Shake up your artistic style with watercolor pens
In a creative rut? Take your art in a new direction by experimenting with watercolor pens!
Watercolour pens are a fun tool to explore if you're feeling in a creative rut. They combine all the best qualities of watercolor paints with the ease of marker pens. They’re popular with both artists and illustrators and we can see why!
These pens are much more convenient to use than watercolor paints, especially if you're short of time. They're highly blendable and can be used like traditional marker pens – or you can dissolve the inks using a little water.
Watercolor pens (sometimes called watercolor brush pens) are particularly striking when used for illustration techniques such as hand lettering.
The best way to get started is to invest in a set of watercolor pens. There are lots of different sets available on the market to suit all budgets.
Most watercolor pen sets are designed for professional artists and designers, but there are plenty of affordable options for amateur artists and students to explore.
If you're unsure whether watercolor are for you, start off with a small pack and upgrade to a high-quality set at a later date.
How do you use watercolor pens?
Ready to start using watercolor pens? Here are our top tips to help you get into this fun medium…
1. Complement your watercolor paints
If you're already a watercolor artist, you'll be pleased to learn that you can use these pens alongside your existing paint sets. It’s a winning combination!
2. Improve your accuracy
Watercolor pens can help to improve the accuracy of your watercolor paintings. These pens come in handy for those times when you want to add precise details to your work.
3. Create varied textures
Watercolor pens can also be used like traditional markers. Eexperiment with them and see what interesting effects you can make on your paper. Just be aware that watercolor pens are water soluble, so they will run if they come into contact with wet paper.
4. Draw onto wet paper
Did you know that you can draw directly onto wet paper using your watercolor pens? The pens will bleed across the surface of the paper – with interesting results!
5. Use the right kind of paper
If you’re working with watercolor paints, it’s important to use a heavyweight paper such as watercolor paper. Lightweight papers will warp if you add too much water.
If you’re only going to be adding water to a small area of your work, you can also use mixed media paper. Just make sure that you don’t make it too wet.
6. Create art on the go
If you’re out and about, packing some watercolor pens and a small sketchbook can be more convenient than bringing a watercolor set. When you see a view that you want to capture, you can just stop and draw.
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Take a watercolor brush pen with you to blend the inks together. A watercolor brush pen contains a small reservoir that you can fill up with water. It’s essentially a brush and water pot in one!
7. Be bold with your shades
Watercolor pens can be tricky to blend, so it’s best to stick to bolder colours for the best results. If you do want to mix colours, you could try stippling (drawing dots) to combine two different shades before applying water using your brush.
Feeling inspired? Read on to discover the best watercolor pens to buy and start creating your own spectacular artwork…
10 best watercolor pens to buy
1. MANUSCRIPT Aquabrush Markers
Best for calligraphy
Watercolor pens are very popular with calligraphers and brush lettering aficionados, because they allow you to create stunning tonal effects.
For this reason, they’re also handy for decorating bullet journals or diaries. This Manuscript Aquabrush marker set will allow you to create beautiful lettering in 12 shades. The set also includes a brush to blend the markers together.
This watercolor pen set is good value for money, so it’s also a great option for people who want to dabble before buying a more expensive pack of pens.
2. Ecoline Brush Pens
Best for vibrant colours
Calling all color lovers! This fantastic set of watercolor pens from Ecoline is incredibly versatile and includes an array of intense colours. These pens are filled with transparent dye inks, which are not waterproof. You can easily create beautiful gradients using a wet paintbrush or even use the inks to create a wash effect. Ecoline pens can also be used alongside your normal watercolor paints.
As an added bonus, they’re also odourless and fast-drying. If you enjoy using these pens, Ecoline also offers some other complementary sets in alternative colours, such as pastel sets and botanical markers.
3. Winsor & Newton Promarker Watercolour Markers
Best for illustrators
If you’re into illustration then you probably already own a set of Promarkers. The original Promarkers are perfect for colouring and shading with a broad range of tones available. These watercolor markers have all of the best qualities of Promarkers.
They’re double-ended with a finer tip for detailed areas of your work and a brush tip for broader mark making. As you would expect, these watercolor pens can be diluted with water for more painterly effects. Winsor & Newton has a great reputation for producing quality art supplies and this watercolor pen set won’t disappoint.
4. Faber Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolour Marker pack
Best for art on the go
If you love to paint and sketch on the go, then this set is what you’ve been looking for! This set contains ten pens, but they’re double-ended and come in a selection of bright shades. The Faber-Castell markers are a good choice if you enjoy expressive drawing and painting. They can be used to produce richly pigmented washes or accurate drawings.
The inks are lightfast, which means that they won’t fade over time. This is essential if you want to display your artwork or sell it.
If you enjoy using the set, it’s also available in larger sizes including a bumper 30 pack!
5. Scherry Brush Pens
Best for kids
This affordable set of watercolor pens would make a fabulous gift for a creative child! It’s also a great option if you want to try out watercolor pens before splashing out on a more expensive set.
The inks won’t fade over time, which is surprising given the low price!
If you find you enjoy using this set, a larger set of 36 pens is available for just a few extra pounds. This is definitely a good buy if you’re on a tight budget.
6. Arteza Real Brush pens
Best for art students
Looking for a larger pack of watercolor pens? This set of 48 colors will come in handy for all of your artistic projects. The size of this set makes it perfect for anyone likely to use their pens heavily – such as art students! It’s brilliant value for money.
These pens are hugely versatile and can be used for everything from sketching to creating beautiful blended artwork. This is a good buy for anyone who wants to try out this wonderful medium – and it would make an excellent gift for the artist in your life too.
7. Precision brush pens
Best for accuracy
These brilliant artist’s watercolor pens are perfect for those times when you need precision. They have fine tips, which are perfect for creating accurate sketches.
The Precision brush pens set comes with 48 dazzling colours to choose from which are all vivid and highly pigmented. There are also two refillable watercolor brush pens in the set.
This is a highly versatile set of pens that would be suitable for artists of all levels. You could use this set for everything from cartoons to calligraphy!
8. Chromatek watercolour brush pens
Best for honing your skills
This set of watercolor pens include an excellent range of bold colours, which blend together beautifully when you add water. There are also three essential watercolor blending brushes, so you can get started right away.
Unlike other watercolor pen sets, this pack also comes with a unique video learning system to teach you how to get the most out of your pens. There’s also a watercolor paper pad to help you practise your newly acquired skills!
With this set, you’re getting more than just a packet of watercolor pens – you’re essentially getting a short art course too.
9. Kuretake Clean Color brush pens
Best for quality
Kuretake pens are extremely popular with artists and illustrators due to their radiant colours.
These pens have a single tip, but are still extremely versatile. You can draw a fine or thick line simply by varying the amount of pressure that you put onto the flexible tip.
However, Kuretake pens really come into their own when you add water to blend the inks together. As these pens are more expensive, we’d recommend that you don’t use them for colouring in to help protect the tips.
These professional-quality pens should last for a long time if you look after them properly.
10. Tombow ABT-108C ABT Dual Brush Pens
Best for professional artists
If you’re looking for top-of-the-range watercolor pens, this set from Tombow is an excellent choice.
Tombow has a brilliant reputation for producing high-quality pens and this set is no exception. This set includes 108 pens in a beautiful array of rainbow colours, so you’ll be able to create stunning works of art in no time.
The pens are all water soluble and behave like watercolor paints when you apply a wet paintbrush. You can also try dipping the tip of the pen in water to create more interesting results!
If you’re a professional artist or illustrator, then it’s worth investing in some Tombow watercolor markers. They can be used like normal markers too.
What to look for when you’re choosing watercolor pens
It’s a good idea to keep in mind what you’re looking for when you’re choosing your watercolor pens.
If you just want to test out watercolor pens, it is best to opt for a cheaper set to find out if you like using them. Affordable pens allow you to test out the medium without spending a lot of money.
For students or professional artists, it’s worth investing in a more expensive set. You’re likely to get a lot of use out of them, especially if you combine them with traditional watercolor paints.
Look for pens with water-based inks – many sets also include a water brush for blending. Choose a set with a good selection of color to get the most out of your pens.
Learn how to capture someone’s likeness using watercolors
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Sarah Orme is a UK-based linocut printmaker, digital editor, feature writer and award-winning podcaster. She's been editing the sewing and art sections of Gathered.how – and before that our sister website calmmoment.com – for over 3 years. She’s the host of Gathered’s We’ve Made It podcast and A Calmer Life podcast. She’s a keen crafter and artist and loves creating DIY tutorials for Gathered. Sarah has previously written features for The Guardian, In The Moment Magazine, Project Calm Magazine, countryfile.com, radiotimes.com and yourhomestyle.uk. She enjoys designing her own unique lino prints and dreams of opening her own online shop. She shares her work @sarahormeprints