Why I Create Colour Charts

Colour charts are an important tool that I use in my art practice. For many, this can be a seemingly pointless or cumbersome task but I find that it’s extremely helpful to me for a number of reasons. For those of you who aren’t seasoned color-charting veterans, I’m going to share with you how I use them in my practice and the advantages of including them in yours. I also have a SPECIAL BONUS for you at the end.

I was first introduced to colour charting as part of colour theory class in art school. In that exercise, it was more about using paint or gouache to study colour mixing and practice making gradations as well as exploring other colour combinations and palettes. This is a valuable exercise for any artist wanting to grow their understanding and ability with color mixing and theory. My current use of colour charts is as a means of having a visual catalog and reference for my sets of pencils and any other art supply like markers, gouache, and acrylic paint that I use in my artwork.

When I get a new set of coloured pencils one of the first things I do is take a variety of pictures of the set perfectly intact for the purposes of futures reviews. The next step for me is to make a colour chart of all of the hues contained in the set. This process has evolved for me over time from pretty loose to the now more rigid printable charts that I created using Adobe InDesign.

I first wrote about this topic in 2016 on my blog post Coloured Pencil Charts – Part 1 and when my charts were mostly hand-made. I also showed you how to make your own in the Coloured Pencil Charts – Part 2. After having a conversation with my friend Brenda on this recently, I realized that the DIY approach isn’t for everyone and to be perfectly honest, since creating the digital version of the charts for myself I’ve saved a lot of time drawing out gridded lines and being able to copy and paste names as opposed to handwriting them out.

My handmade ones still have a special place in my heart but the graphic designer in me also just loves the crisp uniform lines from my printed versions. I currently have them all hanging on the wall above my drawing desk for quick reference. I recently moved my colored pencil-specific charts to their own space and have them handing off of 3M removable hooks with bulldog clips. When I’m working on a piece with a specific pencil set I just cue up whatever chart I need and I can reference it easily in that spot and also it keeps my desk space clear.

My Top 5 Reasons for Creating Colour Charts

1. Saves Time Finding a Colour – When you’re first getting familiarized with a new set of pencils and hues you won’t have the familiarity and favorites right away that you may have with another set. I know my Polychromos pencils super well now but I just purchased a set of Derwent Lightfast and Caran D’Ache Luminance pencils and I’m not that familiar yet with either. The charts help me cut down on searching for a colour and the need for always having a scrap piece of paper to test on first.

2. Understanding Application – With colored pencils specifically, some colours and brands are more opaque than others. They generally all have a pretty different feel as well. Doing this initial charting gives you an understanding of not only how each hue in the set feels when applied to the paper but also how many layers are required for full saturation or if that particular hue is a little scratchy or super soft.

3. Colour Accuracy – When you apply coloured pencil directly on a piece of paper it will give you exactly what the colour is going to look like. There’s no guesswork. Often times the colour swatch on the outside of the tin, box or pencil barrel may not quite exactly match what the core colour looks like when applied. Digital representations of the colour in charts might not also be accurate. You can download most of these charts for free from the company’s website but depending on how your screen displays colour it may look a bit off. Printing this chart might also yield slightly different results again depending on your printer.

4. Cataloguing Your Inventory – I often try smaller sets of pencils out before I invest in the largest set it comes in, but once I’m hooked I need every color in the set! The chart I make helps me identify which colours I have and which ones I still need to get. This was great for the recently expanded Caran D’ache Luminance and Derwent Lightfast sets. Another advantage in doing this is that you can also see which colours are very similar to each other. As you replace used-up pencils with open stock, you may not want to purchase both hues again in the future once you run out.

5. Quick Reference for Lightfast Ratings – Some people like to remove or discard pencils that don’t meet high lightfast standards but I just can’t bare to split up my sets like that. Honestly, I also think it’s wasteful to throw them out and would rather keep them to use on pieces that are studies or will only be prints. I have a space for the lightfast ratings in my charts and I use a highlighter to visually indicate the ones that shouldn’t be used for pieces I plan to sell. I will also physically separate those pencils within a tin to their own location or on the bottom tray in a tin. Because I tend to keep my pencils in relative colour order the sudden disruption from the greys to a bunch of random colours is a good indicator also to proceed with caution.


Great News! I Have a Gift For You!

You might be thinking, It’s all fine and dandy to be talking about my own charts but what about everyone else?
After many requests from other artists and friends on social media I am finally able to offer them to you as well!


The Prismacolor Premier Color Chart is my FREE gift to you!


I have also created separate charts for popular brands Faber-Castell Polychromos, Caran D’Ache Luminance, Derwent Lightfast, and Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor for $5 USD each

OR you can SAVE by purchasing the 5-Pack that contains all of these brands
including the Prismacolor chart for $15 USD

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