Here is our review of the best watercolor pencils for artists.
The best watercolor pencils are blendable, durable, layers well, pigmented, and fade-resistant. They’re great when dry, wet, or working with other mediums.
As an artist, I know how frustrating it is to buy a poor-quality set of colored pencils that you don’t really want to work with. That’s why I spent some time researching the best watercolor pencils so that you don’t have to.
And I found that the Faber Castell Albrecht Dura Watercolor Pencils are the best overall choice for most artists. These watercolor pencils are versatile, durable, pigmented, and fade-resistant.
But, I’ve also included budget options, premium options, and other choices that might be better for you.
Let’s have a look!
Table of Contents
7 Best Watercolor Pencils For Artists
Here are 7 of the best watercolor pencils I found in my research.
1. Best Overall – Faber Castell Albrecht Dura Watercolor Pencils
The Faber Castell Albrecht Dura Watercolor Pencils are popular among artists and for good reason. The artist-grade pencils feature thick 3.8 mm leads that are break-resistant. While you still should not drop your watercolor pencils, this makes your pencils last much longer since they break less often. The color in this set also becomes permanent when dried. This is great for adding additional layers when the piece is dried. These pencils are also lightfast which makes them resistant to fading.
The core of these pencils feels a bit harder than usual which some people don’t like. But, the good thing about that is that these pencils can sharpen to a finer point. This is great for working on the smaller details in your piece. The pigments in this set are vibrant and dissolve well. If you like a bigger set, there’s a 120-piece set that comes in a wooden case which also makes it great for gifts.
|Fade-resistant||Core feels a bit harder|
|Good amount of pigments|
|Can sharpen to a fine point|
|Dissolves in water well|
2. Best Quality – Caran d’Ache Museum Watercolour Pencils
The Caran d’Ache Museum Watercolour Pencils is one of the best watercolor pencils that money can buy. This premium option is mainly for professional use or if budget is not a concern. The pencils are very pigmented and have excellent lightfastness. The colors also dissolve completely and do not leave pencil marks on the paper when you wet what is laid down. If you’re considering this set, I would recommend getting the 76-piece set as the smaller sets are a bit too limited.
The only real downside with this set is that it’s quite expensive. But, most people that have bought this set definitely think the quality is well worth the price. At the same time, I wouldn’t recommend this set to beginner or intermediate artists unless money is not a concern.
|Great for professionals||Very expensive|
3. Best Budget – Faber-Castell Creative Studio Goldfaber Watercolor Pencils
The Faber-Castell Creative Studio Goldfaber Watercolor Pencils is a more affordable, student grade watercolor pencil set. The colors blend easily, especially when wet. The set comes with 48 colors which is enough to cover most of the colors you would need. The quality of this set is not as good as the other ones on this list, but it is better than a lot of other budget options. That being said, you could also get a smaller (36-piece) artist grade set for a little bit more.
The downside with this set is that the quality is not as great as artist grade ones. But, it’s still a great set for beginners or if you just want to try out watercolor pencils.
|Affordable||Not artist grade|
|Good range of colors|
The Derwent Watercolor Pencils are also great if you don’t like the Faber Castell set. These artist grade pencils have a 3.4 mm core with a hexagonal barrel that feels good in your hands. In contrast with Faber Castell’s pencils, these have a softer core which is great for blending and layering. However, it’s a bit harder to sharpen them to a fine point to work on finer details. The pigments are vibrant and great for layering. They’re also easy to blend and to work with.
One downside that some people mentioned is that the colors aren’t as vibrant when dry. But, if you intend to mix them with wet mediums, this set would do a great job.
|Good amount of pigments||Colors aren’t as vibrant when dry|
|Bright, vibrant colors when wet|
|Good for blending|
|Good for layering|
The Derwent Inktense is great if you’re looking for a more vibrant, ink-like color feeling. They’re great for layering because the colors are permanent when dried. This allows you to have multiple layers of colors (assuming you start out with a lighter layer). The colors are intense and vibrant when used with water.
The only caution with this set is that the color is dull when it’s dry. You’ll get much better results with other sets if you intend to use this set like normal colored pencils. But, this set is great if you like intense, ink-like colors.
|Great for layering||Not for dry use|
|Intense and vibrant colors when wet|
The STAEDTLER Karat Aquarell Premium Watercolor Pencils is a high-quality set that comes with up to 60 different colors. The colors are easy to blend and feel creamy. The core feels soft yet not too soft. While Staedtler isn’t known for premium colored pencils, this set is definitely good enough for most artists. The pencils in this set have good amounts of pigment and work well when dry or wet.
The downside with this set is that the plastic storage tray is a bit flimsy so it can be a bit of a hassle. They also don’t have a set that is larger than 60 pieces so the colors are slightly more limited. That being said, I think 60 colors is still plenty for most artists.
|Creamy and easy to blend||Storage tray is a bit flimsy|
|Good amount of pigment||Don’t have a larger set|
|Works well when dry or wet|
The Prismacolor Premier Water-Soluble Color Pencils are great if you like Prismacolor and their color palette. This set comes with 36 colors which is enough to cover your basic needs. Like their non-water-soluble cousin, this set has soft and creamy cores. The colors blend and layer well with or without water. The pigments are also bright and vibrant.
The main downside with this set is that they don’t have a larger set with a wider range of colors. While 36 colors is enough, it can feel a bit limiting if you want to expand your color range. This set is also not artist grade, but it is a bit more affordable.
|Creamy and soft core||Don’t have a bigger set|
|Great if you like Prismacolor Premier||Not artist grade|
|Blends and layers well|
|Bright and vibrant colors|
What to Look For When Choosing Watercolor Pencils
Here are a few things to look out for when picking the best watercolor pencils.
Watercolor pencils come with two main grades: student grade and artist grade. Student grade pencils are often more affordable because they substitute more expensive ingredients like pigments with cheaper ingredients. Because of this, the quality is usually lower than artist grade pencils. I recommend sticking with artist grade watercolor pencils if you can afford it. You’ll notice the difference right away if you compare the two grades. Some color pencils are “professional grade” and are even pricier since they’re made with exceptional quality for professional use.
The brand is quite important when it comes to picking watercolor pencils. For quality, I recommend sticking with Faber Castell, Derwent, or Caran d’Ache. They’re known for their quality products and have been around for a long time. At the same time, Staedtler and Prismacolor also make good watercolor pencils.
Quality watercolor pencils should have pigments that dissolve completely when mixed with a wet brush. Solubility is important when it comes to blending and creating texture. You should be able to use the watercolor pencils with a wet brush along with watercolor.
A good set of watercolor pencils should be able to blend and create layers when wet or dry. Some sets are easier to blend than others. In general, sets that have a softer core tend to have a creamier texture that is easier to blend. Keep in mind that some sets don’t work well when dry and have a duller color.
In my experience, a set with 36 colors would cover most of your basic needs. Of course, if you can afford a larger set, that would be ideal since you will have a wider color range. If you’re really strapped for cash, you can consider the 24-piece set. But, you would probably need to upgrade to a larger set if you use watercolor pencils often.
Good watercolor pencils have more pigments than lower-quality watercolor pencils. The amount of pigment will determine how vibrant your colors are. Usually, cheaper sets substitute pigments with other cheaper ingredients to cut the cost of production. Artist grade sets generally have a good amount of pigments.
Lightfastness refers to the ability of the color to resist fading when exposed to light. This is quite important if you want your artwork to last a long time or if you plan to display them. Some sets like the Faber-Castell Albrecht Dura and Caran dAche Museum have great lightfastness. This factor is not really important if you’re just looking to practice or to color for fun.
Durability is important because your watercolor pencils will last longer if they don’t break all the time. The choices I recommend all have good durability. But, try not to drop your watercolor pencils since it can break the core. Your watercolor pencils should not break often when you sharpen them properly. If your pencils keep breaking when sharpening, it’s also possible that you received a defect or a damaged set. In that situation, try to get a refund or a replacement set.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few questions that I came across in my search for the best watercolor pencils.
What’s the difference between normal colored pencils and watercolor pencils?
They’re both similar at first glance, but watercolor pencils obviously are water-soluble while normal colored pencils are not. Watercolor pencils are usually more vibrant and blendable when wet. In some sets, like the Derwent Inktense, the colors are a bit duller when dry. At the same time, some watercolor pencils work great both wet and dry. Watercolor pencils can also cover large areas easily since you can dissolve and spread the pigments with a wet brush.
How do I sharpen watercolor pencils?
The same way you sharpen normal colored pencils. First, pick a good sharpener with sharp and clean blades. Then insert the watercolor pencil into the sharpener and make sure it is snug. Hold the pencil and sharpener vertically. Then rotate the pencil sharpener, not the pencil. If you rotate the pencil, it would vibrate more and can cause damage to the pencil. For more details check out our section on how to properly sharpen colored pencils. Also, if you find that your pencils keep breaking even when sharpening properly, the pencils might be damaged.
What kind of paper should I use for watercolor pencils?
Hot-pressed watercolor paper works best for watercolor pencils. This is because the surface is much smoother than cold-pressed paper or other textured surfaces. You want a smooth surface since watercolor pencils use much less water than normal watercolor. The smooth surface lets you layer colors more evenly and works well when dry or wet.
What brush do I need for watercolor pencils?
I recommend getting either a small round brush (size 3) or a medium round brush (size 6). Get the small one if you plan to work on smaller-sized paper or to work on details. Get a medium-sized one if you need to cover large areas. Be sure to check out our guide on the best watercolor brushes if you want to learn more.
Are watercolor pencils erasable?
While you can erase watercolor pencils, they usually leave a mark or stain on your paper. The best way around it is to layer your colors lightly and carefully before committing to the color you want. You can also keep a scratch paper to test the colors before putting it on the final piece. If you make a lot of errors, you can also consider getting a set of erasable colored pencils.
Choosing the best watercolor pencils can be a bit difficult. I hope that by now you know exactly what to look for and know which set is the right one for you.
High-quality watercolor pencils should be pigmented, blendable, layers well, and durable. If you take care of them, they can last a long time and be quite fun to work with.
From my research, I’ve found that the Faber Castell Albrecht Dura Watercolor Pencils are great for most artists.
I’ve also included other sets which have different strengths and weaknesses that might better suit your needs.