We test out Staedtler coloured pencils which now also work as watercolour pencils! The classic Staedtler Luna has become an iconic piece of stationery over the years and is now even more useful and versatile by using water soluble colours. Is this the perfect tool to get started with watercolour pencil art and painting? Find out in our extensive test video.
Reviewing the Staedtler Luna Watercolour Pencils
Samir: Welcome to Stationery Test Drive, I’m Samir.
Vishal: I’m Vishal.
Minjal: This is Minjal.
Vishal: And, today’s feature are these colorful, colored pencils from Staedtler. We’ve looked at the Staedtler Mars range before on Stationery Test Drive, these are the Staedtler Luna. Staedtler Luna 137, they have a nice gold finish on the lettering with what looks like a candle, so I’m guessing that’s where Luna comes from.
Samir and Minjal: No that’s actually a paint brush.
Vishal: Okay and that talks about or tells us the other part of this which is that you said they are water soluble.
Samir: Yeah I think they were originally maybe just plain color pencils but in the recent decade or so they have been made water soluble.
Difference between Graphite Pencils and Color Pencils
Vishal: Now technically we’ve talked about graphite pencils, they’re not lead and they’re also not pure graphite, they’re graphite and clay in a mixture with various binders. So why are color pencils, are they just graphite and clay in some color or is it something else?
Samir: Color pencils have no graphite at all.
Vishal: Wow, okay. So they’re technically, they’re not quite pencils in that sense, they’re crayons.
Samir: No, they’re actually more of a crayon with a with a wooden casing.
Vishal: Okay, but I’m guessing the mix is different enough that they don’t behave like crayons which are very waxy.
Samir: Exactly and in fact the the mix of a wax or whatever binder is used in these and the pigment varies not just between say color pencils and crayons but also between the different brands, which is why we’re talking specifically about Staedtler. I’m sure we’ll cover other brands, each of these has their own characteristic blend.
Vishal: Yeah and the way they go down on the paper, the way they blend together. We have each prepared artworks using these particular pencils, so we just put them on the camera right now and I think even just from a single look at this you can tell the range of tones and textures and qualities that you can get out of exactly the same thing on three fairly similar types of paper. Samir and I think used the same cartridge paper.
Minjal: Mine is also a cartridge paper.
Samir and Vishal: It’s a bit more ivory and a bit smoother.
Sacred Geometry Art with the Staedtler Luna Watercolour Pencils
Vishal: Minjal, how did you specifically get these very sharp lines on this?
Minjal: With these pencils and we’ve been using them since we were in school, you press down a little harder and you’re able to get these really dark lines and what I’ve done is I just went over the entire pencil coloring with a wet brush, which is how you get you know this really nice watercolor effect that you can seen here.
Vishal: Right and these sometimes these are even branded as watercolor pencils so you just activate them with water rather than mixing them on a palette and then painting with them.
Samir: Right, so essentially what they do is that they just replace what would normally be a wax based binder with something that’s similar but water soluble, so the binder is the one that kind of dissolves and then the pigment can be spread by the water.
Vishal: Right, we’ve been very geeky about pigments and dyes on a previous episode, I think it was a Reynolds 045 episode, so check that one out. There’s plenty more to talk about this as well. Both Samir and I have leaned into the tooth as they call it of the paper. Samir, very specifically I love this gradation of deep purples and pinks that you’ve gotten there. Tell us how you got that?
Abstract 3D Typography with the Staedtler Luna Watercolour Pencils
Samir: The trick when you have a bit of a tooth on the paper and using colored pencils is colour pencils are very much a medium of patience. It’s just impossible to get very complex shading with them if you’re in a hurry and I’d actually say that Vishal and me have done this in a bit of a hurry.
If I spent maybe half an hour, 40 minutes, but I have done much more detailed color pencil paintings, for lack of a different term, and those can take days because what you need to do is that you need to lay down, I would call this layer number one, and then you just come back the next day and then you put in the second layer, and then you put in the third layer and honestly by the time you’re done with it, if you have good enough paper and a good enough pencils just you will stop seeing the texture as much and you can get something that’s extremely rendered and smooth.
I think having pencils which you can activate with water is just a great thing to have as an artist anyway but I’m sure part of the reason people wanted that is because to get complete coverage on any paper with color pencils takes a lot of time right and having the ability to then make it into a an instant watercolor lets you get coverage quickly rather than the many layers it would take to do that the manual way.
Illustration Art with the Staedtler Luna Watercolour Pencils
Vishal: I’ve kind of cheated here by using an interference pattern, if you can see here, almost really nothing quite overlaps other than in this very dark area so I just went in with actual lines instead of what Samir did which is much more of a graded kind, where you lightly press against the paper.
Samir: Exactly, and then you go over that again with even a different color and you are as light with it.
Vishal: Yeah. whereas I went for discreet strokes that I could then color in between and that gives you almost a different third color that your eye manifests, rather your brain is making it up, rather than it being on the page and that is a common technique in printing, in color printing of magazines or newspapers and things like that, you use additive sort of layers of yellow and cyan and magenta which is sort of what we almost had a set here that was similar for those and that’s kind of what I leaned into which you can do with colored pencils I think that’s a fascinating use of them. I do really enjoy seeing this hard line though and the the wash around it, so I think next time I will lean into the aqua side of the Aquarell.
Samir: Yeah just as a contrast, I mean since Minjal has used the watercolor version of this I kind of did the same with the previous piece that we showed on the masking tape video. And while it’s great to just see how Minjal has got this very flat single color with it, which you can do, and then what you can also do is to mix multiple colors of pencil, very much like what Vishal has done here and then if you just kind of wash over it in the same direction you end up getting this extremely complex looking.
Vishal: It’s almost like tie-dye, it looks like it’s mixed in very complex ways.
Samir: Yeah in some ways this is a lot easier to do than if I was actually using paints.
Vishal: Absolutely, watercolors, wet watercolor mediums are hard to control with this degree.
Samir: All these striations I have come up with are not as difficult as they look because I used pencils. So they are just a great medium to use in the watercolor way as well.
Vishal: I suppose we if we had done a second episode of this we would try to layer these on top of watercolors or under watercolors and see what we can do.
Samir: That is actually how they are used by a lot of people, to add in the details into watercolor paintings.
Vishal: Right and I guess depending on the tooth of the paper it will be able to handle this sort of line work over a properly dried layer of watercolor.
Samir: Now, we, Vishal and I grew up with actually using Staedtler pencils which were very different from these. We didn’t grow up with the Luna version, we grew up with, I don’t know if they had a specific name but they were more hexagonal colored pencils.
Vishal: Yeah I had a nice set that I had gotten, someone had gifted me for my birthday, 36 of them, I still have them, we still use them. But Minjal grew up with Luna as a brand that she was kind of familiar with, so how did you use it when you were growing up? Before they were watercolor pencils?
Minjal: The first ever set that I got was gifted and I think somebody bought it from Singapore. These were quite expensive when I was growing up in the 80s, so I remember getting a set of 24, and I have that set till date. I used it basically for a lot of still life painting that you know we were again forced to learn in school. I did not particularly enjoy drawing pots and pans and using these really nice pencils to fill in you know blacks and grays, but that was about the application in school.
Vishal: I think like most things in school there’s both too much time given to things and also not enough time. I don’t remember any of the art teachers I had in the two periods of art that we got a week actually teaching us how to use watercolors like this or how to use colored pencils like this.
In fact colored pencils were almost frowned upon as a juvenile thing, they moved us to actual watercolors far too early. I think many kids would probably have benefited from using these to get a notion of how to blend colors and how to control line and weight.
Samir: And I think they’re just a much simpler medium to test out and figure out some of the color theory as well.
Vishal: Now I didn’t use any erasers on this. Are these erasable in any form?
Samir: They are mildly erasable.
Vishal: I think if you did a wet solvent maybe you would be able to pull out?
Samir: There were there portions in some of these where I kind of went over the line before I colored let’s say the pink in and as long as it was light enough I was able to erase them out, but I’m guessing if you drew something that sharp, you may not be able to erase that completely.
Vishal: And speaking of sharpness pressure, water color pencils are notorious at least with someone like me who has a very heavy hand with these things of just falling apart and breaking. Did you guys have any issues with that?
How do Color Pencils work?
Samir: I think here we need to kind of go into a little bit about how water, I mean how color pencils work in general. So if you’re looking at paper from like the side on microscopic view, a paper like what Minjal has used is let’s say a small wavy line like that, now something that we have used is more craggy, is toothy, so it has these mountains and valleys.
Vishal: So the pencil kind of catches on these peaks and valleys.
Samir: The thing you need to understand is that when you draw a line, what you’re doing is flattening all of this down, so you make this flat like that and you have pushed all the grain of the paper down, pretty much permanently, you’ve actually indented the paper, so there’s no way to erase that beyond that point.
Vishal: You’d literally have to scoop that out.
Samir: But when you’re working with paper like this, the good thing about colored pencils and the way you need to understand them to really use them, even the ones that are not watercolor, is that you go over the thing lightly first.
Vishal: You use it almost on the side.
Samir: When you do that, what you’re doing is filling in that much.
Vishal: You’re just catching the tops of it.
Samir: And then if you want to layer it further, you go over it again and then you’re filling in that much and you can mix colors, of course, this doesn’t need to be the same color.
Vishal: And the good thing is that unlike with paints there’s very little color mixing onto your pencil you’re using, but that can quickly be rubbed off or even erased or sharpened off with a blade.
Samir: So the reason that colored pencils need a lot of layering on most paper is that you need to fill all of this in so that the peaks that you can see here are barely visible and that’s when you get a really rich color. So until you go over that many layers you are not going to get that imagined richness of color that you want.
The colours and undertones of the Mona Lisa painting
Vishal: It’s like the reason the Mona Lisa is green and you may never look at the Mona Lisa and think that’s a green woman but the science and the artistry of oil painting, of that kind of painting is done very much in a way like this, where the first layer of of oil paints is put down as an undertone because skin is translucent in some way and people’s undertones can be weird colors like green. It’s a counter-intuitive thing but the Mona Lisa’s undertone is green and then on top of that there are various flesh tones and all that, if this is a cross section and this is the canvas.
Samir: I think some of this will be more familiar to people who are into make-up rather than art.
Vishal: Yes, exactly, the people who use make-up regularly they will know the term undertone and what you’re aiming for. Some people’s undertones are quite yellow and they need to compensate for that or you know that’s why certain make-up doesn’t work with certain people and that is also why back in the black and white days very often if you actually went on a set a lot of people would be colored blue or orange and completely wild colors but because of the photographic process there, the way black and white film would react to people’s skin, you would get a certain look that looked perfectly normal on film.
And we are again, we’re straying away from the topic but color is fascinating, we don’t do a lot of color mediums and tools on this channel so far because, we will do them, but it’s a kaleidoscope to, pardon the pun of different tools, techniques, layering, there’s a vast array. So Minjal what do you think, would you like to continue using these the way you have? Would you like to try other things with them?
Minjal: What I do have in mind is trying some hand lettering, of course, with these. I see a lot of botanical artists making really gorgeous pieces. Maybe I’ve not seen too many of them use the Staedtler, I’ve seen them using maybe the Prismacolor.
Vishal: But I think that’s sort of an American thing. Prismacolor’s are more popular in America because I think they are manufactured there.
Samir: There is that but I think there’s also a bit of the character of the binder and that’s very different across different brands.
Vishal: These are quite clay-ey, I will say. I’m not even sure that’s a term, but I would not be able to get the kind of sharp points that I have gotten with the Prismacolor at some point.
Samir: Minjal, do you think that these would be good for lettering, the Staedtler Luna specifically?
Minjal: I think absolutely, and using this technique where you know I can apply a little pressure and maybe use this as the outline and then fill in you know the letters with maybe a lighter gradation like this, that would be a good experiment.
And, I think the good thing is when we were growing up these were not available easily, these are now very economical, available in sets of 12, 24, 36 and even 48. You know there’s a nice little brush that is a part of the pack, they also give the numbers, the colors are mentioned. I think we as adults don’t really use crayons or color pencils very often, so it would be nice to really bring these out and you know just use them more.
Vishal: We as adults have also not covered the elephant in the room of the last decade or so which was adult coloring books. We have drawn our own things but that is an entirely, that’s a huge market. Maybe we’ll even do a Stationery Test Drive on adult coloring books because as you can see we draw our own things, I’ve never actually bought an adult coloring book but I know they’re very popular, they’re very soothing and calming and helped a lot of people’s mental health.
Samir: Or you haven’t found one that’s adult enough?
Vishal: This is true, we need to find stimulating, adult coloring books. If you know of any please comment away.
Prismacolor vs Staedtler Luna Watercolour Pencils vs Faber-Castell Colour Pencils
Samir: Now, I think Minjal said that the Luna specifically would be very good for lettering and I think that’s something we need to cover, the differences between the different brands. Vishal is right in that Prismacolor is a very popular brand of color pencils especially in America. From the little I have tested between these brands, the Staedtler ones are the most waxy and also the hardest as far as the strength of the pigment is concerned.
But yeah you need to really pressure it a lot to break it versus I believe things like Prismacolor are more popular with people who do more kind of colored, rendered art because it’s much more of a powdery, almost I guess a pastel-like and I mean chalk pastels. That sort of consistency which makes it much easier to spread it over a large surface whereas the Staedtler’s are great for as Minjal said writing and maybe more kind of hatching kind of coloring like this. So it really depends on the way you like to use a colored pencil as to which one would suit you.
Vishal: I had a great time doing this, it was much better than I thought it would be. It mixed better so I actually leaned into that, I was expecting to keep them as discreet as possible, initially, but I think it worked a lot better close together than I thought it would.
Samir: And and from what I’ve read Faber-Castell is also a great option but between these and the Faber Castells, the Fabers are slightly softer so that you have more of a spread, slightly more like Prismacolor. But I believe as far as the water color part of it is concerned these are considered to be better, and from whatever we have tested, these are probably the best watercolor ones I’ve ever tested.
Vishal: Yeah, my really only my experience with watercolor pencils as they were called back then was a Derwent Set when I was in school and those were pretty much unusable as pencils. You just put them down and hoped for a line and then you would put water in there and they wouldn’t actually mix all that well but this is you know 20 years later.
Samir: The thing that I find excellent about these pencils is that they work perfectly as a dry color pencil, but then when you do mix them they give you something that genuinely looks like watercolor, so that’s a great balance to have.
Vishal: Right, I think we have colorfully looked at these colored pencils enough for now. I think we’ll be coloring and covering more colored mediums in the future. Let us know what mediums you like to use, whether it’s color or otherwise. If there’s some sort of weird color pencil you get in your area. Because we’ve seen, you know these are obviously a good branded color pencil from one of the best known names in all stationery. But there are really cheap ones out there as well that are pretty bad actually, but you can still do some things with them.
Samir: They’re sticks of plastic with wood around them.
Vishal: Yeah I mean you’re not getting this range, this easily on any paper.
Samir: But on the other hand, like last week we covered the Hauser fountain pen, which is one of those cheap pens that just works really well, so it’s possible that in your part of the world you have a colored pencil that’s really cheap and very reasonable but is also really good. So do let us know because we love finding these little gems.
Vishal: We’re always on the lookout for more stationery that we can test drive and also just know about, even if we can’t get our hands on it. Do show us what you have made with it, just like we have shown you what we have made with the Staedtler Luna 137 with a paint brush and a decal.
Get 12, get 24, hey get 48, you know your your life is yours and color it the way you want. Until next time, sign up for the Inky Memo newsletter, have a look at our products on the website, the notepads and there are other products in the pipeline that are being tested and clearly now we need to work on coloring books.
Vishal: Yes there will be some kind of Inky Memo coloring thing, I’m guessing fairly soon, and yeah we’ll go off to work on that and our next episode. Until then, I’m Vishal.
Samir: I’m Samir.
Minjal: I’m Minjal
Vishal: We don’t have a tag line to go or we keep trying to make new ones but I don’t know, I guess, color things, between the lines, outside the lines, do what you want you’re an adult!
Get the Staedtler Luna Watercolour Pencils
1. Staedtler Luna Watercolor Pencil 48 Shades – https://amzn.to/3HE6wWN
2. Staedtler Luna Classic Water Color Pencil 24 Shades – https://amzn.to/3uP3N9F
3. Staedtler Watercolor Pencils Luna 12 Color Set Short – https://amzn.to/3gxYvH6