Magazine, Arts & Crafts

How Do Watercolor Pencils Work?

Watercolor pencils are an excellent complement to watercolor painting with a brush. The handy pens are versatile, but require instruction for proper handling.

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about watercolor pencils: how they work, where their strengths and weaknesses are, which manufacturers to recommend, and what techniques you can use. If you want to buy the Best Watercolor Pencils then read our review.

Watercolor Pencils: How do they work?

Watercolor pencils combine the properties of watercolor paints with the handiness of colored pencils. You can paint with them on a wet surface or draw with them like ordinary crayons.

However, special effects will only be achieved if you use them with the addition of water. In this case, the colors blur and merge as you are used to from watercolor painting – with one great advantage: their color is more accessible to dose and control so that no gray puddles arise, but accurate color gradients. To get accurate color gradient your pencil sharpness is very important. So to get accurate sharpness you must need an electric sharpener. You can choose the best electric pencil sharpener from here.

Also, they are even easier to clean than watercolor brushes, which have absorbed themselves with color.

Painting surface

With watercolor pencils, you should paint on a painting ground declared as watercolor paper. The paper is ideal for watercolor painting with brushes as well as for the use of water and watercolor pencils. Of course, if you want to use pens like crayons without adding water, you can also paint on any other drawing paper that is less absorbent.

It is not recommended to use a stretcher with watercolor pencils covered with a canvas. The rough surface structure of the painting does not go well with the fine pen tip. The lines are distributed unevenly and there are mountains and valleys with too much or too little color mixture. If you do not want to go without a canvas, you can brush over the painting surface with additional layers of Gesso. The chalk mixture levels the surface so that no more puddles will form.

Watercolor pencil techniques

Without water

As mentioned earlier, you can use watercolor pencils and crayons without adding water. The brilliance and the effect of the color in this technique is reminiscent of an ordinary crayon drawing.

Of course, you can also use watercolor pencils to contour your water-painted work. This allows the effects to be combined or even intensified.

Dry then wet

In this technique, first, you wear the dry pen tip on a dry painting surface. Then you pick up a water-soaked brush and hand out the hard color strokes of the pencil. You can create color gradients or connect the individual colors.

The brushstrokes are increasingly losing their visibility, so you can completely merge them with plenty of water with the color surface.

The advantage of the “dry-then-wet” technique is that you can dose the amount of water very well and can spread the water purposefully (for example, away from a line edge).

Wet pen tip

If you want to bring water to your painting surface right now, if you paint with the pen, you can repeatedly dip the pen tip in water. Thus, the color runs already in contact with the substrate as with the order with a brush.

The advantage of this watercolor pencil technique lies in the accuracy of the line. Due to the thin pen tip, you can draw narrow lines that do not look like dashes.

The disadvantage, however, is that you have to dip the tip regularly (after a very short distance) into the water again.

Dry on wet

If you are so similar in watercolor painting want, it is recommended to wet an area of the image before contact with the watercolor pen tip. To do this, dip your brush into a glass of water and use it to moisten the painting area that you made next.

Make sure not to spray the whole picture with water, because you probably can not work it before the water is already dry.

To create a smoother transition when in contact with the pen tip, you can moisten the tip with water again. So the color of the pen can blend better with the water of the painting ground.


Of course, you are not bound to a single watercolor pencil technique. You can combine them as you like. Also, you can alternate the use of the pins with the use of brushes.

While the effects of pens with the right amount of water are almost as controllable as those of watercolor painting with brushes, the ruled lines tend to be slightly harder and more direct. The combination of pen and brush is what gives many pictures that specific something.

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