Trying to find a new medium to improve your art can be hard work. With so many artistic tools to choose from, how do you know which one will best make your work stand out in a world over-saturated with art? How do you even know that you will be able to work with a new medium?
Say you settled on acrylic paints: you buy the paints, as well as the canvases, a new set of brushes, don’t forget the easel and the mixing palette.
Before you know it, you’ve spent all your expendable income to then find yourself covered in paint, exhausted and with a bluey-brown smear instead of the beautiful still-life you imagined.
This is where watercolor pencils come in! Do you know how to color in? Good, that’s all you need to know about watercolor pencils. No mess, no fuss, no empty bank account. All the ‘pop’ of paint, with none of the pain. ‘But!’ we hear you cry, ‘how do I know which watercolor pencils are right for ME?’
Don’t panic! We’re here to help and have done the hard work for you. Read on, and you will find an in-depth guide to the best watercolor pencils available, how they compare, and what you should be looking for when selecting your new best friends.
OUR TOP PICK
Faber-Castell is a very well-respected professional quality brand. It has over 250 years of experience in creating premium quality art supplies.
The Albrecht Durer line is Faber-Castell’s ‘professional’ line, which makes it an ideal candidate for anybody looking to seriously move forward in their art.
The pencils are color-matched across the rest of the Faber-Castell range, so if you already own products from this company, you’re not going to have a problem adding depth to your artwork: Venetian Red in these pencils will match up perfectly with your previously owned Venetian Red, for example.
The Albrecht Durer line comes in various sized sets, from 12 pieces to 120, each with an incredible range of colors to choose from.
So, whether you just want to try them out, or you are committed and want a full range of colors at your disposal, Faber-Castell have you covered.
They also come in a convenient hinged metal case, so you don’t have to worry about having pencils rolling all over your workspace.
- Highly Pigmented – Some of the most vibrant colors available on the market to really draw attention to your creation.
- Highly Soluble – No pencil marks left behind! With just a few strokes of a brush, see your pencil drawing transform into a beautiful painting.
- User-friendly – Simply apply color and add water, no tricks here!
- Able to buy single pencils – Got a favorite color? Rather than buying a whole new set when that one runs out, you can buy individual replacements and save your dollars.
- Expensive – Unfortunately, premium quality means premium prices.
Derwent is another company that has been producing art supplies for nearly 200 years. Beloved by students and professionals alike, its reputation means you can trust the quality of its pencils.
Unlike normal watercolor pencils, Inktense uses a unique formula to create an almost ink-like look to your final painting – hence the name!
Derwent offers multiple different packing for its Inktense range: canvas wraps, tins, and even a wooden case, this means you can choose the product that most benefits you in terms of how you intend to use it.
Want something for on the go? The Canvas wrap offers a great portable solution whilst still protecting your pencils.
Are you someone who enjoys multiple craft hobbies? These pencils can be used across a range of surfaces, including fabrics, making them the most versatile product on this list. Their hyper-pigmented finish is sure to bring some sparkle to that piece you’ve been working on.
The Inktense range is currently available in 6 through 72-piece sets, so while not quite delivering the 120 different shades that other brands offer, Inktense still gives you an extraordinary number of shades.
Derwent also offers an 11 piece ‘wash set’ which comes with a water brush to help you along.
- Easy to blend – With softer cores than standard watercolor pencils, you’re sure to get the shade you’re looking for with little fuss.
- Fast-drying – Rapid-drying pencils allow you to finish your masterpiece in record time.
- Most vivid color – Whether painting t-shirts or canvases, these pencils are sure to leave an impressive finish.
- Multimedia ready – Design even on wearable fabrics, to make your wardrobe stand out.
- Small set size – Just looking for those primary colors? The 6 pack gives you Yellow, Red, Green, Blue, Violet, and Black.
- Color matching – The color on the pencil is not always accurate compared to the final color, so you may need to do some test swatches first.
- Not ‘Lightfast’ – the colors fade when exposed to direct sunlight.
Zenacolor is a company started by two brothers, Max and Ben, whose mission statement is to provide affordable, premium quality supplies for aspiring artists.
Zenacolor products all come with a 30 day ‘100% satisfaction or your money back’ warranty which means if you’re still unsure as to whether watercolor pencils are right for you, these pencils might be the perfect test subject.
They offer a huge variety of colors which means you don’t have to spend time blending colors together to find the color you want, just pick up a pencil and go.
They even offer a color chart with their product, something surprisingly missing in most watercolor sets. This means that you don’t ever have to worry about whether the pencil you’re using is going to come out a different shade to what you were expecting.
The quality to cost ratio is outstanding, so whether you’re a beginner or a professional, these pencils should leave you impressed without breaking the bank.
The set also includes a brush, so you don’t have to worry about shopping around for extra supplies. They work great as both coloring pencils and watercolors so are incredibly versatile and definitely worth the money you pay for them.
- Contains a color-chart – easy to see what your colors will look like once dry.
- Good quality to cost ratio – Save those hard-earned dollars.
- Good customer service - If you register online with Zenacolor, they will email you a picture each week for you to print out and color in.
- Smallest set is 72 colors – More bang for your buck!
- Solubility - Colors do not always fully dissolve with water and can leave pencil marks behind.
- Blending - Not particularly good for layering multiple colors.
Arteza is a brand making a lot of headway in the industry. With affordable products for all skill levels, you will find Arteza products recommended everywhere.
Its watercolor pencils offer lightfast pigment that means your piece won’t fade over time. Feel free to hang your works of art anywhere!
These pencils have a hexagonal shape which allows for better grip than the traditional round pencils you’ll find elsewhere. With better grip comes better control, so these pencils are excellent for intricate details.
Don’t be fooled though, these pencils are equally equipped to deal with large expanses of color, and their soft core means you can cover more space in less time.
With set sizes between 48 pieces and 120 pieces as well as a money-back guarantee, Arteza offers up a competent rival to some of the more expensive heavy-hitters like Derwent and Faber-Castel.
With over 15 different shades of greys in the 120-piece set, you’re practically spoilt for choice.
- Vibrant colors - wet or dry, make the most of your ability.
- Lightfast rating stamped on individual pencils – know how long your picture can withstand direct sunlight.
- Tutorials - Arteza has tutorials available on its YouTube channel for anyone starting out with these pencils.
- Great variety – No matter what color you’re looking for, you’ll find it in this set.
- Waxy quality when dry – This makes it difficult to layer over colors.
- Packaging not user-friendly - Plastic trays are layered on top of each other. Trying to get them out of the case can often lead to pencils on the floor.
This product by Derwent is the wild card in our pack.
It’s all well and good talking about vibrancy and color, but what if you want to enhance something more technical? Or you’re just looking at creating something slightly more realistic? That’s where Graphitint Pencils come in.
The Graphitint pencils offer a little more dimension to black and white sketches, with minimal earthy tones to add just a splash of color to your piece.
They are perfect for people looking to draw city landscaping. Hard to capture the industrial with a rainbow of colors at your disposal, right?
These pencils can be used both wet and dry for different effects. Dry use will offer just a hint of color to your piece, while a few drops of water will add a hidden vibrancy.
They’re easy to layer or erase to add highlights and shadows and all blend well together to create some unique colors.
There is a catch with these pencils, though; they are the smallest set by far, coming in only 6, 12, and 24-piece sets. That means a much smaller range of colors at your disposal. So what?
Well, there is no yellow available at all, so if you’re looking at capturing sunny picturesque scenes, these pencils might not be for you.
The Graphitint Pencils offer a lot for very particular types of artists, but the limited set sizes, and especially the lack of some possibly crucial colors means you have to know your subject and your style before you buy them.
- Good for naturalistic pieces - If you prefer black and white drawings, these are by far your best bet.
- Good for depth - Natural tones add a new dimension to your art.
- Versatile - Subtle color when dry and vibrant once wet.
- Easy to layer – even once dried, you will be able to add shade and highlights with ease.
- Small set size - Only available in 6, 12, and 24-piece sets.
- Much smaller range of colors – Even in the larger pack there is no yellow.
- Ease of use – These pencils are not necessarily beginner-friendly. Practice really does make perfect!
Best Watercolor Pencils Buying Guide
You may believe that all pencils are created equal. If they can color in and then dissolve into paint when you add water that’s good enough, right?
Wrong! Depending on what you want your final product to look like, there are a lot of things that you need to consider. Below we will discuss some key points to think about when researching the perfect product for you.
How are they packaged?
How the pencils are packaged seems like something that shouldn’t really be that important, however, you need to consider if their packaging is suitable for your needs.
Choose wrong and you may end up, at best, having to spend more money on a new case for them or, at worst, with a set of very broken and useless sticks.
Consider what you need them for. Do you have a designated workspace? If so, a tin or box is an ideal display case as you can easily set them up where they are contained and visible: no more digging through pencil cases looking for the right color!
If you’re the type that likes to have your material handy for whenever the artistic muse takes you, you’re better off looking at a cloth wrap carry case. These roll up so they take up less space while keeping your pencils secure and on-hand.
Does the set come with everything I’ll need?
You also need to look at what the set you’re considering includes. Some watercolor sets come with a brush and sharpener included, and some don’t. It’s important to note that not all watercolor pencils are a standard size, so you may need a special sharpener for them.
Likewise, a brush is a must-have for a watercolor set, if the set you are looking at includes a brush, is it suitable for what you intend to use it for? Watercolor brushes come in different widths and you can also get brushes that have a water compartment built in so you don’t have to worry about spilling (or worse, drinking) that cup of dirty water.
Variety is the spice of life!
Arguably the most important thing to consider when looking for the right watercolor set for you is how much color variation is in the set. You may be tempted to go for a bigger set purely for more choice in shades.
However, sometimes bigger is not always better.
If you’re not someone who likes experimenting with blending colors together, a bigger set may be the way to go. The problem will be that when wet, sometimes two similar shades can blend in together to create something less distinguished. Therefore, it is important if you plan on doing precise work to make sure you pick a pencil set that you can layer.
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This way you can add deeper shades once the piece is dry without the colors bleeding together.
If you’re someone who likes experimenting with colors or someone just starting out with watercolors, a smaller set may be the way to go. Only having a base color set will encourage you to explore, and potentially allow you to create something magnificent.
No matter what size set you choose to go for, make sure you’re getting the best value for money. Sometimes it works out cheaper to get a medium size set and then buy individual shades that you like than it does to buy the biggest set available.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why use watercolor pencils instead of paints?
The benefit of watercolor pencils over watercolor paints is that they are much more versatile - you can add a watercolor effect where you want it.
They are also easier to transport, so you don’t have to worry about broken pans of paint or leakages.
What is the best way to use watercolor pencils?
There is no right or wrong way to use watercolor pencils, that’s the beauty of them. You can experiment as much or as little as you like for whatever effect you want to create.
We do however recommend using watercolor paper to capture the pencils’ full potential.
Do you have to use water with watercolor pencils?
Not necessarily, you can use them simply as colored pencils if you wish, though some brands are better than others for this.
See the above reviews to find our suggestions for the brands that will suit your needs.
Watercolor Pencils vs. Colored Pencils?
The benefit of watercolor pencils over colored pencils is that they add an extra element to your art. You’re guaranteed a smooth professional grade finish.
You can use watercolor to add tone or depth as well as creating a neutral ‘washed out’ background to make the subject of your art really pop out of the page.
Watch a video on How to use watercolor pencils