This post may contain affiliate links. We may earn a small commission from purchases made through them, at no additional cost to you.
Whether you are a seasoned watercolor artist or a beginner, watercolor pencils are a fantastic medium for experimentation. Watercolor pencils offer a combination of stunning watercolor techniques and the ease of coloring pencils. Watercolor pencils are an important investment, so we have compiled all the information you need to choose the best watercolor pencils.
Table of Contents
- 1 What are Watercolor Pencils?
- 2 Things to Bear in Mind When You Buy Your First Watercolor Pencils
- 3 Our Recommendations for the Best Watercolor Pencils
- 4 How to Use Watercolor Pencils: Other Supplies Needed
- 5 How to Use Watercolor Pencils: Getting Started
- 6 Tips and Tricks to Help you Master Watercolor Pencils
- 7 Frequently Asked Questions
What are Watercolor Pencils?
The principal difference between traditional coloring pencils and watercolor pencils is the agent used to bind the pigment. Coloring pencils typically have a binding agent that contains oil or wax, while watercolor pencils use a water-soluble binding agent. While it may seem that watercolor pencils are watercolor paints in pencil form, this is not entirely true. Watercolor pencils differ from watercolor paints in the following ways:
- Usually, it is impossible to remove all the pencil marks from your piece, regardless of how much water you add. The distinct pencil marks are not all bad and can help distinguish watercolor paintings from watercolor drawings.
- If you think watercolor paint drys quickly, watercolor pencils dry even faster. The fast-drying action of watercolor pencils can be a benefit, allowing you to build up layers fast. You do, however, need to work quite quickly once you add the water to the pencil. As with all forms of painting, getting to know the medium takes some time and experimentation, so do not feel disheartened.
- When working with watercolor pencils, it is a good idea to use lighter colors with fewer layers. Intense layering can make the color muddy and create a build-up of sludge. Each watercolor pencil behaves in a slightly different way, so it is best to experiment with layering your pencils to find what works best.
Why Use Watercolor Pencils?
There are several reasons why we think watercolor pencils are a good option for beginner artists and professionals looking for new mediums. Watercolor pencils are available in a wide range of different colors, which you can use to create details, dimensions, and depth in your work. Watercolor pencils also provide much more coverage than traditional coloring pencils. Compared to coloring pencils, you can lighten watercolor pencils after application, as long as the color is still wet.
Watercolor pencils are versatile. The pencil strokes can provide a level of detail and texture that is not possible with watercolor paints or coloring pencils alone. You can sharpen your watercolor pencils to produce a fine point to create intricate details that you could not achieve with a brush. You can also create different effects by using them wet or dry.
The texture of watercolor pencil strokes is unique when combined with watercolor effects like washes and diffused color. You can also use watercolor pencils with a range of other mediums like graphite pencils, coloring pencils, pens, and ink.
Things to Bear in Mind When You Buy Your First Watercolor Pencils
Each artist has unique needs, and the type of watercolor pencil you choose will depend largely on your desired effect. The more you experiment with watercolor pencils, the more you will discern what works best for you, but we have some basic suggestions of things to consider.
Typically, watercolor pencils will work best on watercolor paper. Watercolor paper is our go-to for painting with watercolor pencils because it does not disintegrate when wet. There are, however, some watercolor pencils that you can use on glass, canvas, and other surfaces. It is always best to keep in mind your project and purchase the right paper for the job.
Application on the Paper
The application style you desire will also impact your choice of watercolor pencil. Whether you want to apply a thick and vivid wash of color or produce fine lines, you will need different watercolor pencils.
Generally, we suggest having a range of watercolor pencils so that you can experiment with a wide array of application techniques. For precise line-work, skinnier pencils are typically best, while sticks and blocks are ideal for covering larger areas of your paper. The relative hardness of your watercolor pencils will also affect the application of color. Harder watercolor pencils will require you to press harder to achieve vivid and opaque colors.
It Always Comes Down to Quality
Whether you are using watercolor pencils or oil paints, the better quality you can get, the better your finished pieces will be. Cheaper watercolor pencils tend to have less pigmentation than the more professional options. Despite this, it is possible to get relatively good results with more affordable watercolor pencils if you know how to apply them properly. If you are a beginner, we suggest starting with more affordable watercolor pencils, drawing will be a lot less stressful this way.
The Scale of Your Work
The scale of your piece will also help determine which watercolor pencils will be best. Watercolor pencils that use paint are not ideal for large-scale works that will take several sessions to complete. Different areas of color could dry slightly differently each session depending on how much you dilute the pencils. In this case, we suggest looking for ink-based watercolor pencils. The ink dries permanently, allowing you to maintain consistent colors across multiple sessions.
Our Recommendations for the Best Watercolor Pencils
We have compiled a list of our top three brands of watercolor pencils for you to choose from. Whether you are looking for high-quality professional watercolor pencils or a budget-friendly option, we have you covered. We have also included our top suggestion for beginner watercolor pencils that are good quality but more affordable.
The Best-Value Watercolor Pencils: STAEDTLER Karat Aquarell Watercolor Pencil Set
Created by the renowned German brand, these top-quality watercolor pencils are some of the best you can find. For this brand of watercolor pencils, sets of six, twelve, twenty-four, thirty-six, forty-eight, or sixty pencils are available, depending on your budget. These watercolor pencils boast superior blending and pigmented, smooth application when wet or dry.
With sustainably sourced wood and break-resistant lead, these Staedtler watercolor pencils are a must-have for any professional artist. The pencils are easy to sharpen, and the colors remain vivid after the application of water.
While they are high-quality, these watercolor pencils are not the most expensive on the market. For watercolor pencils, these offer superior value-for-money. Unfortunately, they do not come with any extras, although this is not the end of the world.
The Best Watercolor Pencils for Beginners: PRISMACOLOR Premier Watercolor Pencil Set
We suggest that beginners consider these high-quality watercolor pencils because they are so easy to blend. The Prismacolor watercolor pencils sets are lightfast, saturated, and highly pigmented. The smooth and creamy texture of the pencils creates a beautiful finish on the page.
The pencils have superior solubility when wet, and the colors are the same whether you use them dry or wet. While we have recommended these watercolor pencils for beginners, professional artists will be equally impressed with their quality and vivid pigmentation.
These watercolor pencils are only available in a set of 12, but we believe that this is more than enough for beginners. Thanks to their excellent blending capacity, you can also produce your own unique colors with the pencils in this set.
The Best Professional Watercolor Pencils: DERWENT Inktense Permanent Watercolor Pencils
If you are looking for professional quality watercolor pencils, then this set of Derwent Inktense pencils is our go-to recommendation. Although they are slightly more pricey than our previous suggestions, the money is well worth it. With these watercolor pencils, sets of six, 12, 24, 36, 48, and 72 are available in a wide range of highly pigmented colors.
Unlike our other suggestions, these professional watercolor pencils are ink-like, making them permanent. You can also use these pencils on a range of surfaces like fabric. The core is soft and wide, allowing you to blend beautifully with ease. The color range is impressive, with bright and bold fuchsia and more neutral shades.
There are two drawbacks to these pencils. Firstly, they are more pricey than our other suggestions, so if you do not feel confident yet, we recommend choosing another option. If you use these watercolor pencils, drawings should be stored away from sunlight as they are not lightfast. Having said that, these are excellent quality watercolor pencils.
How to Use Watercolor Pencils: Other Supplies Needed
You can use watercolor pencils as normal coloring pencils. If you want to explore some watercolor techniques, you will need a few extra supplies. Let us break it down.
If you are just starting to experiment with watercolor pencils drawing, we suggest investing in good quality watercolor paper. Watercolor paper is more sturdy than traditional printer paper so that it can withstand getting wet. Watercolor paper is typically thicker than sketching paper. The rate at which watercolor paper absorbs water (and therefore your pigment) is also specially tailored. There is a great deal of variety in the types of watercolor paper available, including different thicknesses, textures, and absorption rates. Do some research to help you determine which type of watercolor paper will be best for your artistic dreams. We always suggest looking into Global Art Fluid Watercolor Paper as it is good quality.
A Water Brush or Normal Brush
To activate your watercolor pencils and produce watercolor effects, you will need a brush. Water brushes are a great option because you do not have to consistently dip your brush in water. Traditional paintbrushes do, however, work just as well and are generally more affordable. We suggest picking up a medium-sized round brush like an eight or ten. These brushes work well for spreading color and can form a point for more intricate details. For washes and covering large areas of the paper, we suggest using a flat brush.
A Pencil Sharpener
It may seem obvious, but a good quality pencil sharpener will be your best friend. With a good quality sharpener, you can sharpen your watercolor pencils to a fine point, without snapping the soft lead inside. Depending on your chosen watercolor pencils, you may need slightly different sized sharpeners.
Paper Towels, Tape, and Water
Water may be an obvious suggestion, but you will need it for more than simply activating your pencils. If you want to try techniques using wet paper, or wetting the tip of your pencil, you will need water. You will also need a separate jar of water to clean your brushes in. Paper towels are an excellent supply to have on hand. You can use the paper towel to soak up any excess water from your brush or paper. Lastly, the tape is a must-have when painting with watercolor pencils. It is best to tape your paper down onto the desk surface to keep it taut and prevent the water from causing it to crinkle.
How to Use Watercolor Pencils: Getting Started
You can create so many exciting effects with watercolor pencils, but as a beginner, it can be difficult to know how to start. We have compiled a shortlist of different techniques to get you started on your journey with watercolor pencil art.
First Things First: Making a Sample Chart
A sample chart is an essential part of getting accustomed to your new watercolor pencils. When creating different pieces, you can always refer back to your sample chart to find the right color and see how your pencils react to water.
To begin, draw two blocks for each of your watercolor pencils on a page in your sketchbook. Using your pencil dry, shade a gradient of each in the first block. This first shaded block will give you an idea of the shades you can produce with the pencil when it is dry. Next, shade the top half of the second block with the dry pencil, and then with a wet brush, drag the color down to fill the rest of the square. This second square will be your reference for how your pencils react with water and the different shades you can create.
Next up: Stretching Your Paper
Although watercolor paper is designed to withstand being wet, it still requires some preparation to prevent it from crinkling or warping as you paint. Begin by wetting either side of your sheet of paper. Use some paper towels to blot away excess water, leaving your paper damp but not swimming. Next, wet four masking tape strips and use them to adhere your paper to the surface below. Once your paper and tape have dried completely, you can begin to paint!
Planning Your Work
Depending on your artistic style, it may be a good idea to plan out your drawing before heading in with the watercolor pencils. You can also plan your use of color during this stage. If you feel confident in your freehand drawing abilities, or you like to let the artistic flow take you, this is an optional step. If you are only beginning to work with watercolor pencils, then planning your work can boost your confidence before putting pencil to paper.
Time for Color
Whether you have planned your work or not, it is now time to begin using your watercolor pencils. You can use watercolor pencils in much the same way as normal coloring pencils, but there are some differences. You do not need to color in an area completely. Areas that you want to be as light as possible can be left blank as the color will spread to them when you brush on the water. You also need to be mindful of your pencil strokes in terms of their direction and shape. It is almost impossible to remove all pencil marks when you add the water, so it is best to make sure your strokes work to your advantage. Try to shade directionally, as you would with a graphite pencil, then, even if some strokes show through, they will add texture.
Activating Your Watercolor Pencils
This stage is where things start to get exciting. Using a brush and clean water, you can begin diffusing the color. Try to follow your pencil strokes to give the subject of your painting more dimension and keep it cohesive. The more you use your wet brush on the color, the fewer pencil marks will remain. It is good to be cautious, however, as overworking the paper can cause it to fray or pill (produce tiny bobbles). Make peace with the fact that you will probably not remove all the pencil strokes and use them to your advantage.
Tips and Tricks to Help you Master Watercolor Pencils
Beginning any artistic journey can be intimidating but with practice and experimentation, you will grow more confident. To help you navigate your first steps of painting with watercolor pencils, we have compiled some of our best tips and tricks.
Adding Depth and Detail
Layering is a fantastic way to add more depth to your watercolor pencil art, and it is fairly easy to accomplish with watercolor colored pencils. Once your first layer of paint has dried, you can repeat the coloring process with your pencils and activate them with water. To add shading, you can layer contrasting colors and deepen existing colors by adding more of the same hue. Be careful not to use too many layers, as this can cause your piece to look a little muddy.
You can use a sharpened watercolor colored pencil to add intricate details to your paint. Dip the very tip of your pencil into some water to create bright and bold details that stand out from the background. This technique is best for finishing touches as it can be tough to blend out these details.
Always Work from Light to Dark
This rule applies to shades of color, as well as the sheerness of your shading. Always start by laying down your lightest colors, adding darker colors bit by bit. As the adage goes, it is easier to add than to take away. If you are using paint-based watercolor colored pencils, you can blot an area that is too dark with a paper towel or a dry brush while the paint is still wet. This technique can lift some of the colors off of the paper to lighten it. If your color has dried, you can still lift a little of it by reactivating the area with some water and then blotting.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Watercolor Pencils a Good Choice?
We love watercolor pencils because they are so versatile. You can draw and shade as you would with normal coloring pencils, but you can also easily create stunning watercolor effects.
Can You Use Watercolor Pencils like Regular Coloring Pencils?
Yes, you absolutely can. You can produce watercolor pencil drawings that look just like regular pencil drawings. We think it is great to own watercolor pencil sets because you have the option of using them normally or experimenting with watercolor techniques.
Do You Need Specialized Paper for Watercolor Pencil Drawings?
The type of paper you use depends on what you want to do. If you want to activate the watercolor pencils with water, then you should ideally use watercolor paper. Watercolor paper is always best for watercolor pencil art.
Can You Dip Watercolor Pencils in Water?
You can use a dipped watercolor pencil to create intricate details. The color is much richer when you dip it in water and can produce some stunning effects.
Watercolor pencils are a wonderful medium for beginners through to advanced artists. Getting the right set is important, as good quality colored pencils make a huge difference. We hope that you are inspired to choose the best watercolor pencil set and to start creating art!