In this article, we're going to walk through the best mechanical pencils available right now. We'll start by explaining exactly what a mechanical pencil is and what to look for when choosing one, before running through our picks for the best mechanical pencils for drawing and for writing. Not sure if you're after a mechanical pencil or not? Take a look at our more general list of the best pencils around right now.
Whether you're a traditional artist looking for different type of pencil for your toolkit, a web designer looking for a precise pencil for sketching wireframes, or any kind of creative seeking a neat way to take notes, a mechanical pencil could be the answer.
Mechanical pencils have been around for years, and there are many models that cater specifically to artists and designers who will be holding them all day. For those of you not in the know, a mechanical pencil is one you don’t have to sharpen. That's because the graphite, or lead, is not bonded to the outer casing, as in a traditional wooden pencil. Instead, you pop your lead into a well built into the pencil, and click to extend it as you wear it down.
Want to get started? See our essential pencil drawing techniques.
Benefits of mechanical pencils
When the lead runs out on a mechanical pencil, you just insert a new one. This not only saves you a lot of hassle and mess, it also means mechanical pencils can provide more consistent lines, enabling you to create more precise drawings and neater handwritten notes. That makes them the obvious choice for technical draftsmanship, of course, but that’s not all they're good for.
Many artists prefer using a mechanical pencil even for more expressive and imaginative work, because a mechanical pencil's size and weight remains consistent, whereas a wood pencil gets finer the more you sharpen it. The finer lines lines produced are usually easier to erase.
Finally, whether you’re using a pencil for writing or drawing, mechanical pencils are typically more cost-effective in the long run, because you only need to replace the lead once it has run out, not the whole pencil. And it's also convenient not to have to tout around a sharpener with you at all times.
How to choose the best mechanical pencil
There is a wide range of options on the market, and so there are certain things to consider when choosing the best mechanical pencil for you.
The first is the diameter of the lead you wish to use. If you wish to draw very fine lines, you’ll want to go for a 0.3mm lead. For writing and most drawing, you’ll probably prefer a 0.5mm lead. A thicker, 0.7mm lead, meanwhile, may be better for sketching and non-detailed drawing. Other sizes are also available for specialist uses.
Another consideration is the hardness of the lead. A soft lead will be darker and more prone to smudging, while a hard lead is better for leaving light, fine lines. Softness is represented by a number followed by ‘B’; the higher the number, the softer the lead. Hardness is represented by a number followed by ‘H’; the higher the number, the harder the lead. Finally, ‘F’ and ‘HB’ leads lie in the middle.
Also think about the mechanism used to extend the lead. The three most common mechanisms are a push-button, which may be on the side or the top of the pencil; a twist operation, which is more often seen in older models; and a 'shake' advance.
Weight is also important, as is grip: some pencils have special features, such as a bumpy texture, to improve this and make your mechanical pencil more ergonomic.
Mechanical pencils for drawing
The best mechanical pencils for drawing
Whether you use them for quick sketches, technical draftsmanship or completed artworks, mechanical pencils have a lot to offer. Here we present our pick of the best mechanical pencils for drawing purposes. While you're here, you might also want to check out our top pencil drawing techniques, to help you make the most of your purchase.
Our pick for the best mechanical pencil for drawing overall is the Uni Kurutoga Pipe Slide. There's one big difference that sets this pencil apart from its rivals: when you use a regular mechanical pencil, the lead wears down on one side, forming a slanted, wedge-shaped tip. This can potentially cause variations in line thickness as you draw. The Kura Toga avoids this through a clever mechanism that continually rotates the pencil lead as you write.
A spring-loaded clutch twists the lead a tiny degree every time you lift the pencil from the paper, and this allows for a uniform wearing of the lead, and cleaner and more consistent lines as a result.
Cartoonist and designer Jason Li is among the Kurutoga's many fans. "It's been my mechanical pencil of choice for several years running," he enthuses. "I use it for drawing, sketching things out, and taking notes. I love the mechanism that sharpens the lead as it turns, the (emergency) eraser hidden under its case."
You don't have to spend a lot of money to get a good mechanical pencil. There are some excellent models out there that are surprisingly cheap, and our favourite budget-friendly model has to be the Pentel 200. Cheap enough that you don't have to worry if you lose it (or someone walks off with it), these are a great option as a backup mechanical pencil, but good enough to be your main option if you want.
"The Pentel 200 is a good, solid choice," says freelance illustrator Simon Whittaker, who tends to use them for general sketching. "It's only a couple of quid, they last ages, and they're really nice to hold and draw with. They're like the Jotter of mechanical pencils; a good all-rounder."
Art director and animation concept artist Izzy Burton is also a Pentel fan; she favours the 0.7mm version. The brand originally came to her attention on social media. "I saw a lot of artists on Instagram using Pentel for their drawings and they all recommended it in their FAQs," she recalls. "I use it for precise and finished work, or work that’s on a small scale."
We've established that you don't need to spend a fortune to get a decent mechanical pen for drawing. But what if you want to splash out, and buy something really special? In this case, we'd highly recommend the Rotring 800. This top-of-the-range model is infused with high-quality engineering and aimed at serious artists or draughtsmen.
With a good weight (almost 91g), the metal body feels solid in the hand. And the non-slip metal grip 'twist and click' retractable mechanism means it's very easy and comfortable to use, even over lengthy sessions. Its hexagonal shape also makes it less likely to slide off your desk, or even a slanted surface. In short, if you're working on something special, working for long periods, looking for a gift, or just want a pencil that's super-nice to use, the Rotring 800 ticks our boxes.
Featuring a 4mm fixed sleeve for template work and technical drawings, the Pentel Graphgear 500 is the perfect pencil for technical drawing. With its metallic-mesh grip and a barrel weighted at your fingertips, it's designed to help you draw precisely and stay in full control of the line.
It works with a variety of lead thicknesses, and there's also a built-in lead hardness indicator to help you identify your lead type quickly and easily. The weight feels good in the hand, and it's light enough to make it comfortable to use over long sessions. In short, this is the best mechanical pencil for drafting and precision work, and it comes at a very affordable price.
Mechanical pencils for writing
The best mechanical pencils for writing
If you primarily want to use your mechanical pencil for writing, then among your main considerations will be comfort; no one wants an aching hand after a long stretch of writing. But as with drawing, you'll also want your writing to look nice, and that demands a pencil that can produce clean, consistent lines. Here are the four best mechanical pencils for writing.
If you want a mechanical pencil for writing, then we would recommend the LAMY 2000. Based on the well-known fountain pen of the same name, designed by Gerd A. Müller in 1996, this is nothing less than a modern classic. It's light enough to be flexible, but solid enough to feel dependable. It's comfortable to hold and use, and produces smooth, consistent handwriting. And its build quality is also noticeably impressive; this is a pen that you can expect to last for years.
Its makers instead focused on doing one thing, and doing it well. The LAMY 2000 is, in short, a delightful pen to use for writing, as well as being supremely reliable and durable. And while it might cost a bit more than rivals, it's certainly a case of getting what you pay for.
The Uni Kurutoga Roulette comes in at a surprisingly low price given its high quality, making it the best value mechanical pencil we've found for writing. This pencil is comfortable to hold, with a nicely balanced weight and a knurled metal fingerplate for better grip. Its clever design, matching that of the Uni Kurutoga Pipe Slide (our number one mechanical pencil for drawing, above), means that it sharpens the lead as you write. As with its sibling, that means you get a super-even stroke width that helps make your handwriting neat, polished and attractive.
This model from American Classic is a little pricey. But if you want a mechanical pencil for writing you can truly rely on, this has a lot to recommend it. Popular for decades amongst the armed forces and public institutions of the US, the American has a strong reputation for its reliability, durability and clean lines. The thick 0.9mm lead is also super-tough and rarely breaks. So long as you take proper care of it, this should last a lifetime, which puts the slightly higher cost into perspective.
Handcrafted using watchmakers' tools for precision, beauty and accuracy, the Pentel Sharp Kerry Mechanical Pencil 0.5mm is another quite pricey, but very high-end mechanical pencil. The tip of the pencil is solid and well-made, which means that breakage of the lead is a rare occurrence. The removable cap makes it super-portable. This mechanical pencil has been in production for many years now, for one good reason: its impressive consistency and quality. That makes it an excellent choice for anyone wishing to produce professional looking writing.