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The Best Graphite Pencils - 2020

Last updated on November 11, 2020
Best Graphite Pencils

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Our Picks For The Top Graphite Pencils

Show Contents
Our Take
  Our Top Pick

Kasimir Sketching Graphite Pencils, 14-Piece

Kasimir

Sketching Graphite Pencils, 14-Piece

Overall Take

Easy to SharpenThese eco-friendly pencils are easy to sharpen and draw with.

  Perfect for Sketching

Faber-Castell Creative Studio Graphite Pencils, 6-Count

Faber-Castell

Creative Studio Graphite Pencils, 6-Count

Overall Take

Take With YouThe soft graphite tips in these pencils hold a point well and lay down a consistent, dark line.

  Best Variety

Prismacolor Premier Graphite Pencils With Eraser & Sharpener, 18-Piece

Prismacolor

Premier Graphite Pencils Set, 18-Piece

Overall Take

Many Different OptionsThis comprehensive set is just the thing for beginning artists.

  Best for Shading

Mont Marte Woodless Graphite Pencils, 6-Piece

Mont Marte

Woodless Graphite Pencils, 6-Piece

Overall Take

Bold and VersatileThe dark graphite on these pencils is ideal for filling in your works of art.

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Guide written by Tod Caviness
Last updated on November 11, 2020

There are plenty of differences between doodling in a high school notebook and practicing the artist’s craft on a sketch pad. Firstly, there’s the dedication and the training. And then there are the tools. While professional graphite art pencils might resemble those old reliable No. 2 lead pencils that we all used, they are capable of so much more.

If you’re buying your first set of art pencils, the variety can be a little intimidating. For one thing, there are a lot more numbers (and letters) to deal with than just the number 2. Graphite pencils will typically come in a kit of pencils in different shapes and thicknesses marked “H,” “B,” “HB” and “F,” paired with an accompanying digit.

The thing to know is that graphite pencils are actually made from a mix of graphite and clay. “H” pencils are harder pencils, thanks to a higher concentration of clay. They lay down lighter lines, well-suited to cross-hatching or precise architectural drawings. The higher the number preceding the “H” (2H, 3H, etc.) the lighter the mark will be.

“B” grade pencils are on the opposite end of the spectrum. They contain more graphite and will draw softer, darker lines. If you need to do some shading, these are your tools. The higher the digit accompanying the “B,” the softer the line will be. If you’re looking at these pencils on a scale, 9H would produce the lightest lines and 9B would give you the softest.

Somewhere in the middle are HB (hard black) and F (fine point) pencils. Both are roughly equal to the plain-Jane pencils most people are familiar with, which is not to say they can’t be useful in a sketchbook. Sometimes the familiar tools are the best.

Composition aside, most drawing pencils are structured the same as all-purpose pencils: The graphite core is encased in wood, making it easier to grip (and less messy). As your skills progress, you may want to try out “woodless” pencils that are essentially all graphite, with a coating of lacquer to protect your hands. This allows you to custom-sharpen your tip, leaving behind thicker, softer lines alternating with finer marks.

To find the right tools for you, draw with as many as you can! Variety kits are popular with beginners for a reason. They’ll get you comfortable with a range of marking styles and open you up to a whole new world of creativity.

The Best Graphite Pencils

1
  Our Top Pick

Kasimir Sketching Graphite Pencils, 14-Piece

This pencil set runs the gamut in size and sharpness from 6H to 12B. All of the pencils are encased in environmentally-friendly wood that doesn't splint easily. This ensures they can be sharpened to fit your exact needs, while the graphite delivers a full, dark line.

Features


Specifications

Brand
Kasimir
Model
2
  Perfect for Sketching

Faber-Castell Creative Studio Graphite Pencils, 6-Count

The soft lead in this 6-pack of pencils is ideal for laying down smooth lines. Each pencil comes pre-sharpened to a point and is easy to maintain. The metal tin serves as a great carrying case when sketching on the go.

Features


Specifications

Brand
Faber-Castell
Model
3
  Best Variety

Prismacolor Premier Graphite Pencils With Eraser & Sharpener, 18-Piece

This set comes with turquoise drawing pencils, woodless graphite pencils and water soluble pencils that create stunning washes. All these implements blend well and are suited to lines of any thickness. The addition of erasers and sharpeners makes this a great beginner's set.

Features


Specifications

Brand
Prismacolor
Model
4
  Best for Shading

Mont Marte Woodless Graphite Pencils, 6-Piece

These woodless pencils are designed to leave a little extra graphite on the paper with extra pressure. That makes them a particularly great tool for shading. The lines are very dark, but they erase more easily than traditional pencils.

Features


Specifications

Brand
Mont Marte
Model
8
  Best Basic

Staedler Mars Lumograph Bonded Lead Graphite Pencils

Lines go on smooth with this set of 12 pencils. The graphite is bonded with carbon to create an even, flowing line. The tips can be sharpened with little effort and the casings are made from sustainably processed wood.

Features


Specifications

Brand
Staedler
Model

Our Graphite Pencil Buying Guide

There are plenty of differences between doodling in a high school notebook and practicing the artist’s craft on a sketch pad. Firstly, there’s the dedication and the training. And then there are the tools. While professional graphite art pencils might resemble those old reliable No. 2 lead pencils that we all used, they are capable of so much more.

If you’re buying your first set of art pencils, the variety can be a little intimidating. For one thing, there are a lot more numbers (and letters) to deal with than just the number 2. Graphite pencils will typically come in a kit of pencils in different shapes and thicknesses marked “H,” “B,” “HB” and “F,” paired with an accompanying digit.

The thing to know is that graphite pencils are actually made from a mix of graphite and clay. “H” pencils are harder pencils, thanks to a higher concentration of clay. They lay down lighter lines, well-suited to cross-hatching or precise architectural drawings. The higher the number preceding the “H” (2H, 3H, etc.) the lighter the mark will be.

“B” grade pencils are on the opposite end of the spectrum. They contain more graphite and will draw softer, darker lines. If you need to do some shading, these are your tools. The higher the digit accompanying the “B,” the softer the line will be. If you’re looking at these pencils on a scale, 9H would produce the lightest lines and 9B would give you the softest.

Somewhere in the middle are HB (hard black) and F (fine point) pencils. Both are roughly equal to the plain-Jane pencils most people are familiar with, which is not to say they can’t be useful in a sketchbook. Sometimes the familiar tools are the best.

Composition aside, most drawing pencils are structured the same as all-purpose pencils: The graphite core is encased in wood, making it easier to grip (and less messy). As your skills progress, you may want to try out “woodless” pencils that are essentially all graphite, with a coating of lacquer to protect your hands. This allows you to custom-sharpen your tip, leaving behind thicker, softer lines alternating with finer marks.

To find the right tools for you, draw with as many as you can! Variety kits are popular with beginners for a reason. They’ll get you comfortable with a range of marking styles and open you up to a whole new world of creativity.

DWYM Fun Fact

Graphite art pencils aren’t so different fundamentally from regular lead pencils. For one thing, neither of them is actually made of lead. All pencils have a graphite core, and it’s been that way since the 1500s. At that time, scientists couldn’t yet distinguish lead from the graphite that was being used to manufacture the crude, wood-less pencils of that era. Even though we now know better, the term stuck.

The Graphite Pencil Tips and Advice

  • You’re paying a bit extra for professional art pencils, so be sure that you take care of them. Yes, you can sharpen them with a traditional pencil sharpener, but be aware that this method can shave off more than you need — especially with softer, B-grade material.
  • Feel free to use a razor, utility knife or even a sandpaper block to fine-tune your tips without losing too much graphite. You’ll save your pencils and get results you wouldn’t be able to achieve the easy way.