Watercolor pencils are fantastic additions to your artistic toolkit, whether you’re an avid watercolorist longing to experiment with new techniques and textures or a beginner that’s never worked with traditional watercolors before.
No matter your painting style or skill level, using watercolor pencils will make incorporating detail, extra vibrancy, and color blending even more interesting and fun.
Want to see for yourself? Check out our lineup of the best watercolor pencils and some buyer’s tips below 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
- 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 it’s my favorite brand when looking for artsy excellence. And this watercolor pencils set is another of its greatest hits!
This 24-pencil watercolor set includes a beautiful array of lightfast pigments and excellent blending. It also comes in tin sets that range from 12 to 120 colors, but the magic number for most people will be 24.
These all-rounded items boast resistant, 3.8mm lead, can be used wet or dry, and lay down color permanently. This set comes in beautiful tin packaging with sturdy tin trays for storage and includes a watercolor brush.
Besides being one of the more premium and expensive options on our list, it’s definitely worth the buy no matter your skill level — especially if your goal is to craft with some of the best materials out there for watercolorists.
Because this is such a 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; currently, Jackson’s has an excellent value for these watercolor pencils!
Best large set: Caran D’Ache Prismalo Aquarelle Coloured Water-soluble Pencils | Set of 80
If you’re already familiar with watercoloring and looking to invest in a more comprehensive set, the Caran D’Ache Prismalo set is a great choice.
While not as popular or top-of-the-line as the brand’s Supracolor or Museum Aquarelle watercolor pencils, the Prismalo set offers the ideal balance between variety, 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 more vibrant results. I also love that this pack includes metallic colors such as gold and silver, which most brands tend to sell separately.
Best student-grade: Lyra Graduate Aquarell Colored Pencil Set | Set of 36
Ideal for beginners, this Lyra student-grade set is an excellent pick and includes 36 beautiful watercolor pencils.
The set includes 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 set is student-grade and will do more than the trick as long as you temper your expectations.
Similar to Derwent watercolor pencils, these are especially great for 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 for an appealing price as a beginner.
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.
Read also: Best 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 features-packed, it’s 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, the 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 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. Depending on the size of your set, both price and packaging will vary.
Although the 24-piece set is the one I’d most recommend, this gorgeous 48-count wooden box edition is worth a look for serious watercolorists with a most ample budget!
Best budget-friendly: Arteza Watercolor Pencils | Set of 48
As the cheapest option on our list, this compact 48-watercolor pencil set is a great pick if you’re searching for a quality product on a budget.
For under $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 detail work.
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 pencils rolling off the table.
Like the Staedtler Karat Aquarell Premium set, this set 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 won’t be 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
The 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.
Read also: Watercolor sketchbook buyer’s guide
For example, while the previous Faber-Castell 24-watercolor pencil pack costs roughly ~$50 and the Staedtler 24-pack ~$30, this Winsor & Newton set can be purchased for under $20!
That said, although 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.
Best for kids: Faber-Castell Do Art Watercolor Pencils | Set of 10
The best thing about creative hobbies is that there’s always something 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 option for under $20.
Read also: Best children’s book illustration classes
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, the brand ensures just as much quality in this simple watercolor kit. It also makes a great budget-friendly gift, not to mention, a great product to motivate your child to focus on creative work rather than extra screen time!
Another set I recommend for kids is this timeless Crayola watercolor pencil set, available in sets of 12-240. They’re quite a bit cheaper, but are lower quality and don’t come with all of the extras you get in the 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.
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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 and mixed-medium artwork. Sets of 12, 24, and 36 pencils are available.
Whether you’re looking for watercolor pencils or colored pencils to complement your projects, Prismacolor has a fantastic selection of quality products 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 any watercoloring enthusiast or beginner.
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.
Read also: Best light boxes and light pads
For instance, this set is cheaper than the previous Prismacolor 36-piece product and provides a broader range of applications, especially for thick, darker strokes of color.
One of the highlights of this set is that its pencils work exceptionally, whether dry or wet, making it an excellent, versatile gift for an art-loving friend that loves to sketch, watercolor, or engage in mixed-medium projects.
Because it’s available on different online art supply stores, we advise checking out which option is best for you to 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 — precisely like you would with a watercolor pan. You can mainly 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 s to dip your watercolor pencil tip into water as you would with a watercolor brush to activate pigments and paint onto your dry canvas.
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 the pencil tip is sharper than most 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 using 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 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
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!