Posted on March 9, 2017
Are Derwent Inktense Pencils Worth the Hype? – A Review
I bought these pencils myself and did not receive any compensation for my thoughts and opinions. In fact, Derwent is not aware that I’m writing this review. I just want to share my experience with other adult coloring enthusiasts. There are affiliate links in this post.
An Introduction to Derwent Inktense Pencils
Derwent Inktense pencils are packed with pigment that can be used dry for rich color. However, the big selling point for them is that when you “activate” the lead with water, they transform into an acrylic-based ink that is more vivid, and you can create a paint-like wash effect. Once dry, the color is permanent and ready for you to layer on more color from pencils (Inktense or not), pens, or markers if you want to.
You can buy Derwent Inktense pencils individually; in a pack of six pencils; tins of 12 pencils, 24 pencils, 36 pencils, and 72 pencils; and wooden boxes of 48 pencils and 72 pencils. Technically there are a total of 72 colors, but one is actually a unique “Outliner” (more on that later).
Each pencil has a round, blue barrel and thick lead. The top of each pencil is finished and technically color-coded to the lead, but is not 100% reflective of the dry or wet colors when applied to paper. At eight millimeters, the barrel is a bit larger than other pencils’, which I found to be very comfortable. The lead core has a creamy feel when coloring, although it does have a smidge of that “squeaky” drag on smoother papers if you press firmly. Like other soft core leads, you will need your sharpener at hand to keep a sharp point.
An important factor in choosing any medium for coloring is versatility. And versatility is one of the Inktense pencils’ strengths: they can be used in so many ways for different effects:
- Color, and then go over your finished piece with a paintbrush or water-brush for the full Inktense effect.
- You can use them dry. They perform similarly to other artist-grade colored pencils like Prismacolor Premier.
- Dip the lead of the pencil in water for a second, shake off any excess, and then color. You will get a super-intense color, but you will have to make more, shorter strokes as you will have to repeatedly sharpen and dunk the tip in water.
- Take a damp paintbrush or water-brush, dab it on the pencil lead and paint the color onto your illustration.
When you do use water, let the ink dry completely and you can add another layer.
The Derwent Inktense set I bought has 23 colors plus the Outliner.
At first I thought the Outliner was just another color for creating shadows, for example. However, I finally figured out that it is a special graphite pencil that resists water. When you use the Outliner, it will resist most other media leaving your graphite-colored line-work pristine. For example, if you want to keep the outline in an illustration bold, first color over it with the Outliner and then proceed with your coloring. This is a great alternative to gong back over lines with a fine-point black marker after you color.
The colors are beautiful and bold but I was at first disappointed that they have less than best-in-class coverage on most types of paper. I found that there was more white speckling than Prismacolor Premier pencils, as a comparison. Simply going over the pencil with water, as well as using my colorless blender and burnisher pencils did a good job polishing away the spotting, however.
Adding the water did the best job in bringing out the vibrancy in the colors and eliminating speckling.
So, how easy is it to use Inktense pencils?
Depending on how heavily I pressed or how many layers I made when laying down color, it could take a fair bit of rubbing with my wet brush to get a smooth wash, although letting a few pencil marks show through did add a little texture to my colored-in pieces. In my color swatch above, I made five light strokes with my water brush to create each “activated” color, and you can clearly see the pencil marks.
Once you’ve applied a wash to Inktense, it becomes permanent. As a result, if you make a mistake you can’t just erase it, or move it around with more water. But you can layer new colors over previously dry colors without the first color lifting up and muddying everything.
Here are some of my observations as I was putting the Inktense pencils through their paces:
- If you are going to activate the Inktense with water you don’t need perfect pencil coverage. Your brush will help you fill in as well as smooth any speckling from the paper.
- When activating move from light colors to dark in a single section, clean your brush, and then move to the next section.
- Make sure to keep your brush wet, rinse immediately after using, and of course rinse between sections. If you use a natural-hair paint brush, it will be damaged if you don’t clean it before putting it away. The ink did stain the very tips of the nylon fibers in my water brushes.
- It does take some practice to get the right amount of water on the bristles of your brush. I started with a water-based Tombow colorless marker and moved on to a fine-tipped water-brush for better control. I know the best “paint-like’ results will come with a paintbrush and water, but I am not ready to master that yet.
- Water will buckle your paper. And the lighter the paper, the more buckling you will experience. If you are coloring in a coloring book, insert a piece of card stock behind your illustration to protect the next page from the water. To eliminate most of the buckling, lightly mist the back of your colored-in piece and place under a couple of really heavy books. Leave it until completely dry.
- Try using an alcohol based colorless marker, or a water brush filled with 90% rubbing or denatured alcohol with 10% water. You will get marker-like smoothness, rich color, and little to no paper buckling.
When used completely dry, the Inktense have the soft texture and blending qualities of Prismacolor Premier colored pencils. Add an “activator” and the Inktense will give you a beautiful, paint-like finish. Activating with water resulted in a muted, painting effect.
The Derwent Inktense set of 24 I bought cost $47.59 (on sale from $67.99), which works out to $1.98 per pencil. As I write this, Amazon.com has the same set for only $29.88, or $1.25 per pencil. As a comparison, Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils, Soft Core, 24-Count is $11.88, or about 49 cents per pencil. Quite a difference in price all around!
Many people love coloring because it is a great way to express and expand their creative side. If this is you, and you are interested in trying a new “look” in your coloring and enjoy the challenge of using a new medium, I recommend buying a few single Derwent Inktense pencils, or the smallest pack, to give them a go. Pros: The Inktense pencils are a wonderful artist-grade pencil with great colors and a special twist. Cons: They are a bit pricey and there is a learning curve to get the best results. I rate them 4★ out of 5★.