Review: Derwent Inktense Watercolour Pencils

This review is written by my friend Teo Hwee Lee.

Derwent pencils have been manufactured by The Cumberland Pencil Company in Cumbria in the UK since 1832 and is now a brand under ACCO UK Ltd.

The Inktense pencils are marketed as Derwent's "best watercolour pencils ever", capable of laying down "permanent colours after washes and drying,even on silk and cotton".

The big selling point of this particular range of 72 colours is that the artist can go from "pencil to ink in just one wash" to "combine the vibrancy of inks with the subtlety of pencils".

For the purpose of this review, I used a 24-colour tin set which comes with 23 colours and 1 outliner, which is supposed to be less soluble. Below is the 24-colour swatch I have done on 150gsm white vellum-surfaced paper, I find it weird that the 24-set has only 1 yellow (sun yellow) and 1 orange (tangerine) which make achieving skin tones in portraiture difficult.

Its 5 greens (sherbet yellow is more green than yellow) and 4 browns and 4 blues seem more suited for nature drawings. I find it weirder that the whole 72-colour range has no cream colour at all. A lot of the paper showed through, just like in all the papers I used, this could be a boon if you like your paper to show through or bane if otherwise. Thankfully, going over the penciled-in areas with a wet brush should do the trick of maximising coverage.

The full list of colours in this set are:

  • 0100 - Sherbet Lemon - LF 8
  • 0200 - Sun Yellow - LF 8
  • 0300 - Tangerine - LF 4
  • 0400 - Poppy Red - LF 5
  • 0500 - Chili Red - LF 3
  • 0600 - Shiraz - LF 3
  • 0700 - Fuchsia - LF 5
  • 0800 - Violet - LF 7
  • 0900 - Iris Blue - LF 5
  • 1000 - Bright Blue - LF 8
  • 1100 - Deep Indigo - LF 8
  • 1200 - Sea Blue - LF 8
  • 1300 - Teal Green - LF 8
  • 1400 - Apple Green - LF 6
  • 1500 - Field Green - LF 8
  • 1600 - Leaf Green - LF 7
  • 1700 - Mustard - LF 6
  • 1800 - Baked Earth - LF8
  • 1900 - Willow - LF 8
  • 2000 - Bark - LF 8
  • 2100 - Charcoal Grey - LF 8
  • 2200 - Ink Black - LF 8
  • 2300 - Antique White - LF 8
  • 2400 - Outliner - LF 8

Some colours of are questionable lightfast quality, with LF 8 being excellent.

I wetted the colour swatch using a sable watercolour brush, which I regretted, because slight rubbing (which can be damaging to the brush!) was necessary to dissolve the Inktense pigments, I would recommend using a cheaper synthetic brush instead. I have added an extra band of 2B graphite at the bottom which I wetted to compare with the outliner wetted and am happy to report that the outliner pencil was almost totally insoluble.

For starters, I do not think that the Inktense pencils can be "subtle" when used dry, they are super strong colours, period. I really like how soft and vibrant the pencils are on my favourite toned tan paper, with a creamy feel to them and the effect of colour "popping" achievable with ease.

The Inktense pencils are akin to 6-8B graphite pencils in texture and thus flake off and smudge easily, so it is utmost important to protect your artwork by finishing it completely as soon as possible, placing protective tissue paper over it or fixing it with fixative. Care should also be exercised when transporting the tin set around as the pencils will roll if the middle of the tin is not further clamped down. Another product, the Inktense Pencil Wrap Set, which consists of the same 24 pencils and the Derwent pencil wrap, would be more sensible.

An important factor in choosing coloured pencils would be its versatility, I think the Inktense pencils, besides being really great for vivid drawings, they are also great for laying down translucent permanent under-layers for working over with say, Coloursoft or Studio pencils in the Derwent range, or in dry form on top of acrylic underpainting. And I hope that Derwent would have the 72-colour range adjusted for drawing humans as well. That being said, I still prefer to use the pencils dry rather than wet and use real inks or gel or acrylic pens for highlights rather than wetting to its aquarelle form as I find the colours would dull in the process.

The image above is the wetted Inktense worked over with Coloursoft pencils and white acrylic liquidtex pen. I found it difficult to colour over with the Coloursoft pencils after the inktense dried fully. I had tried using a gel pen to draw the white highlights but that was almost impossible to layer on too. I wonder how other users can layer on other mediums effectively over inktense.


Find more reviews at Dick Blick Art Materials (US) | Jackson's Art (UK)

I had a lot of trouble reading this. It kept scrolling down to the end. Lots of trouble typing this too. Thanks for the review tho.

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