Are Derwent Inktense Pencils Worth the Hype? – A Review


I have been asked so many questions about Derwent Inktense pencils. Are they really different from other colored pencils? Are they worth the money? A couple of months ago I bought a set to find out.

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

inktenseDerwent 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).inktense

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.

Inktense Color Swatches click to open in new tab at full size

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.

Check out my results when I dabbed at the color with a water brush as well as colorless pencils below (click on the image to see a larger version in a new tab):

Design: Creative Haven Mehndi Designs

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.

So, how do the the Derwent Intense pencils perform?  I created the following examples so you can see for yourself (click on the image to open a new tab and see the image detail better):Inktense Comparison

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, 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★.

Have you tried Derwent Inktense pencils?  What are your thoughts?  Share with us in the comments section below!


21 thoughts on “Are Derwent Inktense Pencils Worth the Hype? – A Review”

  1. As usual, an excellent and useful review.

  2. Doris Kolvoord says:

    I bought a set Inktense pencils (72). I am 92 years old, so I am not the fastest learner. As you remarked, if you want to work with these pencils,you must learn to use a waterbrush. I just love these pencils.They are lovely for shading and the colors are just great. It has given me much pleasure to learn a new way of coloring.

    1. adultcoloring101 says:

      You are amazing, Doris! Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

  3. Madeleine Poe says:

    Thank you for a great review. You answered all the questions in my mind about the Inktense pencils. I love my Prismacolor pencils and have the full set on my birthday wish list. But I may just have to add at least a small set of these to try them out for myself.

  4. Renee Rousseau says:

    Thank you for a very honest and helpful review of Derwent Inktense Pencils. I also found the technique hints very helpful.

  5. I like using Inktense with brush, I pick up colour from a pencil with wet brush and paint that way. And it’s fun to layer them, since when dried they don’t move. 🙂

    1. Great Review; I have been a prismacolor girl since I was 10 @50 I am trying out the Derwent’s. I really was not a fan upon reading your review I’ll give it another go and try master this thing called patience. I can say I did like layering once dry to get a nice highlight effect. I used Glasco for a blending medium. And several different brushes.

  6. I think these would be amazing!!

  7. Margaret Appel says:

    Thank you for the Inktense review! I had not heard of these pencils before, and they sound awesome! My sister loves coloring, and these would make her day. I’ll have to check into them further!

  8. Renee Rousseau says:

    As someone who is ready to upgrade my pencils, I really appreciate the honest and forthright review. Listing the advantages/disadvantages helps me decide what would work for me!

  9. Dorothy Boucher says:

    I know they are pricey but they sure sound wonderful to use when coloring. I bet a lot of people use these.

  10. ana luisa says:

    a colorless blending pencil gives a nice finish touch

  11. ana luisa says:

    i need to improve my coloring technique.

  12. I did not realize there are so many different pencils. Thank you for telling us about these.

  13. Mary Gardner says:

    I have not tried them and even though I would love to, I will probably stick with Prismacolor until the price on these comes down a little more. Thanks for your review.

  14. Just wondering if anyone has used these on cotton fabrics? How well did they blend and hold their color? Did you use a medium to make them wash-safe? Thanks!

  15. Mary in Hammondsport says:

    I have used the Inktense pencils to color the features on faces on an applique quilt. They work beautifully. Now–I don’t plan to wash this quilt a lot or bleach it at all; it’s a wall hanging. However, since wetting the pigment creates INK, I am comfortable that they are pretty much color-fast.

    I have also used them to create fussy detail on acrylic paintings. For example, the narrow lines of a window frame on a painting of a house. Trying to do that with a brush would have been nerve-wracking–with the pencils, it was a snap. I then wet down the pencil marks with a very fine watercolor brush, and you can’t tell at all that it was done with a pencil.

    I am currently exploring the Inktense blocks. They appear to have all the good qualities of watercolor and acrylic and fewer of the bad qualities. I’ll be investing in more of these as I go along.

  16. I use these pencils all the time since I saw pictures made with them in a facebook group. I bought a small set of 12 first to try them and then added other single pencils. Thinking back, I should have taken the whole set of 72, but I wasn’t sure at the time if I would like them so much. The color explodes as soon as you pass the brush with very little water. This also means that the paper doesn’t have to be too thick. It is perfect to prepare the picture on the move, in the train for example, since I don’t have so much time to draw. Then in the end I finish them with the brush at home. Actually I also bought a couple of Albrecht Dürer pencils for other colors as well and was not as impressed as with the derwent ones.

  17. Hi,…a great comprehensive review, but I was wondering
    how light-fast the Inktense pencils were?
    Transparent watercolors & colored pencils can be quite “sun sensitive”!
    Thanks, Lou

  18. Samantha Ryon says:

    Thank you for an awesome review! You answered and showed examples all of the questions i had about inktense pencils. Also, i am going to try the alcohol mixed with water.
    I have the 150 prisma set but i have been so interested in the inktense pencils. I am going to try the small set.
    Thanks again!

  19. These sound very interesting, to be able to vary the effect. I’m more of a beginner, so probably not worth my trying something that I’m not going appreciate enough how these work. I love learning about the variety!! Who knew!

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