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In this article we’ll take you through some of the best drawing pencils available that both beginners and professionals will enjoy. We’ll also look to break down some of the terminology that is used in the world of pencils, gain a better understanding of pencil grades and what to consider when looking for a pencil for drawing or sketching.
With all that said and done, it’s important to remember that gear alone will not make you good artist that’s all down to practice and repetition. Let’s get into it!
In a hurry? Here are our favorites
- Best Overall Graphite Drawing Pencil
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Pencil Grading Scale
Ever look at a pencil and wonder what the little letters and numbers mean? Well, that’s the grade. With pencils cores being made primarily of graphite and clay, the mix and the way these materials are blended can have a huge effect on how the pencil will behave. The feel of the pencil and the mark it makes are ultimately decided by the ratio of these two materials. Manufacturers use grades to tell you whether the core is soft and dark (high graphite ratio) or hard and light (high clay ratio).
To add a layer of confusion there are two scales that are commonly used the European and the American.
The European scale sees pencils grades as follows:
The American system (#1 – #4) is less common, especially in illustration. But you never know where you may come across it, so it lines up with the above like this:
#1 = B, #2 = HB, #3 = F, #4 = H
As a general rule of thumb you can use the following to remember what’s what:
B grades indicate a soft with the softness increases with an increase in the number. These pencils produce bolder and darker lies. Soft pencils are also more susceptible to smudes.
Remember: B for BOLD
H grades are the harder and lighter pencils. These pencils have a higher clay content and therefore produce a lighter line.
Remember: H for HARD
Choosing the Right Pencils
There are a lot of things to consider when trying to find the best drawing pencil.
There are a few areas where preference is key such as; look, feel, weight and shape of the pencil. Often times when it comes to finding the best pencil for you, it’s just a matter of trial and error. Lots of drawing of drawing with lots of different brands to find the set the best suits your style and the way you like to draw.
Some properties are however core, and mark a quality pencil.
Consistent Lead Quality
Not all pencil leads are made equal. The way the material is mixed and the general manufacturing process can have a huge effect on the end produce. WHat we are looking for here is consistency. This translates into the way that the pencil will make the page as was as how easy it is to sharpen.
Speaking of sharpening, this is our second consideration. A quality pencil should be easy to sharpen to a clean point. This should be the case throughout the entire lead.
Easy to Erase without Smudging
We all make mistakes, and luckily when using pencils these can be erased. Not all pencil marks behave the same when being erased – leaving horrible smudged marks. When looking for a pencil we what something that can be erased to give a clean white page with relative ease.
Range of Lead Grades
Ideally when we find a brand or range of pencils we the we like we can stick with them for all our sketching needs. For that reason it’s important to make sure that the range you are looking at has a large variety of pencil grades available. This means that is later on you are looking to grow your collection of drawing pencils you can stick with a brand you know and love without issue.
Best Graphite Drawing Pencils
Staedtler Mars Lumograph Graphite Pencil Set
Set of 12: Grades 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, 4H
This Staedtler set of pencils is a fantastic all-rounder. From a company renowned for their quality pencils, you can go wrong with these German manufactured pencils. For that reason these are our recommendation for anyone that is unsure what is for them. This set provides a range of pencils grades at a reasonable price which can be enjoyed by all beginners, while also being of a high enough quality that they are also suitable for more proficient users.
The pencils come pre-sharped in a 7 x 4 inch tin, which is a lovely touch. They have all the hallmarks of the best drawing pencils with super-bonded that has been made to promote even wear as well as allowing for east sharpening and eraseal.
Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Sketch Pencil Set
Set of 12: Grades 8B, 7B, 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H
Another set from a German manufacturer. This time it’s the Faber-Castell 9000. This is a set of pencils which comes presents neatly in a metal container with a plastic holder to hold the pencils snugly inside. So snug that it can sometimes be difficult to remove the pencils. Another small issue is that pencil markings indicating the grade can only be seen at on one side of the pencil. This can make identifying the pencil you are looking for more difficult than it need be. But these are small issues that do little to detract from the quality of these pencils. The graphite and clay mix leads lend themselves to a smooth and consistent pencil.
This set has a range of grades that skew towards the softer side, so it is advisable to use Spray Fixative to prevent any unsightly smudges in your finished pieces. We wouldn’t want that!
Lyra Rembrandt Art Design Pencils
Set of 12: Grades 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, 4H
Lyra is another brand at the forefront of pencil manufacture. The Lyra Rembrandt art design pencils are another addition to their extensive collection. Presented neatly in a pencil tin this 12 degree set is a great addition to anyone’s pencil collection with the possibility of adding up to a total of 17 grades available in the series. With a smooth feel for drawing and a line that is easy to erase the Lyra deserve their place in a list of the best drawing pencils.
Derwent Graphic Drawing Pencils
Set of 12: Grades 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H and 4H
Derwant offers a comprehensive set of 20 degrees of pencils of which the above set contains 12. This medium set was chosen as it provides the best variety drawing pencils for beginners. For the more experienced users a softer or harder range may be more desirable depending on preference.
These particular graphite pencils are made in the UK. Views of this particular series are somewhat mixed. While the range on offer is fantastic, performance in some areas can be lacking. The pencils can be inconsistent and will not always apply smoothly to paper. One area where the pencils is when being erased. Lines can be erased leaving a bright white page with no erasure marks.
These are some quality pencils from a well known brand. However, if you are looking for the ultimate smooth graphite pencil, you may have to look elsewhere.
Cretacolor Monolith Woodless Pencil Set
Set of 6 + Accessories: Grades 9B, 8B, 6B, 4B, 2B and 4B Aqualmonlith water soluable pencil
This is the first set that also offers a couple of handy accessories. These are a metal sharpener, kneaded eraser and Monolith holder with cap. The holder in particular is a hugely useful addition to the set. This will allow a more consistent drawing experience as the pencils get shorter with use.
Another addition that is unique to this set is the addition of a water soluble pencil. The Aquamonolith. This means that the drawings using this pencil can be transformed into a wash with the use of a wet brush. Alternatively it can be dipped directly into water to give a rich, dark and smooth line.
Creatacolor is generally considered to offer some of the best drawing pencils on the market and this set is no different.
A point of note is that this is a woodless pencil, meaning the entire crosections in made of the lead material. In general, this doesn’t have many major implications, though the pencils feel more weighty in the hand which may be an adjustment for some. They would also be particularly useful in some niche use cases like using the side to make large areas of tone.
Prismacolor Ebony Graphite Drawing Pencils
Set of 12: Grade 2B
The Prismacolor set is composed of only 2B pencils, the go to choice for many artists. They are well suited to portrait or figure drawing as well as general sketching. The pencils are known for having a particularly smooth laydown, making them a joy to draw with.
The marketing of “jet-blacks” is true to a point. With the pencil giving darker blacks than most other graphite pencils on the market. But claims must also be taken with the understanding that these are still graphite pencils, meaning there is a limit to the possible darkness of the line.
Tombow Mono Professional Drawing Pencils
Set of 12 + Accessories: Grades 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, 4H.
This is another set that comes with a couple of accessories. Namely, pencil sharpener and plastic eraser. The are simply functional additions but they are nice to have nonetheless.
The Tombows stand out as some of the best drawing pencils due to the high quality material and manufacture. The pencils are made of made of high density graphite encased in hard cedar wood. Special care is also taken to centre the core to ensure consistent sharpening and reduce the risk of breakage.
Conte Pencil 1710-2B
Single Pencil: Grade 2B
For a bit of a change we have we the Conte 1710. This is a soft black pencil that is well loved by many, including some prominent Youtube artists. This is a pencil that can be used for a wide range of drawing and sketching and comes in the jack of all trades grade of 2B. I also touts the fact the the pencil is virtually smudge proof.
As can be expected for such a brand the pencil is a bit on the pricey side. But in many ways you get what you pay for.
Note: a lot of purchasers were surprised that this particular offer was for a single pencil so I’ll warn you in advance.
High-end Graphite Drawing Pencils
These pencils are some of the best, and often have a price tag to match. These are likely not the best choice for the average beginner but professionals may be tempted. They could also make a great present for artistic family and friends.
Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Pencils
Set of 22: Grades 10B-10H
Mitsubishi pencils aren’t often recommended because they can be hard to get hold of. But this pencils are definitely worth the effort it may take you to get your hands on them. The Japanese crafted set oozes class. Renowned for their smooth and consistent lay down they are some of the best drawing pencils money can buy. The 22 piece set offers a comprehensive range of grades. This may be excessive for some but other offerings like their 12 piece is also available.
There is a keen attention to detail in this set. Pencils have an octagonal shape to prevent rolling and marking indicating grades on each side. This extends to the tin which has a lid that opens with a simple press of the corner.
Caran D’ache Graphite line Set
Assorted set of Pencils and accessories:
- 6 Grafwood graphite pencils 9B, 6B, 4B, 2B, H and 4H
- 1 Grafstone woodless graphite pencil (6B)
- 1 Technalo water soluble graphite pencil (3B)
- 1 Charcoal pencil
- 2 Grafcube squares (9B and 3B)
- Extra-soft rubber eraser, Pencil sharpener and Sandpaper
You ever wonder what the Rolls Royce of the sketching world would look like? Well this is it! The Caran D’ache Graphite line set is all the pencils an artist could wish for – and has a price to match. But the quality is unparalleled. This set comes with an array of graphite pencils as well as all the necessary accessories. Grafcubes, a blender and sharpeners among other. This is a complete set therefore makes a wonderful gift. If this set is a bit extravagant for you taste you can get the graphite pencils in a tube set.
Alternatives: Graphite Holder
Having looked at some of the best drawing pencils on the market it must be said that this is not the only means by which you can go about sketching or drawing. There are several alternatives to the humble pencil, such as mechanical options or the lead holder. These both aim to address some of the drawbacks of pencils. Giving a consistent feel in the hand (they won’t get shorter with sharpening) as well as reducing cost if you do a lot of drawing (you just buy refills instead of brand new pencils)
Faber-Castell Lead Holder
As with conventional drawing pencils, you can’t go wrong with Faber Castell. This holder is made for 2 mm leads and is a fantastic long term choice. The holder has the added benefit of having an integrated lead sharpener in the push button.