Watercolor pencils are fantastic additions to your craft table, whether you’re an avid watercolorist longing to experiment with new techniques and textures or a beginner who’s never worked with traditional watercolors before.
No matter your painting style or skill level, watercolor pencils will make incorporating detail, extra vibrancy, and color blending even more exciting and fun.
Want to see for yourself? Check out our favorite watercolor pencils in our buyer’s guide to find your match!
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Best watercolor pencils: Quick picks
Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Artist Watercolor Pencils | Set of 24
- Premium set
- Includes watercolor brush
- Sturdy tin trays vs. plastic trays to hold materials
Arteza Watercolor Pencils | Set of 48
- Very budget-friendly set
- A compact, portable option
- Hexagonal pencils that don’t roll off surfaces easily
Winsor & Newton Studio Collection Artist Pencils | Set of 24
- Sophisticated tin packaging with company logo
- Excellent brand
- Very affordable and high-quality
Guide to watercolor pencils:
- Best watercolor pencils
- Best overall: Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Artist
- Best large set: Caran D’ache Prismalo Aquarelle
- Best student-grade: Lyra Graduate Aquarell
- Best for small projects: Staedtler Karat Aquarell Premium
- Best for intense colors: Derwent Inktense Ink Pencils
- Best budget-friendly: Arteza Watercolor Pencils
- Best money for value: Winsor & Newton Studio Collection
- Best for kids: Faber-Castell Do Art
- Best for coloring books: Prismacolor Premier Color Pencils
- Best for gifts: Koh-I-Noor Mondeluz Aquarelle
- How do watercolor pencils work?
- Watercolor pencils vs. Colored pencils
- How to choose the best watercolor pencils
Best watercolor pencils
You’ve come to the right place if you want to know more about the best watercolor pencils and sets. Here are our top picks for each category.
Best overall: Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Artist Watercolor Pencils | Set of 24
Faber-Castell is iconic in its own right and my favorite brand when looking for artsy excellence. And this watercolor pencils set is another of its greatest hits!
This watercolor set includes a beautiful array of lightfast pigments with sublime blending potential. Items come in tin sets that range from 12 to 120 colors, but the magic number for most people will be 24.
These watercolor pencils boast resistant, 3.8mm lead, can be used wet or dry and lay down color permanently. This set comes in beautiful tin packaging featuring convenient, sturdy trays for storage and includes a watercolor brush.
Although this isn’t a cheap watercolor pencil set, it’s definitely worth the buy, no matter your skill level — especially if you’re aiming to craft with some of the best materials out there for this creative hobby from the get-go.
Because this is a very popular set, you’ll have no problem finding this product in several art supply stores. That said, I advise you to peruse the options below to find the best prices and deals for you!
Best large set: Caran D’Ache Prismalo Aquarelle Coloured Water-soluble Pencils | Set of 80
If you’re already familiar with watercoloring, have your favorite watercolor block or watercolor sketchbook ready to go, and are looking to invest in a more comprehensive set, this product by Caran D’Ache is a great choice.
While not as popular or top-of-the-line as the brand’s Supracolor or Museum Aquarelle watercolor pencils, this Prismalo set offers the ideal combination of versatility, price, and quality for student-grade painters.
In fact, Prismalo pencils tend to lay down color just as well as or more intensely than those found in the Supracolor set — a solid pick if you’re looking for vibrant results. I also love that this pack includes metallic colors such as gold and silver; most brands tend to sell these separately!
These pencils feature sturdy 3mm lead and provide excellent lightfastness to enable various techniques. Besides this 80-watercolor pencil set, you can also purchase Prismalo packs of 12.
Best student-grade: Lyra Graduate Aquarell Colored Pencil Set | Set of 36
Ideal for beginners, this Lyra student-grade set is an excellent pick if you’re taking watercolor classes or winging it at first!
This set includes 36 beautiful watercolor pencils featuring a wide selection of pre-sharpened 3.3mm lead pencils and a watercoloring brush to ensure you have all you need to get started.
If you’re already familiar with Lyra, it’s only natural to compare this product to its premium Rembrandt edition. However, keep in mind that this is a student-grade set and will do more than the trick as long as you temper your expectations.
Similar to Derwent watercolor pencils, these are especially effective in achieving lighter colors vs. darker hues, as pigments tend to take longer to dissolve.
That said, this is a set worth considering if you’re looking for an extensive color range to work with on a beginner’s budget.
Best for small projects: Staedtler Karat Aquarell Premium Watercolor Pencils | Set of 24
Staedtler is one of the most famous names in the colored pencil world and sells this amazing 24-watercolor pencil set.
Also available in sets of 36 and 48, this 24-watercolor pencil set offers smoothness and effortless blending and is an excellent portable option for every artist — even those experienced with traditional watercolor paint sets.
Packed in a thin tin box with a range of lively colors, these high-pigmented 3mm lead pencils are edged and, therefore, easy to grip. Good news; these won’t be rolling off your craft table or park bench as you work!
Best for smaller projects or quick improvisational watercolor work, you’ll love this set’s diverse, bright colors. While not the cheapest nor the most feature-packed, this is a great choice if you’re looking for convenience to draw or paint wherever you please.
Best for intense colors: Derwent Inktense Ink Pencils | Set of 24
If you’re looking to give your watercolor paintings a punch of color, these Derwent Inktense pencils are precisely what you need.
Offering an array of vivid colors to play with, this 4mm lead set is perfect for packing on paint permanently and features quick-drying properties, allowing you to apply multiple layers with little to no waiting time.
Besides paper, I love that these watercolor pencils can be used on a wide range of fabrics, too, from cotton and mini canvases to silk — the results on quilting projects are remarkable!
These watercolor pencils can be used wet or dry, are fantastic for drawing bold details, and are available in sets ranging from 6 to 72 pencils. Price and packaging will vary depending on the size of your set.
Although the 24-piece set is my recommendation for hobbyists, this gorgeous 48-count wooden box edition is worth a look if you’re a serious watercolorist willing to spend a little more!
Best budget-friendly: Arteza Watercolor Pencils | Set of 48
Looking for a cheap watercolor pencil set? This compact 48-watercolor pencil set by Arteza is a great pick if you’re searching for a quality product on a budget.
For a little over $20, this artist-grade set includes highly pigmented, pre-sharpened pencils that bring out beautiful colors with just a few drops of water — perfect for Mandala-painting projects and stationery creative hobbies, like scrapbooking and art journaling.
Items are ultra-light and are very resistant to breaking — great news for clumsy artists or younger painters. In addition, I appreciate how despite their low cost, these pencils have been carved with edges to ensure you don’t have to worry about them rolling off the table!
Much like the Staedtler Karat Aquarell Premium set, this product is compact and packed with many colors, making it ideal if you’re all about carrying your artwork or painting in other spots other than your craft station.
Although materials aren’t as high in quality, this is an excellent easy-to-carry option to enjoy small-scale watercoloring projects on a budget.
Best money for value: Winsor & Newton Studio Collection Artist Pencils | Set of 24
This Winsor & Newton watercolor pencil set is not only stunning to look at but boasts top performance every artist will appreciate.
As one of my personal favorites, these beautifully packaged 3.8mm lead pencils guarantee bold, vibrant pigments and excellent lightfastness.
This 24-watercolor pencil pack will be more than enough if you’re a beginner and is one of the more accessible products currently available when looking at quality, brand, and price.
However, while brand loyalty and personal preference come into play when buying art supplies (especially if you’re an experienced artist), I strongly recommend giving this set a go, no matter where you stand in your watercoloring journey or your experience with other brands.
Best for kids: Faber-Castell Do Art Watercolor Pencils | Set of 10
The best thing about creative hobbies is that there’s always a pastime every age can enjoy — and watercoloring is no exception.
If you’re looking for a fun watercolor pencil set for children, this Faber-Castell pack is a fantastic pick for under $20.
Besides ten high-quality eco pencils, this pack includes a 24-paper pad, sharpener, brush, zippered pouch, and a 20-page booklet with step-by-step instructions on different watercoloring techniques for beginners.
Although for children, this renowned brand ensures just as much quality in this simple watercolor kit. It also makes for a fun, budget-friendly gift, not to mention a great product to motivate kids to focus on creative work rather than extra screen time!
Another set I recommend for youngsters is this timeless Crayola watercolor pencil set, available in sets of 12-240. However, this is a more straightforward alternative and, therefore, won’t come with all of the bells and whistles provided in this Faber Castell kit.
Best for coloring books: Prismacolor Premier Color Pencils | Set of 36
Prismacolor is one of the most popular brands for colored pencils and offers a really unique catalog for all kinds of projects.
The watercolor Premier set includes 36 pencils with high-quality pigments that ensure smooth color laydown and is appropriate for artists of all skill levels: sets of 12, 24, and 36 pencils are available.
Because colors are rich and require minimal layering for intensity, this set is perfect if you or your child enjoy coloring books, Mandala painting, and mosaic watercoloring projects.
This product also works exceptionally well when used as standard colored pencils, making it a fun set to experiment with different painting and drawing techniques or mixed-medium artwork like fashion illustration or children’s book illustration.
Whether you’re looking for watercolor pencils or colored pencils to complement your projects, Prismacolor has a fantastic selection of quality items that are definitely worth checking out!
Best for gifts: Koh-I-Noor Mondeluz Aquarelle Watercolor Pencil Set | Set of 36
Last up is the popular Koh-I-Noor Mondeluz Aquarelle Watercolor Pencil Set, the perfect gift for watercoloring enthusiasts and beginners alike.
This 36-pencil set lays down color really well, boasts superb lightfastness, and is pretty accessible compared to similar sets with this number of items.
For instance, this set is slightly cheaper than the previous Prismacolor 36-piece pack (on Amazon) and provides a broader range of applications, especially for thick, darker strokes of color.
One of the highlights of this set is that these pencils work exceptionally, whether dry or wet, making it a creative, versatile gift for an art-loving friend who enjoys sketching, watercoloring, or engaging in mixed-medium projects.
Because it’s sold on different online art supply stores, we advise checking out all of the price options below to make sure you get the most bang for your buck!
How do watercolor pencils work?
Using watercolor pencils may seem uber-simple at first. But while they aren’t the most challenging of art supplies, practice and knowing how to use them correctly do make a difference.
You’ll need to activate pigment with water to transform your pencil into paint — just as you would with a watercolor pan. You can do this in two ways:
The first is to draw directly onto your dry watercolor paper as if you were sketching with a regular colored pencil. Next, use a wet watercolor brush to activate the pigments, allowing them to expand.
Portable water brushes are excellent accessories for this method. You can add more intensity, layering, detail, and blending techniques, by adding more pigment or more or less water as you paint.
The other way you can use these tools is by dipping your watercolor pencil tips directly into water (as you would with a watercolor brush) to activate pigments and paint onto your dry surface.
If you’re working with larger areas, this might not be the best method, but it’s ideal if you’re trying to achieve details, intensity, and/or precision since pencil tips are sharper/harder vs. brushes.
Watercolor pencils vs. colored pencils
The main difference between watercolor pencils and colored pencils is the properties that bind these items.
Watercolor pencils use water-soluble binders, which allow pigments to activate and expand when in contact with water. On the other hand, colored pencils have wax and oil-based binders, which resist water.
Know that watercolor pencils can usually be used both wet and dry. And while you might not always get as vibrant results when using these dry on paper, many brands do excel in developing quality pigments for both purposes.
On the other hand, colored pencils will not work for watercoloring, so make sure you always stick to these solely for sketching, illustrating, and coloring on paper.
How to choose the best watercolor pencils
Before you purchase your next watercolor pencil set, we advise going over the following:
- Lightfastness — this will define how likely pigment will resist fading when exposed to light. The better the lightfastness, the longer your colors will remain intact on paper/fabric.
- Color variety — As a beginner, getting an extensive color palette is very enticing, but keep in mind that watercoloring is all about blending colors and creating new ones. So, if you’re on a budget or want something more compact to carry, remember that a smaller set will provide lots of variety.
- Pigments and hues — Keeping a swatch journal is a great way to compare different pigments, especially if you’re looking to upgrade your set or try a new brand. For example, while some sets are best for lighter colors, others may be ideal for intense, permanent hues. Having a visual diary will help guide you when starting a new project.
- Surfaces — If you want to apply watercolor pencils to fabric, double-check if the set you want is compatible with this material — this is not a standard feature all watercolor pencils share.
- Availability — Because these are popular products, be sure to check out several sellers, such as Blick, Etsy, and Jackson’s, to compare prices and shipping details to get the best deal.
- Dry application — If you want to use these pencils for watercoloring and sketching, choose a set that ensures this versatility (dry/wet).
What paper works best with watercolor pencils?
Stick to watercolor paper when working with this type of pencil to see optimal results. Using other surfaces will lead to soggy paper, uneven pigment spreading, or very visible pencil marks. Check out our guide on the best watercolor blocks to find great suggestions!
Are watercolor pencils better than standard watercolor sets?
They are different, but some pros to using watercolor pencils instead are:
- Easier to transport
- Less messy
- Best for precision, lines, detail
- You could draw and paint with a single tool
- Mixing color palettes is unnecessary
- More controlled painting/drawing
Is it difficult to paint with watercolor pencils?
Using watercolor pencils will require learning a few techniques, but this doesn’t mean it will be overwhelmingly difficult. Ultimately, it comes down to practice and skill!
A great way to learn is by painting coloring books and paper Mandala designs before getting into more freeform work. Taking a few lessons is also a great way to get started — these are our favorite online watercolor classes!
What techniques can I apply with watercolor pencils?
There are lots of different techniques you can experiment with watercolor pencils. Here are just a few:
- Dry pencil on wet paper
- Wet pencil on dry paper
- Dry pencil on dry paper
- Two-pencil gradient
Check out this Udemy course or this Skillshare class to put these skills to the test!
Are watercolor pencils expensive?
Overall, watercolor pencil sets are more expensive than colored pencils. However, as a newbie, a cheaper or smaller student-grade kit will serve you just fine.
If you’re experienced and looking for high-quality materials, you can expect to pay as much as $100+ for a more premium set.
Where can I find the best watercolor pencils?
Besides your local craft or hobby store, the online world is your oyster when buying art supplies. We especially recommend specialized art stores and suppliers such as Blick, Jackson’s, and Etsy.
However, Amazon is also a convenient, quick-delivery option that might benefit you more depending on where you are on the globe.
That’s all for this watercolor pencils buyer’s guide! Which set will you be getting to start your watercoloring journey? Let everyone know in the comments below!