When it comes to watercolors, you can choose between using paint or pencils.
But which one is better? Which is easier for beginners to learn? And do techniques and skills translate from one to the other?
Ideally you would just try out both and see which one you like the best.
But there are already so many things to buy as a beginner artist. So if you are just starting out, it’s understandable you don’t want to buy both watercolor paint and pencils.
I’ll help you choose between them.
Keep reading for a thorough comparison between watercolor paint vs watercolor pencils.
The biggest difference between both art mediums is that watercolor pencils can be used for both drawing and painting.
If you use the watercolor pencils on dry paper, they will function very similar to regular colored pencils. And if you apply some water directly to the pencil or the colors on the page, you can turn your drawing into a painting.
Note that you can do this at any time. I personally like to paint and draw outside. But carrying all the brushes and a mug of water with me is a huge hassle.
So instead I bring my watercolor pencils with me to make an initial drawing. And when I get at home I add some water and bring the paint to life.
You also need a lot less water when you are using watercolor pencils, since you already do most of the mixing on the paper with your pencils, which makes it less messy.
Moreover, you can be more precise when using watercolor pencils.
Especially if you are still a beginner, it can be quite difficult to accurately control where the watercolor paint will flow even with a very fine brush.
With the pencils it’s easier to color small areas or add details. That is, if you sharpen your pencils correctly. Of course, as soon as you apply some water the colors might start to move around a bit. But in general, I feel like working with the pencils is easier than the paint.
You can also see some differences in the final look of both mediums.
If you use watercolor paint, you will end up with a painting that looks more luminous compared to watercolor pencils.
Moreover, some of the original line work made with the pencils might remain visible even after applying water. Especially if you apply a lot of pressure or if the pencils are of bad-quality.
Also don’t forget the art supplies themselves that you need to both mediums. Watercolor pencils are in general quite a bit cheaper than watercolor paint. For example, the Faber-Castel watercolor pencils cost around $35 for 24 colors, while the Winsor & Newton watercolor paint of similar quality costs over $50 for 24 colors.
Note: someone pointed out that the watercolor paint tins probably will last longer than the pencils. Although this might be true, it doesn’t change the upfront investment needed to get started.
Additionally, you will need to buy a palette and paint brushes of various sizes for watercolor paint, whereas you normally can get away with only owning one or two brushes to compliment your watercolor pencils.
However, with enough practice and if you are using the right supplies, you can achieve very similar results with watercolor pencils and paint.
- Can be used for drawing and painting
- Easy to use / more precise control
- Easy to travel with
- Might leave some lines after adding water
- Less messy
- Only for painting
- More difficult to learn
- Easy to color large areas
- Requires more art supplies
- More clean up
There are plenty of similarities between watercolor paint and pencils.
For example, both of them require watercolor paper for the best results. Regular paper is often too thin to handle water very well and tends to warp. Watercolor paper is much thicker and can absorb more water without any blotching or warping.
Of course, if you only use your watercolor pencils dry, you can use the same paper you would use with colored pencils.
Another thing they both have in common is that you have to work from light to dark. Unlike oil or acrylic paint, you can’t cover dark colors with lighter colors because the new and old layer will blend together. So you have to plan ahead a little more than with other painting mediums.
Similarly, you want to work from big to small. So you normally will start with a wash and the bigger shape. Then you can add the small details later.
Moreover, you will have to wait until the paint is completely dry before you add a new layer. If the paper is still wet, the new paint you add can easily spill into other areas and ruin your painting. This is more likely to happen with watercolor paint, but it can happen with pencils as well.
Finally, if you have some experience with watercolor paint, you probably know that the colors become lighter as they dry. This is the same for watercolor pencils as well.
Watercolor Paint & Pencils
- Need to use watercolor paper
- Water control is important
- Need to wait for each layer to dry
- Work from big areas to small details
- Work from light to dark colors
- Colors become brighter as they dry
Why choose watercolor pencils?
The main benefit of watercolor pencils is that you get two art mediums in one.
You can use them dry like regular colored pencils, or you can add some water to turn them into watercolor paint.
This makes them very versatile, easy to use, and you can save some money as well.
Moreover, it’s easy to travel with pencils, and they are great for drawing or painting outside.
That being said, there is a clear difference between cheap pencils and good pencils.
Watercolor pencils can perform just as good as colored pencils and watercolor paint, but only if you go with a trusted brand.
Some good watercolor pencils include:
Why choose watercolor paint?
If you are mainly interested in watercolor painting and don’t care about coloring with pencils, then I would recommend just sticking to watercolor paint.
In my experience, even cheap watercolor paints look pretty good. Whereas I haven’t had much success with the cheap watercolor pencils.
Moreover, not all the skills and techniques used with watercolor pencils translate to watercolor paint. So if you are more into watercolor paint, you might as use them right from the start.
Some good watercolor paints include:
- Daniel Smith watercolor paint tubes
- Arteza watercolor paint set
- Winsor & Newton profession watercolor paint set
Using watercolor paint and pencils together
So far we’ve been focussing on the differences between watercolor paint and pencils and which one to choose.
But actually, watercolor paint and colored pencils can be used together very well too!
Normally this is done by using the watercolor paint to fill in the big spaces, and then colored pencils can be used to fill in some finer details, add contrasts, or draw textures on top of the paint.
This way you can add small details without wetting the paint again and running the risk of ruining the painting.
Of course, if you have watercolor pencils you can use them for both the painting part and the coloring part.
But you can use regular colored pencil as well. So if you have some of them around the house, make sure to give it a try.
Both watercolor paint and watercolor pencils are great mediums to pick up.
Watercolor pencils are a little easier to learn and are more versatile because they can be used as either colored pencils or watercolor paint.
However, if you are only interested in watercolor painting, it’s best to stick to watercolor paint since it’s normally easier to find good quality paint for an affordable price.
Although watercolor pencils and paint are a little different, there are also plenty of similarities. And some skills and techniques that you learn with one can transfer to the other.
So you don’t have to worry too much about choosing the wrong medium.
The most important thing is to get started making art!