best pens for watercolors

Best Pens for Watercolor – Line and Wash Made Easy

In this guide, we’re looking at the best pens for watercolor. This means waterproof ink pens that don’t get blurred or smudged when you start to paint.

If you have ever used a fineliner or other ink pen to outline a painting, only to have it ruined when you start adding paint, you’ll know how frustrating it is. Luckily, there are lots of pens out there that don’t smudge when you add a little water or paint.

Some people are looking for watercolor pens. Be warned that watercolor pens are something different. While we will cover these eventually on the Artypod blog, this post is about pens for outlining, rather than pens that create the look and feel of watercolor paints.

Read on to explore the best waterproof pens for watercolor techniques.

What Kind of Pen to Use for Watercolor?

You have a few options when outlining a watercolor painting. Many people opt for a waterproof fineliner such as the Faber-Castell FC167137 Wallet Pitt Pen Nibs. These give you 8 different nibs to choose between, allowing you to create many different line and wash styles of paintings.

Some traditional artists use ink for line and wash. Black Waterman ink is popular because it is very dense, and once it is dry it is waterproof. Blac India ink is popular as it has the same properties. The Ink can be used with a calligraphy pen or fountain pen to outline your painting. It is all about what you are most comfortable with.

Choosing a Pen For Watercolor – What Makes a Pen Suitable?

Let’s delve into some of the basics that make a pen suitable for using alongside your watercolor.

Waterproof, “Water Resistant”, or “Water Soluble”

Whether or not a pen is waterproof is the first thing you need to consider when you are looking to buy. Different pens react differently to water.

Waterproof fineliners are a great solution. They don’t smudge or bleed, even when you add your layers of watercolor. If you use a well-made pen or ink then it won’t transfer color either. It’s so frustrating if you finish a painting and notice a little bit of the outline has become smudged. There’s not much you can do about it, either.

Water-resistant pens are ok for some projects when you think you might get a little bit of moisture, but not much. That means they are not good enough for watercolor techniques like line and wash.

Water-soluble pens are the opposite. They react when water is applied. It can create some cool effects in certain scenarios, but it probably isn’t what you’re looking for.

Quick Dry

Some people recommend waiting about 12 hours after applying your ink, before you even think about adding watercolor. This is a long time to wait if inspiration has struck. Luckily, a lot of pens offer quick-dry ink. This means you don’t have to wait as long.

We’d definitely recommend giving your outline 30 minutes or more, even if the pens claim it will only take a few minutes. That’s still a lot better than waiting 12 hours.


Some pens that claim to be waterproof are not 100% waterproof. It’s a good sign if it has pigmented ink or says “made with pigments” on the packaging. Pigments are bigger particles and they are known to be resistant to water.

To put it simply, pigmented ink is usually waterproof, and therefore a great choice for use with watercolors.

Pens for Watercolor: Reviewed

Faber-Castell FC167137 Wallet Pitt Pen Nibs Art Set

Our number one recommended pen set for watercolors is made by Faber-Castell. This brand is hundreds of years old, and the FC167137 Wallet Pitt Pens are ideal for watercolor artists.

These pens contain pigmented India ink, which is pretty much perfect for the purpose. Once it dries, it will be very waterproof, perfect for your line and wash paintings or other waterproofs.

They’re archival, which means they will last for a long time. They’re also acid-free.

As well as being really well made and safe for use, there are a couple of things that set these pens apart. The eight different nibs mean you can create a load of different shading and outline effects. They also come in a cool little wallet, so you can put them in your portable setup.

rOtring Tikky Graphic Fineliner Pens – Best Tips

The rOtring brand has nearly 100 years of history. This simple pet of pens has brilliant, metal tips, and they’re built to last.

rOtring Tikky pens feel great, and the nibs glide along the paper. If you want precise drawings before you start adding your watercolors they can be a great option.

There is a 0.3mm, 0.5mm, and 0.7mm pen in the multipack. You can choose the line widths based on whether you want a bolder outline or a fine line. You can also create different shading and detailing effects with these nibs.

Free Ink technology means that the line quality is always consistent. It is also long-lasting and shouldn’t degrade over time. The ink is pigmented.

This pen is water-resistant and doesn’t promise to be waterproof in minutes. If you are doing your outlining first, it’s best to give it a couple of hours. You can always use a heat lamp or other ink drying methods if you are impatient.

Sakura 57454 Gelly Roll Classic Ass’t – Best White Pens for Watercolor

It can be hard to find white pens that are suitable for use with watercolors, but there are loads of reasons why they are useful.

Sakura is a fantastic Japanese pen brand, and the 57454 Gelly Roll Classic pens can add a new dimension to your painting.

If you are looking to draw white highlights or details on top of watercolor paintings, these pens are ideal. They also work for white outlines on darker paper.

The gelly roll pens come in many different packs with different point sizes. We’ve selected a pack of three, one with 0.5mm, one with 0.8mm, and one with a bold 1.0mm point size. This means that you will have an option for pretty much any purpose.

It’s amazing how useful white pens can be for watercolor paintings, and for a lot of other art and craft activities.

Noodler’s Black Waterproof Fountain Pen Ink – Best Ink for Line and Wash or Watercolors

A lot of people will still want to use ink, rather than a pen. That’s absolutely fine. A lot of ink is very similar.

However, if we were to recommend one, the Noodler’s black waterproof is ideal for this purpose. It dries pretty quickly and you can use it easily with a fountain pen.

It’s archival quality, and for some reason has a weird fish on the front of the bottle. What’s not to like!

PANDAFLY Precision Micro-Line Pens – Best Value

If you are looking for fineliners on a budget, these Micro-Line pens from PANDAFLY can give you a great option that doesn’t break the bank.

They come in a convenient pack of 10, and each pen is a different size, from 0.2mm to 1.0mm. There’s even a brush-style pen for thicker, bolder outlines.

According to the manufacturer, the pens are “archival quality, waterproof, and won’t smear, fade, bleed or skip”. We’d have to agree! These pens are a reliable way to outline before or after painting.

Types of Pens for Watercolor

There are different types of pens that you can opt for if you want to use them with watercolors. We’ve mentioned mainly fineliners, but some other options are just as suitable, and can give a different look to the end product.

What pens can you use with watercolor?

  • Fountain pens. They need a bit more maintenance, but fountain pens can last you many years. As long as you choose a waterproof cartridge of ink, you can use a fountain pen.
  • Fineliners. This is the main type of pen people opt for when they are using the line and wash technique.
  • Brush pens. A brush pen has a “brush-style” nib. That means thicker lines, which mimic the feel of going around the outlines with a brush, rather than a solid line.
  • Gel pens. Gel pens come in a variety of colors. They dry very quickly, and they are easy to combine with watercolors. Some will smudge, so be careful when you choose a gel pen for watercolor.

Should I Ink Before Or After Using Watercolor Paints?

This is entirely up to you. Some people use the ink first to create a solid outline. Some people even use pencil first, then go over it in ink, and then apply the watercolor. This can lead to far more detail. It gives you control over the painting.

Some people like to go to town with their watercolors before adding an outline with their pens. This is fine, too. You can also add shading and other details after the watercolors have dried.

You can do before, after, or a bit of both. It comes down to personal choice.

Can I Use a Sharpie With Watercolors?

A lot of people already have Sharpies. Can you use them alongside your watercolors? Usually, a Sharpie will be fine to watercolor over. Sharpie is solvent-based, and the water shouldn’t make them bleed. That said, Sharpies tend to be bolder pens, and they might not be the ideal choice for drawing your initial outline.

How to Test if Pens Are Waterproof

The video below shows some really cool tests on some of the top fineliners out there.

You should always test pens first to see how long they might need to dry. You should run tests after…

  • One minute. This is the time for a smudge test. Run your finger along it to see if has dried. If not, you can do the same after 4 or 5 minutes. This gives you an idea of how long it takes for the pen to dry initially. Some pens are far better than others.
  • 15 minutes. Test by painting a small patch of watercolor over some straight lines you have drawn. This will tell you if the pen has dried.
  • 30 minutes. Repeat the above test if it didn’t work at 15 minutes.

A lot of the best watercolor fineliners and gel pens will dry really quickly.


Have you got your own recommendations for pens for watercolor? The line and wash technique, and other pen and ink combinations with watercolors, can look amazing. Whether you opt for gel pens, brush pens, or fineliners, make sure you get something that is totally waterproof.


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