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Colored Pencils vs. Watercolor Pencils

By Dana Hinders 

If you're planning your next adult coloring purchase, you might be wondering whether colored pencils or watercolor pencils are the best choice. This guide will help outline some factors to consider when making your purchasing decision. 

Price and Color Selection 

Colored pencils are widely available at price points suitable for any budget. Many people choose to start out with a student quality first and then upgrade to artist quality. Most brands, particularly those at the lower end of the price scale, have a wax core. However, oil core pencils are preferred by many colorists because their harder leads make them easier to sharpen into a fine point for very intricate work. 

In addition to being more expensive than colored pencils, watercolor pencils have a more limited range of colors. It's not difficult to find a set of 48, 72, or even 120 colored pencils. With watercolor pencils, however, you'll most often see sets of 12 or 24 colors. 

Ability to Blend Colors 

For someone who loves adult coloring books, but has little artistic training, working with colored pencils is often the most obvious choice. With a large enough set, you'll have an endless array of options, including deep, rich shades for every color of the rainbow. If desired, colors can be blended using a special colorless blender pencil, Vaseline, or a small amount of baby oil. Alternatively, tri-tone pencils let you get a subtle blended effect with minimal effort since they have three colors blended together in the same pencil lead. 

Watercolor pencils look and operate like normal colored pencils at first glance, but create soft painted effects when water is added to them. As a result, watercolor pencils tend to offer less intense colors. It's more difficult to blend colors together, but relatively easy to lighten a color by adding water. When you're adding water to the area, however, you'll be able to quickly cover a large area. This can be helpful when you're working on a picture with a large section of sky, water, or grass. 

curiousity shoppe colored pencils

curiousity shoppe with watercolors 

Paper Quality 

Colored pencils won't bleed through the paper, which means they are ideal for working with coloring books that are printed on both sides. However, the quality of your paper becomes more important when working with watercolor pencils. Thin paper will buckle when water is added. For this reason, many people like to use watercolor pencils on digital downloads that they've printed on high quality cardstock or specialty watercolor paper. To further prevent buckling, you can tape the paper to a sheet of cardboard, a clipboard, or another flat surface using artist's tape, painter's tape, or masking tape. 

Your Goals as a Colorist 

If you're struggling to decide which set of pencils to buy, take time to consider your goals as a colorist. Colored pencils will be the best choice if you're coloring as a form of stress relief and want to enjoy instant gratification. However, if you're interested in developing your skills as an artist and willing to put up with the learning curve that watercolor pencils require, they can be a wonderful addition to your supply stash.

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Example photos are colored pages from The Curiosity Shoppe Coloring Book featuring artwork by Chris Price.   

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