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For artists, the selection of a set of watercolor pencils can impact the quality of their work. When looking for watercolor pencils for the first time, the artist should always purchase a professional grade pencil due to their better quality pigment, insists professional artist Justin Margitich. "If you can't afford a whole set, then purchase a handful of colors that work for you," he says.
Through research and interviews with experts, we found that quality, brand reputation, and the pigment characteristics of a set are pivotal to finding the perfect pencils for you. We chose Caran d'Ache Neocolor II Artist's Crayons as our top pick due to their vibrancy, blend-ability, and versatility with various mediums.
Here are the top seven watercolor pencils you can buy today:
Best Overall : Caran d'Ache Neocolor II Artists' Crayons
Highly concentrated pigment
Uses FSC certified cedar wood
Mixes well with other media and techniques
Sometimes too soft, almost crumbly when pressed to paper
Designed and made in Switzerland, Caran d’Ache water-soluble colored pencils are considered among the highest quality on the market, earning them our top spot. The Supracolor Soft Aquarelle set of 18 highlighted here brings an ideal assortment to any artist, budding or experienced, with just enough variation to work with while not breaking the bank. Great for using on either wet or dry techniques, these colored pencils are pre-sharpened to show the color of each, and come in a hinged metal box for safe-keeping.
Unlike some brands, every Caran d’Ache watercolor pencil lead is the same color as the body, allowing the artist to easily find the one they need. Soft with a rich pigmentation to work with, these pencils are said to glide like butter across the paper. Both breakage and highly fade-resistant, Supracolor pencils provide a 3.7 mm core inside a popular hexagonal shape.
The crayons are extremely soft which aids in blending, but can often lead to them breaking easily—be sure to use minimal to medium pressure on the paper and not turn into water-soluble crayons.
Best for Beginners : Staedtler 24 Color Triangular Watercolor Pencils
Easy to blend, pigment dissolves easily
Durable, even for artists who press hard, sharpen often, etc.
Some found difficult to sharpen due to triangular shape
Create everything from simple sketches to watercolor washes to fully developed masterpieces and more with a watercolor pencil set that works like a set of premium paints. Just add a little water to these pencils from Staedtler and watch your artwork come to life with easily blended, vibrant color. This set of 24 offers a range of stunning color to satisfy the palettes of artists both new and seasoned.
Water-soluble with a 2.9 mm color core and a 5mm point size, this set of 24 assorted colors is highly pigmented and well-equipped to create nearly any style of work intended. Easy for beginners or new art students to grasp with their triangular barrel, they’re also sturdy and resistant to breaking.
Best Professional : Faber-Castell 120 Albrecht Dürer Artists' Watercolour Pencils
Can be used like regular colored pencils if water isn’t added
Specially bonded for enhanced breakage-resistance
Occasional difficulty with wooden case coming apart
Every professional watercolor pencil artist should have a set of these. Used either wet or dry for a wide range of techniques, these professional grade watercolor pencils have a 3.8 mm water-soluble lead that is both resistant to breaking and highly pigmented for stunning color.
These are also fade-resistant, ensuring your colors remain vibrant over time. Made in Germany, it is beautifully encased in a sturdy wenge wood case with a handle. This set of 120 pencils would also make a lovely gift or travel set. Note: If you’re unable to afford this set, you can find each color individually available for purchase on the Faber-Castell website.
Best Budget : Faber-Castell Goldfaber Aqua Watercolor Pencils
Only needs a quick dip in water to work well
Works great for crafts besides coloring and sketching
No true red or purple, according to users
Water-soluble with a highly pigmented goldfaber 3.3mm lead, these watercolor pencils are superb for those who wish to try out the craft without overspending. While remaining fade-resistant, break-resistant, and bursting with brilliant color, this set brings plenty of bang for the buck, especially when presented in its handy tin.
Made in Germany, Faber-Castell is known as a premium quality brand, offering a range of pencils in different size tins. Twelve colors give just enough variation to work with while keeping the price reasonable, allowing for blending new color pencils too.
Best for Sketchbooks : Derwent Water Color Pencils
Less messy than regular watercolor paint
Great for color layering
Some reported leads breaking inside shaft of pencil (very occasional)
If you’d prefer to stay in your sketchbook on dry paper, you can use this set of Derwent Watercolor Pencils dry as if they’re regular colored pencils. For blending a bit more, wet the tip of your watercolor pencil or spread a light layer of water on your paper first for varied effects.
Their hexagonal barrel allows for a steady grip, and their soft leads gives a smooth and highly pigmented color transfer to your page. These are sturdy, break-resistant pencils with a 3.4mm core and can be easily combined with other Derwent products for optimal results. With 36 colors to choose from, you’ll surely end up with a vibrant and vivid piece to admire.
Best For Kids : Faber-Castell Watercolor Pencils
Good on many surfaces
Comes with a free paintbrush
Some felt they were too hard and didn’t blend well
If your kiddo wants to try watercolor pencils, give them a set of these Faber-Castells made for ages 5 and up. A premium quality set designed specifically for children, these are highly pigmented, easy to blend, and they come with a free paintbrush for the win. Remarkably affordable, this set also makes a great gift for any budding artist.
Good on paper as well as numerous other surfaces, these pencils have a variety of uses. From drawing makeup on doll faces to designs on tote bags, they’re superb for beginning artists of many types who fix mistakes in watercolor.
Best for Coloring Books : Derwent Inktense Ink Blocks
Dries quickly to a stunning, permanent color
Has a 4mm soft lead; very highly pigmented
Can be layered nicely with different colors using water
Some pencils may have cracked paint along barrels
Choose from 24 colors as you fill in the pages of your coloring book with these Derwent Inktense watercolor pencils. While you can certainly use them dry for coloring, wetting the tips of their highly pigmented leads can bring about some surprisingly intense hues. Since it dries quickly, preventing unintentional bleeding together, the color provided by this set is ultimately permanent, and ideal for coloring books.
These pencils are designed to work with other Derwent products as desired. While particularly useful in coloring books, this set can also be used on various fabrics and other surfaces. If you’re unsure, consider trying them out with a coloring book made by Derwent, like Unwind in the Wilds, which is made with thick pages and welcoming of watercolor pencils.
If you’d like a high quality set with great, soft pigmentation and an adequate 18 colors to work with, the Caran d’Ache’s Supracolor Soft Aquarelle set (view at Blick) comes in a lovely hinged metal box, offering both fade and breakage-resistant features for your work.
For a more budget-friendly find, the set of 10 Faber-Castell Creative Studio Goldfaber Aqua Watercolor Pencils (view at Amazon) is brilliantly colored, great for trying out the craft, and priced just right for anyone starting out.
What to Look for in Watercolor Pencils
Seeking out a quality pencil is paramount in getting the results you want with watercolor pencils. Margitich advises that there is better quality pigment in professional grade, and that getting just a few colors to work with is still worthwhile. “I always include black and white," he adds.
Working with a reputable brand makes all the difference when it comes to great watercolor pencils. California-based artist Howard advises, “Choose a reputable brand such as Derwent, Faber Castell, or Caran d’Ache. As with most art supplies, you get what you pay for; if they’re dirt cheap, you’re probably going to be very unhappy with the results you get.”
Since watercolor paints (and pencils) are essentially made up of pigments connected by a water-soluble binder and solvent, pigment quality is quite important. Powdered pigments give the paint and pencil its color, so the proportion of pigments in the mixture should be as high as possible (up to 50 percent of ingredients included).
“Ideally you want the pigment to dissolve instantly and completely, and the color to stay the same as it dries," says Howard, perfect when learning to use a waterbrush.
Can you use watercolor pencils instead of watercolor paints?
"Yes, and you will have advantages and disadvantages," says Margitich. He explains that while you can get precision and differing textures with watercolor pencils, it's much harder to get any pooling effects like you can with heavily saturated watercolors on a paintbrush.
What is the best paper for watercolor pencils?
Margitich and Howard say to always go with a high quality paper. "You want to always use hot-pressed watercolor paper rather than cold-pressed, because you’re going to be using much less water, and you don’t want the toothiness of cold-pressed paper to interfere with trying to get a smooth result," says Howard. She notes that many professional artists prefer Fabriano Artistico hot-pressed paper.
What is the best medium for blending watercolor pencils?
Water of course! "There are many things to use for blending watercolor pencils; a paint brush, a rounded ceramic sponge, or a finger dipped in water all work great," says Margitich.
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KJ Callihan created this roundup for The Spruce, and has written similar guides for sites like AAA Northeast magazine, Knoji, CNET, Oh My Veggies and more. When she isn’t compiling shopping, dining, and activity guides, she enjoys writing about animals, health, and parenting, as well as doing product reviews.
Justin Margitich is a Post War and Contemporary Artist who works in mixed media including watercolor, acrylic, and colored pencil. His portfolio, CV, and contact info can be found on his site, justinmargitich.com.
Denise Howard is a California-based artist who specializes in fine art with colored pencils and graphite. Her gallery, biography, contact info and more can be viewed on her site, www.DeniseJHowardArt.com.