watercolor pencils

How to Use Watercolor Pencils – Best Products and How-To Guide

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Watercolor pencils are the perfect complement to watercolor painting with brushes. They can be used in many different ways, are inexpensive, and it is simply just fun to paint with them. However, using them requires a little practice and a couple of tricks to develop your full potential. In this article, we will cover how to use watercolor pencils, which are the best watercolor pencils, and the advantages and disadvantages of this medium.



What Are Watercolor Pencils?

Watercolor pencils give you the comfort and precision of a colored pencil, but they use certain techniques and water that make them similar to watercolor paints. Above all, they are very useful for adding lines and accents to your pictures already painted with watercolors. However, you can also paint entire pictures with them.

The difference to conventional colored pencils lies in the lead: the color pigments and the binder have been selected in such a way that it can be easily mixed with water. So when water is added, the applied color flows, and hard lines and contours become soft. Glazing paint applications are also possible in this way.

The strengths of the watercolor pencil are therefore always brought out when there is water involved. This can be done by dipping the tip of the pen in water or by applying glaze effects with water and brush after applying the paint. Even color transitions can be achieved even better than with pure watercolors. You can find out more about watercolor painting in our Watercolor Painting guide.



How to Paint With Watercolor Pencils

Below is an example of how watercolor pencils drawing can be done:

  • Draw the outlines of your subject with your pens in the form of lines
  • Leave out certain areas where you want to have very light colors filled in
  • Use a brush and some water and stroke over your drawn lines
  • With the recorded color spaces, you can now fill the empty areas with the brush
  • If you want to apply more layers of paint, let the painting dry first
  • Follow your lines afterward, the color will become more intense
  • Repeat the steps with a wet  brush according to your vision

Et voilà, you have already learned the basics. Besides the technique shown here, there are other painting techniques which we will introduce to you further down in this article.

how to use watercolor pencils



The Best Watercolor Pencils Compared

We have tested all kinds of pencils from the most famous manufacturers for you. Besides Koh-i-Noor, Derwent, and Stabilo, quality brands like Staedtler and Faber-Castell should not be missing. In the watercolor pencil test, all products of the well-known brands performed well and offer good to excellent quality.

In addition, there are also a number of suppliers of very cheap to inexpensive sets, which you can definitely add to the shortlist. Always just make sure that the leads are not too hard, otherwise, you will leave unsightly marks on the watercolor paper. We have selected some of the best products from both cheap and reputable manufacturers below.


Beginners Starter Set

For beginners wanting to try out watercolor pencils, convenient starter sets are available. These offer a wide range of colors for versatile use. Basically, you get everything you need to start creating your first artworks. These sets are generally geared towards first-time watercolor artists.


For Demanding Artists

Watercolor painters with more experience will start to want a wider range of products, as well as more advanced items. Below are some good product picks for more experienced and demanding painters that require more from their materials.


Brush Pens as a Supplement

For the direct, exact application of paint, the watercolor brush pen has been available in the trade for some time. It is virtually a liquid marker with watercolor paint and a brush tip. You can draw very precise lines with it, which you can then change further with water.



Suitable Painting Surface

For watercolor pencils drawing, we recommend the use of high-quality watercolor paper. When using watercolor pencils, it is important that the paper is thick enough so that it does not curl when it comes into contact with water. Only if you want to work exclusively with dry watercolor pencils you can use thinner paper. Otherwise, the watercolor paper should have a thickness of approx. 200 g/m² – 300 g/m².



Watercolor Pencil Techniques

There is a variety of watercolor techniques that can be done with the watercolor pencil. However, you should certainly master the following techniques to paint successful watercolor pictures first.


Dry Application On a Wet Painting Surface

​With this technique, you paint on a wet area of the painting surface. To do this, you take some water with a brush and wet the area of the watercolor paper which you want to paint. Then you take a pencil and gently paint the desired area in this area. You will notice that the paint mixes quickly with the water and you can achieve excellent glazing effects.


Dry Application

This is the simplest technique for watercolor pencil art. You use the watercolor pencil like a normal colored pencil on the watercolor paper. There is hardly any optical difference to a normal crayon drawing. You can also use the dry application for contouring your works already painted with watercolors. Once your watercolor paint is dry, you can add more details or contours with the pencil to make them sharper.


Draw First Then Add Water

This is our absolute favorite technique. You paint the desired outlines, lines, or areas with a watercolor pencil as usual. Then you use a brush, which you wet with a little water. Now move the brush over the already painted areas and you can paint areas with a glaze or achieve color transitions. The more you move the brush over the already painted lines, the less color remains. You can also repeat the whole thing several times to get more intense colors.

The fewer color pigments you have applied and the more water you use, the more transparent the color becomes. This is a very good stylistic device to paint soft or run-out areas. You will be surprised by what you can do with this technique.


Wet Paint Application

A wet paint application with a dry watercolor crayon? How is that supposed to work? Very simple: You dip your pencil into some water, which you have previously filled into a container. You repeat this again and again – this will be necessary very often with this technique because the tip drys up again very quickly. However, you can paint lines with this technique, which look softly painted by the absorbed water. You can also draw very precisely.


Combination of Different Techniques

Of course, you can combine all of the techniques listed here with each other when creating watercolor pencil art. And you should – depending on the desired effect you will use almost all techniques in one painting. The dry on wet technique is super combinable with the dry paint application, and very often watercolor paint is applied and dried first before the different watercolor pencil techniques are used. The possibilities are almost unlimited, and you will certainly develop your preferences and personal style over time.


Learning how to use watercolor pencils can open up a whole new world of creativity. Watercolor pencil art can be used to enhance watercolor paintings, or create new ones. 


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