Inktense Ink Pencils: Derwent’s Unique Alternative to Colored Pencils

By Robert Sloan in Research > Art Products

Derwent, an inventive UK pencil company, has come up with an art product unlike any other—ink pencils . These unique colored pencils (sold under the Inktense brand) are different enough that they’re almost like a new medium.

They’re related to watercolor pencils, allowing you to sketch and then wash over them with water—but once you’ve washed, the pigment dries and becomes waterproof , forming a richly colored layer of ink that looks more like an ink painting than a colored pencil drawing or a watercolor sketch.

The pencils are a fairly recent invention, so the first time I tried them out was in 2005 after ordering them online from a US art supply website. They seemed frivolous, but with only 24 colors in all, it was an affordable frivolity.

This year Derwent has extended the range to a full 72 colors, including their patented Derwent Outliner, which is probably worth as much as the rest of the colors combined simply for its usefulness with water media.

My original set, however, has 23 colors and the Outliner. I had thought the Outliner would be a clear resist pencil—something like a colorless blender—but instead it turned out to be a completely nonsoluble graphite pencil, about a B softness, that will stand up to the Inktense ink, watercolor pencils, watercolor paints, and anything else sloshed over it without dissolving. Using the Outliner gives an attractive graphite and wash look no matter what medium you choose to use.

The first thing I did when I bought my set was create a color chart, washing over tonal layers to discover what changes would occur in the colors when wet.

EE Derwent Inktense Color Chart robertsloan2

This turned out to be an especially important exercise with the Derwent Inktense ink pencils because the colors changed dramatically—most of them actually become more intense when washed.

Here’s a sketch of daffodils that I’ve done using the Outliner. I’ll be creating a quick, loose Inktense painting, but if your style runs to doing detailed graphite renderings with light soft color, the Inktense pencils will work for that too.

EE Derwent Figure 1 robertsloan2

So far it just resembles a pencil sketch. Outliner drawings don’t look any different from other pencil sketches, and can be smudged with tortillons or fingers like any other graphite drawings. It’s real strength shows once you wash it.

In the next image I colored the pink daffodils with Inktense Fuchsia, a strong magenta that shades into a wonderful range of cold pinks. I’d suggest using the Fuchsia very lightly where you want a light value since the color intensifies when washed.

EE Derwent Figure 2 robertsloan2

While I’m watching that ink dry, now’s probably a good time to mention how to clean the brushes you’re using with your Inktense ink pencils. Remember, they’re not watercolor pencils, so brushing over them is more like brushing over shellac-based inks or permanent acrylic inks.

Make sure to keep your brush wet, rinse immediately after using, and of course rinse between colors if using different colors. I use Master’s Brush Cleaner & Conditioner as well, because Inktense inks will both stain your brushes and hurt the texture of the bristles if you let the ink dry on the hairs.

This next image shows the pink daffodils after their first wash, and even though my scanner lightens everything one full step it’s easy to see how much stronger the color is after water is applied.

EE Derwent Figure 3 robertsloan2

I use a lot of separate, loose, light strokes but if you want a consistent light wash of color, I’d suggest using a piece of scratch paper as a palette. Draw hard on the palette scrap, then wash into it with a lot of water. Once you see your chosen value, you can paint with it just like liquid ink or watercolor.

In the next image I went over some of the pinks with Shiraz (a dark red) to shadow the bells, and a little Chili Red to warm the cold pink of the petals. I used very light strokes and washed the new colors heavily to keep from showing pencil lines.

I also used Leaf Green (an olive green) in the background to define the leaves with a loose impression of other leaves, and I added some Shiraz and Chili Red very lightly on the stamens to set them apart from the Fuchsia.

EE Derwent Figure 4 robertsloan2

Notice the line clarity of my monogram signature in upper right—I’ve washed over the lines with Leaf Green, but as you can see, the Outliner didn’t dissolve at all. You can also layer colors very easily with Inktense ink pencils because earlier layers become waterproof and aren’t affected by new layers of color on top.

EE Derwent Figure 5 robertsloan2

After adding additional layers of yellow color over the green leaves, these daffodils are finished and ready to dry. This last image shows the final work, entitled Pink Daffodils .

EE Derwent Figure 6 robertsloan2

So are they fugitive? Well, like most art media, some colors are more lightfast than others. Oddly, most of the blue range is very lightfast. The best red in the full range is Fuchsia with a rating of 5 where 6 is the beginning of the lightfast scale, so all the reds are a bit under lightfastness.

I would keep Derwent Inktense art out of any direct light if lightfastness is a major issue. Yellows rate high, blues, browns and greens often rate at the top lightfastness, so the real problem is the same as many other colored pencils—it’s the reds, pinks and purples that can fade.

Any reasonably heavy watercolor or mixed media paper will work well for Inktense paintings/drawings. My example above was done on 90lb Stonehenge paper, and it only curled slightly—a condition that’s easily reversed by misting the back of the paper and placing it under a stack of books. With heavier watercolor paper you probably won’t see any curling at all.

I can safely say that I would not have chosen these for my first (or only) set of watercolor pencils because the permanence of the wash means some traditional watercolor techniques like lifting are limited.

If you prefer glazes to mixing colors on the page, however, these might be a good choice for your first set. They function well as colored pencils, and for a quick sketch and wash, they’re fantastic.

For additional articles by Robert Sloan, check out his art profile on You can also visit his Etsy page to see more of his artwork.


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