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What Are the Best Pencils for Drawing? (Top 5 Recommendations)

What are the best pencils for drawing?

If you’re looking for a post about the best pencils you can use to draw, you’ve come to the right place. I think we can all appreciate a smooth, easy to hold pencil that feels like its part of our hand.

Artists’ have many tools. Crayons, paintbrushes, erasers, etc. But out of all of those tools, probably the most essential one is the pencil.

A nice pencil set or a pencil variety set is a must have for any beginner – here is our other supply list for any artist

Pencils are what we use to sketch, draw our outlines, and shade. Granted, we can do all those things with a crayon, but it’s just not the same.

Best Pencils for Drawing – At a Glance

Here is our list for the best pencils for drawing. They are:

Best Overall:Faber-Castell 9000 Check Price on Amazon
Best Runner Up:Castle Art SuppliesCheck Price on Amazon
Best Pencil Set:Staedtler Mars Check Price on Amazon
Best Variety Set:Prismacolor Premier Check Price on Amazon

Personally, I’ve found that these pencils are great for anything, be it sketches or shading. They come in different grades, which is helpful when you find that one pencil grade doesn’t just hit right with whatever you’re trying to achieve.

Table of Contents

    Why do I need a specific pencil for drawing?

    To be completely honest, you can finish a masterpiece with just one pencil. However, by using different pencils with different grades, you can easily achieve a certain effect or shade, which can add more depth and help you easily add more detail to make your drawing achieve that finished look.

    There are also pencil grades that are more efficient when it comes to a specific stage of drawing. For example, sketching.

    • It’s easier to sketch with a 2b pencil than it is with a 6b pencil.
    • But it’s faster to shade with a 6b pencil than a 2b pencil.
    • An 8b pencil can also produce a really dark shade, making them great for areas in your drawing that require darker colors like hair or shadows.
    • If you want to make lighter marks, you can use H pencils.

    All in all, these pencils have their uses and can not only help make your drawings cleaner, but can also make the drawing experience easier.  

    To know more about these pencils, keep reading!

    Qualities to Look for in Drawing Pencils

    Before we start looking at the best pencils out there, let’s talk about the qualities that you should look for in drawing pencils.

    You should watch out for:

    • Price
    • Type
    • Color


    Let’s start with the price. Obviously, you should look out for pencils that you can afford. If you can’t afford a pencil, it’s totally fine. Like I said earlier, you can still finish a masterpiece with just one pencil.

    But affordability shouldn’t be the only determining factor of whether you should buy a pencil or not. Also, think if the pencil is actually worth the price.

    Some pencils are priced an absurd amount simply because of the brand attached to them. But quality-wise, they may be just as good as your regular pencil or worse.

    So when buying a pencil from a brand you don’t know much about, do your research first and read the reviews (Especially reviews from fellow artists). If you find that a pencil has more complaints than they do praise, then they’re probably not worth the price.


    The type of pencil is also important when you’re out looking for a pencil. There are different types of pencils, but the main ones are:

    • Graphite
    • Charcoal
    • Colored Pencils
    • Watercolor Pencils

    First, figure out what drawings you wanna do. If you just want to make a simple portrait, graphite pencils will do the trick. If you want a more serious and darker tone to your portraits, try charcoal.

    If you’re going for a drawing with a splash of color, get colored or watercolor pencils.

    What you plan to draw matters with what type of pencil you’re getting.


    Your pencil varies in firmness or hardness. This is why there are different pencil grades out there.

    I’ll touch on them more later but basically;

    The grades of your pencil determine how light or how dark of a mark it makes.

    According to Faber Castell, there are 16 types of hardness, ranging from 6H to 8B. However, according to other websites, there’s a 9H and 9B.  

    Regardless of how many grades there are, all you need to know is the harder a pencil is, the lighter its shade will be. The softer it is, the darker the shade will be.

    This will be important to know when you’re out buying a pencil. If you’re looking for a pencil that can help you with shading then it’s best you go for softer pencil grades like 6B or 8B. If you don’t know anything about pencil grades, have a quick look at this video:

    Understanding Pencil Grades


    If you just want to make black and white portraits then this part probably isn’t all that important to you, but when going out for pencils, you should also keep in mind whether you want colored pencils or not.

    You might want to add color to your portrait later or perhaps you’re learning color theory. Either way, the best way to know whether you’re getting good-quality colored pencils is by trying them out on paper first (If you’re allowed).

    If the color is vibrant, chances are they’re quality-colored pencils. If you can’t try out pencils in the store, then going for a good strong brand is my next suggestion.

    I recommend brands like Faber Castell or Prismacolor. They often produce vivid colors and they’re also easy to blend, at least from my experience.

    Pencil Grading Scale

    I briefly mentioned earlier that pencils have different grading scales and these scales tell you how dark or how light a pencil mark is going to be. The scale uses H, HB, B, and F. What do these letters mean?

    What do the pencils’ names mean?

    B stands for “Blackness”, H for “Hardness” and F for “Firmness”.

    Pencils that are in the Blackness range of the scale are a lot softer and therefore produce darker colors. The larger the number will be next to the B, the darker the pencil is. In this case, 9B will be the darkest among the pencils.

    Pencils that have an H next to their numbers mean the lead in these pencils is harder than those with a B. Because they’re harder, the lines they’ll produce will be much lighter. Similar to pencils that are in the B range, the larger the number next to the letter is, the lighter they’ll be which means 9H will be the lightest pencil.

    Now, like a nicely shaded portrait, these pencils have a middle ground, or the mid tones if you will. And those are HB (Hard Black) and F (Firmness).

    Unlike the H and the B where there are multiple levels of them, there’s only one HB and F, and they’re the perfect pencils for sketching and writing. They don’t produce dark marks that can be difficult to erase like the B pencils but they also don’t produce mega light marks that can be difficult to see like the H pencils.

    Here’s a summary of the pencil grades and what I personally think they’ll be good for:

    PurposePencil Grades
    Light marks/Fine details9H, 8H, 7H, 6H
    Initial sketches5H, 4H, 3H, 2H
    SketchesH, HB, F, 2B
    Soft Shading  3B, 4B, 5B
    Dark Shading6B, 7B, 8B, 9B
    Pencil grades and what they’re best used for

    What are the most trusted pencil brands for drawing?

    The most trusted pencil brands for drawing are Faber-Castell, Koh-I-Noor, Hardtmuth, Staedtler, and Derwent.

    Now there are a lot of brands out there selling pencils. One of the most popular ones, which I’m sure every living soul on this planet possesses, is Mongol pencils.  

    They’re great but when it comes to drawing, they don’t really offer that much of a range. Which is fine because they’re not designed specifically for drawing.

    These brands, however, are (That’s not to say, you can only draw with them. A pencil is a pencil at the end of the day).

    Brands like Faber Castell and Staedtler are famous for being an artist’s go-to choice when it comes to tools like pencils. But what about us? What are our go-to pencils for drawings?

    Our Top 5 Pencils for Drawing:

    Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Sketch Pencils

    The Faber-Castell 900 Graphite Sketch Pencils is a set of 12 pencils packed in a metal case with a list price of $22. Just like the Staedtler Mars, these come in a range of hardness, from 2H to 8B.

    They’re sturdy and easy to sharpen. The marks they make are smooth, making them easy to blend. And even after using them for a long time, they don’t lose their consistency.

    Their B’s are a lot higher than that of Staedtler as they have both 7B and 8B, allowing for darker tones and shades.

    My only problem, however, is that there are not enough “H” pencils. Their H stops at 2H, which is nice but it doesn’t offer that much variety.

    They have a lot of B pencils though, from B to 8B, but as I said, the H pen

    Castle Art Supplies 12 Piece Graphite Drawing Pencils

    As with every other pencil set on this list, Castle Art Pencils come in a metal case. They’re a set of 12 with grades of 5H, 4H, 3H, 2H, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B, and 8B. Unlike Koh-l-Noor and Faber-Castell, Castle Art offers an equal range of H pencils and B pencils, making them good for both light and dark marks.

    The lines they make are clean and the pencils don’t easily break when you sharpen them. They’re great for both sketching and shading and even blending as long as you know what you’re doing.

    They’re also a lot less expensive than the pencils from Prismacolor, Staedtler, and Faber-Castell, only going for $14.99. So if you don’t know where to start, why not start with Castle Art?

    Staedtler Mars Lumograph Drawing Pencils

    There are 12 graphite pencils in this pack and they come in a metal case. Their grades range from 4H to 6B, giving you a variety of shades to work on. As someone who has used Staedtler in the past, I can say that these pencils are great.

    They offer a wide range of shades and they’re extremely affordable (Given that artist pencils are usually quite expensive). The lead in the pencil won’t easily break when you sharpen them plus they come with a metal case to keep your pencils in.

    The only con I see is that they only go up to 6B, however, they do have a version where they offer more shades.

    Prismacolor Premier Graphite Drawing Pencils

    Prismacolor is known for its high-quality (and costly) art materials. I mostly know them for their colored pencils but they also sell graphite pencils, and just like their colored pencils, their graphite pencils are nothing short of amazing.

    The Prismacolor Premier Graphite Drawing Pencils come with:

    • 7 drawing pencils with grades: 6H, 4H, 2H, B, 2B, 6B, and 8B.
    • 4 woodless graphite pencils, all B’s and no H’s (2B, 4B, 6B & 8B)
    • 3 water-soluble graphite pencils
    • 2 erasers (one of them is kneaded)
    • A sharpener and a sanding board

    There’s a total of 14 pencils with a wide range of hardness in this set. Four of those pencils are woodless graphite, making them absolutely perfect for shading. With no wood in the way, you can get darker values depending on how you hold your pencil.

    And if you’re worried about highlights, it also comes with an easy-to-mold kneaded eraser and a Vinyl Magic Rub eraser.

    In addition to that, the set also comes with a sanding board, making sure that you can always keep the tip of your pencils pointed for sharp and small details. All this set needs is paper and a frame and you’re good to go!

    That said, it is a bit pricey compared to the other pencils on this list. Its list price is $37.99, a lot more expensive than Staedtler and Faber-Castell. (But to be fair, they do come with a lot of stuff and their quality never misses) I wouldn’t call it beginner-friendly that’s for sure.

    If you’re a beginner, I suggest trying Koh-I-Noor or Faber-Castell first before jumping onto Prismacolor.

    Koh-I-Noor Toison d’Or Graphite Pencil

    While this brand isn’t as popular as the previous 2 brands I’ve mentioned, quality-wise, they’re on par. Koh-I-Noor Toison d’Or Graphite Pencils come in four different sets.

    • Class pack
    • Artist Set in Tin
    • Artist Set in Tin and Blister Carded
    • Pencil and eraser set

    The Class Pack comes with 144 pencils, ranging from 2H to 6B. Each grade comes in 24 pencils (hence the 144 pencils).

    The Artist Set in Tin is similar to the Faber-Castell and Staedtler where there are 12 pencils in a metal case. The grades that come with this set are the same as the grades that came with Faber-Castell, 2h to 8B.

    Artist Set in Tin and Blister Carded is basically just the previous set, just that it comes blister carded.

    And lastly, they have the Pencil and Eraser set. This set comes with 4 pencils with the grades HB, 2B, 4B, and 6B, and an eraser. This set is great for beginners, especially for those who are intimidated by the number of range pencils have. Despite only having 4 pencils, they have enough grades to create light and dark marks.

    If you’re wondering what price is listed for each of these sets, here’s a table:

    Class Pack$241.53
    Artist Set in Tin$13.26
    Artist Set in Tin and Blister Carded$15.52
    Pencil and Eraser Set$8.64
    Koh-I-Noor Toison d’Or Graphite Pencil Sets and Their Price

    Koh-l-Noor is a great brand for pencils. They’re durable and don’t easily break so they’ll probably last you for a while, even if you get the set with only 4 pencils. They’re also a lot cheaper than Staedtler and Faber-Castell but they still get the job done.

    Their marks are smooth on paper so you don’t have to worry about making any harsh lines just to get the shade you want. However, just as with Faber-Castell pencils, they don’t offer a wide variety of H pencils. They only have H and 2H, which isn’t really much to choose from. But their B pencils, which go up to 8, are perfect for shading dark shadows as Koh-l-Noor pencils create really dark marks.


    These were our top 5 pencils for drawing. They were picked based on quality, range, and durability. That said, these were only suggestions and what we think are the best in the market today. If you feel that none of these click with you and you’re satisfied with one pencil, that’s totally fine. It’s not mandatory for artists to have 50 different pencils.  

    Here’s a summary of the products mentioned above

    BrandList PricePencil Grades
    Staedtler Mars Lumograph Drawing Pencils$23.494H, 3H, 2H, H, F, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B
    Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Sketch Pencils$222H, H, F, HB, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B, 7B, 8B
    Koh-I-Noor Toison d’Or Graphite Pencil (Artist Set Tin)$13.262H, H, F, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B, 7B, 8B
    Prismacolor Premier Graphite Drawing Pencils$37.996H, 4H, 2H, B, 2B, 6B, and 8B
    Castle Art Supplies 12 Piece Graphite Drawing Pencils$14.995H, 4H, 3H, 2H, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B, and 8B
    Different Pencil Brands, their Price, and Pencil Grades

    Frequently Asked Questions

    How to hold a pencil for drawing?

    There are many different ways to hold a pencil, but the most common way is the Writers Grip. You hold your pencil between your thumb and index finger and have you’re three other fingers be the stabilizer. This is how most people hold their pencils.

    However, there are 6 other ways to hold a pencil. These methods were made solely to help artists draw. If you want to know what those methods are, have a look at my other article: 7 Ways to Hold a Pencil for Drawing – Find Your Preferred Grip

    What are the three types of drawing pencils?

    There are three types of drawing pencils: Graphite, charcoal, and colored pencils.

    Graphite pencils are good for drawing sketches, portraits, and landscapes. Due to their different grades, you create dark and light shades using graphite pencils. But for doing more serious drawings with darker tones, charcoals are usually where it’s at.

    Charcoal pencils create darker values than graphite pencils so they’re good for adding contrasts to an artwork. Colored pencils are for artists who want their drawings to have color instead of just the black and white offered by charcoal and graphite pencils.

    If you’re unsure where to start, the best place to begin is with a graphite pencil. However, as you get better, it’s important to try out these other types of pencils and expand your art style.

    What is a 2B drawing pencil used for?

    Fun fact, pencils sold in stores are usually 2B! A 2B pencil can be used for writing and doing some initial sketching. They’re also good for a bit of light shading.

    2B pencils are easy to work with and even non-artists often use 2B pencils. The marks they make are light enough to erase but not so light that you can’t see them. Perfect for anyone who just needs a pencil to use to either write something really quick or do an initial sketch.

    What are soft pencils used for?

    Soft pencils like 2B’s and 8B’s are used to highlight contrasts in drawings. They’re good for dark shading and blending and not for adding in small and fine details (Except maybe 2B and 3B pencils)

    Soft pencils make darker values than hard pencils (H). The higher you go up the scale, the darker it is. As far as I know, the grade goes up to 9B, which is the darkest grade. But most of the time, companies only sell up to 8B.

    Pencils ranging from 5B to 8B are the best ones to use when coloring in shadows or making specific parts of your drawing dark. The ones ranging from 2B to 4B I find are great for rough sketches, outlines, and defining shapes.

    What are hard pencils used for?

    Hard pencils like H and 2H are best used for initial sketches and precision drawing. They’re a lot harder (hence the name) than the B pencils and therefore produce much lighter marks.

    The color they make are more grey than they are dark making them close to useless when it comes to things like shading. However, due to the lightness of their marks, they’re also a lot easier to erase than B pencils which is why they’re good for things like initial sketches.

    They’re also better for drawings that require precision or small details.

    When drawing a portrait, it’s best to utilize both hard and soft pencils as they each have their strengths and weaknesses. For example, when drawing hair, you can color in a large portion of the hair with soft pencils like 6B and 8B, but if you want to create stray strands of hair, mixing in an H pencil will help with the process.

    How to sharpen a drawing pencil?

    I usually just use a sharpener when sharpening my pencil but I find that that quickly eats up your pencil (especially if you’re like me who breaks leads like I’m being paid for it). However, to my surprise, a lot of artists don’t use sharpeners.  

    Instead, they use razors/knives and sandpaper. What they do is they take an already sharpened pencil (brought to you by a sharpener) and then make the tip a bit longer by shaving off the wood of the pencil.

    By doing this, they’re bringing the lead out more which allows for sharper points and more lead to work with. When they’re satisfied with the amount of lead they got, they keep the point sharpened by sanding it down with sandpaper.

    Tip: Keep the dust that comes from sanding the lead. You can apply it to your drawing with a brush like an eyeshadow.

    What type of paper should you draw on?

    You can use any paper you want to draw on. But I suggest using thicker paper over your average printer paper.

    This is because when drawing, we make lots of marks, make lots of erasures, and sometimes if we’re feeling brave, we even dab it with water to bring out the texture. All this can be difficult with thin paper.

    There are all sorts of paper out there, all built for specific uses. If you’re just looking to do quick simple sketches then your average notebook paper or printer paper will do just fine. But if you want to do bolder artwork and use a lot of materials, then I suggest investing in thick paper like fine arts paper.

    I hope this article helped! Thanks for reading!

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