Watercolor Pencils vs. Wax-Based Pencils…Which are Better for Coloring?

Choosing the best colored pencils to use in adult coloring books can be daunting, to say the least. They vary by brand, price, quality and type. The most popular type of colored pencils are water-soluble or wax-based. But how do you know which type of pencil is best for you?

Water-Soluble (Watercolor) Pencils: It is hard to deny the versatility of watercolor pencils. They can be used as a regular colored pencil but when used with a bit of water the overall feel of the image changes.

The Pros:

  • Watercolor pencils are versatile as they can be used with or without water
  • The addition of water makes it easier to blend colors together.
  • Watercolor pencils, when wet, provides a nice wash or “softening” effect.
  • Great option when coloring large areas.

The Cons:

  • They can be challenging to learn at first. I don’t suggest this for beginners.
  • You run the risk of ruining your work because adding too much water can cause colors to streak and run.
  • They are hard to use on the go as you always need water to get the full effect.
  • Coloring books often have thin paper and water soaks through leaving nearby pages a soggy mess.
    • A note about paper weights: Paper is measured in pounds (exactly why is a subject for another blog). For example, traditional printer paper is typically 20-25lbs. When we created our Live Your Life in Color Series, https://coloringbookzone.com/collections/live-your-life-in-color-series, we decided to use 80lb cardstock to minimize bleed through of markers and watercolors. That being said, watercolor pencils would work very nicely in our Live Your Life in Color series, considering our books are made with 80lb cardstock.

Wax-Based Colored Pencils: Wax-based pencils have a softer core creating greater flexibility on several levels. Although wax-based pencils range in quality, I suggest buying the best set you can afford. The higher grades really make a difference in the overall appearance of the image.

The Pros:

  • They are great for layering color and adding depth to the page. You control the intensity of the pigment.
  • The softer core allows for wonderful blending capabilities, especially with the higher quality pencils.
  • They have extremely vibrant pigments
  • There are a wider variety of brands and colors to choose from.
  • Wax-based pencils can be used anywhere – no water needed!


  • Depending on the quality of the pencils and the amount of pressure you apply when you color, the pencil may not last as long, due to the softer core.
  • It can be difficult to cover wide spaces on the page.
  • If the color is applied too heavily, the pigment may be difficult to lighten.
  • Wax bloom (a light white haze on the surface of the page) can occur, but a washcloth or Q-Tip will usually remove it.

Choosing between watercolor and wax-based colored pencils can be a challenge but we hope this has helped clarify things a little. Also check out this link which reviews 50 different colored pencil brands. http://www.bestcoloredpencils.com/colored-pencil-comparison-chart

Happy coloring…