Drawing pencil brands vary greatly in quality. The very worst pencils can tear a hole in your paper, and the best can feel silky smooth as you hatch along in drawing nirvana. How do you reach drawing nirvana? Well, lucky you, it’s not that hard.
My choice of best drawing pencil is the Swiss made Caran d’Arche Grafwood. Each grade is impeccably pure, and the tonal range possible from 4H to 9B is astonishing. Finally, a company is taking drawing seriously enough to use new technology to make graphite pencils!
My mid-price range choice is the Derwent Graphic. This is a great quality pencil that comes in a full range of grades. You can sketch with Derwents while in your favorite chair, feet up, while watching tv, and you can create a graphite masterpiece with them too, with or without the feet up and tv on.
My low-end pencil pick is the Prismacolor Turquoise. They come in a wide range of grades and you can create any hatched graphite effect with them that you want. You may occasionally hit a piece of grit in the hardest grades. If so, sharpen past it, and you’ll be good to go.
The table below is a comparison of some of the most common drawing pencil brands available in the US. I’ve judged them by the quality of the filler used, by how each grade looks on paper, and price
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|Brand||Grade Range||Quality||Price||Sketch - Art|
|Caran D'Ache Grafwood Pencils||9B-4H||Supurb||High||-- -|
|Derwent Graphic Pencils||9B-9H||Excellent||Average||-|
|Prismacolor Turquoise Pencils||6B-6H||Average||Low||-|
|Cretacolor Fine Art Pencils||2H-9B||Excellent||Average||-|
|Cretacolor Monolith Woodless Pencils||HB-9B||Excellent||High||- --|
|Staedtler Lumograph Drawing Pencils||HB-8B||Excellent||High||-|
|Prismacolor Turquoise 2mm Leads for lead holders.||6B-6H||Average||Average||-- -|
|Staedtler 2mm Leads for lead holders.||4B-4H||Excellent||High||-- -|
Table Ratings Key
High – $1.26 to $2.80 each
Average – $0.86 to $1.25
Low – $0.55 to $0.85 each
Excellent – Clearly defined, consistent grades, filler is mixed well, sharpen well.
Avg. – May be some inconsistency between grades of pencils but filler is usually mixed well, usually sharpen well.
Poor – Grades are not consistent, sharp bits in filler can tear paper, leads break often while sharpening.
The leads of drawing pencils are made with ground graphite and a filler, and the ratio of one to the other determines what grade of hardness a pencil is. The type of filler used depends on the brand.
The “harder” grades (F – 9H) contain more filler, and the “softer” grades (HB – 9B) contain less. While the correct ratio of filler to graphite for each hardness grade must be well known, I’ve never found two brands of drawing pencils that use the same formula, and one brand’s 2H pencil can be the same as another brand’s 4H.
Drawing Pencil Grade Chart
Drawing Pencil FAQ
Do I need a pencil in each hardness?
Not at first. A good range for a beginner is 4B, 2B, B, 2H, 4H. If you’re more experienced and moving into fine art drawing, though, you’ll need a full range of leads to create different effects.
What do you think about the ultra small (.5 mm) leads for mechanical pencils?
I don’t use them. They don’t come in the full range of hardness and, more importantly, I use very sharp leads to create many of the textures in my drawings and these small leads are too blunt for that, and they’re too fragile to sharpen.
Graphite is shiny. Is there anyway to avoid that?
No, but there are a couple of things you can do to make it less of a problem. First of all, don’t squash the paper grain by hatching too hard. Instead, apply the graphite in layers. Use a sharp soft lead first, but don’t try to cover all of the paper in one pass. Then lightly go over that hatch with a sharply pointed harder lead. This will help you cover the paper evenly, which will give you a dark value without ruining the grain, and the grain will “interrupt” the shininess of the slick graphite making it less noticeable.
Finally, after a drawing is finished, spray it with a matte fixative. That cuts down on the shininess considerably and keeps the work from being inadvertently smeared. Any shininess left after fixing is usually only visible at certain angles so, if the drawing is hung on a wall, shininess is usually not visible at all. For the best possible presentation, fix your drawing, have it matted, and hang it out of direct sunlight.