How to Use Watercolor Crayons (Water-soluble Pastels)

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Learn how to use watercolor crayons to create art. This versatile art medium is also known as water-soluble pastels. Get easy tips for using them and learn more about how I use them in my watercolor art.

You might also like this post on using watercolor pencils.

pack of neocolor II water-soluble pastels

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I love using watercolor crayons to add depth and dimension to my art. They’re a fun addition to watercolor paintings.

Although there are many brands, I will mostly refer to Caran D’Ache Neocolor II water-soluble pastels, which I’m most familiar with.

open pack of neocolor II watercolor crayons

What are Watercolor Crayons?

Some brands also call watercolor crayons “water-soluble pastels.” Unlike traditional pastels, watercolor crayons aren’t as messy.

They can be used to color (similarly to a crayon), but when water is added, they dissolve and behave like watercolor. You can blend and dilute the color, just like watercolor.

Many brands make them. Caran D’ache Neocolor II and Faber Castell Gelatos are the most popular brands.

Caran D’ache Neocolor II is a bit more expensive, but the quality is much nicer. Don’t confuse them with Neocolor I, which is wax-based and not water-soluble.

Since they’re a bit pricy, buying a few open stock first is a good idea. Figure out if you like them before buying a set. However, the set includes a nice tin case, which makes traveling with them more convenient.

caran d'ache neocolor II case

I have a set of gelatos but haven’t played with them as much. They seem to be of lower quality and may even be made for kids. They are much chunkier, and I don’t think they can be sharpened. However, they come in really pretty colors.

I have no experience with cheaper brands, but I’ve heard these are fun.

Why Would You Use Watercolor Crayons?

There are a ton of reasons to use watercolor crayons. Here are some of my favorites.

Great for Travel or On the Go Art

Like watercolor pencils, they’re great for creating art on the go. Unlike traditional paint, you can create art without the mess or waiting for dry time. Then, when you get home, you can add water.

You can also use them with a waterbrush while out. They’re just a bit more convenient than lugging around a paint palette.

Use Instead of Watercolor Paint

Since they work like watercolor paint, you can use them instead of watercolors.

This is a good option if you haven’t mastered brush control yet but feel confident in your drawing or coloring skills.

Add Texture to Paintings

I love to use them to add texture to paintings.

Generally, I paint with watercolor paint and then add marks when the paint is dry. The scratchy texture gives it a hand-made feel, which I love.

Add Details to Paintings

You can also use them to add details to paintings. I also love using them for this.

How to Use Watercolor Crayons

Supplies Needed:

Practice Techniques First

I know it’s tempting to dig in and create art when you buy new supplies, but it’s really helpful to practice techniques first.

I always keep a stack of watercolor paper cut to smaller sizes to use for small practice sheets. Then, I can get to know the new material before I dig in.

It’s also important to note that you may not love every technique, but that’s okay.

You don’t need to use what doesn’t work for you. I don’t use all of these methods.

Draw, Then Paint with Water

The most common way to use watercolor crayons is to color and add water with a brush.

using water on watercolor crayon swatch

Use a circular motion to remove any unwanted texture from the coloring.

Color very lightly for pale washes. Clean your brush as you work to keep the color light. Add more color to create more vibrant colors.

teal watercolor crayon swatches

Lines can be softened with a damp brush and a blending motion.


Blending colors is easy with watercolor crayons.

You can create an ombre effect by coloring, adding water, and adding more water to the edge to bring the color out. It will be paler in the section where you added only water.

diluted watercolor crayon swatch

It’s also possible to blend two colors together by coloring beside each other and then using a damp brush to mix the colors.

blended watercolor crayon from red to pink

You can create new colors by coloring on top of another color and then blending it out with a wet brush.

layering neocolor ii in yellow and lime green
blended neocolor ii yellow and lime green mix

A lot of the colors are pretty bold, so it’s nice to dull them down with complementary colors.


Wet-on-wet is a fun technique. It works on clean water, blended-out watercolor crayons, and watercolor paint.

wet on wet pink circle with red crayon

Draw on top of a wet surface to let the color blend out and soften. You can use a brush to blend it out further or let the colors blend on their own.

red watercolor crayon bleeding into pink circle

Wet Crayon with Brush

You can also wet the crayon tip with a brush and use the brush to paint, creating a lighter color. This tip is great if you have really good brush control and need to add small details.

wet brush on blue neocolor ii
blue paint splotch and brush

If you use this technique, make sure to let the crayons dry completely before closing them up in a container.

You can also scribble on a hard surface (like a ceramic palette) and add water to create paint. This is a great way to mix colors.

Use On Their Own

Watercolor crayons can be used without water. They create a fun texture even without the water.

drawing of vase with yellow flowers

Add Details

I love using them to add details to a watercolor painting. See the fish painting below for an example.

Harsh lines can be softened with a damp brush.

Tips for Using Watercolor Crayons

Here are a few more tips for using watercolor crayons.

  • Watercolor crayons can be sharpened with a pencil sharpener.
  • Some brands are chunkier and can’t be sharpened, though.
  • To color large spaces, use the side of the crayon instead of the tip.
  • Like watercolors, they can be reactivated with water or wet paint.
  • They can be layered to create interesting depth.
  • Use a synthetic brush to avoid damaging a more expensive brush.
  • Paint in a circular motion to remove most of the coloring texture.
  • They work great over watercolor paint, gouache, and acrylic ink. I haven’t tried using them over acrylic paint, so I’m unsure if they would work.
  • Practice and figure out your favorite ways to use them. It may take a while to figure out your preferences.
  • Always swatch your colors. They may look different when dry than wet. It’s also a good way to see how colors look at full intensity and when diluted.

How I Use Personally Watercolor Crayons

I love using my Neocolor II to add details to a watercolor painting. The end effect isn’t that different, so it’s more of a difference of process preference.

In practice, here’s what it looks like.

I paint the base layer, typically with very diluted watercolor paint. Then I let it dry.

Then, I add more watercolor details to add shadows or other details.

base layer for fish painting in watercolor

When that dries, I add details with neocolor II. Some of the lines will be blended out with a damp brush, while others will be left dry.

adding neocolor ii to fish painting
finished watercolor painting of fish with neocolor ii details

Here’s how the fish looked when I painted the entire thing with Neocolor II. It’s pretty similar, but I enjoy the watercolor process more.

neocolor ii painting of fish
set of neocolor ii and fish paintings

What is your favorite way to use watercolor crayons?

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collage of neocolor II and drawing of flower

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