Infinite Maze — {blog}

Watercolor pencils (Faber-Castell x Derwent x Caran D’Ache x Koh-i-noor)

This article is an assessment of the main characteristics of four watercolor pencil brands for professional use. At first, my intention was to test the same brands have chosen to test when choosing my permanent lead pencils set (when I wrote an article about it). However, I couldn’t find Prismacolor watercolor pencils anywhere near. In fact, these I borrowed from my drawing teacher, who kindly lent me his pencils for my tests: Faber-Castell’s Albrecht Dürer, Derwent’s Inktense, Caran D’Ache’s Supracolor, Koh-i-noor’s Mondeluz.

Albrecht Dürer da Faber-Castell, Inktense da Derwent, Supracolor da Caran D’Ache, Mondeluz da Koh-i-noor.

Pencils I have chosen for my tests

What are watercolor pencils?

Watercolor pencils, unlike the permanent ones, are — of course — water-soluble. They are not “watercolors in pencil form”, although there are models that promise to be like that (but none on this list). Still, some of them can mimic very well the way watercolors work, allowing to create washes and even its use as watercolor chips (by preparing them with a knife or sharpener).

All brands tested here are intended for professional use, and all of them promise that strokes will be completely diluted by water (when using proper paper).  The ones I have chosen to compare are the soft lead water-soluble lines from each brand, as we have many variables in some of these brands.

In the same model of my article on permanent colored pencils, I will list the main features of each pencil, followed by my tests and comparisons.


Faber-Castell’s Albrecht Dürer

The watercolor professional line by Faber-Castell has been reviewed on this blog already. It has the same color chart of their permanent equivalent Polychromos (also reviewed here). I could not leave them out of this comparison, after all, it is a traditional and recognized brand as well as being one of the few to which we have easy access here (Brazil).

Albrecht Dürer, Faber-Castell

Albrecht Dürer specifications:

  • Body Shape: hexagonal
  • Lead: 3.8 mm
  • Available in sets of 12, 24, 36, 60 and 120 colors.
  • Available individually: yes
  • Lightfastness rating: star system — ★★★ maximum / ★★ very good / ★ just ok
  • Lightfastness: most of the colors are classified with 3 or 2 stars, some with one.
  • Official Albrecht Dürer chart

Recently, this line received a “bigger brother” called Albrecht Dürer Magnus. They are the same Albrecht Dürer watercolor pencils, but with 5.3 mm leads and up to date, with 30 colors available.


Derwent’s Inktense

The British Derwent has several lines of pencils with the water-solubility feature. The line I chose here is the professional one with soft leadInktense.

According to the manufacturer, these are their best watercolor pencils. They can be used in dry technique, but by mixing them with water they become vibrant ink. They are permanent after drying and therefore can be used in natural fabrics like cotton and silk  — now I’m really curious to test this.

Inktense, Derwent

Inktense specifications:

  • Body shape: rounded
  • Lead: 4 mm
  • Sets available: 6, 12, 18, 24, 36, 48 and 72 colors.
  • Available individually: yes
  • Lightfastness rating: Blue Wool scale (0 to 8) – 3,4: Acceptable / 5.6: good / 7.8: Excellent
  • Lightfastness: vast majority of colors is classified into 7 or 8 , few in 2 to 4.
  • Inktense official chart

Caran D’Ache’s Supracolor

The Swiss Caran d’Ache is one of the most traditional brands in colored pencil, has several lines, four of them water-soluble. For the consistency of this article, I will dwell on the line equivalent to the other brands reviewed here: professional use with water-soluble soft leads.

According to the manufacturer, the Supracolor line is ideal for dry technique as for washes. It’s ideal for covering large areas and has excellent lightfastness rates. It is also interesting to note that Supracolor prices (depending on your country) can be 60% higher than Albrecht Dürer ones, for example.

Supracolor, Caran D’Ache

Supracolor Specifications:

  • Body shape: hexagonal
  • Lead: 3.8 mm, soft
  • Available sets: 12, 18, 30, 40, 80 and 120 colors.
  • Available individually: yes
  • Lightfastness rating: star system — ★★★ maximum / ★★ very good / ok ★ only
  • Official color chart: not found * (page does not exist through the link on the official page)

As I had access only to individual colors and did not find the official table to download, I was unable to verify the lightfastness rating of this line as a whole.


Koh-i-Noor’s Mondeluz

Mondeluz is the most accessible (in terms of price) in this list, but also, as well as Inktense, with only 72 colors available. Made with high-quality and highly concentrated pigments, contains white clay in its composition (which, according to the manufacturer, gives it “an unsurpassable ability to make a unique stroke on the paper or other medium”, whatever that’s supposed to mean). Also, the brand ensures the excellent solubility of all the components.

Mondeluz, Koh-i-noor

Mondeluz specifications:

  • Body shape: hexagonal
  • Lead: 3.8 mm
  • Available sets: 12, 24, 36, 48 and 72
  • Available individually: I did not found, although it is known they are sold somewhere in the world.
  • Lightfastness rating: star system, 1 to 4 — ★★★★ maximum / ★★★ very good / ★★ good  / ★ acceptable
  • Lightfastness: most colors are rated with 3 or 4 stars; only 4 colors classified with one.
  • Mondeluz official chart

Tests

Here there are my tests with each of these pencils, comparing them. The paper I used was Canson Montval with fine texture.

Firstly, dry strokes. Painting with maximum pressure up to light pressure, all delivered very similar results. They are all really soft. Although Inktense is a little softer and hence releases more “dust” while painting with highest pressure (these pieces that are around the paintings are pieces of leads). Supracolor was the one which released less of those particles.

Comparing dry strokes.

For the wash, I tried to verify the following: strokes solubility, the ease of working with the ink that comes from strokes, the intensity of color. Undoubtedly, Inktense is the most pigmented. By passing the brush with water, the amount of ink that comes from strokes is remarkable.

Comparing the wash over the strokes.

When washing a very saturated area, all of them had similar results after drying. But to be sure of the complete solubility of strokes, I did the following test: drew small, medium pressure strokes and applied the brush with water. The result, after drying, was as follows:

Medium pressure strokes diluted with brush and water.

To ensure this result, I repeated the test. This time, I traced with maximum pressure but insisted with the brush to force the lines to dissolve completely — or as much as possible. The result was as follows:

Strokes with high pressure dissolved with water as much as possible.

 


Conclusion

The four brands, as with all professional art supplies, have their pros and cons. Here a few things that I believe should be taken into consideration while choosing among them.

  • Preferred application: If you prefer dry technique, wash, or both at the same rate. If you want more defined strokes and yet the possibility to create watercolors, Supracolor would be a good choice. If your preference is watercolor, large areas of coverage and intense colors, Inktense will do an excellent job. If you want to use your pencils as if they were watercolors at some point — preparing leads separately and use them as watercolor chips — you should choose the ones that dissolve completely, as Albrecht Dürer or Inktense.
  • Your goals with this material: if you will sell your originals then is extremely important to pay attention to the lightfastness of the materials used. That’s why I like to check all official color charts, so I know what are the safest colors (even before investing in the set) to use in paintings that should last for many years.
  • Use in mixed media technique: if you already use any professional line of some of these brands, and is keen to have the same color in different materials, give preference to the brand you already use. They usually have the same color chart.
  • Price and accessibility of new items: important to note that in this comparison I did not consider prices, but some things in this list can cost twice as others, then always research. In some countries, like Brazil, it is still very difficult to get replacement for Mondeluz and Supracolor, for example. Please note that some of your colors (the ones you use most) will get used very quickly, therefore to be able to replace them with ease is something to consider.

Still have questions? Buy individual colors. When you feel comfortable with the material and feel confident in your choice, you can invest in your set with no fear! In the links below you can find all of these (ships worldwide!).

Where to buy them *affiliate links*


Sources for this article: Faber-Castell, Derwent, Caran D’Ache, Koh-i-noor, Coloured Pencil Topics. Who helped me: Micael Biasin (drawing teacher)

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