Best Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils are a unique medium for both the beginner and seasoned artist (and maybe you’ve never even tried them!), but selecting the right pencils for your next project can mean the difference between producing a masterpiece – or a frustrating disaster. While most watercolor pencils are applied to paper in the same way, different products will produce different results. This post will give you some clarity as to the best watercolor pencils – for you.  

Derwent WaterColour

To create subtle, soft works of art, check out Derwent Watercolour pencils. Sketch landscapes or urban scenes on the go, and apply water to your drawings later to bring your creations to life. With 72 colors in the full line, you’ll have a wide variety of shades to choose from.

These pencils are water soluble, and fully activated when wet. You can add plenty of layers while you sketch, and once you add water, they won’t dry quickly into harsh streaks or lines. They can also be re-activated if you notice a mistake later – even long after the paint has dried.

Be mindful of where you’re adding details, as the base layers can blur out (unless that’s your intention). For an excellent introduction to watercoloring without the mess or complicated setup, these pencils are a great way to go. 

Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Artist Watercolor Pencils

The artist-grade Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Artist Watercolor Pencils are high-quality and easy to use. They’re an especially great choice for artists new to watercolors who want to experiment with new techniques.  

These pencils can dry quickly once activated, but they are highly pigmented and provide rich color with nice dimension. They are easily buildable, and you can add layers of dimension to your paintings without the colors bleeding all over the place. They blend smoothly, without the graininess of some inferior pencils, and you can achieve a nice gradient with just a little bit of water.

With up to 120 lightfast colors in the full range, you’ll have any color you need – and a solid 3.8 mm core to keep you going. They’re perfect for the budding artist on the go, or an experienced artist looking to work with something a little different. 

Staedtler Karat Aquarell

The Staedtler Karat Aquarell watercolor pencils are a great choice for everyday practice or casual doodling. They come in sets of 12, 24, or 48 colors, and some sets are secured in a sturdy tin that keeps them from getting lost or broken. There are a total of 60 colors in the range for you to add to your collection.

These German-made pencils have a soft 2mm lead that doesn’t break or split during use, and offers a nice even application on the paper. The cedar casing and hexagonal grip is easy to hold, and gives you plenty of control without rolling.

They can be used wet or dry, easily blending together for subtle washes or adding darker lines. The color is vibrant when wet, but can fade considerably after it’s dry. These pencils are great for everyday sketching, practicing while out and about, or experimenting with new watercolor techniques. 

Derwent Inktense

The Derwent Inktense series are professional-grade watercolor pencils that perform. The color stays where you put it, and once it’s dry – it’s on for good.

With 72 individually labelled colors in the full range, you’ll have enough variety of shades to choose from (but you can also blend your own as well). Each pencil is equipped with a soft 4mm lead core that smoothly lays down color without graininess. The colors themselves are bold and vibrant, and perfect for adding layers of contrast. The paint won’t re-activate when it’s wet, so you can add layers upon layers to your project without turning it into a muddy disaster.

These pencils will dry quickly, so you have to work fast and deliberately to avoid streaking. But once you get the hang of using them, they offer vibrant, soft colors that will elevate your paintings from “meh” into masterpieces. 

LYRA Aquacolor Water-Soluble Wax Crayons

For a slightly different watercoloring experience, you can awaken your inner artistic child with the LYRA Aquacolor Water-Soluble Wax Crayons. These crayons come in sets of 12, 24, or 48 colors, and you’ll have all the colors you need to whip up some works of art.

These individual crayons are 3.5” long with a 3/8” diameter. They’re a little chunkier than your average watercolor pencil, but they apply color just as evenly to the page. Add water and voila – a nice creamy color blend that’s perfect for landscapes, florals, or still life scenes.

These crayons offer vibrant pigmentation and are easy to use. They’re perfect for artists looking to play around with a new medium, or beginners who want to dip their toes into the world of watercolors – without all the intimidating supplies. 

Prismacolor Premier

For a nice basic set to introduce you to watercolor painting, the Prismacolor Premier watercolor pencils are a great choice. With 36 distinct colors, these pencils have a nice shade range that is adequate for your average painting (but not so many that you’re overwhelmed).

While they don’t have the handy colored tips of some other pencils, you can still see the nice thick core at the end of the pencil. Each pencil is individually labeled with its color name and number for convenience.

These pencils blend nicely when wet, and don’t reactivate once they’re dry. You can add layers of paint, or play around with adding more fresh color on top of washes or other painted areas. These pencils are great for students, or anyone who wants a basic set of watercolor pencils that perform well. 

Derwent Graphitint

For the artist who primarily works with graphite, the Derwent Graphitint pencils can be a fun way to dabble in the world of watercolors. These water soluble colored pencils will add some subtle gradients to a nice range of muted organic earthy tones.

Perfect for landscapes and natural illustrations, these pencils are great to use on their own – but really pop when you add a little bit of water. They’re well-made and thick, with a solid 4mm core and a robust 8mm round cedar barrel. Each color is individually labeled and they feature a colored tip on the end of the pencil.

These pencils apply with a slightly grainy texture, and they don’t completely transform from pencil to paint. But that’s okay – the result is a lovely muted set of watercolor paints that’s perfect for natural illustrations and paintings, especially if you want to shake up your pencil-drawings. 

Cretacolor Woodless Aquarelle Aqua Monolith

For adventurous woodless pencil fans, the Cretacolor Aqua Monolith Woodless Watercolors are a nice choice. One interesting feature is that you can use the shavings to create interesting effects, such as splatters or unique colors. The hefty 7 mm core can also be manipulated to add wide areas of shading.

The round barrel is covered in a shiny lacquer (so it won’t activate with your sweaty palm by accident), but you need to be careful not to drop it as it may break upon impact.

These pencils are solid, well-made, and will provide more paint than those with smaller cores. Use them wet or dry, either by coloring your paintings first and using water to activate them, or by dipping your pencil directly into the water and immediately applying it to paper for a nice wet effect. Overall, these pencils blend well, and there’s a wide variety of 72 rich colors to choose from. 

Derwent Artbar Water Soluable Bars

If you like to get your hands dirty, the little Derwent Artbar Water Soluble Bars are unique – and fun to use! These triangular bars are designed to be played and experimented with – just add water. The range includes 72 shades of deeply pigmented creamy wax bars.

You can shape the tip into a fine point for drawing sharp lines, or peel off the paper covering to shade wide swaths of color. Break off a chunk or two and build up color on the page, or use smaller pieces to make interesting shapes. Save the shavings for splatter effects, mixing new colors, or rubbing into your canvas for some interesting texture. The possibilities are endless!

Paint directly from the bars – add a little water to your brush and go to town! These bars are great for anyone who loves watercolors, but wants to try something fun and fresh (and maybe a little dirty). 

Caran d’Ache Neocolor II

If you loved using crayons as a kid, but now you want to try the grown-up version, try the Caran d’Ache Neocolor II Artists’ Crayons. Not only are these sophisticated artist’s implements, but they’re water-soluble too.

These highly pigmented crayons are simple, easy to use, but highly versatile. You can shave them into a fine point, use the shavings to create colors on the page, or add water and dip into them like a traditional watercolor paint. With a full range of 84 colors, these 4 1/16” long crayons have a hefty 8mm diameter.

Each crayon is individually labeled with the color name and number, so you can easily find what you’re looking for. A fun way to shake up your watercoloring routine, these crayons are good for both beginners and experienced artists alike. 

For Kids: Staedtler Ergosoft Watercolor Pencils

Even the smallest artists deserve high-quality materials, and the Staedtler Ergosoft Watercolor Pencils are a great way to introduce watercolors to your kids. This set of 24 brightly colored pencils is a perfect way to try watercolors without investing in expensive brushes and paint.

Each pencil features an easy-to-hold triangular barrel with a non-slip grip. They won’t fall out of little hands, and they won’t roll away and break, either. Kids can practice sketching their designs with the 3mm lead, and add water to make their pictures come to life.

With a soft but durable lead, the shade range is limited – but it’s useful for kids who love bold, bright colors and want to try mixing their own! Perfect for the budding artist, these pencils are a great choice for trying out the world of watercolors and practicing new painting techniques. 

Buyer’s Guide

If you’ve never used watercolor pencils before, you may be wondering – how the heck do these things work? Watercolor pencils are a versatile artistic medium that bridges the gap between convenient traditional colored pencils and beautiful watercolor paint – but without all the hassle and mess. They’re perfect for newbies or professionals, and if you need a little guidance on how to choose the best kind for you – here’s what you need to know. 

What are watercolor pencils

Watercolor pencils are just colored pencils that contain a water-soluble lead core (they’re often made with a gum arabic binder). You can use them for dry sketching like normal wax-based colored pencils, or you can add water to make their pigment pop.

With watercolor pencils, you can sketch an entire illustration while out and about (or sitting in front of a beautiful vista), and then add water when you get home. Dip a clean brush into some water to blend colors together, spread pigment out over larger areas, or blur out the harsh lines of your sketch. All watercolor pencil products will react slightly differently depending on the techniques used with them, so you may have to experiment a bit to figure out what works best for you.

You can use watercolor pencils like traditional watercolors, but they work best if you treat them as their own unique medium. They’re perfect for artists who love to draw, but who want to make the jump into watercolor painting without committing to all the supplies that go with it. Just add a little water and watch the magic happen!

Color Variety

Having a good variety of colors to choose from is important for pencil mediums. It’s more difficult to mix up your own shades than it is with paint, and most of your color mixing will happen within the drawing itself. 

Most watercolor pencil manufacturers will produce sets of 12, 24, 36, or 48 colors (but some will go all the way up to 72 or 120). Having a large shade range is helpful when you want any color at your disposal – but not so much if you’re overwhelmed.

While the majority of your blending and layering will happen on the page, adding water can create more vibrant hues, or soften harsh transitions. Because of these unique water-soluble properties, you may find that 24 or 36 colors is more than enough to achieve your desired results — but you can always add more as you become more familiar with the medium.  

Price

The cost of watercolor pencils can vary quite a bit between brands, but you’re generally paying more for a better-quality product. Brands that produce pencils with high amounts of pigment, consistent application performance, and little filler tend to be more expensive.

Overall, you’ll pay more out of pocket for a larger set, but the price-per-pencil will go down. If you want to splurge on a full range of high-quality pencils, be prepared to pay at least $50 – $100 for 24 – 72 pencils. Unique products may cost a bit more, especially if they’re somewhat new in the art world.

While there’s nothing wrong with picking up a cheap set of watercolor pencils, save your money for something high-quality that won’t cause frustration in the long run. You can still find a decent 12-pack of budget-friendly watercolor pencils for less than $20, and be sure to watch out for sales. 

Hardness

Because they’re water-soluble, watercolor pencils are pretty soft, especially when compared to harder wax-based traditional pencils. They are designed to blend easily and add vibrancy to your drawings once you add water, which is why they tend to have softer leads than most drawing or writing pencils.

However, they can still be sufficiently sharpened to a fine point to add final details to your sketches, but just take care not to break them. Because they are so soft, you’ll have to experiment with varying degrees of pressure to evaluate how the color applies.

Many artists choose to use watercolor pencils for the background of a piece of work, and a harder wax-based pencil on top for the final touches. Experimenting with mixed-media applications is one of the most enticing things about using watercolor pencils, especially the way it melts and dissolves on the page once it’s wet. 

Lightfastness

Determining the lightfastness of any medium can be a tricky business. For one, plenty of manufacturers don’t make the information readily available on the packaging. Also, there are no universal standards for measuring lightfastness and permanence – and some brands have their own rating systems, which adds to the confusion.Overall, watercolor pencils range from “not very lightfast at all” to “exceptionally permanent.” 

Lightfastness ratings can vary between brands, but also between individual pigments. For example, certain shades of Derwent Watercolor pencils can last only a few months (especially shades of violet and pink), and others will last more than 100 years.

You only really need to worry about this if you plan on selling your art, or you want to leave it hanging in a sunny window. If you’re still worried about lightfastness, it’s best to make your own test color chart and see how your favorite pencils hold up over time. 

Quality and Grades

Student-grade watercolor pencils may contain more filler and less pigment than their professional counterparts. This can produce inconsistent results, and it can make things frustrating once you add water to your drawings. However, they’re perfect for practicing and experimenting with the medium – especially if you want to make the jump from drawing to painting with watercolors for the first time.

Professional-grade watercolor pencils are highly pigmented, vibrant, and produce consistent color values. They’ll contain high-quality ingredients, and the ratio of pigment to filler is higher than basic budget pencils. The good news is that you can mix and match – pick up a smaller set of pricier pencils and mix them with a larger set of student-grade to fill out the shade range that you’re looking for until you’re ready to invest in higher-quality supplies.