Comparing Derwent Aquatone, Derwent Inktense and Caran D’Ache Neocolor II

By Ronnie Tucker in Research > Art Products

First off, a disclaimer: this comparison is far from scientific. . . all I’ve done is taken three products and made a light scribble of each colour on some rough watercolour paper. I then applied some water to one half of the scribble.

My goal was to find out how the colours looked when dry on the paper, and to show the change in colour when water was added.

The reason for the light scribble is that a heavy scribble can not only damage the paper, it makes it harder to remove the scribble from the paper as the colour has become ingrained in the paper. A heavy scribble will result in a brighter, deeper, colour, but it is usually best to achieve this through layering.

I’ve also tried to pick the same colours from all three sets, but colours (and names) vary from box to box, so I could only get similar colours.

So, on with the comparison. . .

Derwent Aquatone

Derwent Aquatone pencils are effectively sticks of dried up watercolour. The idea behind them is that you can draw with them on paper then simply brush over the colour with water to activate the graphite, thus, giving you watercolour. The good thing about the Aquatone pencils is that they are a complete stick of nothing but watercolour, no wood here!

The set I have is a box of 24 sticks (or pencils, if you like). You can also buy them in sets of 6 or 12, going up to several dozen per tin. The other thing I also liked about the Aquatone sticks was that the colour names were quite familiar to me, names such as Ultramarine, Sap Green, Burnt Umber, Raw Sienna—they’re all very well known.


With the sticks being entirely made of colour, it’s easy to wet the brush and dab it on the stick to pick up colour that way, if you don’t want to scribble on your paper.

The colours available in the 24 stick tin are quite a rainbow and you can, of course, combine them on the paper to mix new colours if required. Most of the colours are pretty faithful to their name with only the Deep Vermilion going a tad pink.

Neocolour II

Caran D’Ache Neocolour II are very similar in look to the Aquatone (a stick of watercolour, no wood, etc) but are described as being a “watersoluble wax crayon” instead. While this sounds like a complete misnomer (watersoluble wax?) they are indeed watersoluble, and do give you legitimate watercolours to play with.

The tin I have contains only 15 colours but those are more than enough to give you a pocket-sized palette of watercolours, handy for a trip or holiday. Although they’re described as “wax” there’s really nothing waxy about them. They’re exactly like the Aquatone sticks mentioned above.


My only problem with these colours is that the Vermilion went a touch orange, and the Orange went a tad yellow! And none of the colours in this box have familiar names such as Burnt Umber, etc. In fact, the colour names are quite bland (Scarlet, Orange, Vermilion, Brown, Yellow) if anything.

Derwent Inktense

The main difference between the Derwent Inktense pencils and the other two is that, as the name implies, Inktense are ink based. When you add water to the graphite, you are effectively creating ink, not watercolour, like the other two—this is handy in that once the ink is dry it is set, it can not be reactivated with water (like watercolour) so these are excellent for layering effects.

The main downside of these pencils is the wood. Just like normal pencils the Inktense have a wooden shaft that needs sharpening, losing you valuable graphite.


Again, the range of colours is more than enough in the 24 pencil tin I have. My only problem here was the Tangerine looking more pink than orange, but at least the colour names have a bit more pizazz than just brown, orange etc.

In summary. . .

There are no winners, and no losers, here. Each of these products have their pluses and minuses.

Aquatone are excellent value for money since they are pure colour and will no doubt last for many a year. As for the Neocolour II, they’re excellent for a pocket set (put a little brush in there, use the lid for mixing and you’ve got yourself a travel set of watercolours).

That being said, the Inktense are my favourites in that the colours and lovely and bright, and remain set when dry. The only downside is that they’re pencils. . . if they were sticks of pure colour, I guarantee I’d be shouting about them from the rooftops.

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