Watercolor vs. Water Soluble Colored Pencils (Episode III of The Coloring Nerd Supplies Guide)

by Michelle M. Johnson

What started out as a single blog post to share, review and advise folks about the coloring tools that I use personally and in my coloring/creativity workshops has now become three posts, (and counting?) entering today into its third episode....

Careful, folks: this is what happens when you discover that coloring and creativity really are for everyone -- you end up with loads of different art supplies that you now understand you simply can't live without! 

No, just kidding. You can totally live just fine with blank drawing paper and a hearty black pen, but life is far more interesting when you start exploring coloring tools that take you out of your comfort zone. 

And, that is what this episode is all about, pencils that have the ability to take you safely out of your creative comfort zone. Why do I say "safely?" Because for all intents and purposes, the collection of colored pencils I'm writing about in this blog post are just that: colored pencils. You can use these lovelies exactly as you would use all of the other colored pencils I detailed for you in Episode I of my Coloring Nerd Supplies Guide Trilogy. But, make no mistake -- these are no ordinary colored pencils! Half of them are watercolor colored pencils and the other half are water soluble colored pencils. 

What? You've never heard of water soluble colored pencils? Well, the goal of this blog post is also to help the reader differentiate the difference between watercolor and water soluble colored pencils, so read on with the confidence that you will have a full understanding of these two very cool types of coloring tools and perhaps an inkling of whether or not you would like to use some of your creative cash to add them to your coloring arsenal.

Oh, and just to reiterate from Episode I: the links that I attach to my blog posts are Amazon Affiliate links, which means that should you decide to purchase an item based on clicking the link from here in this post, I earn a small (really small, but every penny counts!) amount of money per purchase. I'm not suggesting that you do anything with this post besides read it and hopefully gain some useful information from it. But, should you decide to purchase something while reading this post or after reading this post, it would be lovely if you used the links found on my blog. Thank you:)

Episode III: Watercolor vs. Water Soluble Colored Pencils

Let me start off this episode by clarifying the difference between these two types of colored pencils, watercolor (a type of colored pencil most folks are fairly familiar with) and water soluble (a pencil that may be new territory for some folks).

If you've browsed the aisles of any arts and crafts store, you have surely run across the term WATERCOLOR. Watercolor paint comes in many different forms: bottles of liquid, palettes of hard color, tubes of color the consistency of toothpaste, markers with flowing ink, and pencils with a watercolor core. What these all have in common is that the color they lay down can be indefinitely affected by water. All of the above art supplies can create art without the use of water (with the exception of the hard palettes of color), but every time they come into contact with water, the pigment will be changed, regardless of whether or not you laid down the color 10 minutes ago or 10 days ago.

Now, a term you might not have seen on the packaging of colored pencils is WATER SOLUBLE. Or, maybe you did see these words and you might have breezed over them thinking, "Water soluble? That must be a synonym for watercolor, and I already have some of those," which is what I did when I first encountered the term about 5 years ago. Like watercolor pencils, water soluble colored pencils are affected by water. The pigment of the pencil dissolves when it comes into contact with water and becomes much more flexible, moving across your paper, your coloring page with ease while it is wet. But, that is the key phrase of that definition: while it is wet. Water soluble colored pencil pigment, when used with water, becomes a permanent ink once it is dry. This is a really interesting aspect of these colored pencils because it makes layering, creating depth and texturing a quick fun process; you can paint over already laid down color with these pencils so long as the previous layer has dried because every new layer of water only affects the most recent layer of colored pencil! 

Am I making your brain hurt? That's okay. I felt that way, too, until after I got the opportunity to play around with both types of coloring tools. Let's move on to the descriptions, reviews and pretty pictures!

Prismacolor Watercolor Colored Pencils 24 Count Set


The question I get asked the most about watercolor pencils is, "Do I have to use water with them?" No, watercolor pencils do not need to be used strictly with water. However, not all watercolor pencils are created equal IF you are using them dry. Without a doubt, of the water color pencils that I use, my Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils have the most vibrant and creamy colors when used without water. Other varieties of watercolor pencil tend to have harder color cores and require a more firm coloring hand to get the same saturation of color I expect from a basic colored pencil.
I never tell folks they can't color with watercolor pencils if they have no intention of using water, but if you are in the market for colored pencils only, watercolor pencils, as a general rule, are considerably more expensive than basic colored pencils for considerably smaller sets. The 24 count set of Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils runs anywhere from $25-$40 currently; for the same amount of money, you could get a far larger set of Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils if you never intended to use water with your watercolor pencils. Basically, when it is all boiled down, these Prismacolor Watercolor Pencils are worth the money BUT only if you are looking to start experimenting with watercolor in your coloring and drawing. With their creamy color lay down, they layer nicely and blend color easily once they are made wet. I also enjoy dipping their tips into water and coloring or drawing when the pencil has a damp tip. With the color core of this pencil being so soft and thick, coloring with a damp pencil tip is akin to the experience of coloring with dampened sidewalk chalk, something I really enjoyed doing as a child; wet chalk became extra bright in hue and super smooth to draw with, and these watercolor pencils when dipped in water offer the same experience.

General Pencil Kimberly Watercolor Pencils 12 Count Set


Like I said above, watercolor pencils are more expensive per pencil than basic colored pencils. But, that doesn't mean that you have to go broke to add some watercolor fun to your collection of art supplies! These General Pencil Kimberly Watercolor Pencils while harder in color core (and therefore not as relaxing a color lay-down experience as the Prismacolor variety) offer equally vibrant and easy to blend colors. And, because these pencils have a more dense color core, sharpening them to a super fine point is rather easy to do without the pencil tip crumbling. For this reason I like using my Kimberly Watercolor Pencils far more for my stamping and card making projects, two styles of creating I tend to want extreme precision in. This inexpensive set also is great for younger creatives as the pencils are more durable. Additionally, if you aren't sure watercolor pencils will be for you, but your curiosity is peaked, their price for a new creative adventure can't be beat.

Derwent Inktense Water Soluble Colored Pencils 72 Count Set

Here begins my list of water soluble colored pencils that I have in my coloring/creativity collection. And I have to say that after discovering the existence of water soluble colored pencils, they are by far some of my favorite coloring tools to play with! Again, I have the awesomely creative Tabby May to thank for sharing with me all about Derwent Inktense Water Soluble Colored Pencils because up until developing my friendship with her (she reviewed my coloring book Doodled Blooms when it was first published in 2016) I had never heard of half of the art supplies that I now use on a regular basis (the world of color is far larger than the offerings of Prismacolor)! Derwent is a British pencil maker, and their Inktense pencils are exactly what you think they are from their name: mix a little water with the color core of these pencils and you have a collection of bold, inky, permanent colors. Shown here in my color chart, you can see just how vibrant these colors are. I had intended to show a gradient of how water affected these pencils in this chart, leaving ample space for each color where I scribbled a bit of pigment down, but once I added water, the color exploded and was far stronger than any watercolor pencil I had ever used before. What that means is a little bit of laying down color with an Inktense colored pencil goes a LONG way! I have had great fun experimenting with these pencils in both my coloring and my card making. They work great in coloring books and on watercolor paper, and they are a super fun coloring adventure that I highly recommend. But, there are a few things to consider about before investing in them: 1. the size of their barrel is a little larger than a standard #2 pencil, so be sure you have a sharpener that can accept a variety of pencil sizes, and 2. these are basically permanent marker pencils, so these are not intended for young children, unless there is absolutely no concern for staining upholstery, clothes, furniture, or skin.

Derwent Graphitint Water Soluble Colored Pencils 24 Count Set

There is no easy way to explain Derwent Graphitint Colored Pencils. They are essentially a graphite pencil (think super soft Ticonderoga writing pencil) that is blended with some of the deeper, earthier tones of Derwent's Inktense color collection. I have never colored with any other pencil like it: dry, the graphite color is what dominates, but once wet, a simultaneously vibrant and soft tone of color develops. There is no other word to describe coloring with these pencils but cool! And, because they are water soluble and their color permanent when dry, layering lighter colors on top of these earthy, muted colors works really well, making shading and creating a sense of light in your coloring feel effortless. I really like these unique colored pencils, but I'm not going to sugar coat it -- they are expensive. At over $40 for 24 pencils (Derwent's largest Graphitint set), adding these super-cool colored pencils to your art supply collection is an investment. If I hadn't received them as a birthday gift last year, I don't know that I would have purchased such a small set with a hefty price. However, having experienced them myself, I can wholeheartedly say, these pencils are exciting to use and for the seasoned colorist looking for a new challenge for their creative time, Graphitints are money well spent. 

Derwent Metallic Water Soluble Colored Pencils 12 Count Set


If you are looking to give water soluble colored pencils a try, the most economic and interesting set I've found is Derwent's Metallic Water Soluble Colored Pencils. Laid down dry, the colors of these pencils have a slight metallic, shiny sheen to them. Once water is added the color gets a bit brighter and the aforementioned sheen gets less noticeable in direct light (it can be detected, however, when viewed from an extreme angle). Although this set is small (most "metallic" pencil sets are not larger than 12 count), I really like the color selection, and they definitely added new tones and hues to my collection of colored pencils. If you are looking for sparkly, shiny pencils with colors that pop metallic shimmer as a glitter pen does, however, these are not your pencils. To be honest, I have never encountered a "metallic" pencil that did actually that, add shimmer. For that sort of effect in your coloring, gel pens and metallic markers do a much better job. But, if you are looking for a true metallic look (which, if when you think about metal in the real world, those colors tend to have a dull, solid look - think pipes, auto parts, nuts and bolts), these pencils are interesting to use. Their water soluble properties mean that layering other coloring tools on top of them is quite easy. Used with water and then allowed to dry, gel pen, marker or additional colored pencil works smoothly over their surface, allowing for deeper textures to be created and shadow/light to be added onto any coloring/drawing.

Until about a year ago, the only brand of colored pencil I was familiar with that had WATER SOLUBLE colored pencils available in their line was Derwent. A quick Google search will show you that other makers of colored pencils have seen a new trend developing and now also have water soluble versions of their pencils. This is a good thing for us creative types as it means the cost of our coloring supplies may stay reasonable with competition. Dollar for dollar, adventuring into the watercolor or water soluble colored pencil universe gets you an interesting bang for your buck, one that will not set you as far back financially as say a collection of Copic markers. Add to that the benefit that these sorts of pencils will last for years to come as you explore their properties and what they can add to your creative experience, and you have a coloring/creativity win-win.

And, it is here I leave you until next time...

Yes, I have come to the realization that there will be a 4th episode of my Coloring Nerd Supplies Guide Trilogy, and that perhaps my original title for this series of blog posts needs to be revised.

Or, maybe not. 

Nerds don't really do original-idea revision, do they. We just simply admit that the saga continues with a wink and wry grin on our faces;)  



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