Watercolor pencils have become increasingly popular as more and more people realize their versatility. Whether used wet or dry, they can create stunning effects that add a special touch to any project. The best watercolor pencils allow artists of all levels to draw and paint using the same tool and achieve beautiful results.
So what is a watercolor pencil and how is it different than a regular colored pencil? Watercolor pencils, sometimes called aquarelle pencils, have a water-soluble core and are wrapped in wood or lacquer. This means that the pigment dissolves in water, which creates the look of watercolor paint. Regular colored pencils, by contrast, have wax or oil bases mixed with pigment in their core, making them non-reactive to water.
In short, watercolor pencils are the best of both worlds. They allow artists to draw and color like a normal colored pencil. But, they come with the increased flexibility to create lush watercolor paintings. As an added bonus, they’re very portable and relatively mess-free, unlike some watercolor sets.
Still unsure if watercolor pencils are for you? Take a look at how to use them and then we’ll dive into the best watercolor pencils for artists of all levels.
How to Use Watercolor Pencils
Getting started with watercolor pencils isn’t difficult. They are very flexible, so they can be used dry, with a brush, on wet paper, or dipped in water.
To go basic, you can first lay down a sketch with your watercolor pencil on dry paper. Then, take a clean brush dipped in water and work over the colors. You’ll see the pigments dissolve immediately, and the best pencils won’t leave behind any marks. From there you can layer and blend just as you would with any watercolor paint.
Want more help in perfecting your watercolor pencil technique? Check out the tutorial below or enroll in Skillshare’s introduction to watercolor pencils.
Best Watercolor Pencil Sets
Lyra Graduate Aquarell Pencils (Set of 24)
Aimed at beginners and students, Lyra Graduate Aquarells make a great starting point for anyone looking to experiment with watercolor pencils. Each set comes with a synthetic brush to help blend your colors and achieve a watercolor look. These pencils are also known for how smoothly they lay on paper.
Staedtler Triangular Watercolor Pencils (Set of 24)
Thanks to their triangular barrels, Staedtler’s watercolor pencils are easy to grip. These pencils are known for their intense colors and are great for both beginners and professionals. They also blend well and have durable tips that won’t break when sharpening.
Bruynzeel Design Aquarel Pencils (Set of 12)
Created by the respected Dutch art supply brand Royal Talens, Bruynzeel watercolor pencils are created with professional artists in mind. Their pigment core, which is wrapped in light cedar, completely dissolves in water and their pencils are available in 48 colors sold individually or in sets. To make things even more interesting, these pigments match with Bruynzeel color pencils, thus allowing for more experimentation.
Koh-I-Noor Mondeluz Aquarelles (Set of 24)
These super-slim watercolor pencils by Koh-I-Noor have pure white clay mixed throughout their cores. This allows for a smooth consistency when drawing and vivid colors even when wet. Though the pencils can be a bit crumbly when drawing, any pencil marks are completely dissolved once the pigments are activated with water.
Rembrandt Aquarell Pencil (Set of 24)
Rembrandt Aquarell Artists’ Colored Pencils are Lyra’s professional watercolor pencils. Available in a range of 72 shades, these pencils are known for their high-quality pigments. Just a little water is all it takes to transform the pencils into lush watercolors, which retain their vibrant color.
Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils (Set of 36)
Prismacolor is a favorite when it comes to colored pencils thanks to their high quality and affordable prices. Their watercolor pencils are no exception, as they work well for both beginners and serious artists. In fact, Prismacolor’s watercolor pencils come in colors that complement their colored pencils. Users rave about their depth of the colors and fluid flow.
Cretacolor Aqua Monolith Woodless Watercolor Pencils (Set of 24)
Cretacolor’s woodless watercolor pencils are made of pigments and binder wrapped in a thin lacquer. These pencils work well both on small projects and large drawings. They take on water easily and blend well, making them the perfect choice for professional artists on the go.
Caran d’Ache Supracolor Soft Aquarelle Pencil (Set of 18)
Though they are more expensive than some other brands, Caran d’Ache is known for quality, and their Supracolor Soft Aquarelle Pencils are no exception. These soft, water-soluble pencils have a high breaking strength so you don’t have to worry about wasting pigments while sharpening. You can either wet the pigments with a brush once laid on paper or wet the paper and see how the pigments dissolve as you glide the pencil on its surface. Want to mix in detail with a regular colored pencil? These are matched to Caran d’Ache Pablo colored pencils and, in fact, there’s a luxurious gift set with both items.
Derwent Watercolor Pencils (Set of 72)
These professional-grade watercolor pencils by Derwent are known for their ability to be layered as well as the subtle tones that can be created with water. This means that artists can choose between intense hues and pale shades quickly and effectively. Looking for something a little different? Derwent also makes another line of watercolor pencils called Inktense, which are firmer and give the final look of pen and ink.
Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer Watercolor Pencils (Set of 120)
If you want to indulge yourself, look no further than Faber-Castell’s Albrecht Dürer Watercolor Pencils. With an effortless laydown and buttery blending, these pencils are a must-have for any artist. The watercolor pencils are also known for their lightfastness, so they won’t fade over time. This makes them one of the most popular brands of watercolor pencils among creatives.