Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Messing Around With Inktense Pan Paints


Derwent Inktense Paint Pan Set No. 1 (12 colors)

In my “messing around” series, I use a product new to me that I know little about and then show the evidence of my mess accompanied by a few uninformed opinions. I don’t consider this a product review.

As soon as the 30x30 Direct Watercolor challenge was over on June 30, I put away my watercolors. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a break from painting, but I wanted to think more about what kind of palette I needed to use watercolors on location (which I eventually figured out, at least for now). I was also trying to develop my own limited color palette based on everything I had learned in Kathleen Moore’s winter class (during which I was mostly disappointed with the colors I had chosen), the paints I had tried during June’s 30x30 challenge, and the vast possibilities represented by Daniel Smith paint dot cards. And because I am who I am, I also looked around at the gazillions of small, prefilled watercolor palettes available.

That’s the preamble for this and upcoming editions of “messing around with” posts in which I explore small sets of water-based products that look like watercolors but are technically not. This is the first: Derwent Inktense Paint Pan Set No. 1.

Plastic paint box with Derwent logo. This is a standard design for all of Derwent's water-soluble paint sets.

Inktense paints are available in two sets. While the set I have bears an otter on the package, set No. 2 looks more botanical. I think these first crossed my radar when I was messing around with Inktense Blocks. I’m guessing that the pan paints are the same as the blocks but in a more portable, convenient form. The blocks, however, may be more versatile because they can also be applied directly to paper like crayons.

Although I like the plastic palette box they come in (I prefer plastic mixing trays to metal), it’s got a lot of wasted space. If I decided I really liked these paints as well as the box, I’d probably put some more half pans in the compartment where the included waterbrush is stored. The sponge is wasted on me, too.

Speaking of the waterbrush, it’s a two-piece design similar to Kuretake’s most compact brush: The brush and the water vessel separate for storage, and the water vessel has its own cap so that water can remain inside. Strangely, I saw a number of reviews complaining that the vessel had no cap, so it had to be emptied to be stored in the compartment – truly a senseless design that must have been changed at some point. (As is, it’s still not a very smart design; why not get rid of the sponge slot so that a full-length waterbrush could be stored? Detaching the two parts doesn’t save overall space in the kit.)

Assembled waterbrush with cap for the water vessel when separated.

Let’s get to the paints, which behave very differently from watercolors. The first thing I noticed is that after spritzing the pans to moisten them before using, they start drying almost immediately, so they must be respritzed regularly. Most colors are more opaque than watercolors (see my swatches below), perhaps closer to gouache, and the colors lose some vibrancy after drying. They are different from watercolors in at least one other way: They seem slightly more forgiving to (over)working. For example, I seem to get fewer blooms when I continue picking at paint I’ve put down. I’m not sure what that says about the paints’ constitution, but I guess that could be a benefit for overworkers like me.

Opacity test. I applied the paints as thickly as possible.

As with both Inktense pencils and Inktense blocks, Derwent likes to describe Inktense paints as “permanent when dry – doesn’t washout [sic] like watercolour.” Ummm, yes, they do. After the initial swatches had been dry for at least a couple of weeks, I scrubbed a brush through them, and I was able to reactivate them without much work (below). Sure, they’re not as re-soluble as watercolors, but they are hardly “permanent.” I wish Derwent would stop saying that! But I guess as long as you are aware of this when using them, Derwent’s ongoing “exaggerated marketing statement” is no big deal.

"Permanent"? I'd say not.

What is a bigger deal is that these behave differently from watercolors when applied and as they dry, so they take some getting used to. It’s similar to how Inktense pencils are different from most water-soluble colored pencils: Though not “permanent” when dry, they will not blend easily with newly applied color. On the other hand, you can learn to take advantage of this property (which I haven’t fully, but I’m still experimenting).

10/19/23 Hahnemuhle Akademie sketchbook
(Earthsworld reference photo)

10/19/23 Hahnemuhle Akademie sketchbook
Earthsworld reference photo

I haven’t decided whether I like Inktense pan paints or not. The color selection is unusual for a small set, yet I admit I have been pleased by most mixes I’ve tried, both muted and saturated. In the tree sketch below, the primary triad looked dull at first in my mixing swatch, yet I like the result.

10/30/23 Hahnemuhle Akademie sketchbook (photo reference)

Incidentally, in the sketch of the bush, tree and car below, the background tree has some weird spots that were the result of bubbles in the paint. This was not the fault of the paints. I was using my hacked waterbrush, and it produced bubbles every time I squeezed it. I’ve never had that happen with standard waterbrushes, so it may be an issue with the extra-large barrel on the flat-wash brush.

11/4/23 Hahnemuhle 100% cotton sketchbook (photo reference)

The jury is still out.


  1. You are so willing to try new media. I'd much rather stay with something I know than try something new. I did like the Inktense pencils when I used them long ago. I can't remember why I stopped using them...but then I don't use pencils much.

  2. I have both sets and I like them both, but I use them to lay down flat washes of color and then draw on top of them or for spot color.

    1. Hmmm... interesting. They are a different animal, and I haven't figured out how I would use them to best advantage (compared to watercolors).


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