18 Best Drawing Pencils for Professionals and Beginners Who Love to Sketch

Best Drawing Pencils for Sketching

Photo: Mounzer Awad
This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, My Modern Met may earn an affiliate commission. Please read our disclosure for more info.

In most creative fields, it's impossible to get away from one important tool—a 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.

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.

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 allow 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.

So check out our guide to the best pencils for drawing, and once you stock up, head over to our list of the best sketchbooks so that you can start drawing.

How to Select the Best Drawing Pencil

When selecting the perfect graphite pencil, the first thing to consider is your drawing style. Technical drawings 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.

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.


Pencil Grading Scale

Graphite Pencil Grades

Photo: smbhax

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.

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.

The HB scale ranges from 9H, a hard pencil that leaves fine, light marks, to 9B, a soft pencil with 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 to a given brand, so remember that a 6H pencil from one manufacturer might give a slightly different stroke than a 6H pencil from another.

Once you understand the type of lines you can expect from your pencils, it's easy to mix and match to create a graphite pencil set that will meet your needs as an artist.


Best Graphite Drawing Pencils

Check out our selection of high quality drawing pencils that are ideal for every level of artist. If you're new to drawing, then picking up a set will allow you to try different types of pencils and discover which grading suits you best.


Derwent Medium Graphic Drawing Pencils (set of 12)

Best drawing pencils Derwent

Derwent | $17.21

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.


Prismacolor Premier Graphite Drawing Pencils (18 piece set)

Prismacolor Drawing Pencil Set

Prismacolor | $19.99

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.


Staedtler Mars Lumograph Graphite Pencil Set (set of 12)

Staedtler Lumograph best pencils for drawing

Staedtler | $14.15

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, and 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.”


Lyra Rembrandt Art Design Pencils (set of 12)

Lyra Rembrandt Drawing Pencil

Lyra | $20.19

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.”


Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Sketch Pencil Art Set (set of 12)


Faber-Castell drawing pencils

Faber-Castell | $11.44

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's favorite, no matter the style or skill level.


Tombow Mono Professional Drawing Pencils (set of 12)

Tombow Mono best drawing pencils

Tombow | $16.98

Japanese manufacturer Tombow is known for its 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.


Cretacolor Monolith Woodless Graphite Pencil Set

Cretacolor monolith woodless pencil

Creatacolor | $26.53

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.


Koh-I-Noor Woodless Graphite Pencils (Set of 12)

Koh-i-Noor Woodless Graphite Pencils

Koh-I-Noor | $18.21

These Koh-I-Noor pencils are woodless, meaning that they are all graphite surrounded by a thin layer of lacquer. While this makes them fragile, it also has some advantages. One is that these pencils don't need to be sharpened much, and a second, quite important, point is that they lay down a thick layer of color. Artists love them for blending and smudging, particularly when creating shadows. They also produce nice smooth lines without a lot of texture.


General Semi-Hex Drawing Pencils (4-Pack)

The General Pencil Company has been in production since 1889 with products whose quality has stood the test of time. In art supply stores, you'll often find that you have to purchase them per pencil, but this four-pack gives you better value—especially if you prefer the softer graphite. The set contains HB, 2B, 4B, and 6B pencils.


Prismacolor Ebony Graphite Drawing Pencil (12-pack)

Prismacolor Ebony Graphite Drawing Pencil

Prismacolor | $7.34

The Prismacolor Ebony Graphite pencil, which has a 2B grade, is a beautiful choice for rich, velvety lines. It is easily blendable and soft, and while it won't create jet-black lines—it gets close for graphite. Due to its softness, you'll need to sharpen it often, and many swear by it for shading that is difficult to achieve without using charcoal.


ARTEZA Woodless Drawing Pencils (Set of 12)

Best Drawing Pencils

Arteza | $15.99

This set of 12 woodless pencils covers all the grading you'll need for sketching. The comprehensive kit includes pencils from 6B to 4H and gives you the range needed to complete all types of drawing–from quick, gestural strokes to more precise artwork. ARTEZA boasts that the “woodless pencil contains more graphite, making it last longer and shade larger areas.”


Palomino Pearl Pencils (box of 12)

Blackwing Palomino Pearl Pencils

Blackwing | $30

Although new, California-based brand Blackwing has already established itself as a favorite among illustrators. The Palomino Pearl pencils feature an elegant white body with a smooth Japanese graphite core of medium hardness—ideal for lettering and line work.


Caran D'ache Graphite Line Gift Box Set 

best pencils for artists

Caran D'ache | $240.88

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.


Best Pencil Sharpeners

Person Sharpening a Pencil

Photo: londondeposit/DepositPhotos

If you know you'll be working with graphite pencils frequently, then you'll be in need of a good pencil sharpener to make sure your utensils are always at a point. We've selected a few to help you get started.


Dux Pencil Sharpeners

DUX Pencil Sharpeners

DUX | $5.99

DUX is the oldest pencil sharpener factory in Germany, so you know you can't go wrong with their utensils. Their pencil sharpener includes openings for slim and oversized pencils and comes in a variety of cute colors to complement your drawing set.


Blackwing Long Point Pencil Sharpener

Blackwing Pencil Sharpener

Blackwing | $15

Unlike most pencil sharpeners, Blackwing‘s product goes through a two-step process. The first hole is intended to shave away the wood, while the second opening will carve the graphite to a fine point. It includes an automatic brake to prevent oversharpening, too.


Stanley Bostitch Electric Pencil Sharpener

If you're an artist that will be using graphite drawing pencils frequently, then you may want to invest in an electric sharpener. This one by Stanely Bostitch will cut the time it takes to sharpen your pencils in half (it even works with colored pencils!). It also features SharpStop technology so you won't risk oversharpening, and instead keeping them at a perfectly fine point.


Best Mechanical Pencils for Drawing

Mechanical Pencil Next to Orange Spiral Notebook

Photo: Stock Photos from Auttapon Jantham/Shutterstock

While some artists prefer the look and feel of traditional wooden pencils, others prefer the more consistent and controlled marks of mechanical pencils. Refillable and made from plastic or metal, these utensils are ideal for those who prefer long-lasting tools. Depending on the size of lead you choose (0.7, 0.5, etc.), mechanical pencils might be the better choice for creating fine details in your artwork.


Tikky by rOtring Mechanical Pencil (0.7 mm)

Rotring Mechanical Pencil

rOtring | $6.67

ROtring is the dominant name in the field of technical drawing pens, and this model carries on the tradition. This lightweight drafting pencil has been specially designed to reduce breakage, meaning you'll waste less money on refills. With a retractable tip and comfortable rubber grip, it will quickly become a favorite whether used for drafting or sketching.


Faber Castell Grip 2011 Mechanical Pencil 0.7 mm

Faber Castell Mechanical Pencil

Faber-Castell | $18.94

Faber-Castell's Grip 2011 Mechanical Pencil has won design awards for a reason. Rubber dots along the triangular barrel make it extremely comfortable and easy to grip. It also comes with a twist-out eraser and is pre-loaded with lead.


Staedtler Mars 780 Technical Mechanical Pencil

Best Drawing Pencils

Staedtler | $11.10

If you're looking for a pencil for technical sketching, give the Staedtler Mars 780 a try. Reviewers talk about these pencils as keepsakes that they use for years and only replace when necessary. “I've used this specific lead holder for over a decade and when I lost it I just had to replace it,” one person wrote. “The holder itself is light, with a nice weight given by the metal grip. Despite what you might expect the metal diamond grip is actually very comfortable and pretty smooth.”


Pentel GraphGear 1000 Mechanical Pencil (0.5 mm)

Best Drawing Pencils

Pentel | $10.88

Work in comfort when you use the Pentel GraphGear mechanical pencil. It is inlaid with soft pads that will feel good on your fingers. Beyond that, the pencil features a dual retractor to both advance and retract your lead with ease.


Looking for more drawing tips? Subscribe to our Drawing Club newsletter.


This article has been edited and updated.

Related Articles:

20 Best Watercolor Paint Sets Both Beginners and Professional Artists Will Love

14 Best Acrylic Paint Sets That Both Beginners and Professional Artists Will Love

Artist’s Giant Pencil Drawings Blur the Line Between Hyperrealism and Surrealism

Detailed Freehand Architectural Sketches Showcase Incredible Skill

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
Become a
My Modern Met Member
As a member, you'll join us in our effort to support the arts.
Become a Member
Explore member benefits

Sponsored Content