Winsor & Newton Studio Watercolor Pencil Review + Lightfast Test = Fugitive Fading
Winsor & Newton Studio Collection Water Colour Pencils are a low-end student quality art supply that I do not recommend. They claim to be "highly pigmented" and have "excellent lightfastness" but that's not true. These pencils are overall poor quality with hard leads that provide very weak color once any water is added. While all watercolor pencils break when extremely sharpened to a fine point, these caused my hand to cramp due to the pressure needed to create intense color. Less pressure is required when using higher quality pencils (such as those from Caran D'Ache, Faber Castell, Derwent etc.). I struggled to achieve fine details or deep saturated marks with these pencils. They are over priced, prone to fading and of a generally lower quality than you'd expect from such an established brand.
Winsor & Newton is one of the oldest art supply companies, founded in London 1832. They've been making professional watercolor paints since 1835 and designer's gouache since 1937. While their headquarters are still in the UK, they are not manufacturing art supplies there anymore (and the quality of their products has fluctuated since that change around 2011). Artists familiar with their generally high quality watercolor, gouache, acrylic or oil paints may be persuaded to try these watercolor pencils due to trust in the brand name. Unfortunately over the past decade this brand has allowed multiple factories to all make products bearing its logo. W&N has now manufactured many products in other countries with lower quality standards.
I would avoid all W&N products that say made in Vietnam (studio pencils) or made in China (oil or chalk/soft pastels and non-professional watercolors in both tubes or pans) as well as any student grade products made in France that are not clearly labeled for professionals. Sadly the manufacturing facility in France (run by LeFranc & Bourgeois/ColArt) is now also producing low-end student/hobby grade products such as gouache as of 2022. The new poor quality W&N gouache is available as a 12ml tube set with a generic appearance (you can see that bad gouache on Blick here, it's different from their higher grade gouache clearly labeled as "designers"). For those unfamiliar with this brand, it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell which products are good, bad and where they are made before ordering them.
There are many colors (all red/orange/yellow/violets) that contain fluorescent dye (likely rhodamine dye, a fugitive bright color often added for vibrancy in paints labeled as "opera"). The high binder/waxy content in these pencils makes these colors pretty weak. When applying enough pressure to get the pink color to show up well on the music notes below, it was impossible to keep a fine point for precision detail. The most UV reactive pencil is Rose Pink, which glows orange-pink under black light:
Pros: Despite disliking this product, there are reasons you may choose to use watercolor pencils in general. You can create beautiful temporary works of art even when using poor quality supplies, especially if you plan to scan them for print reproduction. They are ideal for crafts like card making, coloring books and sketchbook/journaling. Watercolor pencils can be very convenient for travel, are more easily thrown in bags along with other pens, pencils and a water brush. They generally provide a less messy way to work outdoors, in vehicles or by young students. The application of a sharpened pencil may feel more precise to some artists rather than using a paint brush. You can work wet or dry using the same product, expanding the range of techniques you can use - including eliminating the need to use a separate standard color pencil for dry finishing touch details.
One of the techniques that are possible with watercolor pencil that you can't do as easily with paint is scraping tiny flakes of color onto wet paper. Using a blade, sandpaper or a wire mesh screen you can apply speckles of color to your paper that look similar to pointillism (confetti or firework-like marks which are smaller in size than splattering paint):
My biggest complaint with these watercolor pencils is the claim that this set has "excellent lightfastness". This is a selling point that will likely make many artists spend a little extra money for this pencil set in order to feel like the artwork created is suitable for wall display.
Lightfast test results = mostly fugitive.
About 3 of 24 colors are fully lightfast (Burnt Sienna, Black and Lush Green). This number is increased to 6 of 24 if you're accepting of the minor fading in a few LFII rated colors (Midnight Blue, Turquoise and Grass Green). Major fading began within 2-4 weeks of sun exposure in most of the pinks, reds and yellows (LFIV-V equivalent based on a nearby blue wool card estimate of BW1-3 at that time). For reference, my tests are done inside a south facing vertical window receiving 3-4 hours of daily direct sun (equivalent to over 100 of years indoor museum lighting). The misleading packaging claim of "excellent lightfastness" is incorrect.
Do not believe myths that watercolor is always a fragile fugitive medium. Even within this brand W&N professional watercolor paints made in France offer over 60 colors with ZERO fading in over 1 year of window light. In general, both LFI and LFII colors are referred to as "lightfast", but normally only LFI (BW7-8) are something artists would refer to as having "excellent lightfastness". LFII colors start to display minor changes in about 6-12 months (as little as 3 summer months in harsh high UV environments/sky facing boxes close to the equator). LFII colors should not fade for over 50 years of indoor shady lighting. Colors that fade more quickly are rated LFIII-V and are considered unacceptable for fine art on display (such as framing it for yourself, gifts, commissions/sale). Even artwork hung indoors can fade over time due to UV from natural light coming through nearby windows. When using extremely fugitive colors (such as the orange, reds and violets in this set) fading can become visible even indoors within a year if the home has lot of natural light from large windows. There are plenty of products with better lightfastness out there.
Not worried about fading? Even if you were to purchase this product without caring about lightfastness (such as for print reproduction, card making crafts or sketchbook art), I would still say that these watercolor pencils are a bad deal. If you're interested anyway, you can find them below on Amazon:
Cons: In addition to poor lightfastness, this product has a low pigment load (weak colors that require a lot of hand strength to apply much color to paper and some that nearly disappear once water is applied), similar colors feel repetitive (nearly duplicate hues including two similar yellows and two similar peach-pinks which are equally fugitive), hard lead that may scratch soft watercolor paper surfaces, making it easier to create lines that resist dissolving in water. The black and white are weak and lack opacity - the milky translucency makes them along with the pale gray pencil fairly useless. Finally, there is the price compared to other fugitive pencils on the market.
Price: The cost is fairly high. You can find more affordable pencils that won't run you over a dollar per color, as long as you don't care about colors fading. If you're buying a set for a kid, student, beginner artist or someone who is only going to use the supply for crafts/practice I would browse other options before choosing W&N. For example I looked at Amazon for watercolor pencils and found many highly rated alternatives for a better price, such as these:
As far as more lightfast watercolor pencils goes, the best brands for serious artists include Faber Castell Albrecht Durer and Caran D'Ache Museum Aquarelle. There are still fugitive colors in both of these brands, but overall the selection is MUCH better than cheaper brands. The pigment load is higher and you can even find pigment ingredient codes listed for the Museum line. Unlike the low end sets above that are likely to have more than half the colors fade, the following may only have a few bad colors in an entire set:
Curious about how well the Caran D'Ache performed in a lightfast test? See the fugitive colors and pigments list on my Museum watercolor pencil review page here.
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
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.
Learn about pigments and browse swatch cards from brands that include pigment ingredient number codes on the pigment database pages.