For many artists, their first drawing experiences were with pencils, and they fell in love with creating art through this medium. You may have experienced the same fascination with pencil drawing and sketching. Whether you’re a complete novice or an experienced artist, graphite, charcoal, colored, and even mechanical pencils can all act to release your inner artist and help you create intricate and eye-catching fine art and even more modern design projects.
In this guide, you’ll learn about the various types of drawing pencils, explore the most important features to consider, and discover some of the best drawing pencils on the market in a variety of categories to suit your art and design purposes.
- BEST OVERALL: Bellofy Drawing Kit Artists Supplies
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Amazon Basics Sketch and Drawing Art Pencil Kit
- BEST MECHANICAL: MozArt Supplies Mechanical Pencil Set – 4 Sizes
- BEST FOR SKETCHING: H & B Sketching Pencils Set, 40 Piece Drawing Pencils
- BEST FOR SHADING: Bellofy Drawing Pencils for Artists
- BEST FOR BEGINNERS: Castle Art Supplies 26 Piece Drawing and Sketching
- BEST GRAPHITE: Castle Art Supplies Graphite Drawing Pencils
- BEST CHARCOAL: Sunshilor Professional Charcoal Pencils Drawing Set
- BEST COLORED: Castle Art Supplies 72 Premium Colored Pencils Set
Types of Drawing Pencils
Pencils feature a cylindrical wooden barrel encasing a core material that makes marks on your paper. This core material might be made from graphite mixed with clay or charcoal or an oil-based substance containing color pigments. These different materials produce a variety of effects in your drawings. Depending on the types of art and design projects you have in mind, you’ll want to own the appropriate types of drawing pencils.
The term “lead pencil” is commonly attributed to graphite pencils. When graphite was first discovered in Cumbria, England, during the 16th century, people thought it was lead, and the name has remained since that time. In the 18th century, manufacturers began to make pencils by cutting graphite into sticks which they encased in wooden sleeves.
Pencil manufacturers began to mix graphite with clay, controlling the hardness and softness of pencils by adjusting the ratio of the softer graphite to the harder clay filler. A hard pencil contains more clay filler, resulting in tightly packed graphite that leaves a light mark on your paper. On the other hand, a soft pencil contains more graphite and less clay filler, leaving a darker mark on your paper.
Graphite drawing pencils are graded on the HB scale, where H signifies “hard” and B signifies “black.” An HB pencil is directly in the center of the scale, whereas a 9B pencil, for example, is extremely soft and leaves a black mark. Conversely, a 9H pencil is exceptionally hard and leaves a light, gray mark.
Artists used charcoal as a drawing medium for many centuries before graphite was discovered, and archaeologists have found charcoal cave drawings dating back to 23,000 B.C. Although both graphite and charcoal are carbon-based materials, they are distinctive in nature and serve different purposes for artists. Charcoal is more frequently used for dramatic effects in sketches, while graphite is typically used for precision, detailed drawing.
Due to its molecular structure, charcoal crumbles easily and leaves behind a dark, matte drawing material that becomes caught in the surface of the paper. Because it is soft and flaky, artists use charcoal to create layers and expressive effects in their drawings. These effects range from dark lines derived by applying pressure to the powdery, wispy clouds of gray shadows from lightly applying charcoal to the drawing surface.
Artist charcoal is available in sticks of varying sizes. These sticks are commonly manufactured by heating vine, willow, or linden in a kiln or other high-heat chamber.
Colored pencils do not contain graphite or charcoal. Instead, the core of a colored pencil consists of color pigment mixed with water and bonding agents in a wax- or oil-based material. Although ancient Greeks used wax-based drawing utensils, it was not until the early 20th century that manufacturers produced widely available colored pencils.
The core of a wax-based colored pencil can be either hard or soft. Pigment from these pencils provides excellent coverage, although wax-based pencil cores tend to break more easily than oil-based colored pencils. Alternatively, oil-based colored pencils tend to be harder than their wax-based counterparts. Because the pigment tends to hold together more readily in a vegetable oil base, this type of colored pencil provides longer-lasting results.
You may associate mechanical pencils with writing or drafting, but they are also useful for artwork. The biggest advantage of a mechanical pencil is that it doesn’t require sharpening. When the lead (graphite) core wears down, simply insert a new one.
You can draw thick or thin lines with mechanical pencils. The leads are available in a range of sizes, with diameters of the drawing points measured in millimeters. A 0.3-millimeter lead produces fine lines, while a 0.7-millimeter lead draws thick lines.
Leads for mechanical pencils are also available in varying degrees of hardness. Hard leads that produce light gray markings are signified by the letter H preceded by a number. The higher the number, the lighter the markings. On the other hand, a letter B signifies a soft lead that leaves a black mark. For example, a 9B pencil leaves an exceptionally dark marking, while a 2B pencil leaves a lighter mark on the paper.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Drawing Pencils
Assorted types of drawing pencils exist for multiple art and design purposes. As you begin your search for the best drawing pencils, consider both the individual components and the overall quality of each product. Additionally, you’ll want to think about the durability and graded hardness of graphite drawing pencils. Keep in mind that drawing pencils are typically produced in sets that offer multiple types of tools for a broad range of art techniques.
The components of a drawing pencil consist of a core material that makes marks on your paper and a casing that allows you to manipulate the core as an art tool. Generally, the core material is either graphite mixed with clay or charcoal. Some drawing pencils consist of only the core material without the outer casing, such as charcoal and graphite drawing sticks. Most drawing pencils, however, do feature an outer barrel made of wood.
A colored pencil is different from other types of drawing pencils in that the core is made of color pigments suspended in an oil- or wax-based substance that facilitates the laydown of color onto your paper. The barrel of a colored pencil is commonly made from wood.
The components of a mechanical pencil may include either a spring-loaded mechanism that advances the lead by clicking a button or a twisting mechanism that performs the same function. The barrel is usually made from plastic or metal, and some mechanical pencils feature ergonomic gripping areas for a comfortable hold.
When you’re shopping for drawing pencils, it’s essential to purchase products made from high-quality materials. If you’re selecting graphite pencils, look for products that advertise a blend of high-quality graphite and clay.
For charcoal pencils and sticks, consider drawing utensils made by heating willow or vines in a kiln or high-heat chamber. Willow charcoal produces rich, black markings, and you can use vine charcoal for gray lines and shading.
Mechanical pencils are available in a variety of materials. The quality of a mechanical pencil is related to the mechanism that advances the lead as well as the material, shape, and design of the barrel. The lead should easily advance with the click of a button or with an equally simple twisting motion. An ergonomically designed barrel with a nonslip grip may further enhance the quality of a mechanical pencil because it provides a more comfortable and secure hold while you draw.
The core of a pencil, commonly called the “lead,” is actually a mixture of graphite and clay. Because graphite is softer and clay is harder, manufacturers can amend the hardness of pencils by adjusting the ratio of graphite to clay.
As mentioned previously in this guide, pencil hardness is rated on an alphanumeric scale in which letters and numbers designate hard and soft pencils. The letter H stands for “hard,” and the letter B stands for “black.” A soft pencil leaves a dark, black mark, while a hard pencil leaves a light, gray mark. The commonly used No. 2 writing pencils are designated HB because their lead hardness lies exactly in the middle of the scale.
Manufacturers also use numbers to indicate degrees of hardness or softness. For example, a 9B pencil leaves a darker mark than a 4B pencil, and a 7H pencil leaves a lighter mark than a 3H pencil.
As you investigate the best drawing pencils, look for a durable point that requires less frequent sharpening. This will save time, so you can devote every minute to your drawing and design activities. Keep in mind that the point of a soft pencil will wear down more quickly than the point of a hard pencil. Although point durability differs between soft and hard pencils, you will want to acquire a collection of pencils with varying grades of hardness to produce both dark and light markings in your artwork.
Because charcoal sticks tend to crumble or flake, they may be perceived as lacking durability. However, this is the nature of charcoal, and the crumbly quality provides opportunities for expressive, artistic effects when you work with this unique medium.
A mechanical pencil offers a steady supply of durable writing or drawing points, as you can advance the lead with the click of a button. Additionally, refillable leads increase the convenience of mechanical pencils.
Our Top Picks
Whether you’re looking for colored pencils, charcoal, or graphite pencils in a variety of hardness grades, you’ll find recommendations that feature high-quality materials from reputable manufacturers in a variety of categories among the top picks. Additionally, many of the sets offer an array of useful art tools to provide optimal results in your future projects. Read on to discover some of the best drawing pencils on the market for artists and designers, from budding novice to experienced expert.
This 33-piece drawing kit offers a wide array of high-quality supplies for artists and designers of all levels. Bellofy provides three charcoal pencils and 12 graphite pencils rated 8B, 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, 2H, 3H, 4H, and 5H in grades of hardness. The well-stocked kit also includes three graphite sticks, three charcoal sticks, three blending stumps, and a woodless graphite pencil rated 6B. Two erasers, two pencil sharpeners, a pencil extender, a sandpaper pointer, a metal art knife, and a sketch pad complete this comprehensive kit of drawing pencils.
Artist and company founder Jonathan Bello used to toss his pencils into a grocery bag for travel, only to find broken pencils when he was ready to sketch. So, he created this kit for protection, organization, and portability. As an artist, you’ll appreciate the way these sketch tools complement each other and fit neatly into the included carrying bag with a zippered closure. It measures 8 by 1.2 by 9.5 inches.
Whether you possess advanced pencil-drawing skills or you’re a complete beginner, this versatile set of supplies offers quality materials at an affordable price. The 18-piece set includes six graphite pencils rated 3B, 2B, B, HB, H, and 2H. If you prefer charcoal to graphite, the set also includes three charcoal pencils, one sketch stick, and four charcoal sticks. A pencil sharpener, a charcoal sharpener, a kneaded eraser, and a plastic eraser complete the set.
If you’re interested in experimenting with varied art supplies and techniques, the budget-friendly price for this set from Amazon Basics lets you play around with new ideas without breaking the bank. This set conforms to the D2436 standard from the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) for safety in art materials.
If you become annoyed by the mess and inconvenience of stopping to sharpen your drawing pencils, this set of mechanical pencils from MozArt may be a good choice. It offers HB lead in four tip sizes (0.3-, 0.5-, 0.7-, and 0.9-millimeter) that allow you to draw thick and thin lines. For added convenience, the set includes 30 lead refills for each of the four pencils as well as four eraser refills.
Each mechanical pencil in this set offers ultimate convenience, as an engineered spring mechanism lets you simply click to advance the retractable nib. For added convenience, the nonslip grip and ergonomic barrel design allow you to draw with these pencils for extended periods of time without discomfort or hand cramping.
H & B offers this ample set of pencil sketching supplies in a durable, portable case. It includes 12 drawing pencils (ranging in hardness from 2H to 8B), one graphite pencil, three graphite rods, three charcoal pencils, and three charcoal rods. An assortment of additional supplies and accessories rounds out the 40-piece set.
The raw materials used to manufacture these art supplies are eco-friendly, lead-free, and nontoxic. They are safe for use by children.
Everything fits neatly into the sturdy nylon case that zips up and measures 11.69 inches by 8.5 inches by 1.85 inches, and the entire set weighs only 1.54 pounds. Toss this sketching kit into your book bag or backpack for on-the-go sketching.
Beginner and professional artists alike can use this set of graphite pencils to produce expressive and dramatic shading effects in artwork and designs. The set offers 12 pencils rated 9B, 8B, 7B, 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, and H in grades of hardness. With this set, you’ll be able to create thick and thin lines with varying levels of saturation.
Bellofy manufactures these art pencils to provide even color laydown and blending capability. The graphite in the basswood barrels is evenly distributed, making them resistant to cracking and chipping. Additionally, marks from these pencils will erase cleanly from your paper.
A metallic carrying case is included to keep your pencils neatly organized and ready to go. The case measures only 7.5 inches by 4 inches by 0.5 inches, so you can conveniently toss your set of pencils into a purse or bag.
Here’s a 26-piece set of versatile art supplies for pencil drawing and sketching. As a beginner, you can use this array of art supplies to experiment with new artistic effects. Choose from among 12 premium graphite pencils in varying degrees of hardness. An ultrasoft, woodless graphite pencil is included for blending and shading.
Additionally, you can learn charcoal drawing techniques with the three charcoal pencils in soft, medium, and hard grades in this set from Castle Art. If you want to learn how to draw with sticks rather than pencils, the set offers three graphite sticks and three charcoal sticks, also in soft, medium, and hard grades.
For added convenience, this set includes a kneaded eraser, a plastic eraser, and two sharpeners—one each for graphite and charcoal pencils. The entire collection of supplies fits inside a durable plastic carrying case with a handle. It measures 12.99 inches by 10.24 inches by 0.39 inches and weighs only 8.8 ounces for convenient portability.
For your pencil-drawing needs, this set offers 12 graphite pencils, including 5H, 4H, 3H, 2H, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B, and 8B grades of hardness. Use the hard graphite pencils to draw light lines and gray shading. The soft graphite pencils produce bold, thick lines and dark shading. Additionally, three graphite sticks offer versatility for blending and shading.
However, this set—also from Castle Art—doesn’t stop at graphite pencils. A variety of charcoal and pastel pencils with charcoal sticks and additional tools makes this set highly useful for a wide array of art and design projects.
To facilitate your art-making, the clever case features a pop-up design to conveniently position these tools at your fingertips. The durable zippered case includes Velcro strips that elevate your art tools in an organized, easy-to-access display.
Sunshilor offers this set of 12 pencils featuring charcoal cores encased in wood. The set includes six soft pencils, four medium pencils, and two hard pencils. With this variety of grades, you’ll be able to create detailing, shading, layering, and blending effects in your drawings.
The high-quality charcoal in these pencils is mixed with clay to deliver a consistent laydown of color without cracking. Create broad, bold lines by holding the charcoal pencil at a horizontal angle to the paper. Alternatively, you can easily sharpen the point for detail work and fine lines, using the tip of the pencil. These pencils produce the desirable effects of traditional charcoal drawings without the crumbling, flaky mess of charcoal sticks.
Castle Art does it again: Enjoy the thrilling opportunities for artistic expression provided by the abundance of color choices in this set of pencils. The top-quality cores contain rich pigments that deliver a smooth, consistent laydown of color. They’re encased in strong basswood with a smooth outer coating for a comfortable grip.
These brilliantly pigmented pencils are made for layering, blending, and shading. Take advantage of this plethora of colors to experiment with combinations that create striking effects and unique hues in your artwork.
Each of the set’s 72 pencils is individually named and numbered for easy identification and organization. They are all arranged in color families and presented in a sturdy tin box.
FAQs About Drawing Pencils
For art and design projects, you’ll want to assemble a collection of drawing pencils that produce varied effects in both color and gray scale drawings. With a set of new pencils, you’ll be inspired to hone your techniques and launch new projects. You may even want to access pencil drawing instruction, either online or in person. If you have additional questions about your new drawing pencils, check out the answers to a few of the most frequently asked inquiries below.
Q. How do you hold a drawing pencil?
Hold a drawing pencil between your thumb and forefinger, resting on your middle finger, and draw with the side of the point, not the tip.
Q. What is the lightest drawing pencil?
The lightest drawing pencil is designated 9H, where H stands for “hard” and the number 9 indicates a high degree of hardness.
Q. How do you sharpen drawing pencils?
Sharpen your artist pencil with a single-edge razor to create an elongated, sharp point that delivers versatility for drawing thick and thin lines.