Try These High-End Crayons for Vibrant, Painterly Results
Create soft hues and gentle gradients with this grown-up set of water-soluble crayons.
By Thea Voutiritsas
If you thought crayons were just for kids’ coloring books, think again. We got our hands on a set of artist-quality crayons nice enough for the grown-ups to enjoy, and boy are they fancy. (Fancy enough to make any adult colorist’s heart skip a beat!) Touting exceptional coverage, smooth application, and superior lightfastness, Caran d’Ache Neocolor Water-Soluble Crayons offer infinite artistic possibilities. The crayons are available in 84 shades (though at $129.98, it’s pretty pricey to buy a full set), but you can also find smaller (much more affordable) sets ranging from $16 to $68 on Amazon.
Neocolor crayons work both as traditional crayons or pastels and as watercolors. When using them as watercolors, it’s best to color on a scrap piece of paper and use your brush to pick up color, or touch a wet brush to the crayons themselves to get a watercolor effect (rather than coloring a design and then adding water).
For our test run, we went with the set of 15 crayons, which runs about $32 on Amazon. The set comes in a slender tin case that snaps shut (great for travel!). The crayons themselves are a bit longer than typical wax crayons and feel pleasantly hefty in your hand.
The Paper Test
Caran d’Ache Neocolor crayons are definitely an investment, and they have a bit of a learning curve. With the amount of time and money it takes to get started with these artist-quality crayons, we recommend splurging for artist-quality paper for best results. If you plan to add water, it’s best to go with a sturdier option like cardstock, watercolor paper, or multimedia paper.
Standard Copy Paper
First, we tested the Neocolor crayons dry on a sheet of 20-pound, uncoated copy paper. And before we go on, let us just say: We really don’t really recommend using this product as traditional crayons/without water. They work, but it’s a bit messy and they don’t look much better than regular ol’ Crayolas as far as appearance goes.
The Neocolors are incredibly creamy and don’t require much pressure to build up intense, vibrant colors. Plus, the color payoff is almost exactly the same hue as the crayon and wrapper suggest. No surprises here!
Their ultra-creamy texture did pose a few problems with texture and detail work. Even the tiniest amount of texture on (or under) the paper will show through, so be sure to work a smooth a surface so the colors apply evenly. They’re also not great for detail work since the soft crayons wear down quickly, making the tip wide and blunt. You can sharpen them with an X-Acto knife, but you’ll end up throwing away quite a bit of the crayon itself.
As we colored, we also ended up with tiny shreds of wax all over the page. Some of them melted under our hands and get stuck to the page, so be sure to blow away those pesky little crayon shreds as you color to avoid a mess.
To test how the Neocolors perform when combined with water, we started with cardstock and tried out a few different techniques.
First, we colored directly onto the paper and blended the colors using water. The crayons blended beautifully, but there was almost too much pigment on the page.
Next, we tried using a scrap piece of paper to create our own watercolor palette. This made it easier to mix colors, but it took quite a bit of coloring on the scrap paper and the final color was a bit dull and left something to be desired.
Finally, we swiped a wet brush directly over the crayons as you would with a traditional watercolor palette. This ended up being our favorite technique because we were able to pick up quite a bit of color without wearing down the crayons. Cardstock does tend to warp a bit when wet, so be careful not to use too much water as you blend. Remember: More water means less vibrant colors (and vice versa)!
Multimedia paper definitely stands up to water the best, but it’s not exactly a match made in heaven with the Neocolor crayons. The paper has a lot of texture, so we don’t recommend using the crayons directly on this paper. The colors come out rough, blotchy, and are quite difficult to blend out without using excess water or scrubbing with the paintbrush (which can make your colors look muddy and create bubbles in the paint—not cute!).
Since it can be a bit difficult to blend away the marks from coloring directly on the page, we recommend going straight to the brush-to-crayon technique, then painting onto the page for smooth results.
We found the Caran D’Ache Neocolor Water-Soluble Crayons performed best on a paper that hits the sweet spot between smooth and sturdy. In this case, that would be our 65-pound cardstock. For more vibrant colors, we could color directly on the page and blend it out without having to scrub away crayon lines. For softer hues, we used a brush to apply the color directly from the crayon to the paper. And while cardstock will warp with too much water, as long as you’re careful with the amount of water you use, the cardstock shouldn’t buckle too much. (And if you’re worried about it, you can always tape your page to a flat surface before you start painting to prevent warping.)
The crayons themselves meet their artist-quality standard. They’re vibrant, creamy, and easy to use. Plus, the option to add water means more chances to get creative as you color. At their high price point, however, we don’t recommend these for beginning colorists (and you’ll definitely want to hide them from the kiddos!). Neocolors are a better investment for seasoned colorists looking to create high-quality art and a new challenge in their coloring practice.