Best Art Pencils
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.
Sanford Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencil
Caran D'Ache Luminance Colored Pencils
Faber Castell Polychromos Pencils
Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor
Derwent Coloursoft Pencils
Derwent Sketching Pencils
Staedtler Graphite 925 Series Mechanical Pencil
Palomino Blackwing Pencils
Prismacolor Design EBONY Sketching Pencils
Cretacolor Monolith Woodless Pencils
Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Pencils
Derwent Watercolor Pencils
Caran D'ache Supracolor Aquarelle Pencils
Cretacolor 72 Aqua Monolith Metal Tin Set
Derwent Inktense Pencils
Staedtler Mars Lumograph Drawing Pencil
Caran d'Ache Grafwood Pencils
Tombow Mono Professional Drawing Pencils, 12 Piece Set
Derwent Graphic Pencils
Faber & Castell 9000 Graphite Sketch Pencil Set
One of the most popular brands of colored pencils, Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils have a soft, wax-based lead. This brand also maintains one of the largest color palettes available with 150 unique colors. The pencils give artists a very strong color, with smooth pigments and a soft feel making them fun to use. It is suggested artists sharpen the pencils manually to get the best point, since too-sharp of a tip will break easily. As a final bonus, the brand is fairly inexpensive, making them one of the cheapest pencils available with this level of quality.
Caran d’Ache is one of the top brands available to artists, and the Luminance pencils live up to that quality with some of the smoothest, most brilliant colored pencils around. The pencils come in 76 vivid colors, each with the brand’s special commitment to offering a lightfast colored pencil. The pencils also have a special color-coded base matching each pencil’s lead, making it easy to pick out an individual color from the set. The pencils are wax-based, with a soft, pure texture making it easy to blend them with their only downside being the brand’s high price.
Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils are a popular brand among artists with a quality very deserving of this reputation. The pencils come in a wide range of colors with 120 unique shades and have a smooth, easy-to-blend texture making them great for professional artwork. With their oil-based cores, these pencils will not leave the waxy residue that builds up on the pigments from most other brands of colored pencils. They come with pre-sharpened tips, and the colors from this set are guaranteed to match the watercolor pencils and other art products from this brand. Some of the colors vary in their lightfast ratings and the brand is fairly expensive.
Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor pencils belong to a German brand now manufactured by an Italian company. They are a favorite brand among artists and offer a smooth, professional-quality colored pencil. The pencils come in 78 different shades, with a creamy oil-based core allowing for a wide degree of shading and blending with these colors. As an added bonus, the oil-based pencils will avoid the wax build-up that other brands leave on the finished drawing. Rembrandt Polycolor pencils run mid-range on price, but are still significantly less than the most expensive brands.
The Derwent Coloursoft wax-based pencils are one of the softest brands available. The Coloursoft pencils come in a selection of 72 colors, with pre-sharpened tips, and a fairly sturdy lead that holds up well with use. Some of the other Derwent products have very poor lightfast ratings, and a few of the pencils in this set also score low on the scale. Still, the set as a whole is reasonably lightfast and would work for any non-archival quality work. They are also one of the best deals, costing significantly less than some of the other brands.
While Derwent offers much larger packs with a full range of tones and hardness, this pack gives artists a good, basic set of sketching pencils. These pencils come in the core mid-range tones of HB, 2B and 4B. The basic pack of 4 pencils includes all three shades, as well as Derwent's unique Graphitone Water Soluble 6B pencil for a dark shade of pencil with special blending ability. With this selection of soft, dark pencils, the set allows for some variety of tones and easy shading, but still limits the overall number of pencils to a manageable group.
This mechanical pencil comes with a standard HB lead that makes it a great choice for either writing or drawing. While Staedtler, as a top art-brand, offers a number of drawing pencils in varying degrees of hardness, this pencil gives artists a good all-purpose tool. It works well for sketching, travels well, and comes in with four levels of lead-thickness for artists to choose from. The pencil comes with a sturdy black shell, but another version of the same pencil comes in chrome. Both versions have color-coded badges to show which version of lead the pencil takes, as well as a built-in eraser, making it an ideal all-in-one pencil. Plus, it's easy to find refills and keep using this pencil for years.
The Palomino Blackwing pencil comes in three versions, as either the Blackwing, the Blackwing 602, or the newest addition, the Blackwing Pearl. Both of the original versions have long been a favorite brand among artists, but the standard Blackwing version has the softer lead, while the 602 has a firm lead, and the Pearl is a mid-range between the other two. The Blackwing is best suited for artists, with the softer graphite making it easy for artists to draw with dark, bold lines. Palomino has only a limited range of tones, but the pencil stands out for the brand's white, replaceable erasers and the pencil's overall clean tones. Some artists in fact, prefer these pencils simply for the experience. Both versions of the pencils come in 12-pencil sets, though the brand also offers a variety of specialty packages.
Originally the Sanford Design Graphite pencils, the brand has been taken over and expanded by Prismacolor as part of its Scholar Graphite pencils set. Some people believe the quality has declined over time, but the pencil is still a top favorite. The ebony pencils are soft, with very dark leads that make it easy to produce a wide range of tones. The pencil can either complement a full set of drawing pencils or work one its own for basic drawing and sketching. The pencil comes in packs of two or 12, and it is a fairly inexpensive option for artists who want to find one all-purpose pencil.
The other sketching pencils on this list are standard pencils with wood casings, but the Cretacolor Monolith pencils are solid graphite. They come in 7 millimeter sticks cased in a thin lacquer coating. While the pencils are also sold individually, they come in either a 7-piece set with an eraser or an 11-piece kit with all six degrees of hardness, a water-soluble 9B pencil, pencil extender, eraser, and metal sharpener. Because the pencils are woodless, they are more fragile than standard sketching pencils, and they are also a little more expensive. Beginners might find them difficult to use, but they are an excellent brand for artists with patience and a little practice.
With a large color palette and smooth pigments, the Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils are a popular, high-quality choice for artists. The colors are water-soluble and dissolve completely but become permanent after they’ve dried from the wash, allowing artists to layer new colors over the top without disturbing the original color. The pencils come in 120 colors, giving artists a wide selection of hues and shades to work with. Plus, the colors in the watercolor palette are indexed to match the colors for Faber-Castells colored pencils and other products. This makes it easy for artists to combine different media while keeping the colors the same. The pencils are also reasonably priced, compared to other brands.
The Derwent watercolor pencils offer a quality, easy-to-use pencil which comes in 72 colors. This is a relatively small palette, but it’s still enough to blend any shade an artist could desire. They can be used either on dry paper with a wash over the pencils pigments or on wet paper for a different effect. They come either in sturdy tins or an elegant wooden case for safe, easy storage. They’re also fairly inexpensive making them a good bargain brand for someone looking to try out a new medium. However, some of the colors are not lightfast, so artists need to avoid the brand or check the individual pencils if long-term fading is an issue.
Designed and manufactured by a Swiss company, the Caran d’Ache Supracolor Aquarelle Pencils are among the first brands of watercolor pencils. These pencils offer artists an extra smooth feel along with a high-quality pencil. They are also extra soft for artists who like a creamy visual feel. The Supracolor pencils come in 120 colors with a wide selection of shades and tones making it easy to find the right color while working well with a variety of wet or dry techniques. The pencils are fairly expensive for a standard watercolor pencil but offer excellent quality making them a favorite among artists.
Instead of a typical wooden pencil, Cretacolor Aquamonolith watercolor pencils are a solid stick of pigment with a thin protective coating. Their biggest advantage is the amount of pigment they offer in each pencil but this brand blends smoothly with water to leave a vivid, clear wash. The pencils come in a good range of colors with 72 shades to choose from. The Aquamonolith pencils are significantly more expensive, but because they are solid pigment instead of a thin core, they will last much longer than other watercolor pencils. As a bonus, even the shavings from these pencils can be blended with water and used like regular watercolor paints.
For a different sort of watercolor effect, Derwents Inktense pencils have a strong, vivid color which blends smoothly with water. They work just like any other watercolor pencil but after a wash the pigment takes on a brilliant, ink-like texture and color. The Inktense pencils come in 71 colors, with an extra non-soluble outliner pencil and they work on fabric as well for extra versatility and variety. The color is fixed so once it has dried you can lay other colors over it without disturbing the original layer. Compared with Derwents other products, these pencils are relatively expensive but they’re very popular as a unique style of watercolor pencil.
Staedtler offers an excellent selection of drawing and sketching pencils. These pencils come in a wide range of shades from 8B to 6H for a full set of light and dark tones. Staedlers largest 19-pack set contains all 16 tones as well as three extra pencils in 6B, 4B and 2B. The pencils as also available individually, allowing artists to buy either the full assortment or pick out particular tones suited to their needs. Some may find the darkest pencils have a sticky or waxy feel unlike the rest of the set, but many artists consider these drawing pencils the best of their kind.
Caran d’Ache offers an artist’s ideal drawing pencil in 15 shades of hardness the Grafwood pencils. While most brands produce all their pencils with the same color finish, Grafwood pencils come with lacquer finish in a range of gray tones making it easy to identify the individual pencil shade. The brand offers individual pieces and sets of either 6 or 15 pencils. The 15-pack contains all the hardness variations, while the 6-pack version comes with the darkest 9B and lightest 4H pencils complimented by a selection of intermediary shades. The brand’s only drawback is its relatively high price.
The Tombow Mono Professional Drawing Pencils have a smooth, soft texture in a good selection of tones made with strong, long-lasting graphite leads. With a range of 17 degrees of hardness, these pencils are available individually, as well as in sets of 3, 6 or 12. The 12-pack has pencils ranging in hardness from the dark and soft 6B to the light and hard 4H. All of the sets come with unsharpened pencils so artists can sharpen them to their individual tastes. Tombow Mono Professional Drawing Pencils cost less than more expensive brands making them ideal for beginner and professional artists alike.
Derwent Graphite pencils offer a wide range of drawing tones with twenty shades of graphite from the dark 9B to super-light 9H. For artists who want the full range of shades, their largest kit has 24 pencils, including two each of the mid-range 2H through 4B pencils. Smaller 12-count kits come in sets of either hard, medium, or soft leads. The pencils have high lightfast scores, so they will resist fading over time. Of these pencil sets, the medium kit has the best assortment overall, ranging from 4H to 6B. It’s an excellent set of light and dark tones to use without feeling overwhelmed, especially for beginning artists. Kits come packed in a lightweight and easy to carry tins for artists on the go.
For over a hundred years, Faber-Castell has been a producer of top-quality pencils. These pencils come in 16 different shades, with degrees of hardness ranging from 8B to 6H. Faber-Castell pencils are available individually, as part of the PITT Graphite assortments or in sets 6 or 12 pencils. Whether artists choose to build their own set or buy a pre-selected kit, Faber-Castell offers a smooth pencil with a sufficient range of hardness for most projects. The pencils are slightly more expensive than similar brands, but remain reasonably priced for those with a little bit more to spend.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.