While pans and tubes probably come to mind first when you think of watercolor painting, there is no denying that watercolor pencils can work just as well.
These watercolor pencils combine two different mediums at the same time, depending on how you decide to use them.
So working with watercolor pencils can be fun and flexible as it will give the option to work with the either medium.
In this article, we will introduce you to the best watercolor pencils for beginners in 2018.
If you are in a hurry, here is the quick summary:
What Are Watercolor Pencils?
In case you have never used watercolor pencils before, you might be a little confused. How can a solid pencil function as a paint?
The basic idea behind these watercolor pencils is that you can first use them to sketch just like any regular colored pencils. You can then apply a small amount of water using a brush and dissolve the pigment of the pencil into the water to form watercolor paint.
If you read our article on watercolor paint, you know that watercolors normally come in pans or in tubes. You can think of a watercolor pencil as a pan that is in a long cylindrical shape and you only wet after first applying it to the canvas.
Watercolor Pencils Vs. Colored Pencils
Watercolor pencils are normally used in combination with water to make watercolor paintings. This is an obvious feature that distinguishes both regular pencils and watercolor pencils.
However, you can use watercolor pencils without using water as well!
But even in this case, the two types of pencils are different from each other. The reason for this is the binder that is used to make the pencils. Although both can be used to make nice drawings, they require very different techniques and will lead to very different results.
In general, watercolor pencils can be a little more difficult to blend without using any water and produce lighter colors.
To be honest, as a beginner you probably won’t notice much difference between the two. But some professional artists choose to combine both watercolor pencils and regular colored pencils to get the most out of both.
Why Use Watercolor Pencils?
The most obvious reason to use watercolor pencils is their versatility. At any moment can you choose to use them either for drawing or for painting. If you are drawing and change your mind halfway that’s no problem. Simply add a little water to turn your drawing into a watercolor painting.
Secondly, you have the option to sharpen your pencils as much as you want. This means you can fill in very small details that would be close to impossible with a small art brush.
Indeed, compared to watercolor paint these pencils are very easy to use. If you have problems with watercolor paint because it dries too fast or is completely absorbed by the paper before you are done, then watercolor pencils can be a solution. Simply blend the colors like regular pencils and only after that apply water.
And if you have finished your artwork, you can clean the pencils in no time and you only need a small space to store them.
Made color guides for my new watercolor pencils. I know what you’re thinking “Perfectionist much?” The answer is yes. 🙃 pic.twitter.com/VkdPnbEjXh
— Zot Somatic (@zot_somatic) 4 September 2017
Criteria to Look for in Good Watercolor Pencils
Of course, watercolor pencils and just regular watercolor paints are not entirely the same. When looking for the best watercolor pencils, you will need to keep some additional criteria in mind.
Most watercolor pencils have a soft core, which means that they are easy to apply to the paper and cover larger areas, but are not very suitable to fill out small details.
If necessary, you can always use a mix of both watercolor pencils and regular pencils. Keep in mind to first apply the regular pencil before applying the water though, since it can be difficult to color over paint.
If you are planning on buying some of the watercolor pencils, it may be best to buy them as a set containing a varying amount of different colors.
If you buy them individually you normally end up buying more in the end. Cheaper options normally only sell whole sets, so if you run out of one color you need to buy an entirely new set again.
Keep in mind that after applying water it is relatively easy to mix different colors compared to regular colored pencils. Therefore, it is not strictly necessary to buy the biggest set out there if you know how to mix colors.
Buying an entire set is normally cheaper than buying pencils individually though, so buying a set at the beginning is definitely recommended.
Lastly, many of the brands that offer the best watercolor pencils may name their colors the same but fabricate their pencils differently, so caution is advised when mixing pencils from different companies.
Watercolor pencils come as either student grade or artist grade. As the name implies, student grade pencils are meant for students, come at a lower price point but have mediocre results. However just for practice student grade will normally do.
However, the best watercolor pencils are artist grade; since they contain a higher amount of pigment they give more vibrant color, are easier to apply and last longer.
Last but not least, before buying you might want to quickly check the lightfast rating of the pencils you are about to purchase. Lightfastness indicate how well the color can retain its original color and withstand the effect of light.
Pencils with poor rating have the tendency to quickly change color even if you are using specialized paper for watercolor pencils. If you are working on an important project, make sure to use watercolor pencils with a lightfast rating of very good or excellent. The lightfast color chart can normally be found on company websites or by going through some of the watercolor pencil reviews.
How to Use Watercolor Pencils For Beginners
Working with new art supplies is always a little daunting. Fortunately, if you have tried working with colored pencils and watercolor paint before, you will have no difficulties learning the basics of watercolor pencils.
The biggest advantage of using watercolor pencils is the flexibility it provides. At any point in time, you can choose to turn your drawing into a painting.
Of course, both painting and drawing require different techniques. We have made a small list below of the 5 different ways you can use these pencils.
Watercolor Pencil Techniques and Tips
- No Water: this is maybe a little bit of a no-brainer. But just because they are watercolor pencils doesn’t mean you always have to apply water. Good watercolor pencils will give the same results as regular colored pencils
- Dry and Wet: the next step is to first apply the pencil to the paper and then apply some water using a wet brush or water brush pen. Depending on how much water you use, the original pigment can completely disappear and you can move the paint around on the canvas
- Wet Pencil Tip: for a little more control you can first dip the tip of the pencil in water for just a second and then apply to the paper. This can give the same effect as a spotter brush would using regular watercolor paint. Be careful not to dip for too long since you don’t want to dissolve the entire pencils!
- Wet Paper: instead of wetting the tip of your pencil first, you can also wet the paper first using a wet brush. The pencil will turn into paint as soon as you make contact with the wet paper. Doesn’t make the paper too wet thought, since that might result in the paint spreading uncontrollably and start to mix.
- Combine Different Pencils: don’t shy away from using regular colored pencils in your watercolor painting. Both media have their own strengths and weaknesses and combining them might give you interesting results.
The Right Paper For Watercolor Pencils
If you are planning to use your watercolor pencils dry without any water you can use most regular papers. Since watercolor pencils art of the same quality and can produce the same vibrant colors as regular pencils, some people choose to use them like this.
But most of us want to apply some water to turn the pigment into paint.
If you use water, it is crucial that you use paper that thick enough to handle it. You don’t want to end up with crumbled or wrinkled paper. If you don’t have any special paper for your pencils yet, check out our post on the best paper for watercolor pencils.
Best Watercolor Pencils
Most experienced artists have their favorite watercolor pencil brands that they buy from.
So the best option would be to try every brand once. Of course, this is impossible for most beginners.
However, there are a few standard watercolor pencils sets that beginners might find useful to start with.
We have saved you the time of going through all the watercolor pencil reviews, summarised three good options below.
Albrecht Durer Watercolor Pencil Set
For anyone looking to buy watercolor pencils, we would recommend the Albrecht Durer Watercolor Pencil Set by Faber-Castell.
Not only does Faber-Castell manufacture excellent colored pencils, they are also known as one of the brands that sell some of the best watercolor pencils out there.
Depending on your budget, you can choose a set with 24, 36, 60 or 120 different colors. Unlike some cheaper brands, these colors are fully soluble in water, blend easily and have a smooth laydown of color on the paper.
Of course, they are totally fine for regular dry use as well and can even handle some finer details.
Almost everyone that has bought these pencils fall in love with them, so if you can afford them they are definitely worth it.
Prismacolor Premier Watercolor Pencil Set
Prismacolor is one of the most well known brands when it comes to any kind of pencil. These Prismacolor Premier watercolor pencils definitely live up to their expectation.
When it comes to quality, these Prismacolor pencils are similar to the Faber-Castell ones. Although the have a slightly harder core, they still easily dissolve in water without leaving any residue.
The Premier watercolor pencils are soft to apply, have a strong pigment and lays down well. Since they are oil-based, they can also be used to create bright and creamy washes when in contact with water.
The main downside is that even the biggest set includes only 36 different colors. Although that is enough for beginners, it will feel quite limiting for more experienced people.
Derwent Colored Watercolor Inktense
As mentioned before, Derwent also sells good watercolor pencils. The best thing is that they sell them in many different sets; from a 6-pack all the way up to a 72-pack.
They don’t perform as good as some high-quality brands, but they are good enough for students and beginners that are looking for a smaller set or are want some cheap watercolor pencils
Considering it’s price point, the Derwent Inktense pencils are also great as a gift for an inspiring artist, since they strike a nice balance between price and performance.
Caran d’Ache Classic Neocollor II Water-Soluble Pastels
Although not strictly a pencil, the Caran d’Ache Classic Neocollor II Water-Soluble pastels have been quite popular lately so they deserve a quick mention.
As the name says, when applied dry they act like pastels and they have a buttery feel to them. But after applying some water they dissolve and become watercolor paint just like any other watercolor pencil.
Some describe the pastels to be creamy or buttery in application and many praise them for their performance. They are especially good in applying an even wash on your paper.
You can but sets with 84, 40, 30, 15 or 10 different colors, and they dissolve in water without a problem to give a luminous color.