What are the Best Pencils for Drawing? 

Pencil: The Fundamental Tool in Art

Pencils are something that every artist has (or at least should have) in their collection. They are a fundamental tool in art, perfect for preliminary sketches and planning due to the handy erasable feature. However, they are not only an instrument used for first sketches, as they also have a certain classic quality that makes for a charming central medium for any project. A trusty and reliable pencil is something that every artist should have, but nowadays, pencils come in such a wide ride range of grades, styles, and designs it can be difficult to find the right fit for you. From mechanical to traditional, graphite grades ranging from 9B to 9H and even a vast variation in cost, it can certainly be an overwhelming choice to make. So, with so many factors to look at, we come bearing a helping hand with a few things to consider when searching for the perfect pencil.

The Traditional Pencil

The most classic, and a style that we are likely all familiar with, is the traditional graphite pencil. This will commonly have a solid graphite core that is encased in a wooden barrel and requires sharpening to attain the tapered point for detailed work. The great thing about these pencils is that, although you do have to sharpen them, you can create a very fine point as desired with a pencil sharpener. These pencils also come in the widest range of grades which is fantastic for a sketching artist needing to bring depth, texture, and shading to a drawing. For sketching, a range of pencil grades can be essential in your work. If you are not familiar, pencil grades are an indication that tells you how light/hard or dark/soft a pencil is. Traditional graphite pencils will often be marked with a number and the letter H or B (H representing hardness and B representing blackness). Harder pencils produce lighter marks as less of the graphite is released when pressure is applied, thus softer pencils will create darker marks as more of the material is released. Pencils are graded in the following order: 9H, 8H, 7H, 6H, 5H, 4H, 3H, 2H, H, F, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B, 7B, 8B, 9B, however, most sketching artists will ensure they have at least a set from 2H to 6B as these grades allow you to achieve most of the techniques you will need for your drawings.

Mechanical and Clutch Pencil

As an alternative to the traditional pencil, Mechanical and clutch pencils are fast-growing contenders amongst artists. There is no sharpening required for these pencils as they come with a replaceable solid pigment core. This core (often made of graphite) is not bonded to the outer casing and can be mechanically extended as it is being used. These pencils come in a range of lead sizes and do have a variety of grades (though less extensive than the traditional pencil range) and many artists prefer them as they are refillable and therefore create less waste; they will always create a consistent line width as the lead will always remain the same size and because of the plastic or metal casing, these pencils are often much more durable than a traditional option. 

Traditional vs Alternative Pencil

However, there are a few things to think about with both of these pencil styles. For the mechanical pencil, whilst the casing is far more durable, the lead is not and can be subject to breaking (particularly the finer leads) as the lead itself is completely exposed when in use. In addition, you will be required to keep a selection of spare leads on hand to ensure you can continue your work without interruption. On the other side, a common complaint of the traditional pencil is that they can be very brittle, as these pencils are often made from softwood that does not effectively protect the internal core. This causes the lead to snap inside the pencil and results in issues every time you sharpen it. They can also get warped due to temperature or humidity changes and they have a much shorter lifespan as they will need to be continually sharpened which means you will ultimately end up with a small piece of wasted graphite that is too small to use by the end of its life. It’s also worth noting that mechanical and clutch pencils are generally more expensive than traditional pencils (often more than double the price), though also keep in mind that a mechanical pencil will last a lifetime (if you look after it well) whereas a traditional pencil has a relatively short shelf life, depending on how much you use it.

Final Thoughts: What's Best for You?

Both of these pencil types are highly esteemed in the art world, but ultimately your preference will need to come first, depending on the work you are performing and the style of your drawing. For artistic and sketching needs, a wooden graphite pencil is a prevailing option as these pencils will offer a much wider graphite selection according to the needs of your artwork. However, a mechanical pencil is often preferred for a technical creator or an artist working in paint, marker, or multi-medium projects, as it is so very convenient and easy to use. So next time you reach for a pencil, be sure to consider which style meets your needs the best.