Watercolor Pencils vs. Colored Pencils: A Comparison

  • By: Michael Smith
  • Time to read: 12 min.
Michael Smith
I'm Michael Smith, the founder and creative director of Art and Drawing. With over a decade of experience in the art and design industry, my keen eye for detail and passion for creating inspiring artwork drive my work. I'm dedicated to capturing the world's beauty through vibrant, expressive pieces that spark imagination and emotion.

Are watercolor pencils the same as colored pencils? What are the differences and similarities between these two popular art mediums? If you’re an artist or aspiring artist, it’s important to understand the distinctions between watercolor pencils and colored pencils in order to select the right tool for your creative endeavors.

Watercolor pencils offer a unique blend of drawing and painting capabilities. When water is added to the colors, they transform into soft, painted effects, resembling traditional watercolor paintings. On the other hand, colored pencils provide a wider range of vibrant colors and are often used for blending and layering. Each medium has its own strengths and best uses, depending on your artistic goals and preferences.

In this article, we will delve into the differences and similarities of watercolor pencils and colored pencils, explore their best uses, discuss considerations for choosing between them, and provide key takeaways to help you make an informed decision.

Key Takeaways:

  • Watercolor pencils and colored pencils have different properties and effects when used in artwork.
  • Watercolor pencils offer soft, painted effects when water is added, while colored pencils provide vibrant colors for blending and layering.
  • Consider your artistic goals and preferences when choosing between watercolor pencils and colored pencils.
  • Watercolor pencils are ideal for creating landscapes and nature scenes, while colored pencils excel in detailed and precise artwork.
  • Both mediums require specific paper quality and drying time between layers.

Price and Color Selection

When it comes to purchasing art supplies, price and color selection are important considerations. Let’s explore the differences in price and the variety of colors available for watercolor pencils and colored pencils.

Colored Pencils

Colored pencils are a versatile medium that suits various budgets. They come in sets with a wide range of colors, providing options for every artist. Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, you’ll find colored pencil sets that fit your budget without compromising quality. These sets often include both wax-core and oil-core options, offering different textures and blending possibilities.

Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils, on the other hand, tend to be slightly more expensive than colored pencils. This is because watercolor pencils are formulated with high-quality pigments that can be activated with water. The color selection may also be more limited compared to colored pencils, with sets typically containing around 12 or 24 colors. Despite the smaller range, watercolor pencils provide vibrant and translucent effects when water is added, allowing for beautiful watercolor-like paintings.

As an artist, your choice between watercolor pencils and colored pencils depends on your budget and the specific color palette you require. Colored pencils offer a wider range of colors to work with, while watercolor pencils provide unique painting effects. Consider your artistic style and the desired outcomes of your artwork when making your selection.

Ability to Blend Colors

One of the key considerations when choosing between watercolor pencils and colored pencils is their ability to blend colors. Both mediums offer unique techniques for achieving blended effects.

Blending Colors with Colored Pencils:

Colored pencils provide various methods for blending colors, allowing you to create seamless transitions and gradients. These techniques include:

  • Layering: By applying multiple layers of different colors, you can gradually build up color intensity and blend hues together.
  • Colorless Blender Pencil: This specialized pencil has no pigment but is designed to blend and smoothen colors when applied over existing layers.
  • Blending Mediums: Using substances like Vaseline or baby oil along with a blending stump or cotton swab can help dissolve and mix colored pencil pigments, resulting in smooth blends.

With these techniques, you have precise control over color blending, enabling you to achieve detailed and nuanced effects in your artwork.

Blending colors with watercolor pencils can be more challenging compared to colored pencils due to the addition of water. To achieve blended effects, you can:

  • Add Water: Using a water brush or a separate brush and water, you can activate the pigment in the watercolor pencils and blend the colors together on the paper. This technique creates a watercolor-like effect with soft transitions.
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Another unique feature of watercolor pencils is the availability of tri-tone pencils. These pencils contain three colors blended together in a single lead, allowing you to achieve captivating and harmonious blends effortlessly.

To better understand the differences in blending capabilities, refer to the following table:

Blending Techniques Colored Pencils Watercolor Pencils
Layering ✔️
Colorless Blender Pencil ✔️
Blending Mediums ✔️
Add Water ✔️
Tri-Tone Pencils ✔️

Paper Quality

When it comes to using watercolor pencils and colored pencils, paper quality plays a crucial role in ensuring the best results for your artwork. While colored pencils can be used on standard paper without any issues, watercolor pencils require a specific type of paper that can handle the addition of water without buckling or warping.

For watercolor pencil artwork, it is recommended to use high-quality watercolor paper. This type of paper is designed to absorb and hold water, allowing you to achieve vibrant colors and smooth blending effects. Thicker watercolor paper, often labeled as “hot-press,” is particularly suitable for watercolor pencils as it offers a sturdier surface that can withstand multiple layers of color and the application of water.

When working with watercolor pencils, it is also common to tape the paper to a flat surface using artist tape. This helps prevent the paper from buckling or warping when wet, ensuring a smooth and even surface for your artwork.

On the other hand, colored pencils can be used on a variety of papers, including regular drawing paper or even sketchbooks. Since colored pencils do not bleed through the paper, you have more flexibility in choosing the paper quality based on your personal preferences, artistic style, and budget.

In summary, paper quality is essential when using watercolor pencils, and investing in high-quality watercolor paper ensures that your artwork will look its best. For colored pencils, you have more freedom in selecting the type of paper, allowing you to tailor it to your specific needs and artistic goals.

Your Goals as an Artist

Your goals as an artist or colorist will play a significant role in determining whether watercolor pencils or colored pencils are the best choice for you. If you’re looking for a medium that offers instant gratification and stress relief, colored pencils may be the better option. With their vibrant colors and easy blending capabilities, you can quickly create beautiful artwork.

On the other hand, if you’re interested in developing your skills as an artist and are willing to invest time in learning how to work with watercolor pencils, they can provide unique painting effects and broaden your artistic toolbox. Watercolor pencils allow you to create soft, blended colors and a more painterly look in your artwork.

Consider the following questions to help determine your goals as an artist:

  1. Are you looking for a medium that allows for quick and immediate results, or are you willing to invest time in mastering new techniques?
  2. Do you prefer vibrant and precise colors, or do you enjoy the softer and more blended effects?
  3. Do you prioritize control and detail, or do you value experimentation and exploration?

Understanding your goals as an artist will guide you in choosing between watercolor pencils and colored pencils. Whether you’re a beginner looking for a stress-relieving hobby or a seasoned artist aiming to expand your artistic possibilities, there’s a perfect medium out there for you.

Preparation and Process

Before you start using watercolor pencils or colored pencils, it’s important to properly prepare and understand the process involved. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced artist, following the right steps will ensure the best results for your artwork.

Watercolor Pencils

Type of Preparation: Selecting Colors and Creating a Pencil Sketch

When using watercolor pencils, begin by selecting the colors you want to use for your artwork. Consider the mood and theme of your piece and choose colors that will complement each other. Once you have your colors, create a rough pencil sketch of your subject on the paper. This will help guide you as you apply the watercolor pigment.

The Process: Applying Colors and Adding Water

With watercolor pencils, apply the colors directly onto the paper, using light pressure at first to layer multiple colors. Don’t worry about being too precise at this stage; you can refine the details later. Once the colors are applied, use a water brush or a clean brush dipped in water to activate the pigment. Start with light washes of water and gradually build up the intensity of the colors. The water will blend and spread the pigment, creating beautiful, translucent effects.

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Step-by-Step Guide: How to Plan a Watercolor Painting

Drying Time: Patience is Key

After applying water to your artwork, allow it to dry completely before adding additional layers or details. This can take anywhere from a few hours to overnight, depending on the thickness of the paper and the amount of water used. Patience is important in this step to prevent smudging or muddying of colors.

Colored Pencils

Type of Preparation: Choosing Blending and Layering Techniques

When working with colored pencils, the preparation process is similar to watercolor pencils. Start by choosing the blending and layering techniques you want to employ. You can experiment with various pressure, strokes, and layering to achieve different effects. Consider using a colorless blender pencil or a blending medium to achieve smooth transitions between colors.

The Process: Blending and Layering

With colored pencils, begin by applying the base colors using light to medium pressure. Layering different colors on top of each other will create depth and richness in your artwork. To blend the colors, you can use various techniques like burnishing, where you apply heavy pressure to fill in the tooth of the paper, or using a colorless blender pencil to soften and blend the colors seamlessly.

Drying Time: Allowing Layers to Set

Similar to watercolor pencils, colored pencils also require drying time between layers. Make sure each layer is fully dry before adding additional colors or details. This allows the previous layers to set and prevents smudging or color contamination.

Creating artwork with watercolor pencils and colored pencils requires preparation, attention to detail, and patience. Understanding the process involved will help you make the most of both mediums and achieve the desired effects in your artwork.

Pros and Cons

When considering the choice between watercolor pencils and colored pencils, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each medium. Both have their own unique advantages and disadvantages, catering to different artistic needs and preferences.

Advantages of Watercolor Pencils

  • Versatility: Watercolor pencils can be used both as drawing tools and for painting. This versatility allows for greater creative freedom and the ability to experiment with different techniques.
  • Subtle Blending: Watercolor pencils offer the advantage of subtle blending, allowing artists to achieve soft and natural transitions between colors.
  • Painted Effects: With the addition of water, watercolor pencils can create beautiful painted effects, adding depth and texture to artwork.

Disadvantages of Watercolor Pencils

  • Challenging to Work With: Watercolor pencils can be more challenging to work with compared to colored pencils. Artists need to learn how to control the water and achieve the desired effects.
  • Additional Drying Time: The use of water with watercolor pencils requires additional drying time. This patience is necessary to avoid smudging or blending unintentionally.

Advantages of Colored Pencils

  • Wide Range of Colors: Colored pencils offer a wide range of vibrant colors, allowing artists to create detailed and expressive artwork.
  • Ease of Use and Control: Colored pencils are easy to use and provide artists with precise control over color application and shading.
  • Detailed Artwork: Colored pencils excel at creating intricate and detailed artwork due to their fine tip and ability to layer colors.

Disadvantages of Colored Pencils

  • Limited Blending: While colored pencils can be blended to a certain extent, they may not achieve the same level of softness and seamless blending as watercolor pencils.

It’s important to consider these pros and cons when deciding between watercolor pencils and colored pencils. Assessing your artistic goals, preferences, and the desired effects for your artwork will help guide you in making the right choice.

Quote

“Watercolor pencils offer versatility and subtle blending, while colored pencils provide a wide range of colors and precise control. It ultimately depends on the artist’s preference and desired artistic effects.” – ArtistTutorials.com

Best Uses for Watercolor Pencils vs. Colored Pencils

When it comes to choosing between watercolor pencils and colored pencils, it’s important to consider their best uses. Each medium has its own unique qualities that make it ideal for different types of artwork.

Watercolor Pencils

Best for creating soft, blended effects

Watercolor pencils are perfect for artists who want to achieve a more painterly look in their artwork. These pencils are great for creating soft, blended effects and can help you achieve a sense of depth and atmosphere in your pieces.

One of the best uses for watercolor pencils is in creating landscapes and nature scenes. The ability to blend colors with water allows you to create smooth transitions and a sense of movement in your artwork. Whether it’s a lush forest or a serene ocean, watercolor pencils can help you bring these scenes to life.

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Colored Pencils

Ideal for creating detailed and precise artwork

Colored pencils excel in creating highly detailed and precise artwork. If you enjoy working on intricate pieces like portraits or still life, colored pencils are the perfect choice for you.

Furthermore, colored pencils are widely loved by coloring enthusiasts. They are fantastic for coloring books, adult coloring pages, and any artwork that requires a wide range of colors. With their rich pigments and ability to create fine lines and details, colored pencils can bring your coloring projects to a whole new level.

Best Uses for Watercolor Pencils Best Uses for Colored Pencils
Creating soft, blended effects Creating highly detailed artwork
Achieving a painterly look Coloring books and coloring projects
Landscapes and nature scenes Intricate pieces like portraits and still life

Both watercolor pencils and colored pencils have their own strengths and can be used to create beautiful artwork. Ultimately, the choice between the two depends on your personal artistic style and the effect you want to achieve in your pieces.

Conclusion

In conclusion, when it comes to choosing between watercolor pencils and colored pencils, it’s important to consider your artistic goals and preferences. Watercolor pencils offer the unique ability to create soft, blended colors and a more painterly effect with the addition of water. They are perfect for artists who want to explore expressive artistic techniques and create artwork with depth and atmosphere.

On the other hand, colored pencils excel in detailed and precise artwork, making them ideal for artists who prefer a controlled and precise approach. With a wide range of colors and the ability to easily layer and blend, colored pencils allow for intricate and realistic artwork, such as portraits or still life.

The choice between watercolor pencils and colored pencils ultimately depends on your personal style and the goals you have as an artist. Whether you want to create vibrant and expressive pieces or highly detailed and precise artwork, both mediums offer unique advantages. Consider experimenting with both to find the medium that best suits your artistic vision and helps you bring your creativity to life.

FAQ

Are watercolor pencils the same as colored pencils?

No, watercolor pencils and colored pencils have distinct differences in terms of their color range, blending abilities, and application techniques.

What are the differences between watercolor pencils and colored pencils?

Watercolor pencils have a more limited range of colors and create softer, painted effects when water is added. Colored pencils offer a wider range of colors and are often used for blending and layering.

What are the similarities of watercolor pencils and colored pencils?

While they have differences, both watercolor pencils and colored pencils are versatile artistic mediums that allow for creative expression and control over color application.

Can you explain the best uses for watercolor pencils vs colored pencils?

Watercolor pencils are best suited for creating soft, blended effects and achieving a more painterly look, making them ideal for landscapes and nature scenes. Colored pencils excel at creating detailed and precise artwork, making them suitable for portraits, still life drawings, and coloring books.

What factors should I consider when choosing between watercolor pencils and colored pencils?

Factors to consider include your artistic goals, preferred style, desired effects, and level of experience. This will help guide you toward the medium that aligns best with your needs.

How do I prepare and use watercolor pencils?

To use watercolor pencils, select the colors you want to use, create a pencil sketch, lightly apply the colors to the paper, then use a wet brush or water brush to activate the watercolor effect.

How do I prepare and use colored pencils?

The preparation for colored pencils is similar to watercolor pencils: select the colors, create a pencil sketch, and apply the colors to the paper using layering and blending techniques. However, blending is achieved by layering and using tools like colorless blender pencils or blending mediums.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of watercolor pencils?

The advantages of watercolor pencils include versatility, the ability to create soft, blended effects, and the option to use them as both drawing and painting tools. However, they can be more challenging to work with and require drying time between layers.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of colored pencils?

Colored pencils offer a wide range of colors, ease of use and control, and the ability to create detailed artwork. However, they may not offer the same level of softness and blending as watercolor pencils.

What paper quality is recommended for watercolor pencils and colored pencils?

High-quality watercolor paper that can handle the addition of water without buckling or warping is recommended for watercolor pencils. Colored pencils can be used on standard paper without any issues, as they do not bleed through.