Derwent Inktense Pencils and Blocks

Inktense pencils review
Photos © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

There is a significant difference between Derwent's Inktense and watercolor pencils. When you add water, Inktense produces ink not watercolor paint. Once this has dried, the ink is waterproof rather than remaining water-soluble with watercolor.

This means you can additional layers to your painting without disturbing what you've already done. As I mostly use acrylics, and thus am accustomed to being able to add to a painting without reactivating what's underneath, I do like this.

I've found with watercolor pencils I sometimes end up muddying the colors by overworking, but with Inktense once it's dry, it's dry.

That said, it's important to note that if you don't 'activate' all the Inktense pencil the first time you apply water, you may have some pencil left that will dissolve the next time you apply water. It depends on how heavily you applied the pencil and how much water you use.

As with all water-soluble pencils, you can put a wet brush onto an Inktense pencil or stick to pick up some ink and then brush this onto paper. I've also produced very painterly mark making by dipping the tip into​ the water and then drawing onto paper with it, and by working with the pencil into still-wet paint or damp paper.

The colors in Inktense are decidedly strong and intense and go onto paper readily, so try them in your sketchbook before you put them onto an important painting. Otherwise, you may find yourself with too much, and dabbing it off with a cloth or trying to erase it.

Both work, and will a little practice you'll soon get a feel for how much you need to apply.

Inktense are available either as pencils or as sticks. If you want to do detail, then the pencils are idea because they sharpen to a fine point and can give a very crisp line. If you want to work larger or without stopping to sharpen a pencil, the sticks are larger bits of the "lead" without the wood coating.

Both go on easily, gliding across the page. You don't have to scrub at the paper to put down color.

72 Inktense colors in pencils, each with a reference number and name. See Inktense Pencils Color Chart for the full range and lightfastness details.
72 colors in blocks (started with 24; increased June 2013),
• Inktense pencils and blocks sold individually or in tins of six, 12, 24, 36, or 72.

There are other elements to the Inktense product range that I haven't tried yet. Starting with Derwent's Outliner pencil, which is a non-soluble graphite pencil. I wonder if it would stop a section of color from bleeding into another, or would you need Derwent's colorless blender pencil for that? It could also be great for combining lines that don't dissolve with ones that do in one painting. For dealing with short pencils, there's a Pencil Extenders which adds length to a stub so you can work with it comfortably.

For Inktense sticks, there's a rubber Gripper which slides over the stick to make it easier to hold and stop you getting ink on your fingers. And a Grate n Shake which is effectively a small grater with a container underneath for shredding bits of a stick, which you then shake onto wet paper or add to water to create larger quantities of ink for painting.

Grate more than one color at a time to color mix.

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.