Best Art Pencils

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From colored pencils to graphite pencils, today’s artist has so many options to choose from the selection process can be intimidating. Whether you like to work with vivid colors, subtle tones, or austere black-and-white shading, the perfect art pencil with smooth, high-quality pigments is waiting for you here. Whether you’re working in color, drawing in a gray-scale with 20 distinct shades, or mixing painting with watercolor pencils, these lists of the best art pencils available will help you find the perfect medium for your next project. Be sure to check out our buyer’s guide as well to learn more about the different types of art pencils available and their specific attributes.

Best Drawing Pencils:

While an ordinary pencil is good for a quick sketch, professional-level illustration demands skill, consistency, and a proper range of pencil shades. Drawing pencils come in a range of tones, measured by the hardness of the pencil’s graphite. The very hardest pencil leads are the 7H to 9H, producing a light gray tone. Mid-range pencils such as the standard HB produce a soft gray, while the 7B to 9B pencils at the far end of the scale allow artists to work in black tones. Each of the pencil sets listed here were selected based on the range of shades offered on this scale, the pencils overall consistency and their ratings among artists.

Staedtler Mars Lumograph Drawing Pencil

Many artists consider these Staedtler pencils to be among the best available. They offer a wide range of shades from 8B to 6H, with a good selection of light and dark tones. Staedler offers a 19-pack set with all 16 tones, as well as individual pencils so artists can focus on what they need. Read Full Review

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    Staedtler Mars Lumograph Drawing Pencil

    Caran d'Ache Grafwood Pencils

    Grafwood pencils stand out for their unique gray shading matching each pencil’s hardness to its lacquer finish. The pencils come in 15 degrees of hardness and are available individually and in 6 or 15-piece kits. Relatively expensive compared to other pencils, their quality stands out nonetheless. Read Full Review

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      Caran d'Ache Grafwood Pencils

      Tombow Mono Professional Drawing Pencils, 12 Piece Set

      Tombow Mono Professional Drawing Pencils come in a wide range of tones, available in 17 degrees of hardness and offer strong, long-lasting graphite leads. These pencils come unsharpened so artists may sharpen them to suit the needs of whatever project they are working on. Their pricing is far less than more expensive top brands, a good bargain for both beginning artists and professional illustrators. Read Full Review

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        Tombow Mono Professional Drawing Pencils, 12 Piece Set

        Derwent Graphic Pencils

        Derwent Graphic pencils have the widest range of tones with 20 degrees of hardness from 9B to 9H. Artists can get either the full range of shades in the brands 24-pencil set or buy smaller sets and fill in extra pencils individually. Read Full Review

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          Derwent Graphic Pencils

          Faber & Castell 9000 Graphite Sketch Pencil Set

          Faber Castell 9000 Graphite Pencils come in 16 degrees of varying hardness, ranging from 8B to 6H. These pencils are available in a variety of sets as well as individual pieces. Though slightly more expensive than similar brands, Faber Castell offers artists a smooth, top-quality pencil. Read Full Review

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            Faber & Castell 9000 Graphite Sketch Pencil Set

            Best Color Pencils:

            There’s no need to work with watercolor or oil paints to create a vivid image. With the selection of colored pencils available today, you can find any shade of brilliant, subtle, or even metallic color to suit your wildest imaginings.

            Colored pencils are usually made with either a wax-base or an oil-base. Wax-based pencils may build up a waxy shine over time, so you might need to use an art fixative to reduce this build-up. In some cases, the brands also offer a harder version of their pencils, with a much lighter color-scheme, but each of the brands on this list has a standard, full-color pencil.

            The best color pencils on this list were selected based on their quality as professional-level pencils, the number of colors each brand offers, and the lightfast score showing how their colors will hold up under normal lighting.

            Sanford Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencil

            Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils offers one of the most popular brands available, as well as one of the largest selections of colors. The pencils come in 150 colors and have a strong, smooth color that many artists love. Plus, the brand is fairly inexpensive, making them an all-around great choice. Read Full Review

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              Sanford Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencil

              Caran D'Ache Luminance Colored Pencils

              A top brand, the Caran d’Ache Luminance is one of the smoothest, most brilliant colored pencils available to artists. Each pencil has a color-coded base that matches its pigment, making it easy to pick the right color from the set. The pencils come in 76 different shades, but are fairly expensive. Read Full Review

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                Caran D'Ache Luminance Colored Pencils

                Faber Castell Polychromos Pencils

                Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils are an excellent brand and a favorite among artists with their oil-based cores and wide range of colors. The pencils come in 120 colors, with a smooth texture that many artists enjoy, though they are fairly expensive. Read Full Review

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                  Faber Castell Polychromos Pencils

                  Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor

                  While other brands come with a wax-based filling, Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor pencils have a creamy oil-based core. The pencils come in 78 different colors, and they offer a smooth, professional-quality blend making the pencils a great tool for shading and blending. Read Full Review

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                    Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor

                    Derwent Coloursoft Pencils

                    Derwent Coloursoft pencils have a wide color palette with 72 colors and a sturdy lead that holds up well to pressure. With their low price, they are a great bargain brand, though some of the pencils have ratings too low to be considered lightfast. Read Full Review

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                      Derwent Coloursoft Pencils

                      Best Sketching Pencils:

                      Since sketching suggests working on a rough outline or a basic, practical design, you might think that any pencil would work. A completed drawing might require the full spectrum of shades, while a quick sketch might work best with a single pencil or a limited selection of shades. Still, even for sketching, quality is important. The projects might not need as much detail or as wide a range of tones as a finished drawing, but it is frustrating to work with a cheap product which scratches or smudges the sketch. All of these brands offer either a small selection of drawing pencils or a single, multi-purpose pencil ideal for sketching. The brands were selected for this list based on their versatility, their overall quality, and their high ratings among artists.

                      Derwent Sketching Pencils

                      Derwent drawing pencils offer artists a full range of tones, but this set of sketching pencils makes a great basic kit for practice sketches. The pencils are mid-range for hardness and make it easy to produce a number of tones without resorting to a larger set of pencils. Read Full Review

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                        Derwent Sketching Pencils

                        Staedtler Graphite 925 Series Mechanical Pencil

                        Mechanical pencils might not be the first thing that comes to mind as an art pencil, but they do make good sketching tools. This pencil comes with a standard HB lead and is available in four thicknesses, allowing artist to choose a thick or thin lead according to individual preference. Read Full Review

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                          Staedtler Graphite 925 Series Mechanical Pencil

                          Palomino Blackwing Pencils

                          Some artists claim that the Palomino Blackwing offers a unique experience among pencils. The brand comes a limited range of shades, with either hard, soft, or mid-range leads, but it is a favorite for its smooth, bold lines and clean tones. Read Full Review

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                            Palomino Blackwing Pencils

                            Prismacolor Design EBONY Sketching Pencils

                            This pencil replaced the Sanford Design Graphite pencils, a long-time favorite for artists. The ebony pencil has an extra soft lead, allowing artists to produce a wide range of tones simply by varying the pressure they use. With the brand's low prices, it makes a fairly inexpensive all-purpose tool. Read Full Review

                            Prismacolor Design EBONY Sketching Pencils

                            Cretacolor Monolith Woodless Pencils

                            These pencils stand out for their solid graphite core and smooth feel. They tend to be a little more fragile than the standard wood-cased pencils, so they may not be the best brand for beginners, but many artists consider them a favorite. Read Full Review

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                              Cretacolor Monolith Woodless Pencils

                              Best Watercolor Pencils:

                              Instead of using traditional paint tubes, why not use a watercolor pencil instead? With watercolor pencils, artists lay down their colors with them and then moisten the pigments with a damp brush to spread or blend the colors. All water-soluble pencils allow artists to blend their colors or create unique effects using water, but watercolor pencils are designed specifically for use with water. While this type of pencil can be applied to a surface dry like any other colored pencil, some watercolor pencils require the use of water to reach their full vibrancy. Each of these best watercolor pencils were selected based on their high-quality pigments, vibrant colors, high lightfast ratings and a wide variety of colors to choose from.

                              Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Pencils

                              The Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils are a popular choice among artists for their smooth colors and large, 120-color palette which matches colors with Faber-Castells other products. They dissolve easily with a light wash, but become permanent once the wash has dried, making it easy to layer colors without disturbing the original layer. Read Full Review

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                                Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Pencils

                                Derwent Watercolor Pencils

                                The Derwent watercolor pencils are a good-quality, inexpensive brand great for professionals or beginners. They have a relatively small selection of 72 colors and while some of these pigments are not lightfast, the pencils blend smoothly with a variety of techniques. Read Full Review

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                                  Derwent Watercolor Pencils

                                  Caran D'ache Supracolor Aquarelle Pencils

                                  Like other Caran d’Ache products, these watercolor pencils are known for their smooth, creamy feel. The Supracolor pencils come in 120 colors for a full spectrum of tones and shades. While they are fairly expensive, the quality is worth the price. Read Full Review

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                                    Caran D'ache Supracolor Aquarelle Pencils

                                    Cretacolor 72 Aqua Monolith Metal Tin Set

                                    The Aquamonolith pencil is actually a solid stick of pigment with a thin protective coating. They blend smoothly, acting very much like watercolor paints, and have a moderate 72-color palette to choose from. While expensive, this is balanced by the extra pigment in each pencil. Read Full Review

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                                      Cretacolor 72 Aqua Monolith Metal Tin Set

                                      Derwent Inktense Pencils

                                      Derwents Inktense Pencils are a slightly different variety of watercolor pencils, giving artists a vivid, ink-like color after they’ve been blended with water. They are relatively expensive, compared with other Derwent products, but they also work on fabrics, giving them extra versatility. Read Full Review

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                                        Derwent Inktense Pencils
                                         

                                        Art Pencils Buyer’s Guide

                                        While all pencils tend to share many of the same characteristics, art pencils feature a few unique elements which set them apart from your standard writing pencil. Here’s a basic glossary of terms and types, to help you find the best pencil for you.

                                        Pencil Types

                                        Drawing Pencils
                                        Drawing pencils are meant for professional-quality work with highly detailed images. To achieve that level of competency, you’ll want a full spectrum of shades and tones. Look for drawing pencils with leads in a wide range of hardness. The scale ranges from 9H (very hard, appears light gray on paper) to 9B (very soft, appears charcoal black). The standard HB lead and the F lead form in the middle of the spectrum.

                                        Sketching Pencils
                                        While you can use a set of drawing pencils for sketching, you really don’t need a full range of pencils for quick sketches. Instead, you’ll want to pick out one good quality pencil, probably a standard HB lead. This pencil might already be in one of your favorite pencil sets, but it could also be a specialty pencil you pick out specifically for these projects. Mechanical pencils can also make good sketching pencils and are easy to carry with you.

                                        Color Pencils
                                        Colored pencils have a special wax or oil-based core which holds a specific pigment and spreads it evenly across the paper. Cheap colored pencils will scratch or grate while premium selections have a smooth, creamy feel. Technique and style can make the colors bolder or more subdued, but any good brand will give you strong, bright colors to work with.

                                        Watercolor Pencils
                                        As their name implies, these pencils act like watercolors with an artist using a wet brush or other tool to blend and spread the pigments. It’s important the pigments blend well, otherwise you may be left with a faint wash and telltale pencil streaks.

                                        Woodless Pencils
                                        This is a thick, case-less block of color pigment shaped like a pencil. These pencils will often have a lacquer coating in place of the usual casing to protect the core as well as keep the lead from smearing. Woodless pencils are usually more expensive than other brands, but they offer a lot more lead to balance out the price.

                                        Art Pencil Terminology

                                        Pencil Leads
                                        Despite the name, the pencils don’t actually contain lead. Instead, the term refers to the graphite or other material forming the pencil’s core. Sticks of graphite are generally used for drawing and sketching pencils while wax or oil cores hold the pigments for colored pencils. Sometimes if you shake a pencil, you can hear a broken piece of lead rattling inside which will indicate the pencils may be damaged or poorly made.

                                        Casing/Barrel
                                        This is the wooden shell around the pencil’s core. Some brands will paint the casing to match the pencil’s color while others may simply have the pencil’s color and/or hardness printed on the side; with color pencils, this can make it harder to pick out the right shade.

                                        Eraser
                                        You may be used to having this on your writing pencil, but you don’t actually need an eraser on an art pencil. You’ll be much better off using a specialized art eraser such as a Staedtler eraser or a knead-able eraser for cleaning up graphite lines while most colored-pencil lines will be easier to disguise than to erase.

                                        Lightfast
                                        Lightfast is an artist’s term referring to the pigment or graphite’s ability to hold up under sunlight or other lights. Cheaper colors and materials will degrade over time, resulting in faded colors or stained drawings. If you want your work to last, find yourself high quality pencils.

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