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Best Drawing Pencils For Artists – The Ultimate Buyers Guide

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This is a buyer's guide for the best drawing pencils for artists. But before I get into it, you should note that none of these pencils will make you a better artist. You may find some pencils more comfortable to use, but they all do essentially the same thing and they are all capable of producing beautiful art.

Pollard birches, 1884 Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Pencil, Pen, 39 x 54 cm

Types Of Drawing Pencils

Here is a summary of the different types of pencils used by artists:

Graphite pencils: These are the most common pencils used in art and writing.

Charcoal pencils: Create dark and rough lines, but not as versatile as the other options.

Colored pencils: Similar to normal graphite pencils but in color. You can read about colored pencils for artists here.

Mechanical pencils: Create sharp lines and do not need to be sharpened. However, you are not able to use the thick edge of a mechanical pencil to create bold marks (like you are able to do with normal pencils).

Claude Monet, Caricature Of Leon Manchon
Claude Monet, Caricature Of Leon Manchon

Graphite Versus Charcoal

The two main options you have for drawing are graphite and charcoal pencils. Graphite pencils have a wide range of grades and are useful for sophisticated drawings which require finer detailing.

Charcoal is perfect for sketching and hitting those really dark values, however it is generally much darker and rougher than graphite and more prone to smudging.

Compressed Versus Uncompressed Charcoal Pencils

With charcoal pencils you have the option of using compressed or uncompressed charcoal. Compressed charcoal is much more refined and is harder than uncompressed charcoal, which is essentially just burnt twigs.

Uncompressed charcoal is referred to as "willow" or "vine" charcoal and it can be used to produce very rough and general markings. The issue with uncompressed charcoal is that it tends to smudge easily and can be difficult to control.

Rembdrandt, Old Man Reading A Book
Rembdrandt, Old Man Reading A Book

Pencil Grading

There is no universal grading system for pencils, but the following system generally holds true.

Graphite Pencils

Graphite pencils are made from a mix of graphite and clay. The hardness of the pencil will vary depending on the blend of graphite and clay.

More graphite - softer and blacker marks.

More clay - harder and lighter marks.

Here is a full range of grades:

9H, 8H, 7H, 6H, 5H, 4H, 3H, 2H, H, HB, F, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B, 7B, 8B, 9B

The "B" gradings are on the soft and black side and the "H" gradings are on the hard and light side. "F" is in-between. "HB" is your standard writing pencil.

Pencil Grading Chart

Charcoal Pencil Grading

Charcoal pencils are in general much softer than graphite pencils and usually range from HB to 6B. I find that the grades of charcoal pencils are not as consistent as what you get with graphite pencils.

Best Graphite Pencils

Staedtler Premium Quality Drawing Pencil

A high-quality set of 12 finely graded pencils ranging from 6B to 4H which come in a portable metal case. Staedtler is an established and reliable brand.

These pencils are break-resistant and are made from high-quality materials.

Pros
  • Break-resistant.
  • The pencils are mixed with carbon instead of pure graphite, so there may be less shine compared to regular graphite pencils.
  • Made with high-quality materials.
  • Sharpen well.
  • Great value for what you pay.
Cons
  • Slightly harder to erase than other graphite pencils.
Faber-Castell Pencils

A set of 12 pencils of varying degrees of hardness with smooth lead made from a high-quality mix of clay and graphite.

The lead in these pencils is up there with the best of the brands. With cheap pencils, the lead tends to feel gritty and scratchy, especially in the harder grades. That is certainly not the case with these pencils due to the quality of the materials used.

Pros
  • Smooth and consistent.
  • Packaging is small, light and portable.
  • Can be easily sharpened.
  • High-quality materials.
  • Affordable.
Cons
  • N/A
Derwent Graphic Drawing Pencils

This set contains pencils ranging from 6B to 4H. The pencils have a hexagonal barrel which can provide a more secure grip. The hard degrees have a 2.2 mm core for sharp lines and the black soft degrees use a 3.5mm core for softer lines.

In my opinion, the quality of these pencils is not as consistent as the Staedtler or Faber-Castell brands.

Pros
  • Has a slightly thicker point than many of the other pencils (which may suit some artists).
  • Variety of different set options (you can get sets of 4, 12, or 20 pencils).
  • High-quality materials.
Cons
  • Issues with consistency.
  • Not as smooth as other options.
Conte Pencil 1710-2B

This is not the most popular brand on the list but it gets a mention here as it is recommended by Stan Prokopenko, who has a very popular Youtube channel for drawing.

Pros
  • Recommended by Stan Prokopenko.
  • High-quality materials.
  • Smooth and consistent markings.
Cons
  • Does not come in a set.
  • Not as affordable as the other options.

Best Charcoal Pencils

General Pencil Charcoal Pencils

Includes black and white charcoal pencils, compressed charcoal, accessories and a carbon sketch drawing pencil.

Pros
  • Widely considered the best charcoal pencils for artists.
  • Can be easily sharpened.
  • Made from high-quality materials.
Cons
  • N/A
Mont Marte Woodless Charcoal Pencils

This is a three-set piece which includes three grades of woodless charcoal pencils - soft, medium and hard.

Pros
  • Clean handling.
  • Easy to sharpen.
Cons
  • The difference in hardness is not that noticeable.
General Pencil Compressed Charcoal Sticks

High quality compressed charcoal sticks by General Pencil.

Pros
  • Perfect for rough sketches.
  • High-quality charcoal.
Cons
  • Tends to smudge (though that is not a quality issue, but rather a characteristic of compressed charcoal pencils).
Winsor & Newton Willow Charcoal

Willow charcoal is much softer than compressed charcoal and can be very effective for quick and loose sketches.

Pros
  • Perfect for rough sketches.
  • Cheap.
Cons
  • Tends to smudge easily as the charcoal is so soft.
  • Not useful for refined details.

Best Colored Pencils

I wrote about the best colored pencils in this post.

Best Mechanical Pencils

Uni Mechanical Pencil, Kuru Toga Roulette Model

An extremely high-quality mechanical pencil with a minimalist design.

Pros
  • Lead rotating technology.
  • The knurled grip provides a secure grip and the metal body places the weight towards the tip of the pencil which feels comfortable when writing.
  • Remarkable quality.
Cons
  • This mechanical pencil is at the upper end of the price range, but you get what you pay for.
Pentel Graph Gear 1000 Automatic Drafting Pencil

A beautifully designed, high-quality pencil. But it comes with a high price tag.

Pros
  • Beautiful design with a finely chiseled metallic grip and soft, latex-free pads
  • Made from very high-quality materials.
Cons
  • This mechanical pencil is at the upper end of the price range, but you get what you pay for.

Thanks for Reading!

Feel free to share with friends. If you want more painting tips, check out my fundamentals course.

Happy painting!

Dan Scott

Draw Paint Academy

Read more of my articles. 

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