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What Are the Best Charcoal Pencils for Drawing? (Full Guide)

a picture of charcoal sticks and pencil and a portrait of a ma

Man, I was a big fan of charcoal pencils, especially charcoal pencil sets when I first started drawing.

Granted I really didn’t know how to use charcoal pencils or how they were different from graphite pencils, but I enjoyed how soft the charcoal was and how dark it showed up in my drawings.

I’m pretty sure my first charcoal pencil set was a pack of General’s charcoal. I used them almost nightly to attempt my first figure drawings until my fingers were black with charcoal. 

here’s an example of one of my (very) early charcoal figure attempts.

In this post, we have our top recommended and best charcoal pencils and vine charcoal, some commonly asked charcoal-related questions, and how to use charcoal. 

For any beginner, willow/vine, compressed sticks, or charcoal pencils are perfect to start. 

Table of Contents

    Here is one of my portrait attempts using some graphite and a lot of charcoal

    What Kind of Charcoal Do Artists Use?

    There are many kinds of charcoal used by artists for drawing, each with unique properties and characteristics.

    Willow charcoal and vine charcoal are the two most common types of charcoal used by artists.

    Because of its cheap cost and versatility, artists often use willow charcoal (made from burning willow branches). It is excellent for both precise and bold linework and detailed sketching. Vine charcoal (made of burnt grapevine), on the other hand, is softer and more subtle than willow. It is best for free-form and first rough sketches.

    Aside from the two, artists also often use the following:

    • Compressed charcoal
    • Powdered charcoal
    • Charcoal pencils – the tool that most artists use or turn to nowadays. 

    How Do I Choose a Charcoal Pencil

    The best charcoal pencil one should use must base on the type of artwork you want to create and your personal preferences. But we have a few tips for you here.

    To achieve smooth blending and delicate shading, use a soft charcoal pencil. In contrast, precise and fine lines are best achieved with a hard charcoal pencil. 

    Searching for reviews and reliable products is also a good idea. It comes in various sizes, and picking the right one depends on the size of your canvas and artwork. Another essential quality of a pencil you need to have is its ability to resist fading over time.

    And if you want to use it with other media, compatibility will be crucial.

    What Are Charcoal Pencils Used for? / What are the Benefits of using Charcoal Pencils?

    Charcoal pencils are popular drawing materials for beginners, professional artists, and illustrators. But what are they used for? What are its benefits?

    These pencils are often utilized when creating works of fine art, such as drawings and sketches.

    The artists use them to shade and blend, giving their creations a wide variety of textures and visual effects. They are best for producing detailed illustrations because of their ability to produce dark blacks and rich grays, which provide a realistic appearance to the artwork.

    Even with these features, you can easily erase with kneaded erasers if you want to fix or modify your work. They are easy to sharpen, and one can blend them with other charcoals or pencils for more creative ideas. 

    Overall, charcoal pencils are versatile and excellent for expressive art.

    How to Use Charcoal Pencils for Drawing

    To use charcoal pencils, you first must ensure that the surface you work on can handle it. Some papers are drawing paper, toned paper, newsprint paper, and charcoal paper. 

    It is important to remember that in drawing with charcoal pencils, one should continue to try out a few different styles of pressure on the pencil as one practice. It is to see how it affects the darkness or lightness of your markings and know what works for you and your drawings.

    It would be best to have different hard and soft charcoal pencils to produce many shades and markings. You can draw fine lines using the tip of the charcoal pencil and make thicker lines using the side of the pencil. 

    Blend or smudge the charcoal with a blending stump or your finger to create a dimension or tone and an eraser if you want to lighten some areas.

    Our Recommendations for the Top Charcoal Pencils and Vine Charcoal:

    1.General’s Charcoal Drawing Set

    GENERAL'S Charcoal Drawing Set with four pencils and a sharpener

    The General’s is a trusted brand that has made affordable handcrafted pencils since 1889. This pencil is your best bet for achieving many tonal values when sketching and drawing. 

    The set includes three charcoal pencils (6B, 4B, 2B), one white charcoal pencil for highlights, and one kneaded eraser. 


    • Non-toxic
    • Latex-free
    • Produce deep colors
    • Well-known and used by many


    • Some reviews say it constantly breaks after sharpening

    2. MUJINHUA Charcoal Pencils

    MUJINHUA Professional Charcoal Pencils Drawing Set

    MUJINHUA is a brand that produces high-quality charcoal pencils fit for beginners and professionals. This pencil is excellent for sketching and drawing, creating fine lines and shading.

    The set comes with 12 charcoal pencils in three different grades (six pcs Soft, four pcs Medium, and two pcs Hard), perfect for blending and creating tones and effects. 


    • Non-toxic charcoal
    • Well-pigmented
    • Easy to smudge


    • It might be lighter in hue compared to other brands
    • Easily break when sharpened

    3. MARKART Charcoal Pencils 

    Set of 10 MARKART Charcoal Pencils

    This MARKART Professional set of 10 charcoal pencils is ready for your sketching needs. It includes three white, one brown, one suntan, and five black charcoal pencils (3 pcs soft, 1 pcs medium, 1 pcs hard) that can make fine and thick lines and is good for shading and blending.

    The two new colors available is a plus for this set that will let you create more contrast in the usual black and white colors that an artist can appreciate. 


    • Non-toxic
    • Works well with water
    • Super pigmented
    • More color option


    • Hard to sharpen

    4. LOONENG Willow Charcoal 

    LOONENG Willow Charcoal

    If you prefer willow charcoal sticks, LOONENG willow charcoal is one on the list. It is made of natural burnt willow rods, and the bundle consists of 25 sticks ranging from 4mm to 5mm.

    It can be easily erased and blended and has an excellent tonal quality even with its dark and velvet-feel markings.


    • Non-compressed
    • Intense dark color
    • Re-usable container
    • Less messy to handle


    • Dusty

    5. Speedball PH Coate Willow Charcoal

    Speedball PH Coate Willow Charcoal

    The Coates has specialized in cultivating willow since 1819. The family had mastered making a velvety and smooth type of willow stick that many artists have used through the years. 

    The charcoal stick with dark and deep-colored black markings is offered in sets and different diameters and sizes to provide you with more options for your particular needs.


    • It comes in many sizes
    • Intense dark color


    • Costly
    • Uneven shapes

    What to Look for In Quality Charcoal Pencils

    Quality wood

    The best charcoal pencil should be made of quality wood. A lightweight yet strong wood will help you easily hold and use the pencil comfortably and smoothly.

    Quality charcoal

    Charcoal for drawings must be of high quality. It should be less messy to work with, consistent in texture yet gives off dark and well-pigmented markings. 

    Should You Buy Single Charcoal Pencils or Charcoal Pencil Sets

    Mainly, beginners, when starting to draw with charcoal, they contemplate whether to buy a single charcoal pencil or buy a set.

    Well, for starters, it is good to buy a set of charcoal pencils. They should try out different variations and grades and find the one that works best for them.  

    For professionals, it might be better to buy high-quality charcoal pencils individually since they already know what suits them and their needs.

    Still, whatever you choose, it’s helpful to have a selection of charcoal pencils. 

    What Are the Different Types of Charcoal Pencils

    a hand drawing with charcoal pencil

    Charcoal Pencil

    A charcoal pencil is a compressed charcoal powder enclosed in a wooden or plastic casing. In short, it is traditional black charcoal material with the convenience of a pencil, making it more convenient to carry and grasp. The pencil also comes in grades ranging from soft to medium to hard. 

    Compressed Charcoal

    Compressed charcoal is willow charcoal compressed into a block or stick form. It allows you to create thick, black lines or a small point for precise detailing when sharpened.

    Like the charcoal pencil, it also comes in a variable degree of hardness (from soft to hard). It is crafted from willow or vine charcoal. 

    However, due to its binder, it is more difficult to remove or erase than a willow or vine charcoal.

    Vine Charcoal

    As mentioned earlier, vine charcoal is a type of charcoal made from grapevine stems. It is similar to willow charcoal, only that it is lighter. 

    Vine charcoals do not have binders, so artists must be ready for the stain and mess this tool can bring. Nonetheless, it still produces a wide range of shades and tones.

    Charcoal Powder

    Powdered charcoal, another kind, is a form of charcoal that is made by grinding charcoal sticks into a fine, pulverized powder. 

    The powder can be applied to your paper or canvas using a tortillon or blending stump, paintbrush, or even fingers and can easily be blended to mediums like graphite and pastels.

    Soft vs Medium vs Hard Charcoal

    As graphite pencils have grades, so is charcoal pencils.

    A soft charcoal pencil is suitable for drawing bolder or darker lines yet provides the smoothest and softest texture and can range from 2B to 9B. 

    Medium pencils (HB) produce a moderate line, a balance of soft and hard, which is why it is the most used grade among them. 

    Lastly, hard charcoal pencils create the lightest shade or lines and are easier to erase, making them great for the intricate parts of your work.

    Charcoal Pencils 2b 4b 6b – What Are the Grades of Charcoal Pencil?

    There are three different grades of charcoal pencils, namely Soft (B), Medium (HB), and Hard (H). 

    A “B” grade charcoal pencil (such as 2B, 4B, or 6B) is a soft charcoal pencil that produces darker and more vivid lines because it has more charcoal powder. 

    As the number increases, the pencil is softer, making the marks darker.

    An “HB” grade charcoal is the good all-purpose one because it produces just medium tones, light to dark.

    An “H” grade charcoal pencil creates lighter lines because they contain less powdered charcoal.

     Which Charcoal Pencil Is the Darkest?

    We know now that the soft grade pencils. But

    the darkest charcoal pencil among the grades would be the “6B” grade charcoal pencil.

    Charcoal Pencils on Amazon

    You can find a variety of charcoal pencils on Amazon by searching for “charcoal pencils.” There is a wide range in quality, quantity, and brand for these pencils.

    Like the best charcoal pencils we suggested above, you may also buy ones that contain blending stumps, sharpeners, and erasers, as well as several grades of charcoal pencils.

    Charcoal Pencils Set

    Charcoal Pencil Sets is composed of multiple grades of charcoal pencils, allowing you to create a range of tones and effects. 

    Again, these sets can also include different useful tools, such as a sharpener or a kneaded eraser.

    Charcoal Pencils vs Graphite Pencils

    a picture of a charcoal and graphite pencil

    Charcoal and graphite, along with colored pencils, are the three types of drawing pencils. 

    Although charcoal and graphite pencils are common tools for drawing and sketching, there is some significant and noticeable difference between the two.

    Charcoal pencils are made of compressed charcoal, which can be obtained by burning wood. They are known for the deep black markings that they offer, thus, making them ideal for more serious and expressive drawings.

    On the other hand, Graphite pencils are known to make fine and precise lines. It is also much easier to erase, which is suitable for working on technical drawings. 

    Charcoal Pencils vs Willow Charcoal

    The difference between a charcoal pencil and willow charcoal is already seen in their appearance.

    A charcoal pencil is encased in wood or plastic. Since you can sharpen them to a fine point, they are ideal for making precise lines and intricate drawings. Their grades determine how black or bold the final line will be.

    Willow charcoal is also a good drawing tool. It produces more natural and velvety lines, which is why many artists like to use it.

    However, it is more delicate and brittle than charcoal pencils. Since it is made of willow, you may sometimes encounter a rough part or bump in the stick, causing it to minimize the smoothness and be a bit scratchy. If that happens, break off a little portion of it and rub it in sandpaper.

    Despite the great features, willow charcoal pencils can be a complicated and messy medium to deal with. So if you want less of that, use a charcoal pencil.

    What Else Do You Need to Use Charcoal Pencils?

    What Else Do You Need to Use Charcoal Pencils?

    When drawing with charcoal pencils, there are a few extra tools that can help you improve and work with it efficiently.

    One of the most important is a good quality paper specifically made for charcoal or newsprint, allowing you to control your smudges. 

    Charcoal markings may be blended and smoothed out with the use of a tortillon or blending stumps or just with your fingers.

    An eraser made especially for charcoal or a kneaded eraser is also essential since you may use it to erase without ruining the paper.

    And finally, a charcoal pencil sharpener is a must-have to sharpen your pencils. But a cutter and sandpaper can do the job if it is unavailable.

    How Do You Sharpen Charcoal Pencils

    Because charcoal pencils are more likely to break easily, sharpening it may be challenging. 

    The most effective method for sharpening them is to use a sharpener mainly made for them. These sharpeners feature a larger hole and a unique sharpening angle.

    However, you can also use a cutter if you do not own the particular sharpener. Keep one hand on the pencil and hold it at an angle while carefully using the other to shave the wood with the cutter knife gently. 

    After sharpening it, you can use sandpaper or a blending stump to smooth the rough edges. 

    Here is a video to give you a more detailed step in sharpening your pencil with a cutter:

    How to Erase Charcoal Pencil?

    Because charcoal is a darker and more smudgy medium than graphite, erasing pencil markings made with charcoal may be harder than it too.

    Of course, you can use any eraser. Still, a kneaded eraser is the best way to erase charcoal markings because it can take out the charcoal without damaging your paper and lessens the smudging. 

    What Kind of Paper Should You Use with Charcoal Pencils?

    When working with charcoal pencils, the kind of paper you choose should withstand the black and smudgy character of charcoal. 

    The best paper would be the drawing paper intended for charcoal, which is more textured and less smudgy than other kinds.

    But if you’re looking for a budget-friendly and works excellently, the best one we can recommend is the Newsprint paper.

    It is thinner than the drawing paper, but it is absorbent, which enables the charcoal to be quickly blended and smudged.  

    Finding the Best Charcoal Pencils – Summed Up

    To summarize, willow charcoal is excellent for sketching and preliminary drawings. In contrast, vine and compressed charcoal are more suited for detailed work. Charcoal pencils- charcoal encased in wood, offer the precision and control of a traditional pencil. 

    Ultimately, it is a good idea to experiment with different charcoal types to find which works best for an artist. That is why we have made a list of our recommendations- to help you find the best charcoal pencil.

    If you have any questions about our recommendations for finding charcoal pencils, don’t hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to set up a discovery call and discuss it with you.

    Thanks for reading, and see you at the next one!

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