The best mechanical pencils for drawing and writing in 2024

image of a person using a mechanical pencil on a piece of paper with a set square
(Image credit: Georgia Kuhn via Getty Images)

The best mechanical pencils for drawing and writing enable you to create art and handwritten gifts and cards with extra precision. With mechanical pencils, there's no need for a pencil sharpener. Instead the graphite (or 'lead') sits in a well inside the pencil. As it wears down, you can keep extending it simply by clicking a button. Then when it's all used up, you just insert a replacement.

Crucially, the pencil itself stays the same length, unlike wooden pencils which get shorter as you sharpen them (even with one of the best pencil sharpeners). And because replacement leads are cheap it saves you money over time, because you won't have to buy new pencils.

In this article, we've gathered together the best mechanical pencils on the market today, selected from a mixture of recommendations from artists as well as extensive internet research. We'll start with the best pencils for drawing, but if you're only interested in writing then skip ahead to the best mechanical pencils for writing

Meanwhile, to further build up your artist toolkit, don't miss our guides to the best pencils of all kinds, the best pens for artists, and for expressive work and special effects, the best watercolour pencils.

The best mechanical pencils for drawing

The best mechanical pencils for drawing, also called automatic or propelling pencils, allow you to create everything from quick sketches to technical drafting with clean, precise lines. For most types of drawing, a 0.5mm lead is best, but a thick 0.7mm lead can be better for shading, sketching and non-detailed work. For light, detailed marks, meanwhile, you might want to go in the opposite direction, and try an ultra-fine 0.3mm lead. 

Below you'll find best mechanical pencils for sketching and drawing. Once you've chosen yours, try our favourite pencil drawing techniques to make the most of it.

The best mechanical pencils for writing

If you're seeking the best mechanical pencils for writing, you'll find our top choices below. Each will allow you to produce clean, consistent handwriting that make your words look precise and measured. A 0.5mm thickness is generally best, unless you often press hard on the page and break your lead. In which case, a 0.7mm or even 0.9mm thickness might be better. 

Why trust Creative Bloq?

Creative Bloq is a team of art and design enthusiasts who are familiar with what it means to be a creative in today's climate. In order to select products for our buying guides we either test them ourselves, or rely on recommendations from our extensive creative network. We also trawl reputable sites for user reviews and use these to inform our recommendations. Our guides are regularly updated to ensure our recommendations are current. 

The best mechanical pencils: questions

How do mechanical pencils work?

With a normal pencil, once the graphite tip (commonly referred to as 'lead') has blunted, you need to sharpen it using a pencil sharpener. A mechanical pencil, in contrast, uses an internal spring to push the lead upwards into the barrel, when you press the button at the other end. When the lead has been fully used, you then simply insert a new replacement.

Why are mechanical pencils better than wooden pencils?

The main benefit of mechanical pencils is they don't need sharpening. This saves you a lot of hassle and mess. More importantly, it means mechanical pencils provide more consistent lines, enabling you to create more precise and accurate drawings, and neater handwriting. The fine lines also tend to be easier to erase. And of course, you don't have to carry a sharpener with you all the time. 

Why are mechanical pencils more expensive?

Mechanical pencils are generally more expensive than wooden ones, but bear in mind that the latter won't last very long. As long as you're happy to keep refilling the lead in a mechanical pencil, which doesn't cost very much at all, then it should last for years. So if you take the initial cost of a mechanical pencil, and divide that by the number of wooden pencils you'd probably go through over a similar time period, it starts to look like very good value indeed.

What are mechanical pencils used for?

Mechanical pencils are commonly used by professionals involved in technical drafting, such as engineers and architects. Many artists also prefer mechanical pencils, even for more expressive and imaginative work, because the size and weight of the lead remains consistent, whereas a wood pencil gets finer the more you sharpen it. Mechanical pencils are also favoured by anyone wishing to produce neat and elegant handwriting. If you're going to use a mechanical pencil for sketching, you might want to consider investing in one of the best sketchbooks.

Is a 0.5 or 0.7 pencil better?

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.

It's not just about size, though: also consider 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..

Why are mechanical pencils banned on SATs?

While mechanical pencils have numerous good qualities, the one disadvantage is that they are often banned for standardised tests. In particular, you must not use a mechanical pencil on the ACT or SAT tests in the United States. 

This is largely because the machines that automatically read these tests are believed to have difficulty picking up the marks made by mechanical pencils. Whether this is actually true or not (either now or in the past) is irrelevant: the ban stands, and so it's best not to put your score at risk. With any other paper-based tests, it's always best to check before the day of the test to make sure you don't fall foul of a similar ban. 

How do you refill a mechanical pencil?

Mechanical pencils generally have quite different designs, so it's not always obvious how to refill them with lead. Most of the time, it's just a matter of screwing the barrel at the end to remove it, inserting a new refill inside and then reassembling the pencil. 

However, if your mechanical pencil has an eraser on the end, just may have to remove the eraser and the refill chamber will be underneath it. Don't automatically assume this is the case, though! The eraser may be glued to the barrel, in which case you would use the first method. 

Thirdly, other mechanical pencil designs may have a cap at the end which you just pull to remove and the refill chamber will be underneath it. Finally, a fourth type of mechanical pencil is split into two, so you slide the entire back half out before refilling the lead.

If you're not sure which type of design your mechanical pencil has, then tug just at the cap/eraser/rear half gently at first to see if it comes out. If it doesn't, then see if anything unscrews with a gentle turning motion. Either way, don't force it, or you risk breaking your pencil!

Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects. 

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