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The Best Graphite Pencils

Last updated on May 31, 2023
Best Graphite Pencils

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There are plenty of differences between doodling in a high school notebook and practicing the artist’s craft on a sketch pad. First, there’s the dedication and 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 in school, 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 No. 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.

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 make 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.

Our Picks For The Top Graphite Pencils

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Product Overview
Our Take
 Top Pick

ARTEZA Break Resistant Drawing Graphite Pencils, 48-Piece

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ARTEZA

Break Resistant Drawing Graphite Pencils, 48-Piece

Whether you're a student in elementary school or an engineer just starting out, you'll find this drawing pencil set is a must-have item. Each set includes 12 pencils, all of which are sharpened and ready for use. The pencils also have a hexagon shape, which makes them easier to grasp and more comfortable to hold.

Overall Take

Must-Have ToolThis graphite pencil set is made using wood and features a #2 break-resistant core.

 Runner Up

Mr. Pen Professional Super-Bonded Graphite Pencils, 14-Piece

Mr. Pen

Professional Super-Bonded Graphite Pencils, 14-Piece

Sketching everything from a self portrait to a picturesque cabin by the lake has never been easier than with this graphite pencils set. The set includes a total of 14 pencils, each a different hardness. Sharpening the lead is a breeze, and you'll find the graphite erases without any trouble.

Overall Take

Budget-Friendly SetYou'll love the adorable squirrel that graces the cover of the tin that holds these graphite pencils.

 Strong Contender

MARKART Eco-Friendly Drawing Graphite Pencils, 14-Piece

MARKART

Eco-Friendly Drawing Graphite Pencils, 14-Piece

Each graphite pencil in this 14-piece drawing pencil set varies in hardness from 4H to 12B, enabling both broad strokes and precise lines. The non-toxic, pre-sharpened pencils are made with lightweight basswood, and the strong core minimizes broken points.

Overall Take

Sketching EssentialsIdeal for sketching, doodling and drawing, the set is suitable for producing fine, detailed illustrations and textured shading.

 We Also Like

Castle Art Supplies Easy-Grip Hexagonal Graphite Pencils, 12-Piece

Castle Art Supplies

Easy-Grip Hexagonal Graphite Pencils, 12-Piece

All 12 of the graphite pencils included in this set are neatly organized inside a stylish tin. The pencils have a hexagonal shape that makes them easier to hold and control, as well as an eco-friendly wood casing. Artists will love that the pencils are engraved with the hardness rating for easy identification.

Overall Take

Protective TinThe graphite pencils in this set have a hardness range between 5H and 8B.

What to Look For

  • 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 material.
  • Feel free to use a razor, utility knife or even a piece of sandpaper 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.

More to Explore

Graphite art pencils aren’t so different fundamentally from regular lead pencils. For one thing, neither 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 pencils of that era. Even though we now know better, the term stuck.

More to explore