Colored Pencil Info
 

Water-Soluble (Watercolor) Pencils

In the painting to the left, the flags to the left have had water brushed over them, but to the right they are still only dry layered water-soluble pencil.
 
 
Watersoluble pencils are pure magic. They can create art just as regular colored pencils do, but if you take a paint brush wet with water and go over your pencil work, the colors blend and melt together in a way that will make you gasp.
 
Watersoluble pencils can produce paintings that look just like watercolor paintings, or they can look like works produced with traditional colored pencils that were done either 'dry' or with solvents to blend them. There is no one 'right' way to use them, and they can also be used in combination with traditional colored pencils.
 
Watersoluble pencils are a wonderful media for creating artwork. Art quality pencils are rich in pigment and color, and they are quick to clean up and very portable. If you have tried watercolor, and always end up with puddles of grey, watercolor pencils may be the perfect media for you!
 
Watersoluble pencils consist of pigment encased in wood. You can also find some brands that are simply the 'cores' without any wood on the outside. You can brush water on after you apply the pencil, or apply the pencil to wet paper. They are an exciting and very portable medium.
 
Watersoluable pencils (watercolor pencils and pencils like Inktense) are unique because they allow you to enhance the beauty of your colored pencil drawing, by adding water and further merging and blending the layers of colored pencil. Watercolor pencils can be used by wetting the pencil or the paper, or by applying water after the watercolor pencil has been applied to the paper. Pencil strokes tend to disappear after the application of water- and the more water you use the more of a watercolor effect you can get. Some artists like to see all of the original pencil strokes disappear, and some like to see some remaining. Likewise, some brands dissolve more completely in water than others.
 
Watersoluble pencils are also very useful in conjunction with conventional watercolors and conventional colored pencils. A background can be painted quickly with traditional watercolors, then you can fill in the details with water-soluble pencils. You can add nice details to a watercolor painting much easier sometimes using a pencil than a brush. If you have things like black outlines of letters on a sign, you can do that part in dry colored pencils, that have no chance of running once water is added to colors in the surrounding areas.
 
Watersoluble pencils can be layered very successfully, and some artists create very photo realistic paintings with them. They are also used quite successfully by artists who enjoy fantasy art. Watercolor pencil art can be brilliant and very beautiful, and is a wonderful choice for the flower or botanical artist. They are perfect for sketching, taking on vacation, and enhancing a journal.
 
The pigment in watersoluble pencils is water-soluable, so once water is sprayed or brushed on the pencil art, the pencil layers melt into each other, merging the pencil strokes into a smoother surface. Even pencils that are called watercolor pencils are not strictly speaking, watercolors. Dried watercolors do not go well straight on paper as water-soluble pencils do. Another important difference is that watercolors can always be lifted and reworked even after they have dried. If you saturate most water-soluble pencils, then once dried the pigment generally does not lift or react again with water added.
 
An important issue to consider in watersoluble pencils, or with any art material used for fine art, is the lightfastness rating of the material. If a painting has been framed and is exposed to light, it may fade over time unless lightfast pencils have been used. The pencils with high lastfast ratings tend to be more expensive than regular ones, but just because a watercolor pencil says it is an artist quality pencil, this does not mean that it is lightfast.
 
Watersoluble pencils may be purchased individually or in sets. Typically people buy the largest set they can afford to start with, once they have decided on a brand, then they replace the colors they use the most by buying individual colors. Sets can come in cardboard, tins, and wood. Most sets come pre-sharpened, but some do not- if you are serious about watercolor pencil art, you might want to invest in an electric pencil sharpener.
 
Watersoluble pencils will last virtually forever- there is no drying up as can happen with paints. Watercolor pencils that are 30 years old are still perfectly good. Take care not to drop your pencils though, as the lead can break inside the wood casing. When this happens, a large piece of lead can just fall out of the pencil. When this does happen with watercolor pencils, save the leads and use them- just add them to a wet spot on your page and they are still loaded with pigment, or put them in a small well and add water to make paint that you can brush on. When picking out individual pencils from a display, try to make sure the lead is centered in the casing, since if it is not, it will sharpen unevenly and the lead will break easily.
 
If you are new to watercolor pencils, buy a few open stock pencils in each brand you can find. There are differences in the lead thickness, how easily the lead breaks, how smoothly the watercolor pencil goes onto the paper, how well it melts when wet, and how soft the lead is. There are differences in pigment quality and lightfastness as well. Once you decide on the brand you like best, buy the largest set you can afford.
 
 
 
Major Brands of Water-Soluble Pencils
 
Faber-Castell
Albrecht Durer
Watersoluble
Caran d'Ache Supracolor Soft Aquarelle Watersoluble
 
 
Derwent Watercolour
 
 
  • Soft
  • Lightfast ratings
  • Water-soluble
  • 120 colors
  • Pre-sharpened
  • Germany
  • Colors match traditional Line
  • Open Stock
  • Sets
  • Expensive
 
 
  • Soft
  • Lightfast ratings
  • Water-soluble
  • 120 colors
  • Pre-sharpened
  • Switzerland
  • Colors match traditional Line
  • Open Stock
  • Sets
  • Expensive
  • Soft
  • Recently Reformulated
  • Water-soluble
  • 120 colors
  • Pre-sharpened
  • United Kingdom
  • Open Stock
  • Sets
  • Moderate $
 
Faber-Castell water-soluble pencils are an excellent  pencil. They completely dissolve with enough water.
 
Colors in this line match their traditional colored pencils, pastel pencils, and pastel sticks.
 
Caran d'Ache Supracolors were perhaps the first really nice, artist quality water-soluble pencil.
 
They are buttery soft and blend like a dream. They perfectly match their traditional colored pencil line.
 
 
Derwent watercolor pencils come in 72 colors.  They are medium in softness but are much softer than the old formula.
 
 
 
 
What's Nice
Selection, availability, and color matching system. Great quality.
 
What's Not
Fairly expensive.
 
 
 
 
What's Nice
The colors and quality are fabulous.
 
What's Not
Fairly expensive.
 
 
 
What's Nice
New formula water-soluble pencils have a deep indigo casing. They are much softer then the old ones, and more comparible to Caran d'Ache and Faber-Castells, yet more affordable.
 
 
 
Prismacolor Watercolor
 
Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell
 
 
Derwent Inktense
 
 
  • Medium hardness
  • Water-Soluble
  • 36 Colors
  • Pre-sharpened
  • USA
  • Open Stock
  • Sets
  • Matches Premier, Verithin pencils and Art-Stix
  • Moderate $
 
 
  • Lightfast ratings
  • Water-soluble
  • 72 colors
  • Pre-sharpened
  • Germany
  • Colors match traditional line
  • Sets
  • Moderate $
 
  • Lightfast ratings
  • Wax-Based
  • 72 Colors
  • Pre-sharpened
  • United Kingdom
  • Open Stock
  • Sets
  • Moderate $
Prismacolor watercolor pencils are likely the hardest watercolor pencils on the market. They have a tiny range compared with other comanies and compared with their traditional colored pencils.
 
Prisma's watercolor pencils are becoming very difficult to find in open stock.
 
Lyra Rembrandt pencils have a thinner than usual diameter, but thick cores that make it easy to lay down a lot of color fast. They do not leave crumbs on your paper, and do not break and snap. The newer ones are difficult to work with.
 
 
Derwent Inktense pencils are used in the same manner as watercolor pencils, but have very rich, intense color that is similar to ink.
 
 
 
What's Nice
Available in many stores. A nicer design than their traditional line as far as the outer appearance.
 
What's Not
It is like they are not even trying to compete in the water-soluble pencil market.
 
 
 
What's Nice
Beautiful cedar casings, with large color coatings on the end caps. Easy to read names.
 
Small pencil diameter, but a thick core.
 
What's Not
Pull out trays are a flimsy plastic and easy to dump the pencils out. Hard to get pigment on paper and hard streaks in the pencils that scratch the page.
 
What's Nice
Very affordable, and available in Open Stock. Vivid colors after wetting, with ink-like intensity.
 
What's Not
The colors shift a lot from dry to wet.
 
Cretacolor Marino
Watercolor
Derwent Graphitint Pencils
 
 
 
  • Lightfast
  • Soft
  • Water-soluble
  • 36 Colors
  • Pre-sharpened
  • Austria
  • Sets
  • Moderate $
 
 
  • Soft
  • Water-soluble graphite
  • 24 Colors
  • Pre-sharpened
  • United Kingdom
  • Open Stock
  • Sets
  • Moderate $
 
 
Cretacolor Marino lay down color well, blend well, and look nice dry or wet.
 
These are fairly new, and are affordable.
 
They do not break and snap very easily but do leave some debris on your paper.
 
Derwent Graphitint pencils are really fun to work with. They are not like watercolor pencils at all, but rather like smooth creamy graphite drawing pencils with a touch of color.
 
Once water is added, the colors become more vivid.
 
 
 
What's Nice
Affordable, and matches their traditional line of colored pencils.
 
What's Not
The range of colors is too small. The tins are too generic. They are silver with only the name Cretacolor on the outside once the outer cardboard is removed. You must open them to see what kind of pencils are inside.
 
 
 
 
 
What's Nice
The most fun you can have with a sketching pencil and water.
 
What's Not
Not enough colors!