Derwent Pencils

Derwent pencils are marketed by an English company based in the Lake District (The Cumberland Pencil Company) with a great reputation as being the most active in producing new art materials. 

At the core of their range are the hardest of the pencils and some of the longest in their production.

NOTE. Derwent tend to produce pencils 8mm across and many power sharpeners cut up to 7.5mm. 

Artist and Studio ranges of Derwent pencils

These are most suitable on a hard surface paper like cartridge or a smooth (HP) watercolour paper. The formula enables a very fine point to be produced which aids getting the fine detail loved by Botanical artists. 

There are a good range of greens and landscape colours and some unique shades in these Derwent pencils. Most colours match across the two lines, the only difference being that ARTIST is sold in 120 colours, round barrelled with a 4mm core, and STUDIO is sold in 72 colours, Hexagonal barrel, and 3.4mm core. 

The Pencils in these two lines were designed many years ago and there are a larger than average number with low lightfastness.  They are good pencils, though, and a lot of professional artists still rely on them. You do need to use a fair bit of pressure to get the pigment onto the paper.

You can download our Derwent Artists colour chart here

Derwent Artist''s pencils with 2 different liveries

Coloursoft pencils

COLOURSOFT were the Derwent answer to the American Prismacolor.  A soft waxy pencil in strong bright colours in a range of 72.

The Earth colours are totally light stable but there are a few in the light shades ( e.g. Pink),  where you will need to be cautious over the risk of fading. 

The relative softness of the core enables strong laydown of colour but there is a need to be careful as over sharpening the point will cause it to easily crumble which is wasteful. 

Developing many layers, even on hot pressed paper, is simple, and burnishing the top layers will result in a smooth, well-colored image.

Whilst these pencils handle well, the 8mm round barrel does not fit in all power sharpeners and that can be inconvenient. 

A good pencil - particularly now the wax pencil colour range has been augmented by the Procolours.

You can download the Derwent Coloursoft colour chart here

Derwent PROCOLOUR pencils

This newer line of wax based coloured Derwent pencils were launched in the UK in mid July 2017.  They  have a handling feel with softness somewhere between the harder Artist range and the softer Coloursoft. 

The Procolour pencils will take a very fine point in a power sharpener and there is little or no sign of crumbling from the needle sharp tip when used.

The colour range  in the 72 Procolour pencils is slightly different from Coloursoft so a combination of the two brands will give over a hundred unique colours. 

Procolour are not quite as vibrant and a finished ‘all Procolour’ artwork will be recognisable by the more subdued but possibly more detailed finish against Coloursoft.   

I think it fair to say that these new pencils fit into a logical slot as a softer version of the Artists/Studio pencil.

There are many YouTube reviews of this Derwent pencil line that I recommend you view several to get a good cross section of views. In my own view they are a good pencil, subject to the comment below on LF ratings.

One issue raised by many artists commenting on this recent line from Derwent, is the lack of lightfastness for so many colours.

For a new pencil line promoted for ‘professional use’, I think that it is a shame that the opportunity was not taken to follow the example of other manufacturers and go for higher lightfast levels. I suggest that anyone using these ‘seriously’ would be advised to mark the lower LF numbers on the pencils with clear labeling as I have done in the photo above.

The alternative, if you have a full set of Coloursoft, is to remove the few low lightfast colours from the Coloursoft set and amalgamate all the Good LF colours (118 at my count) to make one excellent set.

Yes, you will lose some pale colours, but nothing that you can’t deal with using a layer of white or a bit of judicious blending. It is easy to see which are the softer and harder pencils from the colour of the pencil barrel.

The photo above shows an amalgamated set.  All these colours are rated LF Blue Wool Scale 4 or above.

Derwent Lightfast pencils

A recent collection of Derwent pencils with a higher percentage of oil than wax. This is unusual for Derwent as they have for years concentrated on pencils with a wax based core.

The set was released in June 2018 in time for the Patchings Festival at Nottingham and presented an initial 36 colours all tested at ASTMS  LF1,  the highest lightfastness level.  Further colours were introduced as the testing of the extended range was completed, bringing the total to 100.  The price range as at May 2022 is around £3.50 per pencil, or £120 for a set of 36, taking them among the more expensive ranges.

For many artists, myself included, they are fast becoming a useful addition to my collection. Due to my impatience I purchased the first two sets of 36 as they became available and then the rest as open stock. The full 100 range is now available in a tin and a wooden box set.

These Derwent pencils are softer than the Artist and Studio range and have a very different feel from the Coloursoft. They have a  smooth lay down of highly pigmented colour which easily blends on the page.

Lightfast coloured pencils have been a holy grail that artists in CP have wanted for a long time. 

Caran d’Ache brought out the Luminance range a few years ago and these were the best attempt so far at a pencil to meet the American ASTMS 6901 standard.  Previous attempts by Prismacolor were dropped as unprofitable and the old Derwent Signature departed many years ago as they were too dry and scratchy (the combination of pigment and binder at that time was not at all good).

Ivor Harrison has a detailed review in the Art Gear Guide online where he compares Luminance and Lightfast in his studio conditions.

Derwent Watercolour pencils

Derwent Watercolour pencils through the ages

Derwent Watercolour pencils have been in production for many years and were last reformulated and replaced in 2009.

The old design had Turquoise coloured wood and came in 72 colours.  The more up to date design has a dark blue hexagonal barrel.  If you come across any with grey barrels, these are a very old range and you will find them poor compared to the latest version.

Some of the colours in the original line had very low lightfastness ratings.  I liked the old turquoise barrelled pencils which were medium hardness and handle well.

The new line still has 72 colours (some new), a softer core and higher lightfastness levels. There are still some poor ratings in some colours.

The colour range is good for landscapes with a good selection of greens and browns.

Peter used the current formula pencils for a step by step picture of Venice featured on the Topics talk facebook group in the spring of 2017. This was done on cold pressed watercolour paper and the result was acceptable bearing in mind the surface. 

Derwent Watercolour pencils have some colours that do not make a good wash for backgrounds - the pigment is possibly not as finely ground as some brands. This is only likely to be a problem at greater dilutions and is unlikely to create difficulties when using them as a dry pencil before adding water to the paper.

An artist who took the watercolour pencils to Tunisia, with temperatures of 30 degrees, found that they were inclined to soften and break easily. This could be a problem with many of the softer brands. Therefore, you might like to consider keeping the pencils in a coolbag in hot weather to reduce this issue. 

If you wish to try Aquarelles (water soluble pencils) and notice sets of the old Derwent pencils with turquoise coloured barrels on sale at a good price, take advantage of the offer.  You may see deals like ‘half original price’ and the old pencils are good, even if they are a little harder to the touch than the new ones. You may even get a fancy wooden box with them.  They may even work well in Tunisia!

Inktense water soluble range

Inktense have been one of Derwent’s more successful innovations. There are 71 colours in the full set with a non soluble black outliner making 72 pencils in all. 

These are water soluble pencils which erase as a dry medium, but once washed in with water, are permanent on the paper. 

Don’t confuse permanence with lightfastness, there are still a number of lower rated pigments here, though not too many. 

They are a good option if you work with bright or strong colours.  A number of professional artists like them for underpainting the paper before adding dry colour.  It speeds up the painting process a great deal.  There is quite a major step up in colour strength when wet, and you need to know what the effect of water is going to be before you set out on a picture.

I suggest you do your own chart showing the colours both in their dry state and also after wetting.  The darker colours come up very strong and only show differences when well diluted.  I strongly advise that the first time you use them, you test the pencils and paper out first, and keep your pigment strength low on the paper until you are used to them.  They probably have the highest colour strength of any aquarelle pencils.

You can download the Derwent Inktense colour chart here.

In January 2014, Peter sorted out the pencils he uses regularly into a new set of zipped cases and prepared a small card to remind him of the performance of the contents of each set.  The card for Inktense is presented here to show the vibrancy of the colours.

You will note the very strong colours involved and the high pigmentation. Most colours show up much stronger after the addition of water.  The first column of the chart shows the colours in their dry state. The second shows the addition of water, first in concentration and then as a sweep of a small amount of the wet colour off into a paler, less concentrated form.

This type of card is invaluable to keep with your pencils.  Watercolour pencils tend to become much stronger on the paper when wet with water, so this guide will help you spot areas and colours to take care with.

The paper should be a hot pressed watercolour paper, the pencil reference and colour name is written in, and then two rows of colour blocks are worked against the names.

In 2011 Derwent introduced a further new product in the Inktense group - Inktense Blocks.  These are hard, pastel like sticks with a flat overall shape designed to be used as either a drawing tool (like pastel) or as a source for wet pigment (like a paint box pan colour).  There are 24 colours available in sets of either 12 or 24.  Pigment and handling are said to be the same as the Inktense pencils.


Introduced early in 2012, these are triangular shaped soft wax crayons containing a soluble medium and strong pigment content.

I have not tested these and from the demonstration video shown on the Derwent web site, they appear to be more a craft than a fine art product.  There are some interesting accessories (this seems to be the current trend - to introduce a product and sell a number of associated tools and pieces of equipment).

Derwent Drawing pencils

This small range of 24 natural colours are all totally light stable. The wax based pencils have a soft, creamy texture and are ideal for working over the top of harder derwent pencils, such as the Artist range. They come in tins of 12 or 24. 

A long standing range in the Derwent collection with some good colours for portraits and animal studies. I find them ideal for animal whiskers over the top of a drawing done in other coloured pencils.

The white pencil is one of my favourites being buttery and opaque.

Graphitint pencils

These are a water soluble coloured graphite pencil,

There is a range of 24 colours. When dry colour is applied they are all shades of grey.  The colour only really comes out when water is applied. 

The original formula was very low on fade resistance in half of the colours and the range was therefore not recommended, but an upgrade has resulted in only 4 of the colours now having a low blue wool scale rating. 

Very soluble and an interesting collection of  shadow colours which will appeal to those looking for a different approach to colour.  If Graphite ‘rocks your boat’ these pencils could be worth trying.

You can download the Derwent Graphitint colour chart here.

Metallic Derwent pencils

An interesting line of 20 reflective colours, the Metallic Derwent pencils work excellently on dark papers. Best used alone - they do not need white underneath on black paper.

In conclusion

All the new lines from Derwent are manufactured in a state-of-the-art factory which operates to top environmental standards.  

The paint used to colour the wood of the pencils is environmentally sound and uses no solvents. This does mean, however, that some colour may be expected to leach from the barrel of the pencil on to your hand when used on a hot day.

Derwent seem to be standardising on sets of 72 colours which will enable them to market pencils in standard sized tins and boxes. For the serious artist, this may reduce the colour choice if the older lines are totally withdrawn, as the main competitors are selling sets up to 120 colours in the range.

Derwent also make a Blender pencil and a Burnisher pencil - sold in a pack with two of each, an eraser and a small sharpener for around £5.50.  The burnisher can also be used as a resist for keeping pale lines reserved.  (see the burnishing page).

Among accessories marketed by this company, are a battery eraser, various sharpeners, pencil extenders and tools for manipulating the colour on the paper.

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