Watercolor Pencils vs Colored Pencils: What’s the Difference?

Oct 21, 2021 | 0 comments

I’m pretty sure you wanted to know the difference between watercolor pencils vs colored pencils that’s why you’ve stumbled upon this blog. If that’s the case, just keep on reading!

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What are traditional colored pencils?

Traditional colored pencils are the most common and familiar type of colored pencils. These are the ones being brought for kids for their school art supply needs. This is also what adults purchase when they try to get into adult coloring books for leisure and relaxation purposes.

Regular colored pencils are versatile and easy to use. This medium is completely dry and can be immediately used out of the box. Its binder is either wax- or oil-based, the former being more common. The pencil’s binder properties and composition allow them to be easily blendable and layered on paper.

The most appealing trait of traditional colored pencils is they can be burnished (which is the process of building up a heavy layer of color that fills the tooth of the paper). To learn more about burnishing, you can check out 10 Ways on How To Blend Colored Pencils

What are watercolor pencils?

Now, watercolor pencils are different from regular colored pencils. They are usually more expensive and can be used in both wet and dry techniques. The pigments of watercolor pencils are held together by a water-soluble binder and can be broken down and activated by the use of water.

Watercolor pencils can be used as regular colored pencils, however, the colors would be less intense and they wouldn’t layer in the same manner as traditional colored pencils.

When you activate the binder with water, you can intensify the colors which will make your drawings look very much like watercolor paintings. Watercolor pencils can be wetted with a paintbrush or dipped in water before marking them on paper to produce bright and intense colors.

The Difference in How Watercolor and Normal Pencils Work

Between watercolor pencils vs colored pencils, what makes them so different is within their binders.

Regular colored pencils have either an oily or a waxy binder that keeps the pigment together. Watercolor pencils, on the other hand, use water-soluble binders to bind the pigment together.

Watercolor pencils can be turned into paints when you wet them with water, which can’t be done with regular colored pencils.

Furthermore, using both types of pencils can give you different results, and perhaps the biggest thing is that burnishing watercolor pencils won’t give you the same results as burnishing with regular colored pencils because the colors will hardly blend. Generally, most techniques used for traditional colored pencils can be applied with watercolor pencils but they just don’t work as well. If you won’t activate your watercolor pencils and just use them like you would a regular colored pencil, I’d recommend you to just use regular colored pencils.

How to use watercolor pencils correctly

Here are the most common techniques for using watercolor pencils:

Draw on paper and then apply water using a brush (dry-on-dry)

This is the most common method used. Draw anything using your watercolor pencil and when you’re done, take a paintbrush and wet it with water, and then brush it up on your creation to blend the colors and bring it to life.

Drawing on wet paper (dry-on-wet)

This technique will need you to apply water to your paper first before drawing with your watercolor pencils. The binder in the pencils will slowly dissolve when it touches the wet paper giving you bright and intense pigment.

Dipping your pencil in water (wet-on-dry)

You can also dip your pencils as you draw for a nice effect. Your paper can be either wet or dry.

Watercolor Pencils vs Colored Pencils: Pros and Cons

Traditional Colored Pencils


  • Excellent blend-ability
  • Have more vibrant colors
  • Does not require special techniques
  • Can be used right out of the box
  • It can be applied to any type of paper
  • Can be layered


  • Can be difficult to use when covering large areas
  • The more layer you put on your drawing surface, the harder it is to remove them
  • Their binders (wax or oil-based) can cause an issue when mixed with other wet mediums

Watercolor Pencils


  • Can create watercolor-like paintings
  • Can cover more surface even only using one pencil
  • You can lighten up the colors if needed
  • Easier to use than actual watercolor paints
  • Can go together with other mediums, dry or wet


  • Pigments are less intense when dry
  • The color range is limited
  • Requires watercolor paper

Which is Easiest to Use Watercolor or Regular Pencil?

Personally, I find the regular colored pencils easier to use than the watercolor ones. You only need to learn techniques to get the hang of using colored pencils. While using water is another factor that can get things wrong when you don’t really know how to control it.

Can You Turn Regular Colored Pencils Into Watercolor Ones?

No. Traditional colored pencils can’t be turned into watercolor pencils because they are not formulated in the same way. As stated previously, the main difference between watercolor pencils vs colored pencils is their binders.

Which Type of Pencil Should You Buy, Watercolor or Regular?

This really depends on your preferences and it’s a difficult question to answer because there are factors that you need to consider. Between watercolor pencils and regular colored pencils, choosing one from the other is a personal choice. As yourself what kind of artwork do you want to create. What do you want to achieve? You can always buy both and experiment and then see which one you prefer to use more.

Best brands for regular pencils

Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils

This brand is considered to have the leading colored pencils in the art world because of its superb quality and cost. The pigment quality of Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils is superb, it is rich, vibrant, and saturated. The pencils glide smoothly on paper and are very easy to blend, they are ideal for shading and layering colors.

Faber-Castell Polychromos Colored Pencils

These oil-based colored pencils are popular for their rich pigments and a wide variety of colors. The pencils glide in the paper very smoothly and you don’t have to exert too much pressure to achieve saturated color outputs.

This is one of the best pencils for coloring because of its wonderful color application. The pencil lead is strong and break-resistant.

Caran D’ache Luminance Colored Pencils

This set is known for its blend-ability and fans of the Prismacolor Premier enjoy using this set because of its vibrant shades, blend-ability, and lightfastness. Most artists have nothing but love for these colored pencils and the only downside really is their expensive price tag.

Related Article: 10 Of The Best Colored Pencils for Artists | The Best Pencils for Coloring Books for Adults

Best brands for watercolor pencils

Cretacolor 72 Aqua Monolith

Cretacolor’s watercolor pencils have remarkable quality, their colors are bright and vivid and their leads are soft enough to produce a neat result. The binders dissolve cleanly in water that will help you achieve amazing outcomes. You can either use the pencils wet or dry, they are brilliant either way.

Caran D’ache Supracolor

This watercolor pencil set has vibrant colors even when used dry and even more so when wet. The binders completely dissolve and do not cause clumps making it a breeze using these pencils. They have incredible covering abilities and the lightfastness of the pigments are just excellent.

This brand may not be the cheapest, but its professional quality is well worth the money you spend for it.

Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer

The Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer Watercolor Pencils have extremely good blending ability and your art can come alive when you apply water to it. These pencils are oil-based and they can handle repeated use and sharpening.

The application of these pencils can come off thick and textured at first, just add a bit of water, and will become very buttery. With its premium quality, expect to shell out some money, but its price is totally worth it.

Watercolor Pencils vs Colored Pencils: Final Thoughts

When it comes to choosing which is which, there’s really no such thing as the better option because it all depends on your personal preference. Both types of pencils come with their own pros and cons, and they really work differently when compared to each other.

Depending on your art style and the result you want to achieve, you ultimately have to decide which type of pencil will work best for you.

If you like to blend and burnish, you’ll pick the regular colored pencils. If you want to create a watercolor-like painting, you’d love working with watercolor pencils. You can even enjoy both pencils for diversity.

No matter which one you choose, you’ll enjoy using both. I’m sure of that!

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