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Watercolor Pencils vs Colored Pencils

watercolor pencils vs colored pencilsWatercolor pencils and colored pencils are both popular choices for artists and hobbyists who enjoy working with colored media. While they may appear similar at first glance, the two have several key differences.

But what is the difference between watercolor pencils vs colored pencils? This article will explore these differences in detail, covering aspects such as composition, application, techniques, effects, and suitability for different artistic purposes.

Point of Difference Watercolor Pencils Colored Pencils
Composition Water-soluble core Wax or oil-based core
Application Can be applied wet or dry Applied dry
Techniques Dry, wet-on-dry, wet-on-wet Layering, blending, burnishing
Effects Translucent washes, gradients, watercolor-like effects Vibrant, opaque colors
Suitability Ideal for watercolor effects, landscapes, abstract art Detailed work, realistic rendering
Advantages Versatility, ability to create watercolor effects Easy to use, portable, precise control
Disadvantages Additional tools required, more time consuming Limited watercolor effects, less fluid appearance

Comparison Table


colored pencils composition

Watercolor pencils and colored pencils have different compositions. Colored pencils are typically made of a wax or oil-based core mixed with pigments and binders. This composition gives colored pencils a smooth and creamy texture, allowing for easy application on paper.

On the other hand, watercolor pencils have a water-soluble core consisting of pigments, binders, and water-soluble agents. These water-soluble cores let the pigments dissolve when water is applied, creating watercolor-like effects.


watercolor pencils composition

The application process for watercolor pencils and colored pencils also differs. Colored pencils are applied directly onto paper, creating vibrant and opaque lines or areas of color. The pressure applied to the pencil determines the intensity of the color. They are suitable for precise and detailed work due to their fine points.

On the other hand, watercolor pencils can be applied similarly to colored pencils, but they offer an additional technique: the ability to create watercolor effects. When water is applied with a brush to the drawn lines or areas, the pigments dissolve and spread, making a watercolor-like wash.


The techniques employed with watercolor pencils and colored pencils also vary. With colored pencils, artists can layer colors to create depth and blend them to achieve smooth transitions. Blending can be done using techniques such as burnishing, where a colorless blender pencil is applied over the layers to create a polished and smooth look.

Watercolor pencils, on the other hand, offer a broader range of techniques. Apart from the traditional dry application, they can be used wet on dry (applying wet pigments onto dry paper) or wet on wet (applying wet pigments onto wet paper) techniques.

These techniques allow for a wide range of effects, including soft washes, gradients, and the ability to create textures and patterns by manipulating the wet pigments on the paper.


watercolor pencils effects
Watercolor Pencils Effects

The effects produced by watercolor pencils and colored pencils differ significantly. Colored pencils create rich, vibrant, and opaque colors when applying multiple layers. They offer high control and precision, making them ideal for detailed work and realistic rendering.

On the other hand, watercolor pencils can produce various effects, ranging from translucent washes to intense and vibrant colors. Activating the pigments with water allows for blending, creating soft edges, and achieving a watercolor-like appearance.

The intensity of the colors can be controlled by adjusting the amount of water used, providing artists with more flexibility and options.


colored pencils effects

The suitability of watercolor pencils and colored pencils depends on the desired artistic outcome and the artist’s preferences. Colored pencils are excellent for controlled and detailed work, such as botanical illustrations, portraits, and highly realistic drawings.

They are also suitable for mixed media applications, as they can be easily combined with other dry media such as graphite or pastels.

On the other hand, watercolor pencils are ideal for creating watercolor effects and a looser, more expressive style. They are suitable for landscapes, abstract art, and illustrations that require the flexibility of both dry and wet techniques.

Watercolor pencils can also be used alongside traditional watercolor paints to enhance details or add highlights.


Each medium has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Colored pencils are easy to use, portable, and less messy compared to watercolor pencils. They provide precise control over details and offer a wide range of colors. However, they may have limitations when it comes to creating watercolor effects and achieving a more fluid appearance.

Also, if you want to know how to organize colored pencils by color, start by sorting them into separate color groups, such as reds, blues, greens, etc. Within each color group, arrange the pencils in a gradient or spectrum, moving from light to dark shades. Finally, consider using storage solutions such as pencil cases, trays, or bins to keep the colored pencils organized and easily accessible.

Watercolor pencils, on the other hand, allow for a broader range of techniques and effects. They offer the versatility of both dry and wet applications and can be used alone or in combination with traditional watercolors.

However, they require additional tools such as water and brushes, and the process can be more time-consuming and complex.


Comparing watercolor pencils vs colored pencils will let you know that they are distinct mediums with their own unique characteristics. While colored pencils excel in precise and detailed work, watercolor pencils offer a broader range of techniques and the ability to create watercolor-like effects.

The choice between the two depends on the artist’s preferences, desired artistic outcome, and the specific techniques and effects they wish to achieve. Both mediums have advantages and disadvantages; exploring and experimenting with both can expand an artist’s creative possibilities.

Read more: Pastel Pencils vs Colored Pencils

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