Friday, December 14, 2018

Product Review: Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Watercolor Pencils

Faber-Castell's Albrecht Durer water-soluble colored pencils

In addition to my favorite Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles, I keep two other sets of water-soluble colored pencils at easy reach on my desk because they both have a much wider range of hues than the Museum line – Caran d’Ache Supracolor and Faber-Castell Albrecht Dürer. Although I have tried many other brands, I consider these three artist-grade pencils to be my main go-to’s. I recently realized that I have never written a full review of the Albrecht Dürer line (the closest was a comparison review I wrote earlier this year of Faber-Castell’s student-grade Goldfaber collection). It’s time to correct that.

The hue-matched barrel is a standard-diameter hexagonal that fits in any pencil sharpener. Branding and a band near the simple end cap are silver. (With my eyes closed, I think I could tell them apart from the Supracolors, which are just a touch smaller in diameter and have a glossy finish, while the Dürers have a more satin finish. Why is it important to be able to tell them apart with my eyes closed? That’s an unnecessary question for a geek like me.) I couldn’t find the box, but I initially bought a medium-size set and added more colors over time through open stock. Shown here are a random fistful from each of the two large mugs that contain them – one for cool hues, the other for warm. The collection includes several unique colors that are different from anything Caran d’Ache offers.

With the hardest core of my three go-to’s (though by no means the hardest artist grade I’ve used; that would probably be the Staedtler Karat Aquarell), Albrecht Dürer pencils hold their points well, making them ideal for details as well as solid areas of color. The rich pigment dissolves easily and fully when activated with water.

The pigments dissolve easily and completely.

12/10/18 Albrecht Durer pencils in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
n my sketch of the tomato and pear, I made multiple cycles of dry/wet applications (apply dry pigment, activate with water, allow that to dry completely; repeat), and the colors became richer and more vivid with each. That’s the way I expect high-quality water-soluble pencils to behave.

As I was using the Dürer pencils, I started thinking about my post last week about the dilemma that all watercolor pencils present: Activate or not? Regardless of how I resolve that dilemma, I noted that a key benefit of all water-soluble pencils is that they can be used either wet or dry, making them highly versatile.

For something like a still life, I almost always decide from the beginning whether I want a watercolor-like look or not. If I don’t, I usually choose a traditional wax- or oil-based colored pencil instead. But if water-soluble colored pencils can truly be used either wet or dry, I should be able to use them all the time, regardless of my choice. It occurred to me that I rarely choose to use a watercolor pencil if I know I’m going to leave it dry. That’s when I got the idea to make a sketch with the Dürer pencils as if they were traditional colored pencils, leaving them dry throughout.

12/11/18 Albrecht Durer water-soluble colored pencils (no water used) in
Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook
Thinking the cores would be sufficiently hard for Stillman & Birn’s toothy Alpha paper, I started the pear sketch. I realized almost immediately that they are actually softer than would be ideal for that degree of texture, so I had some difficulty covering it. More surprising, though, was the difficulty I had in building intensity of hue when I left the pigment dry. It felt strangely “sticky” instead of smooth to apply subsequent layers, and I didn’t enjoy using them.

That’s when I realized that making a sketch with a dry-only application should be part of every review I write of a watercolor pencil! If it is a truly versatile medium, it should be enjoyable and effective to use either wet or dry.

I’m sure you can see where this is going! Stay tuned for my (relatively) scientific comparison of my top three favorite watercolor pencils – used as dry pencils only. The results are illuminating and informative.


  1. Love your reviews! You bring up great questions that I would not have thought of, and you help save me money! Great still lifes too! Thanks Time, looking forward to your further thoughts on watercolor pencils!

    1. Happy to know you find my reviews useful, Cathy! You know me -- I am always curiously poking around my art materials! ;-)

  2. It'll be fun to watch you try lots of watercolor pencils used as a dry medium. I have to wonder about "If it is a truly versatile medium, it should be enjoyable and effective to use either wet or dry."

    Each medium is made for a purpose, isn't it? I doubt that you expect standard colored pencils should be able to be used as a wet medium so why this expectation for watercolor pencils?

    1. Well, I do tend to use watercolor pencils only when I expect to use water with them, so my experiments are mainly for my nerdy satisfaction. ;-) But I do have the expectation that they can be used wet or dry, since that's what the package always says. On packages of standard colored pencils, they don't say they can also be used wet, so I don't have that expectation.

  3. I bought a set of 12 this past week at Cheap Joe's Art Store in Asheville NC while on vacation. I'm excited to try out some great pencils.

    1. Have fun! These are great if you prefer a harder core.


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