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Watercolor pencils are like colored pencils, only their pigments are water soluble, which means they will spread like paint when you wet them. This is a really fun medium, but it can offer a slight learning curve as you get used to loading water and applying pressure. If you’re relatively new to watercolor pencils or are on a budget, we suggest you purchase a set geared toward students. Student-grade pencils won’t offer the incredible colors or longevity of their professional-grade counterparts, but they are still highly capable and encourage experimentation with techniques like creating washes, working wet-into-dry, or vice versa. Get started with one of our favorite student-grade watercolor pencil sets, reviewed below.
ARTNEWS RECOMMENDSGeneral Pencil Kimberly Watercolor PencilsGeneral’s pencils sit at the top of our list because they are made with artist-grade pigments yet are quite affordable. These watercolor pencils produce colors that are brilliant and bold whether dry or wet. They lay down smooth lines, and their points, though semisoft, can retain fine tips to execute details. Pigments dissolve smoothly with water and spread with ease. Each box contains 24 colors that blend very well to create even more hues.
General’s Kimberly Watercolor Pencils
WE ALSO LIKELyra Rembrandt Aquarell Artists’ Colored PencilsIf you want a set that is slightly more sophisticated but still suitable for students and beginners, we recommend Lyra’s pencils. They feature 4-millimeter oil-based cores densely loaded with pigments that mix exceptionally well with water and disperse effortlessly over paper while maintaining striking vibrancy. You can create display-worthy pieces with these pencils, which are available in even more colors than General’s—sets are sold with as many as 72 different shades. The pencils offer good lightfastness, with ratings for each color printed inside the included tin.
Lyra Rembrandt Aquarell Artist’s Colored Pencils
ALSO A GOOD CHOICEStabilo Woody 3-in-1 Watercolor PencilsThese chunky pencils are delightful and versatile, combining the features of wax crayons, watercolors, and colored pencils. Each has an impressively thick (10-millimeter) core that is super creamy and richly pigmented—users can lay down very opaque, saturated lines. They glide across paper as well as other smooth surfaces, such as metal, glass, and fabric. And since they’re jumbo-sized, they are especially easy for young artists grasp while developing fine-motor skills. This set of 18 also includes a sharpener and watercolor brush.
Stabilo Woody 3-in-1 Watercolor Pencils
EDUCATORS’ CHOICECrayola Watercolor PencilsBeloved by students and teachers alike, these highly affordable watercolor pencils feature a core that is softer than Crayola’s regular colored pencils but firmer than other student-grade offerings. The result: pencils that are perfect for those learning how much pressure to apply to achieve different watercolor effects. These pencils won’t skip or scratch on paper. They deliver amazing color coverage when dry, and when dipped in water or wetted with a brush, the colors remain creamy and intense. Since they’re nontoxic, they can even be used as face paint (just avoid the eyes and mouth). Crayola’s water-soluble pencils are available in sets of 12 up to a 240-piece class pack that includes 20 each of 12 bright colors.
Crayola Watercolor Pencils
ALSO CONSIDERStaedtler Triangular Watercolor Pencils, Set of 12Another great starter set, these watercolor pencils feature a slightly skinnier core than most, measuring just under 3 millimeters. They are a delight to use without water, blending cleanly and capable of producing sharp, crisp lines. When used with water, they really do flow like true watercolor paints without compromising on brightness and color. What makes these stand out in particular are their ergonomic design: Each pencil has a triangular barrel for easy gripping, although the shape requires a bit more care and attention during the sharpening process. Buy them in a set of 12.
Crayola Watercolor Pencils, Set of 12