as colored cores for mechanical pencils.
Colored pencils are made in a wide range of price, quality and usability, from student-grade to professional-grade. Concentration of pigments in the core, lightfastness of the pigments, durability of the colored pencil, and softness of the core are some determinants of a brand’s quality and, consequently, its market price. There is no general quality difference between wax/oil-based and water-soluble colored pencils, although some manufacturers rate their water-soluble pencils as less lightfast than their similar wax/oil-based pencils. The rising popularity of colored pencils as an art medium sparked the beginning of the Colored Pencil Society of America (CPSA). According to its website, “[CPSA] was founded in 1990 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to artists over 18 years of age working with colored pencil”. The CPSA not only promotes colored pencil art as fine art, but also strives to set lightfastness standards for colored pencil manufacturers. Other countries such as the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia and Mexico – among many others – have formed their own organizations and societies for colored pencil artists. Colored pencils are commonly stored in pencil cases to prevent damage.
Despite colored pencils' existence for more than a century, the art world has historically treated the medium with less admiration (and even disdain) compared to other art mediums. However, the discovery of new techniques and methods, the development of lightfast pencils, and the formation of authoritative organizations is better enabling colored pencils to compete with other mediums. Additionally, colored pencils are more affordable, cleaner, and simpler compared to other mediums.