Which are the Best Drawing Pencils for Animators, Artists, Designers, Illustrators?

best drawing pencils

Drawing by hand is still a quintessential skill every visual artist has to have, and pencil remains the simplest, cheapest and most effective media. Even though drawing tablets and pen and ink are widely used, and preferred by some for every-day doodling, and especially for professional work, pencil gives you that lovely option of erasing your errors in seconds, smudge and blend the color and much more you cannot do with ink or on screen. This article is meant to explain the technical things one ought to know when buying pencils (for professional or semi-professional work). We have assembled a list of best drawing pencils for different drawing needs and techniques (sketching, shading, technical drawing etc.). A buyer’s guide through prices, pros and cons and best manufacturers, which should make the decision of choosing between hundreds of different pencil companies a lot easier (even for a complete beginner). Please feel free to leave any suggestions, reviews, or input on your favorite drawing pencils in the comment section below.

1. Faber-Castell 9000 12 set (8B-2H, 3H to 6H are available individually)

These are the absolute best drawing pencils when it comes to price/quality ratio. Faber Castell (as they tend to do) have created high quality pencils, which are great for both professional, and less experienced artists, and their range makes them perfect for all techniques and styles. The set of 12 costs around $15, which also makes them really affordable. The lead is high quality, it does not smudge, the tips don’t break easily, and the pencils last long (the wood is resilient as well, something most people never consider when buying drawing pencils). One of their best features is that they are extremely smooth and never scratchy. Their packaging is convenient, small and portable, which makes them great for carrying around. Different lead grades really are different when it comes to Faber Castell pencils, meaning that sometimes pencils of poor and average quality render and feel much the same from one grade to the next, and only the best pencils render properly at every grade across an entire range. For more information on Faber Castell 9000 drawing pencils, customer reviews and prices click here.

best drawing pencilsPencil Grade

Pencil leads (the material is actually a mixture of graphite and clay) come in various grades, which vary in hardness. There is 22 of them and they range from 10H to 10B (the H end of the spectrum indicates harder lead, smudge-resistant, which creates lighter, more precise lines, and B represents softer lead pencils, which are better for shading and make darker strokes). The H grade drawing pencils are most commonly used for technical, precise drawing, outlines or watercolors, the B grades are used for most other drawing types, and the thickest B grades work amazingly when creating brush like expressions and heavy lines without friction. The grades that are somewhere in the middle, HB and F, are most commonly used for everyday writing, and they are a balance between H and B pencils.

Choose the Best Drawing Pencil for each Technique

Every drawing technique will work best with a certain pencil grade. For example, you wouldn’t go coloring or shading a 2×2 inch shadow with an H pencil because it would take forever, and it would look awful. Or, you can try and imagine an architect creating a technical drawing of a complex ceiling with the thickest, darkest B pencil. It wouldn’t work out too well. There are two systems used for grading pencil lead (European, which uses both letters and numbers, such as H10, and American, which uses numbers, with #2 ½ in the middle of the spectrum). Both systems work, and the grades can be easily translated. There are a few things best drawing pencils have in common. They have a consistent lead quality (smooth, consistent lead, without scratching), they sharpen well, and neither the tip, nor the wood breaks easily, and they erase without smudging.

best drawing pencils

2. Mitsubishi Uni-Hi 22 set (10H to 10B)

These high quality pencils are an amazing choice for fine art, sketching, illustration and hand drawn animation. They are softer than most other pencils, and they smudge a bit more, but that gives them extreme smoothness, they sharpen well, and they never scratch. While most pencils exhibit a sandy scratchiness in the harder grades (anything above 4H), these pencils do not, instead, the lead mixture has been refined so carefully that even the 10H pencil is an entirely practical choice for very light rendering. Mitsubishi Uni-Hi is a product of Japanese quality applied to pencils, what more could you ask for. For more information, reviews and prices click here.

3. Staedtler Mars Lumograph 12 set (4H to 6B)

These are the top of the range when it comes to fine, technical drawing. They erase perfectly, without any smudging, they are almost completely break-resistant (which makes the H grades really effective for detailed work), and even the hardest grades produce minimum scratching. For more information, customer reviews and prices click here.

4. Tombow Mono 12 set (4H to 6B)

These high density pencils are made from resistant cedar wood, the core is perfectly centered, which makes them break-resistant and easy to sharpen, and they are extremely affordable (the set also comes with and eraser and a sharpener). The lead is very consistent, they never smear, and the different ranges can be easily differentiated. These are one of the best pencils out there overall. For more information, customer reviews and prices click here.

5. Koh–I–Noor Triograph (2B, 4B, 6B)

These are the best drawing pencils for high quality shading, outlining and coloring, and they provide brush-like strokes with minimum smudging. They have an ergonomically shaped triangular grip, and are really comfortable to draw with (although it may be a bit weird at start). Click here for more information, reviews and prices.

6. Cretacolor Monolith Woodless 6 set (HB, 2B, 4B, 6B, 8B, 9B, 4B)

These Austrian made woodless drawing pencils are well worth their price (at around $2 per pencil they are twice as expensive as most brands). They are endurable, they last longer than most other pencils, they sharpen well (they obviously break much less than wooden pencils), and they don’t smudge. They come with a kneaded eraser and a metal sharpener. The graphite used in them is water-soluble, which means that you can create watercolor effect by adding water with a brush, which makes them very versatile and applicable to other media as well. For more information on these unique drawing pencils, customer reviews and prices click here.

7.Caran D’ache Graphite Line Gift Box Set

This is the ultimate pencil set. Extremely expensive (around $200), luxurious and flashy, but worth it. If you’ll ever have too much money, you should try them out. They are also probably the best gift you could ever give to any illustrator or artist. The magic box contains 15 grafwood (superior quality hexagonal pencils in cedar wood) graphite pencils (9B – 4H), 3 water-soluble technalo pencils (2B, B, HB), 3 grafcube 10mm sticks, 3 grafcube 15mm sticks, a sharpener, a double pencil sharpener and an eraser. There is really not much to say about these, except that they are the absolute best drawing pencils, and the only reason they’re not on top of this list is their price. You can find out more about them here.


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drawing pens for illustration and animation


4 thoughts on “Best Drawing Pencils for Artists”

  1. I can definitely agree about Faber Castell 9000. I’ve used 15 sets so far, and haven’t found anything better (even though I’ve been looking). I wouldn’t say the price is affordable though. I might try the Tombow Mono, they sound great.

  2. Thank you, Animataurus! I have almost taken my pick from your list, I was only wandering whether I should get tombow mono or faber castell.

  3. Definitely a fan of the Staedtler Mars Lumograph pencils. Those have been my go-to pencils for the past year, and I’m usually recommending them to friends looking to find good drawing pencils!

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