Caran D'Ache Museum Aquarelle Watercolor Pencils Review, Lightfast Test, Color Chart, Fugitive Pigment Codes.
Caran D'Ache Museum Aquarelle watercolor pencils are an "extra-fine" professional quality art supply. These pencils have a high pigment load, are water soluble when drawn onto watercolor paper and are easily blended with a wet brush. They are available in sets or individually open stock, they have lightfast ratings and the color chart provides pigment codes.
This brand offers many products including gouache, pastels and a wide variety of pencil types. Across their pencil lines you may notice that the color hue, names and number codes may be the same, but that they are made differently (including pigment ingredients, binders or pigment load). You can not be confident in the lightfastness, or even guessing the exact hue of the "same" color, in a different pencil line. For instance the Museum Aquarelle is darker, more heavily pigmented and more lightfast than the same "Purplish Red" named/coded version in Supracolor watercolor pencils.
Caran D'Ache makes at least four watercolor pencil lines. The "Museum Aquarelle" is the only one that offers lightfast ratings and pigment codes (generally a requirement to be considered truly professional grade regardless of pigment load). Museum Aquarelle does have a much higher pigment load compared to their lesser quality watercolor pencil lines. The next highest quality line is called "Supracolor", a good option for designers, serious crafters or coloring book artists who are less concerned with lightfastness than cost. Then there are the more fugitive, lower quality pencils called "Prismalo" (student grade) and lastly "Fancolor" (marketed to children, but also quite good for hobbies/crafts offering many vibrant colors). The Museum Aquarelle pencils are the most expensive, provide the most saturated color application and overall have the best lightfastness. Most of these watercolor pencils dissolve easily when touched with a wet brush, but Museum Aquarelle does so much more cleanly (fully lifting pencil strokes into watercolor washes, as long as care was taken not to dig the pencil deeply into the paper surface).
While the Museum Aquarelle pencils are an overall high quality product, they are not without flaws. This line contains many lightfast colors, perhaps more than any other brand of watercolor pencil, but there are also more than a few fugitive ones. While I believe this company has made a good effort to label things properly, there is still fading in some colors that are rated highly. This is likely due to the common practice of copy pasting lightfast ratings provided from 3rd parties (such as ASTM or BWS tests done by manufacturers for a pigment, often tested in full strength masstone or even in another medium like oil paint). Unfortunately they use some pigments that are not suitable for watercoloring due to increased UV sensitivity in the diluted range.
They also don't properly lower ratings for pale pastel color tints. In several instances there are undisclosed white filler pigments in colors that were assigned 5 of 5 star max LF ratings. The star rating should have been downgraded because white tints decrease the lightfastness of mixtures (similarly to being diluted). For example #041 Apricot is labeled as just PO61, which you can tell is very pale with white filler compared to the much stronger #850 Cornelian pure PO61. There is also #181 Light Malachite (labeled PG7, PBk7) but is a pale pastel tint also plainly containing an undisclosed white pigment. Multiple pencils may contain Titanium White PW6 or a lesser quality cheap filler like chalk or zinc.
My number one complaint with this brand is that the fugitive colors could have been avoided (had stronger pigment codes been chosen specifically for their diluted durability). When watered down (or in mixtures/tints with white) pigments like PR170 begin to fade at an increased rate. This can be worse than the fading seen in the most fugitive pigments (similarly to LFIII-IV rated Alizarin Crimson PR83 or PR177 Anthra Red). While red pigments are generally more prone to fading (due to the warm end of the color spectrum being more prone to UV damage), this type of fading should not be dismissed as normal watercolor behavior. As you can see in other tests around this site, fading is avoidable if they had chosen stronger red pigments like Cadmiums and DPP/Pyrrols (codes PR108, 254, 255, 264). Those pigments have all around better UV durability and don't fade (even in tints) after a full year of direct sun. It's a shame that "Scarlet" seems to use more of the weak PR170 than the durable PR254 in the mixture or it could have been a better pencil.
The color selection is pretty good, with a total of 76 pencils available as of 2023. I'm hopeful they will expand this to match the Luminance range of 100 pencils in the future (which recently got upgraded from 76 colors). This watercolor pencil line could also use an overall quality boost by adding some of the lightfast pigment options present in Luminance. While there are multiple options in each color category, there's definitely more browns than reds. The imbalance feels worse when purposefully avoiding the fugitive colors prone to fading, as most of those are in the warm colors which makes the lightfast red options very limited.
Color chart, pigment code list and lightfast test results are below. I have split up the 76 colors into 3 images separating out the most lightfast from marginal/fair colors and lastly a fugitive color list prone to fading.
Caran D'Ache Museum Aquarelle offers 48 colors with excellent lightfastness. The majority of colors in the 76 pencil set are LFI with little to no fading present by one year inside of a south-facing window:
There are 13 LFII colors with minor fading that did not become visually apparent until mid-test (between 4 to 8 months, during which time the LFII equivalent blue wool 5-6 test strips began changing in my local UV conditions):
There are 15 colors that are fugitive. I do not recommend these colors for fine art, where long term wall display / selling original artwork is a possibility. All colors using the fragile pigment ingredient codes PY1, PY13, PY83, PB1, PR3 and PR170 should be avoided despite any star high ratings (due to their extreme UV sensitivity when diluted):
Why use watercolor pencils? I generally prefer watercolor pan sets applied with a brush, but pencils can be convenient, travel-friendly and easier to apply quick precise details with. These pencils are also a great way to sketch outlines that will dissolve as you paint (unlike graphite pencils which leave a gray line and potentially smear). This can create interesting effects when using different colors (such as drawing a red outlined leaf you fill in green watercolor paint) or appear to fully dissolve and disappear into your painting (when using a green pencil to outline your green painted leaf).
One of my favorite watercolor pencil techniques involves scraping dry color over wet paper. Pre wet your watercolor paper with a brush fully loaded with water until a glossy shine is visible across the surface. Make sure the paper does not go dry during this application, or the sprinkled pigment won't stick. Gently rub the tip of your pencil onto a coarse grit sand paper, nail file or wire mesh screen (like a window screen or tea leaf strainer). The tiny particles that fall will create a speckled pointillism-type effect on your paper.
When applying these pencils with a very light pressure to hot press watercolor paper there should be little to no pencil stroke lines remaining once water is added. As you can see in the color wheel butterfly art below, these pencils are much more intense once water is added. You can easily layer multiple colors of dry pencils to mix colors. Here I only used magenta, yellow and blue which provided a good variety of greens and purples when mixed:
A word of caution - not all pigments are intense. A tiny amount of Phthalo Blue for instance can easily overpower the weaker Lemon Yellow. Luckily it's much easier to control your application when drawing with dry pencils. I used a very gentle touch to apply a light layer of blue with the yellow to make green.
You can buy Caran D'Ache Museum Aquarelle watercolor pencils online at Amazon USA below:
The main competitor brand is Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolor Pencils. Unfortunately, despite calling themselves "professional" they do not offer pigment codes, have recently changed or gotten rid of LF ratings, and generally offer more colors that fade. However, they do have a high pigment load with similar intensity and performance if your art is destined for print reproduction/personal work where fading is less of an issue. You can find those on Amazon below:
While we're on the topic of pencils... If you're looking for a lightfast color pencil line (standard wax, waterproof not water soluble) than I highly recommend Caran D'Ache LUMINANCE. The lightfastness is overall very high in that line, with even less colors prone to fading than the Museum Aquarelle. I have not found a single brand of pencils that compares in quality to that one (many more colors fade in brands like Polychromos or Lyra). You can find Luminance on Amazon below:
For those shopping outside of the USA, you can also find watercolor pencils at art supply shops like Blick or Jackson's below. This page contains affiliate links. All product opinions are my own. I am committed to honest reviews showcasing both the pros and cons of each product. I have not received payment from any brand for a review. I only recommend stores I have personally shopped with and had a positive experience. I earn a commission from sales made through this web page's clickable banners or other links to Amazon, Jackson's or Blick Art Materials.
My favorite American art supply chain store is Dick Blick. They have a massive catalog and competitive prices, with quick shipping options here in the USA
and Jackson's UK/Worldwide at:
Amazon USA continues to offer more and more art and craft supplies, here's some links to what I've found there. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Return to the art supply reviews section to browse other brands here.
Learn about pigments and browse swatch cards from brands that include pigment ingredient number codes on the pigment database pages.