Smooth, easy to use and soft, graphic pencils are a Derwent staple. They are ideal for crisp, detailed work with an easy-to-hold hexagonal barrel – though the grade is only printed on one side, which can get annoying – and beautifully a dark line. Plus, they blend wonderfully.
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For a good value, you can’t beat Lyra Art Design Pencils. The graphite is rigid enough that it works for technical drawing, and with 17 different grades available, there’s no shortage of shading you can accomplish. One reviewer writes, “The finest pencils for drawing. High-quality graphite that is smooth and easy to blend. A wide variety of hardness for all your artwork needs.”
The leads have wax added to them, making them super-smooth to use, and create velvety dark marks. We gave them five stars – you can read our Palomino Blackwing pencils review here.
These beautiful pencils are brilliant for shading, as well as more rigid drawing, both of which they perform with enchanting smoothness. Responsive and with a wide versatility between each grade, you can’t go wrong with a Rembrandt pencil. And, with its break-resistant lead, it won’t go wrong either.
Illustration The best pencils: colouring, drawing and sketching The best pencils: colouring, drawing and sketching
These pencils, which are sold individually and in sets, make smooth, easy lines on the paper, making them ideal for bold line drawings and freestyle sketches.
Furthermore, the pencil comes with a handy extra-long twisting eraser and 0.7mm HB lead.
The best mechanical pencils 01. Rotring Rapid Pro Drafting Pencil
Buy a set of 12 Staedtler Mars Lumograph pencils for £10.05/$USD18.93
Each pencil is encased in pure cedar wood and packs an ultra-fine graphite lead that’s also suitable for more rigid technical drawing techniques.
Best Graphite Drawing Pencils Derwent Medium Graphic Drawing Pencils (set of 12)
The cushion point mechanism allows the sliding sleeve to give slightly under pressure to reduce lead breakage while writing. The pencil includes a clip and eraser under the cap. It’s a fantastic mechanical pencil suited for layouts and typography.
Buy a set of 12 Lyra Rembrandt Art Design pencils for £10.77/$USD14.28
Derwent is well known for making good quality, reliable pencils. Procolour is its latest range of colouring pencils, released in 2017. The pencils themselves feel substantial, with a sturdy circular shaft.
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Prismacolor’s graphite drawing set is a good introductory kit when starting to sketch. It comes with seven graphite drawing pencils of different grades, as well as four woodless graphite pencils. These create beautiful, broad strokes when used on their side, and allow you to experiment with a variety of tools. As an added bonus, the pencil set includes water-soluble graphite pencils, which transform into a wash when brushed with water. All told, the drawing kit is a great way to start sketching seriously.
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Japanese manufacturer Tombow is known for their high-density pencils, meaning they sharpen easily and the point stays longer. The Mono pencil is known to run a bit dark and is virtually smudge-proof. The dark lines of the Tombow Mono can almost mimic inks, making it a favorite of artists who focus on linework and tracing.
The Faber-Castell Grip Mechanical Pencil has won several design awards and has become deservedly popular. This wonderful pencil feels second-nature thanks to the perfect-sized triangular barrel covered in raised rubber dots, which allow for a firm and comfortable grip.
People love these pencils and it’s not hard to understand why: they are wonderfully consistent, which is great when you inevitably quickly run out of them and need another pack, and also refined. And the grade is printed on all three sides of the pencil (I’m looking at you, Derwent Graphic).
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Palmonio’s range more than lives up to the Blackwing brand name.
Proving once again that artists do not have time to waste, one of the most common reasons to praise Staedtler’s Lumograph is that it has the grade on all sides. On top of that, the lead is soft, sturdy (not many frustrating breakages here) and consistent.
Faber-Castell is a German brand known for high-quality art supplies, and the Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Sketch pencils are no exception. The brand makes sets with a variety of grades included or you can purchase single packs of pencils in each grade. Known for their consistency and durability, they sharpen easily and don’t often break. Plus, Faber-Castell’s handy tin makes the pencils highly portable. It’s no wonder they are an artist favorite, no matter the style or skill level.
Colours are easily blended on all art surfaces to form an infinite variety of hues and shades. Their thick leads resist breakage so you may get as dramatic as you dare.
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Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Sketch Pencil Art Set (set of 12)
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Available in different sets filled with a wide variety of grades, both beginners and professionals swear by Derwent. You can select between soft, medium, and hard sets depending on your subject matter and people note that the pencils are easy to sharpen to a point, as well as a flat shape. This allows for detailed work, as well as shading. And the hexagonal shape makes them easy to grip.
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The best watercolour pencils11. Staedtler Karat Aquarell watercolour pencils
And while we’ve gone over how to select the best colored pencils, there are a whole other set of considerations when thinking about the right graphite pencil to add to your collection. In fact, you’ll probably—like most artists—wind up using several different pencils depending on the effect you’re looking for.
Many artists swear by Staedtler’s range of drawing pencils. Their Mars Lumograph is known for its consistency and lack of breakage, making them great for detailed work. They also erase cleanly, meaning you won’t be left with stray smudges on the paper. Staedtler’s standard set provides 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, 4H drawing pencils, making it extremely versatile. “I’ve been using Staedtler Lumograph professionally for over 30 years and in that time I’ve found no better,” says artist and art educator Mike Sibley. “I even give them away at my workshops.”
In the pencil world, Blackwing has an impressive pedigree. It developed something of a cult following before being discontinued in 1998. In 2010, Palomino bought the brand, and the result is more than worthy of the Blackwing name. There are three main pencil options to choose from: the Blackwing (similar to a 5B), Blackwing Pearl (4B) and Blackwing 602 (3B).
Being woodless, these Cretacolor offer a pretty unique experience. Not just in their look: they erase more easily than a wood pencil, have a satisfying weight in your hand and are great at shading, though less effective if you want a simple, crisp line.
This set is named after the famous German artist Albrecht Dürer. These are very carefully made using only the highest quality materials, including vibrant pigments and a unique binder medium, and they offer over 100 years of fade resistance.
The leads aren’t too waxy or too brittle and have a high pigment level for wonderful gradation of colour, even with a light touch. We gave them four and a half stars in our Derwent Procolour review.
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The HB scale ranges from 9H, a hard pencil that leaves fine, light marks, to 9B, a soft pencil which a high ratio of graphite that leaves bold, dark marks. While every manufacturer gives each pencil a designation on the scale, it’s all relative within a given brand, so remember that a 6H pencil from one manufacturer might give a slightly different stroke than a 6H pencil from another.
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Buy 15 Caran D’ache Graphic Line pencils (plus accessories) for £179.99/ $USD205.20
These are a reliable brand and a great option for beginners or more advanced artists. We gave these five stars in our Staedtler watercolour pencil review.
Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Some think so. For that price, you’ve got to love these pencils and lots do. Caran d’Ache is Switzerland is the country’s only pencil manufacturer and has the exclusivity and craftsmanship to match. Each shade and grade is carefully developed and truly beautiful. Of course, they have a gorgeous finish and are made of high quality wood.
The Cumberland Pencil Company has been making some of the best pencils around since 1832, and it shows in the quality of its Derwent brand.
If colour is your thing, you can’t go wrong with this budget set.
For a much more reasonable price, this set of hexagonal design pencils from Lyra is the ideal way to unleash your shading skills. The full Rembrandt Art Design set covers 17 grades from 9B to 6H, and this box features a good, representative sample, enabling you to really get creative with your shading.
Once you understand the type of lines you can expect from your pencils, it’s easy to mix and match to put together a graphite pencil set that will cover your needs as an artist.
In most creative fields, it’s impossible to get away from one important tool—the pencil. It doesn’t matter if you’re an architect, a professional fine artist, or you’re just learning to draw; a good graphite pencil is an essential part of any artist’s supplies.
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If colour is your thing, you can’t go wrong with this beautiful set of colouring pencils from BIC Conté. These high-quality art instruments have a wood-free, synthetic resin design, which make them completely splinter-free should they break.
A go-to tool for any artist, designer or doodler, owning one – or two, three, four or more – great pencil is crucial. It is the very first stage in the creation of any great work: the pen may be mighty but the pencil your trustworthy friend that erases any mistakes from memory. Phew.
The graphite powder produces luminous light and dark shades of grey, it slides easily, smudges, blends, and rubs off like chalk. Fixative must be used on the final artwork and is suitable for wet or dry techniques on paper or canvas. Artist Kelvin Okafor is an avid user of the product, and his portfolio of drawings is spectacular.
The Prismacolor Ebony Graphite pencil, which has a 2B grading, is a beautiful choice for rich, velvety lines. Easily blendable and soft, while they won’t create jet black lines—they get close for graphite. You’ll need to sharpen often due to their softness, and many swear by them for shading that is difficult to achieve without using charcoal.
Keep in mind that most artists use more than one type of pencil. In fact, many manufacturers sell drawing pencil sets that come with a selection of graphite pencils in different grades. This will allow you to switch between tools depending on the requirements of a particular image.
The Graphite Line has been carefully developed and perfected in the Geneva workshops of Caran d’Ache to explore all the different shades of black and deliver thick and thin lines, gradation, flat-wash, blurring and watercolour effects. It’s an insanely expensive set of pencil, but we suspect that once you’ve tried it, you won’t want to use anything else.
Once you use them and dive into pencil luxury, you might not be able to go back.
Best Drawing Pencils for Professionals and Beginners Who Love to Sketch
The best pencils for drawing and sketching03. Palomino Blackwing pencils
Staedtler claims to have invented the colouring pencil, so it should know a thing or two. These watercolour pencils come in sets of 12, 24, 36 and 48, they have high-pigment, break-resistant leads and a good quality wooden shaft that sharpens well. Of course you can use them dry, or add water for extra fun.
Woodless pencils may cost a bit more, but they generally last longer than the typical wood-encased pencils. Cretacolor woodless pencils are perfect for shading and the graphite in them is water-soluble, allowing you to create soft washes over the page. Creatacolor’s kit also comes with a kneaded eraser and sharpener, giving you all the tools you need in one box.
No, you haven’t misread that price. And yes, that’s the correct picture. The Caran D’ache Graphite Line gift box really does come with fewer than 20 pencils, plus graphite sticks and accessories, at a price that would make even Jeff Bezos blink, but what you’re paying for here is top-quality graphite.
Figuring out the best pencils to bring your sketches and designs to life can appear challenging, but much of it comes down to personal preference. Once you get the hang of which brand you prefer, you can mix and match different pencil grades in order to expand your sketching capabilities. You’ll see that much of what we suggest are pencil sets, which allows you to experiment with a wide variety of lines and shading, but each brand will also sell their pencils individually once you need to restock.
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We’ve rounded up our favourite of the many – way, way too many – pencils available. Whether you want a great shading tool or a technical line-maker, we’ll put the ideal pen at your fingertips. So, pencil in some pencil shopping, why don’t you?
As an alternative to using a pencil for sketching and illustration, have you considered using graphite powder? The Cretacolor Charcoal Powder is made using a special deep-firing method to produce a dense, rich charcoal. Develop large-scale drawings or mix with water and a binding agent for additional tonal effects.
Don’t be scared by the price. Caran D’ache is for serious sketchers looking to up their drawing game. As Switzerland’s only pencil maker, the brand has carried out exacting studies to get things just right, making them the favorite of many artists. This gift set will get you 15 graphic pencils, 3 water-soluble graphite pencils, plus accessories. Some say they are the best drawing pencils on the market, and that once you try them, you’ll never go back.
Do you have the best pencils for the project at hand? Whether you’re a professional artist or you’re learning how to draw, it’s important to have the right tools for the type of work you’re doing.
Buy a set of 24 Derwent Graphic Graphite Pencils for £16.50/$USD18.14
But this is definitely not a case of style over substance, as these pencils also boast a 3.2mm pigment-based lead, providing smooth, even and consistent coverage for artists of any age.
These pencils are perfect for both drawing and painting techniques. They come in tins of 12, 24, 60, and a full range of 120 watercolour pencils, and are ideal for any artist.
This pencil set is suited for students and entry-level artists. Soft, thick cores create a smooth colour laydown for superior blending and shading. The pencils are a true art medium with thick, soft leads containing brilliant permanent pigments that are smooth, water-resistant and lightfast.
Once you know what type of artwork you need the pencil for, you need to understand the different grades of graphite pencils. Even though we often refer to lead in pencils, there is actually no component of lead used in them. Whereas colored pencils are made with wax and pigment, graphite pencils are a mixture of graphite and clay. The combination of these two components allows for smooth strokes, but graphite pencils will give different lines depending on how much clay is present. Generally, the more clay in the pencil, the harder the pencil—and lighter the stroke—will be.
Albrecht Dürer pencils are made using high-quality materials.
This beautiful metal drafting pencil is truly one of the best pencils for pros. It features a hexagonal body and a circular cross-hatch metal grip.
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In the United States, we commonly think of the number 2 pencil, which is standard for schools and test taking. The American number scale for pencils ranges 1 to 4 (including 2.5), but the rest of the world uses a different grading scale. Most manufacturers use the HB scale, where “H” stands for hardness and “B” for blackness. A standard number 2 pencil corresponds to HB on this scale.
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(And once you’ve picked your pencil, why not pair it with a designer notebook?)
And that’s where we can help. In this guide, you’ll find the best mechanical pencils, drawing pencils, colouring pencils and watercolour pencils for all budgets. These are our pick of the very best pencils for artists and designers – so whether you already know the fundamentals of pencil drawing or you’re just learning, you can be sure you’ve got the right pencil in your hand.
When selecting the perfect graphite pencil, the first thing to take into consideration is your drawing style. Technical drawing and detailed artwork with fine lines will require different pencils than those used for shading and sketching figures. Do you use dark, thick lines in your sketches or prefer lighter, thinner strokes? Understanding your personal artistic style and needs will help you narrow down the selection when searching for a good drawing pencil.