Hobbies should be indulged. If you spend a lot of time writing or drawing, a good pencil can be the difference between a relaxing sketch session and frustrating wrist pain.
What Makes a Pencil Good for Drawing
A lot of factors makes certain pencils better than others for drawing. It’s important to consider a few things about drawing pencils before you purchase a product.
- Hardness: The hardness of a pencil affects how easily the lead can leave marks on the paper and how dark those marks are. Hard pencils need more pressure to leave graphite behind, so they make lighter strokes. Hardness is signified by a capital H accompanied by a number that represents the degree, so a 6H is a harder pencil than a 3H. Softer pencils don’t need as much pressure to leave darker, blacker marks. They’re signified by a capital B for blackness and accompanied by a number that represents the degree—6B is darker and softer than 2B, for example. The standard HB pencil falls right in the middle of the hardness scale, which is why it uses both letters.
- Blending: The ability of a pencil to smudge well is actually a good thing. Life doesn’t use many straight, defined lines. Reality is smooth and blends together. Because of this, smudging and blending the different sections of your drawing together is an integral part of creating shadows and depth while still maintaining realism. So, for a drawing pencil to be able to blend smoothly is important.
- Erasability: Half of drawing is going to be erasing, especially when you’re just getting started. You’ll need to erase sketch marks when you’re drawing general shapes and outlines without leaving any smudge marks behind. A good eraser is necessary for this, but the lead itself can be easier or harder to erase. The more pressure you use, the harder it will be to erase, so make sure to use the right hardness for the darkness for what you’re trying to achieve.
- Feel: Finally, the pencil needs to feel good in your hand and on the paper. Most pencils are made in a similar fashion, but you’ll be gripping these pencils for multiple hours. It’s important that they glide over the paper well and don’t have a ton of resistance and unnecessary strain.
The Best for Most People: Derwent Graphic Drawing Pencils
Derwent’s Graphic Pencil set gives you a professional feel and a full range of grades for an affordable price. These pencils are sturdy and comfortable to hold for long periods of time, decreasing drawing fatigue. They are also engineered to blend easily, erase without leaving marks, and sharpen to a fine point.
There are three sets you can order. The hard set ranges from B to 9H; the soft set ranges from H to 9B; and the medium set ranges from 6B to 4H. This makes ordering pencils regularly much easier. If you use more hard pencils than soft ones, you won’t want to waste money on more soft ones every time you order pencils.
Also for a little more money you can upgrade and order a 24-count set that has a huge range from 9B to 9H. On the cheaper side, they offer small four pencil sets for hard, medium, and soft ranges in case you just run out of a select few.
The Budget Pick: LYRA Rembrandt Drawing Pencils
If you go through pencils quickly, you should consider the Lyra Rembrandt drawing set. This set includes twelve different pencil grades and is fairly cheap, so ordering multiple sets won’t break the bank. The pencils in this set range from 6B to 4H with a pencil for every level in-between, including an F grade pencil, which is a harder pencil that can be sharpened to a fine point without breaking. Using a large range of pencils will give your drawing more contrast and appear more defined. These pencils are also easy to erase with little leftover markings and are easy to smudge on the paper.
The Premium Choice: Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Sketch Pencils
When it comes to high-quality pencils, Faber-Castell has been dominating the market for over 100 years. The green 9000 Art Set includes twelve premium pencils ranging from 8B to 2H. This makes it a softer set that’s better for darker drawings. Faber-Castell also offers a set with ranges from 5B to 5H, in case you’re looking for harder pencils.
The lead is what separates Faber-Castell from the rest of the market. The lead is made in the same general way as for any other pencil, with finely ground graphite and clay, but something about their process just makes these pencils feel different. They are smooth and glide over the paper, leaving consistent marks without ever feeling scratchy or rough. These premium pencils will stay sharp longer and are designed to erase and blend with ease.
The Best Woodless Pencils: Cretacolor Monolith Set
Woodless pencils are made entirely of graphite and clay wrapped in either paper or lacquer. The extra exposed graphite on a woodless pencil makes shading large areas of similar tones easier. They can be sharpened to a fine point for detailed work, or left to dull for thicker lines. Cretacolor’s Monolith set comes with six regular woodless pencils ranging in hardness from a standard HB to an incredibly soft 9B pencil. This makes the set good for drawing and blending shadows on backgrounds that require darker tones.
The Monolith Set also comes with one of Cretacolors Aquamonolith water-soluble pencils. This 4B graphite pencil reacts to water like watercolor paint. The pencil can be dipped directly into water to draw vibrant, dark lines or used dry with water applied after by brush to darken and blend the image. Along with the seven total pencils, the set includes a pencil holder for when your pencil gets too short, a kneaded eraser for detailed erasing and highlighting, a protective tip to prevent your pencil’s lead from breaking, and a pencil sharpener for, well, sharpening your pencil.
The Best Woodless Pencils
CRETACOLOR Monolith Set
The Cretacolor Monolith Set includes six woodless graphite pencils, a water-soluble pencil, and multiple other drawing accessories, all for a good price.
The Best Charcoal Pencils: Derwent Charcoal Pencils
This set of Derwent Charcoal Pencils are a great choice for when traditional graphite pencils just aren’t dark enough. Graphite, when used too heavily to simulate shadows, will have a glossy tint and a smooth feel that can have the opposite visual effect the artist wants. Instead of darkness, you get a shiny surface that reflects light. Charcoal has a more natural gritty black that gives your drawing a matte feeling. It’s also incredibly easy to blend, sometimes too easy, so be careful not to rub your hand on the drawing.
Charcoal is often used from compressed charcoal or willow sticks which are hard to use for detailed work and will leave your hands completely black, increasing the risk of smudging your artwork. Charcoal pencils, however, have a layer of wood to protect your hand and the artwork. It also means you can sharpen the charcoal to a point and do detailed work in the deepest black. This pack from Derwent comes with four pencils with three levels of darkness—light, medium, dark—and one tinted white charcoal pencil for highlights. These pencils feel smooth to use and erase easily for a charcoal set.