The best pencils for artists

A teenage girl sat at her desk, drawing a human form using a pencil and a mannequin

You may have heard the proverb, “a bad workman blames his tools”, which suggests it is the workman who lacks skills.

However, a talented artist could legitimately blame their tools for an unsatisfactory output if they had chosen them without due care and attention.

In other words, it is worth spending some time selecting the best artist drawing pencils — as any artist can only be as good as their tools.

When you are new to pencil drawing, the choice of pencils available is abundant, yet it can feel overwhelming.

Some beginners grab any old pencil, not understanding the difference a quality drawing implement can make to their work. Others get bogged down by the choice on offer and make the wrong decision.

Let’s explore some of the best artist pencils for drawing and colouring, and also find out how to choose the right ones for your particular project.

The best artist sketching and drawing pencils

If you are keen to give sketching a go, you’ll need to explore artists’ drawing pencils.

Wooden pencils are often favoured for drawing (as opposed to mechanical pencils). However, there are still decisions to be made, such as which lead grade to opt for and what brand to choose.

We wrote a guide to pencil lead grades on the blog, which details all pencils. As we are discussing pencils for artists in particular here, you’ll find more details below.

Essential artist pencils

If you were to buy just three pencils for drawing, then you’d do well to grab an H, a 2B, and a 6B. These will provide you with a light, hard pencil, a medium pencil, and a dark, soft pencil.

A 2B pencil is an excellent option for beginners and experienced artists, as this pencil can be used to sketch out a plan, tone and shade.

Schools choose the 2B pencil for their art students for good reason. It’s an incredible all-rounder due to its position in the middle of the lead scale, offering medium levels of softness/hardness and lightness/darkness.

Pressure (or lack of) during use can make the 2B veer to one end of these spectrums more than the other.

An H pencil is ideal for lightly coloured yet precise and sharp lines, making it a great pencil for artists and a must-have for anyone working on technical or precision drawings.

Likewise, if you need to sketch out a plan for a watercolour piece or wish to ink your lines afterwards, then an H is perfect.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, a 6B pencil is ideal for adding darker shading, which can bring a drawing to life. The softness of the lead delivers a fuzzier, blacker line to the page while bringing out the texture of the paper.

6B pencils also deposit a large amount of graphite to the paper’s surface, offering more smudging opportunities than rigid leads.

Regarding brand, it’s crucial to opt for quality within your budget. Staedtler, Graf von Faber-Castell, and Caran d’Ache are great brands to consider.

A Black art student wearing a white shirt, drawing a vase in pencil on an easel in an art class

Pencil is a wonderfully versatile medium for artists

The best artist colouring pencils

With much attention put on artists’ graphite pencils, coloured pencils can get forgotten or become an afterthought.

If you work in colour, then high-quality artist colouring pencils are as essential to your work as excellent pencils and paper.

The Staedtler Noris Colour 24 set is a bestseller in our shop — as popular with more accomplished artists as with those just starting.

Our Lamy Colorplus packs (available in various sizes) are also a customer favourite, and for good reason. These break-proof pencils offer highly concentrated colour pigments that are smudge-proof and lightfast.

If you already own colouring pencils, wish to build on your collection, or want to explore new possibilities, consider artist watercolour pencils. These act like regular colouring pencils but are soluble in water, meaning you can apply watercolour techniques to your work, such as blending.

How to choose the best artist pencils for you

To elevate your pencil drawing, you will need a wide variety of pencils to create highly detailed, nuanced work.

The best way to achieve this is to purchase an artist pencils set containing a variety of lead grades. There are small and large sets available to cover the basics or expand your creative horizons.

These will always include the most popular and, therefore, most useful professional artist pencils. You can then top your collection up with some individual pencils hand-selected for your art style and requirements.

If you work in colour — or would like to — then don’t forget to invest in a set of coloured pencils, too.

Alongside pencils, you’ll need other tools for your drawing journey — don’t forget to gather a sketchpad or drawing paper, a pencil sharpener, and an eraser, so you’re all set.

If you’d like to learn more about pencil erasers, our blog provides answers to all your probing questions.

Lucy is our lead editor and has been passionate about stationery since childhood. She has a particular fondness for rollerball and calligraphy pens and is a keen advocate of snail mail.

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