Watercolor Pencils 101: Techniques, Advantages, and Best Choices

Explore the unique qualities of watercolor pencils, from their vibrant effects to the differences between them and colored pencils. Master the art of using watercolor pencils today.

Knowledge about Watercolor Pencils

What are Watercolor Pencils?

Watercolor pencils combine the best of both worlds: the precision of colored pencils and the fluidity of watercolors. When activated with water, these versatile tools have water-soluble pigments that create a unique watercolor effect.

Where were watercolor pencils invented?

  • Born in the 1920s
  • Invented in Germany by the well-known pencil and art supply manufacturer Faber-Castell
  • They were initially developed for artists to sketch their designs with a pencil's precision and watercolor paints' fluidity and transparency.
  • The versatile design of watercolor pencils has evolved, allowing artists to make detailed drawings, add water, and spread pigments to create a subtle yet distinguishable watercolor effect.
watercolor pencil features
The Watercolor Effect

The Watercolor Effect

  • Unique layering capabilities create depth in paintings.
  • Minimal layering and fluid coats allow for quick color blending.
  • It appears almost transparent when blended with water, giving a light and airy feel.
  • A versatile medium allows additional strokes and layers to achieve opacity and darkness.
  • Preferred by nature landscape artists for capturing lights, shades, and hues.
  • Luminous qualities make it ideal for bright and uplifting compositions and set watercolor apart from acrylics, oils, and regular colored pencils.

Watercolor Pencils vs. Colored Pencils


  • Both look similar to each other

Colors & Saturation

  • Colors & Saturation: Both come in various colors with beautiful saturation and pigments

Water Solubility

  • Watercolor Pencils: Water-soluble pigmentation
  • Colored Pencils: Not water-soluble


  • Watercolor Pencils: Create an effect almost identical to watercolor paint
  • Colored Pencils: No watercolor effect


  • Watercolor Pencils: More saturated pigmentation than colored pencils
  • Colored Pencils: Less saturated pigmentation than watercolor pencils

Binding Agent

  • Watercolor Pencils: Allows color to break down and spread with fluidity when water is added
  • Colored Pencils: No water-based binding agent
Watercolor Pencils vs. Colored Pencils

How to Use Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils blend the drawing experience with painting results, making them an excellent medium for exploring color usage. By adjusting water and pigmentation, artists can achieve a wide range of hues, from light shades to darker tones, making it perfect for creating realistic, photo-like paintings.
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Dry Techniques

Watercolor pencils can be used with dry techniques, similar to ordinary colored pencils, producing comparable results unless activated with water:

  • Dry paper applications: Watercolor pencils can be used for drawing shapes, shading, creating sharp and fine lines, and adding texture with strokes.
  • Activating with water: Draw on dry paper, then apply a small amount of water with a paintbrush to create a soft and smooth look, often used for blending colors.
  • Burnishing: A white pencil can be used as a blending tool for highlights or smoothing drawing surfaces.

Wet Techniques

Watercolor pencils are designed for activation with water to produce a watercolor effect. Here are some wet techniques:

  • Drawing on wet paper: Slightly wet the watercolor paper's surface and draw directly on it without a brush.
  • Layering: Add colored layers on dry watercolor paper and use a lightly dipped paintbrush to blend colors and create depth.

Advantages and Disadvantages of using watercolor Pencils


  • Portability: Easier to carry and transport than watercolor paint, needing only a tiny amount of water and a few brushes
  • Vibrant effect: Bright and saturated colors, with pigments elevated when water is added
  • Precision: Same control as ordinary pencils, ideal for beginners
  • Forgiving: Can be erased, unlike traditional paint; using minimal force and soft strokes makes it easier to erase


  • Paper requirement: Needs specific watercolor paper, as regular paper can pill or buckle
  • Learning curve: Practice is needed to master the medium and feel comfortable with both drawing and painting/blending
  • Potential mess: Requires water, container, and paper towel, which can be inconvenient and messy
watercolor Pencils application
the Composition of Watercolor Pencils

Understanding the Watercolor Pencil Process: Pigments and Binders

Watercolor pencil pigments are created by grinding natural ingredients (plant extracts and minerals) and synthetic materials (chemical compounds) into a fine powder consistency.

Different combinations of natural and artificial materials are needed to produce each color on the ROYGBIV spectrum.

Key steps in watercolor pencil production:

  • Pigments are produced using natural and synthetic materials.
  • A water-soluble binder is mixed with the watercolor pencil pigment.
  • The binder allows the pigments to adhere and blend, creating the same effect as watercolor paints.
The water-soluble binder found in watercolor paints and pencils enables the pigments to dissolve and spread across the paper when water is added, creating a similar effect to watercolor paint.

How to Choose the Best Watercolor Pencils?

Before looking at some of the most popular watercolor pencil packs on the market, let's cover some basic information about pricing, collections, and availability.

The average price for watercolor pencils

The price for a pack of watercolor pencils will depend on the purchase location, quality, and quantity.
  • $5-25: A Classic Set of 12 watercolor pencils (ideal for beginners)
  • $30-60: A Large set of 36 watercolor pencils (suitable for beginners and experienced users)
  • $70-120: A premium grade of high-quality watercolor pencils (made for artists and highly skilled users)

Where to buy

Depending on desired convenience and budget, local or online art supply stores are the best place to buy watercolor pencils.

Besides, if you plan to customize watercolor pencils for a brand bulk order, Interwell will be your best choice. As a China pencil supplier for over 20 years, Interwell holds excellent quality control and competitive pricing for worldwide stationery brands. You can also find different types of pencils directly on manufacturers' websites.
Watercolor Pencil Comparison

Top Watercolor Pencil Brands on the Market

Watercolour Pencils 12 Tin

Source: derwentart.com

Derwent and Crayola

  • 12 Pack watercolor pencils
  • Price: around $20
  • Budget-friendly 
  • Great for beginners
  • High pigment concentration
Premier® Water-Soluble Colored Pencil Sets

Source: prismacolor.com

Prismacolor Premier

  • Water-soluble colored pencils 12 pack
  • Price: around $25
  • Mid-range price
  • Great for beginners and experienced users
  • Produces smooth, creamy textured strokes
crayola watercolor pencils 12

Source: crayola.com


  • Watercolor Pencils, Full Length, 12 Count
  • Price: around $5
  • Produces fine details
  • Lightfastness (visibility of strokes doesn't diminish with time and exposure to light)


1. Can watercolor pencil artwork be preserved?

Yes, watercolor pencil artwork can be displayed and preserved if done correctly. Most premium-grade watercolor pencils have lightfastness, making them resistant to discoloration when exposed to light.

For instance, Interwell's 72 watercolor pencil set is known for excellent lightfastness, allowing framed drawings to maintain color saturation over time.

2. Can you mix watercolor pencils with other mediums?

Yes, but ensure the mediums used are compatible and unaffected by water. The best approach is to use watercolor pencils, let them dry, and then add the desired medium.

3. Do watercolor pencils need to be sharpened differently from ordinary colored pencils?

No, they can be sharpened like standard colored pencils. However, use a gentle hand to avoid snapping the soft pigmented lead.
Su - Interwell Founder
Hi, I'm Su, the author of this post. I founded Interwell Stationery and have served over 1000+ clients since 2003. Feel free to contact us for custom stationery supplies, manufacturing support, and the latest trends in the industry.

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