Drawing, doodling, painting, art journaling, sewing and crochet are just some of my favorite things to do.
Versatility in a Pencil
I really like art products that can be used in different ways, and watercolor pencils are one of the most versatile painting mediums. Watercolor pencils can be used just like regular colored pencils and, with a little added H2O, will transform into glorious jewel-like color washes. I do a lot of mixed media so my pencils have to withstand a great deal of punishment.
The following reviews are based on watercolor pencil sets that I own—with one exception, the Sanford Prismacolor. I don't have these yet as they are difficult to get hold of in the UK and are relatively expensive compared to the equivalent U.S. price, so I have gathered up some information kindly provided by other reviewers.
I have also cheated a little and included a brand of water-soluble crayon, Caran d'Ache Neocolor ll. They are so versatile that I had to let them in here.
Reviews in This Article
- Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer
- Derwent Watercolour
- Derwent Inktense
- Koh-i-Noor Aquarelle Mondeluz
- Prismacolor Watercolor
- Neocolor II Watersoluble Crayons (I know, not technically a pencil)
1. Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer
These watercolor pencils were the first ones I ever bought. I have had my set for over 20 years and they are still going strong. They lay down really well with a nice, waxy feel. Dry, they cover the paper with an intense, glowing pigment. Add water to turn them into a lovely creamy wash, leaving very little underlying pencil marks.
Once the wash is thoroughly dry, you can go over it again, forming layers of color. They blend well together, wet or dry.
Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer pencils come in sets from 12 to 120. They are hexagonal with silver details—although I think the newer sets have gold lettering. They come in luxurious wood boxes or the familiar Faber-Castell green and gold tins.
2. Derwent Watercolour
I have just a handful of this brand. I thought I had more . . . maybe some of mine have gone astray and are hiding in my daughter's room! I do like them; there is a good range of colors available. Through the years I have bought them as open stock when I needed extra colors. They are harder than most other watercolor pencils and sharpen to good points. Like the Albert Dürers, they have a good, intense pigment.
As I was making the samples for this article, I realised how good they actually are and have already been scouring eBay for a new set!
Derwent Watercolour comes in sets of up to 72 colors. Mine are wearing all kinds of livery—some even have the old 'Derwent Rexel' brand printed on them, but in their current incarnation, they are coated in a deep turquoise.
Update: Nope, they've changed their jackets again and now are dark blue. Confused? Me too.
3. Derwent Inktense
Ah . . . Inktense. I have a love-hate relationship with these. I first bought them about six years ago while on vacation. I'd never seen them before and there weren't any sets available then so I bought about 10. They went to live in a basket with my Derwents and I loved them. More recently I decided to treat myself to a wood box of 72. Thrilled I was when they arrived, packed in three cardboard boxes of diminishing sizes. However, when I got them out to have a play, my first reaction was disappointment in the range of colors.
If you look closely at the samples above, you'll see that the colors of the washes are fantastic—no complaints there at all—but, as I said earlier, I expect my watercolor pencils to do double duty and be just as good to use dry. Alas, Inktense pencils aren't nearly as versatile as Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer or even the Koh-i-Noors below. The dry colors are very dark and very close in range.
This is just my opinion, though, and you must make your own mind up . . . because when activated with water there is simply nothing that comes close to them. They are beautiful, glorious and most definitely intense. The pencils are made of ink pigment, which once dry, stays put. You can't reactivate them. This means you can layer to your heart's content.
Be careful how you lay the dry pencil down—press too hard and you will leave pencil lines under the wash—again, look closely at my sample above.
My original Inktenses were hexagonal but the new ones are round. They come in sets, both boxed and tins, from 12 to 72. Inktense can be used on many surfaces, even fabric.
As well as pencils, Inktense are also produced in block form—chunky sticks of pure pigment. You can draw directly onto paper, either using a pointy end or by laying the blocks flat for larger areas. You can scrape off some pigment into a little container, add water and shake for a pure wash. I haven't got any yet so feel free to send me some!
4. Koh-i-Noor Aquarelle Mondeluz
Now, these are a real surprise.
I bought them on the recommendation of another reviewer and because they were so darn cheap. I still can't believe the price I paid, even though mine came all the way from China. They arrived in a rubbishy, cheap cardboard box but who cares! These Koh-i-Noor Aquarelle Mondeluz are soft and vibrant enough on paper without ever using them as watercolor pencils, but when you do add water . . . ooh. Bright, clear, transparent washes and all underlying pencil marks disappear instantly. They blend well, dry or wet, and yet another good thing about them is that once they are dry, I can write right on top with my Sakura Pigma Micron pens.
I have no idea whether they are light-fast or not. To be honest, at that price I couldn't care less. Plus, most of my work is done in art journals so it doesn't really matter. I can't recommend them enough.
5. Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils
Like I said in my introduction, I have never tried Prismacolors at all. I do know that they are highly recommended in the U.S. and are reasonably priced. They are limited to sets of 12, 24 and 36, but perhaps this will be extended in the future.
Other reviewers report that they are soft to apply, the pigment is strong and lays down well, with dense, bright, creamy washes when wet. They are layerable and blendable. Sounds good to me.
Bonus: Neocolor ll Watersoluble Crayons
I snuck these crayons (and they are crayons, not pastels) in because I use them all the time in mixed media. Neocolor lls are so much fun and can be applied in several ways. Used dry, they are Crayolas on steroids—it's just like drawing with a stick of butter only nicer. Add water, and oh my gosh, they release a wash that is so intense and creamy it blows those pencils out of the water—literally. Apply them directly to paper, dip them into water (never, ever do that with pencils) or apply them to waxed paper and use it as a palette. You can also touch a wet brush to the tip of the crayon to pick up small amounts of pigment just like a watercolor pan.
Caran d'Ache Classic Neocolor lls come in tins of 10 to 84. I have a set of 48 and I would sell one of my children for the large set!
Hope you enjoyed your trip through my watercolor pencil collection. Thanks for reading.
Watercolor Pencil Comparison Table
Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer
12 to 120
Soft, thick pigment. Deep, intense wash.
12 to 72
Good range of colors. Nice, painterly wash. Sharpens well and holds point.
Harder than some brands.
12 to 72
$68 (varies a lot)
The best washes ever.
Not so good used dry.
Koh-i-Noor Hardtmuth Mondeluz
48 and 72
$23 & $32
Soft, bright pigment, wet or dry. Great value.
Light-fastness not known.
Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils
12 to 36
Soft to apply. Intense washes.
Caran d'Ache Neocolor ll
10 to 84
Juicy crayon, creamy washes.
© 2012 Bev G
What brand of watercolor pencil do you prefer?
Rui Caeiro on November 08, 2016:
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on November 08, 2016:
Oh, I see. Look at that! Very clever. You have definitely got a lot of pigment into a very small space - I'm looking at the photo with the brush at the side. Love your figures, very expressive.
Rui Caeiro on November 08, 2016:
The disadvantage of the woodless pencils is that the "lead" has a larger diameter and it wouldn't be possible to make such a tiny palette...
Here is the changed pencil sharpener..
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on November 08, 2016:
How cute is that! How about the pencils that are woodless? There are a bunch of them around these days. Cretacolor Aqua Monolith, Koh-i-noor Progresso are two that I know. I've never tried them though. I'm not sure I could hurt my pencils on purpose :D
Rui Caeiro on November 08, 2016:
I Loved your Review, If I just could have found it sooner....
For outside little sketchs on A6/A5 format I use just the leads from Prismalo® Aquarelle watercolor pencils to make a very small palette which I used with waterbrushes.
To remove the lead from the pencil, I changed the blade from a pencil sharpener so that it cuts out the wood from the pencil to get the 3mm lead apart.
Here is my working tool. What do you think?
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on October 16, 2016:
Thanks Raj. Have fun with your Inktense!
Raj on October 15, 2016:
Just starting out on my watercolour pencil journey; nice informative article- many thanks! Picked up a 36 tin set of Inktense the other day; the point about similar tones when used dry is spot on- I'd challenge anybody to tell dark tones like deep reds or browns apart. Of course, use a bit of water and it's a different story…
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on July 29, 2016:
The manufacturers have always claimed you can use them dry, Annie. http://www.pencils.co.uk/en/gb/4407/inktense-penci...
Annie on July 24, 2016:
Don't know if anyone is tracking this anymore, but the reason Inktense pencils don't work dry, is they are NOT watercolor pencils. They are ink pencils. Ink. They behave differently than water color.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on December 18, 2014:
I love Faber Castell too, peachpurple.
peachy from Home Sweet Home on December 18, 2014:
regardless of paint of pencils, I still vote for faber castle
Stephan Berry on April 23, 2014:
@pugfather No idea about Graphite pencils but I have recently bought Derwent Tinted Charcoal Pencil Sets from jerrysartarama's online store and pleased with the variety of colors. It's really easy to use.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on March 02, 2014:
:-) Thank you!
PinaColada on March 01, 2014:
Yes, thanks Alexandra, I also found that chart useful.
What a great review of all these watercolour pencils!
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on January 01, 2014:
Thanks Alexandra, that's really useful.
Alexandra on December 31, 2013:
Here you have Koh-i-Noor Mondeluz lightfastness chart:
Helen Lush from Cardiff, Wales, UK on April 09, 2013:
Waving back enthusiastically :)
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on April 08, 2013:
Thanks, DaffodilSky. You're from Cardiff! How cool. Waving at you!
Helen Lush from Cardiff, Wales, UK on April 08, 2013:
Good comprehensive article. I too really like Derwent Watercolour pencils - I use them for fine detailing in my watercolour paintings and so like their hardness and being able to get a good sharp point. I usually use them dry but like the option to wet the area for a more intense colour. Voted up and useful!
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on February 19, 2013:
Thanks, BethDW :)
BethDW on February 18, 2013:
Great guide. Voted up and shared.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on January 07, 2013:
Hi, pugfather. No, I haven't tried the Derwent tinted graphite - they have been on my wishlist for a little while. I would like to know if anyone has tried and, hopefully, liked them too.
pugfather on January 07, 2013:
I have been using water colour pencils for a bit and have recently bought the Derwent Inktense set.
These, for me, are brilliant - in every way. Yes, they are a little harder than ordinary water colour pencils but the quality of the colours and how they behave is very special.
I have ordered a box of the Koh i Noor Aquarelles to try, they seem to have a very low price compared to many others. I have used the Koh i Noor graphite pencils a lot and have always been satisfied with them, so I expect the ones I've just ordered to perform as satisfactorily.
Has anyone tried the Derwent tinted graphite pencils? I'd like some feedback before buying them.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on August 23, 2012:
Thanks, Carol. You can do both - do something with your watercolor pencils and write a hub about it!
carol stanley from Arizona on August 23, 2012:
I love the information as I have been looking at my watercolor pencils...yet to use. I think I am writing too much on HubPages. Great hub and lots of good research saving us all time.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on August 13, 2012:
Glad to help, AliciaC. You must try the Koh-i-Noors - I am very impressed with them. Thanks so much for stopping by.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 12, 2012:
Thank you very much for this information, theraggededge - it's a great reference source for me. I enjoy using colored pencils to draw animals and plants. I've tried watercolor pencils, but I haven't found a brand that I like yet. I like the pencil marks to disappear when I add water, so I'm very interested in some of the brands that you've reviewed.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on August 11, 2012:
I love shopping on eBay for pencils (& pens), hope you get a really good bargain, Judi Bee. Thank you for your comment.x
Judi Brown from UK on August 11, 2012:
Just like you, I have (had) Derwent Watercolour pencils and just like yours, mine are now in my daughter's bedroom. I had a hunt for them last week after being inspired by your Art Journal hub and have a handful back, but there are quite a few still lurking up there I'm sure.
Will have to get on Ebay and find some new ones - good hub!