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The best mechanical pencils for artists and designers

Best mechanical pencils
(Image credit: Getty Images)

There are loads of reasons for needing one of the best mechanical pencils – maybe you're a traditional artist looking for a different kind of pencil for your toolkit, a web designer searching for a super-precise pencil for sketching wireframes, or even any kind of creative looking for a neat way to take notes. Either way, a mechanical pencil could be the answer. 

Mechanical pencils have been around for years, and the best thing is – you never need to sharpen them because the graphite, or lead, is not attached to the outer casing like with a traditional wooden pencil. To use them, you simply insert your lead into the well, which is built into the pencil, then click to extend it as it wears down. 

In this guide you'll find our picks for the best mechanical pencils. You can also find an explainer on the benefits of mechanical pencils, which you can skip to here, and what to look for when choosing one; find that guide here.

Haven't decided if you're after a mechanical pencil or not? Take a look at our more general list of the best pencils around right now. If you'd rather get your hands inky, see our essential pens for artists roundup. Oh, and we also have a list of the best watercolour pencils money can buy, if you're curious about that medium.

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.

Best mechanical pencils: Uni Kurutoga Pipe Slidecb badge

(Image credit: Amazon)

01. Uni Kurutoga Pipe Slide 0.5mm

The best mechanical pencil for drawing overall

Weight: 18.1g | Dimensions: 19.2 x 10 x 1.6cm | Lead diameter: 0.5mm | Mechanism: Pipe slide

Special versions for Ghibli fans
0.7mm pencil rare outside Japan
Protective cap can come loose

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 Kurutoga 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.

Best mechanical pencils: Pentel best mechanical pencilscb badge

(Image credit: Pentel)

02. Pentel 200

The best cheap mechanical pencil

Weight: 10g | Dimensions: 0.89 x 14 x 0.89cm | Lead diameter: 0.5mm | Mechanism: Push-top button

Good all-rounder
Nothing exciting about it
Included eraser doesn't last long

You don't have to spend a lot of money to get one of the best mechanical pencils. There are some excellent models out there that are surprisingly cheap, and our favourite budget-friendly model has to be the Pentel 200. It's cheap enough that you don't have to worry if you lose it (or someone walks off with it), and a great option as a backup mechanical pencil, but good enough to be your main option if you want.

Best mechanical pencils: Rotring 800cb badge

(Image credit: Amazon)

03. Rotring 800

The best luxury mechanical pencil

Weight: 90.7g | Dimensions: 5.1 x 15.2 x 0.5cm | Lead diameter: 0.5mm | Mechanism: Twist and click

High-end engineering
Luxury feel
May be overkill for most purposes

We've established that you don't need to spend a fortune to get one of the best mechanical pencils for drawing. But if you do want to splash out, and buy something really special, 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 is a good bet.

Best mechanical pencils: Pentel Graphgear 500 Automatic Drafting Pencil

04. Pentel Graphgear 500 Automatic Drafting Pencil

The best mechanical pencil for technical drawing

Weight: 22.7g | Dimensions: 0.9 x 14.7 x 0.9cm | Lead diameter: 0.3, 0.5, 0.7 or 0.9mm | Mechanism: Button

Lightweight but functional
Wide range of lead diameters
0.3mm lead can be tricky to source
Included eraser not the best

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.

Best mechanical pencils: Lamy 200

(Image credit: Amazon)

05. LAMY 2000

The best mechanical pencil for writing overall

Weight: 18.1g | Dimensions: 1.2 x 1.2 x 13.7cm | Lead diameter: 0.5 or 0.7mm | Mechanism: Button

Produces smooth, beautiful lines
Highly durable
May be overkill for some purposes

If you want one of the best mechanical pencils for writing, then we 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 impressive; this is a pen that you can expect to last for years. 

Its makers 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 you get what you pay for. 

Best mechanical pencils: The Uni Kurutoga Roulette mechanical pencil

06. Uni Kurutoga Roulette

The best value mechanical pencil for writing

Weight: 13.6g | Dimensions: 0.99 x 14.62 x 1.29cm | Lead diameter: 0.7mm | Mechanism: Button

Low price
Included eraser is not great
Lighter weight than the LAMY 2000

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. 

Best mechanical pencils: The American Classic mechanical pencil

07. American Classic Mechanical Pencil 0.9mm

The most durable mechanical pencil for writing

Weight: 7.8g | Dimensions: 15.24 x 5.84 x 1.78cm | Lead diameter: 0.9mm | Mechanism: Button

Trusted brand
Super-tough lead
Included eraser not great

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.

Best mechanical pencils: Pentel Sharp Kerry Mechanical Pencil

(Image credit: Amazon)

08. Pentel Sharp Kerry Mechanical Pencil 0.5mm

The best mechanical pencil for professional writing

Weight: 9.07g | Dimensions: 1.9 x 3.2 x 15.2cm | Lead diameter: 0.5mm | Mechanism: Button

Precision engineering
Lead rarely breaks
Pencil cap doesn't fit perfectly

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.

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 produced are usually easier to erase. 

Finally, whether you’re using a pencil for writing or drawing (see our how to draw tutorials for some tips), 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.

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Tom May
Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specialising in art, design and travel. He has been editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. He has also worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, Heat, Company and Bella.