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Best watercolor pencils

Which watercolor pencils are best?

Thanks to their versatility, watercolor pencils are great for painters and drawers alike. They give you the precise control of drawing paired with the dreamy translucent hues of watercolor paints. 

You can buy student and artist-grade versions, so there are options for advanced and inexperienced users. If you want high-quality pencils with rich pigments, Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolor Pencils are great. 

What to know before you buy watercolor pencils


Watercolor pencils come in student grade and artist grade. The main differences between the two varieties are the pigment quality and price. 

  • Student-grade: Student-grade pencils are affordable, but they only have a modest pigment-to-binder ratio, so they aren't exceptionally vibrant. This can become more apparent when you add water into the mix, leaving you with wishy-washy results. Plus, the pigment fades more quickly compared to artist-grade offerings. 
  • Artist-grade: Artist-grade pencils are designed for professionals and people who are serious about art as a hobby. They cost significantly more than student-grade pencils, but they contain a greater pigment-to-binder ratio, so their colors are more vibrant, even when diluted. They're more lightfast than student-grade colored pencils, so your artwork lasts longer. 


Just like standard colored pencils and watercolor paints, watercolor pencils fade when exposed to light. The lightfastness of a pencil refers to how long the pigment lasts on the page when exposed to light. 

There are many lightfastness rating scales, but the Blue Wool scale is one of the most commonly used. It ranges from one to eight, with one being the lowest degree of lightfastness and eight being the highest. A one on the scale will fade after less than two years of normal display conditions, while an eight on the scale can last more than 100 years of normal display conditions. 

What to look for in quality watercolor pencils

Color range

Check how many pencils come in a set and whether these are all unique shades or if some are doubled up. Small sets can contain less than 10 colors, while large sets can contain more than 100. 

Pencil shape

Some users prefer triangular pencils to a standard round or hexagonal shape, finding them more comfortable to hold for long periods. 

Break-resistant leads

You can find pencils with leads designed to be resistant to breakage. 

Dry application

You can use all watercolor pencils dry, just like you'd use a standard colored pencil. However, some have more vibrant or lightfast pigments better suited to dry use than others. 

Storage tin

Some pencils come in a metal tin. This gives you a durable spot to keep your pencils and helps you stay organized. 

How much you can expect to spend on watercolor pencils

Expect to pay anywhere from $5-$100, depending on the size of the pack and the overall quality. 

Watercolor pencils FAQ

How do you use watercolor pencils? 

A. You can use watercolor pencils in a range of ways. The most common method is to draw with a dry pencil on dry watercolor paper and then "activate" the pigment by applying water with a paintbrush. Adding water dilutes the pigment, so it spreads and acts in much the same way as watercolor paints. You can mix colors by layering them over top of one another. Once you get them wet, they'll mix together. 

However, some people like the effect they get from wetting the page before they start drawing. Plus, you can use them dry just like regular colored pencils, too. If you're new to this medium, experimenting is the best way to find out what you like. 

Can you use watercolor pencils on regular paper? 

A. You should use watercolor paper rather than regular paper. Watercolor paper is significantly thicker and won't tear or buckle when wet. 

But, not all watercolor paper is of the same quality or has the same properties. Thicker paper is less likely to buckle than thinner paper, even if you overdo it on the water, but it costs more. 

You'll also need to choose between cold pressed and hot pressed watercolor paper. Cold pressed paper has a lightly textured surface that adds to the appeal of the finished piece. It absorbs quickly and dries quickly, but the resulting colors are less rich. Hot-pressed paper has a smooth surface that's great for precise work as it's easier to create fine detail while using. However, some people find it more challenging to work on as it's harder to get the paint to stay in place.

What are the best watercolor pencils to buy?

Top watercolor pencils

Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolor Pencils

What you need to know: These artist-grade pencils provide vivid results with a good degree of lightfastness. 

What you'll love: You get 60 pencils in a pack, each of a different hue. The included tin is great for storage. The high-quality pigments blend easily and become permanent when dry. 

What you should consider: They're on the pricey side, so they are not the best choice for beginners. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top watercolor pencils for the money

Arteza Watercolor Pencils

What you need to know: Containing 72 pencils, this set offers exceptional value. 

What you'll love: The triangular shape of each pencil is ergonomic, so drawing is more comfortable and your hands are less likely to cramp, even during long sessions. The pigments are relatively bold and blend easily. 

What you should consider: They're great for beginners or for occasional use, but serious artists may want higher-quality pencils. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Prismacolor Premier Watercolor Pencils

What you need to know: With 36 colors in a set, it's a great choice for someone who doesn't need a huge array of shades. 

What you'll love: The pigments are easy to lay down smoothly and very soluble for a reliable watercolor effect. Moreover, the pigment is of an artist-grade quality, so it's vivid and won't leave you underwhelmed.  

What you should consider: Since the body of the pencils is natural wood colored, it's tricky to tell you easily which hue you're picking up. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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