The best mechanical pencils allows you to make marks with much greater precision than with ordinary wooden ones. That's because you will have a consistently sharp point. So whether you're writing, drawing, sketching or drafting technical diagrams, your work will look cleaner, smarter and more accurate.
With mechanical pencils, there's no need for a pencil sharpener. Instead the graphite (what's commonly known as the '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.
This means the best mechanical pencils (also called automatic pencils or propelling pencils) make it easy to produce even, consistent lines. And crucially, the pencil itself stays the same length, unlike wooden pencils which get shorter as you sharpen them. And because replacement leads are cheap it saves you money over time, because you won't have to buy new pencils.
That's why mechanical pencils are popular with artists, illustrators, designers, architects and engineers, or indeed anyone wanting to write neatly and clearly in graphite. But which are the best ones to buy?
In this article, we've gathered together the best mechanical pencils on the market today. 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: drawing
The best mechanical pencils for drawing 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 all types of drawing. Once you've chosen yours, try our favourite pencil drawing techniques to make the most of it.
Overall, mechanical pencils produce cleaner, more precise lines than wooden ones. But some do a better job than others. On many mechanical pencils, the lead wears down on one side, forming a slanted, wedge-shaped tip, which can potentially cause variations in line thickness. The Kurutoga Pipe Slide from Japanese brand Uni, however, sidesteps this problem with 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. That essentially makes it self-sharpening. This clever design makes this our pick as the best mechanical pencil for drawing.
Looking for a decent mechanical pencil, but short on funds? Then here's our top recommendation. The Pentel 200 is a quality pencil that's expertly engineered for drawing, drafting or writing, but it doesn't cost much at all.
Pentel's top-selling automatic mechanical pencil, each one comes with Super Hi Polymer HB leads and an eraser. The set covers a range of lead thicknesses from 0.3mm to 0.9mm. And the fact that you're getting four pencils for such a low price represents fantastic value. A good all-rounder, this will do fine as a main pencil for most people.
If you mainly use a pencil for sketching, rather than finished work, then check out the Rotring 800. This high-quality pencil gives you precise, consistent lines and has a luxurious feel that makes it perfect for artists and illustrators filling up their sketchbooks.
Weighing 91g, it's nice and solid, and feels comfortable in the hand, even for lengthy sessions. Its non-slip metal grip 'twist and click' retractable mechanism makes it easy to use, and its hexagonal shape makes it less likely to slide off your desk.
It comes in two lead thicknesses, 0.5mm and 0.7mm; the latter is great for shading while the former is a good choice for those lighter, more detailed marks. It's on the pricey side, but on balance the superior craftsmanship behind it makes it worth the extra outlay.
One of the most obvious reasons to invest in the best mechanical pencils is for precise drafting. So whether you work in architecture, engineering, or any other role that requires drafting, we recommned the Pentel Graphgear 500.
Its weight feels good in the hand, and it's light enough to be comfortable over long sessions. As you'd expect, it's lovely and accurate too. With a 4mm fixed sleeve, metallic-mesh grip and a barrel weighted at your fingertips, this pencil is 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 a built-in lead hardness indicator to help you identify your lead type quickly.
The best mechanical pencils: 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.
We'll start with our number one choice when it comes to mechancial pencils for writing. Based on the well-known fountain pen designed by Gerd A. Müller, the LAMY 2000 is a true modern classic.
It's comfortable to hold and use, and it produces smooth, consistent handwriting. Its weight of 18.1g, meanwhile, strikes the perfect balance between being light enough to write with, but solid enough to feel sturdy. Reliable and durable, this is a pencil you expect to last for years. So while it might cost a bit more than a normal pencil, you will get excellent value over time.
Looking for a bargain? If you want a quality pencil for writing, but can't stretch to the high price of the LAMY 2000, check out the Uni Kurutoga Roulette, which offer truly excellent value.
Its sophisticated design, matching that of the Uni Kurutoga Pipe Slide (our number one mechanical pencil for drawing, above), means that it sharpens the lead consistently as you write. This gives you an even stroke width that keeps your handwriting effortlessly neat and polished. This pencil is also very comfortable to hold, with a nicely balanced weight and a knurled metal fingerplate for better grip.
If you want a pencil for writing professionally, the Pentel Sharp Kerry Mechanical Pencil 0.5mm offers top quality craftsmanship without breaking the bank. This pencil is handcrafted using watchmakers' tools for precision, beauty and accuracy. And it has a solid tip that means you'll very rarely, if ever, break the lead. Plus the removable cap makes it nice and portable. As well as using it yourself, this mechanical pencil would also make a great gift.
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.
Which mechanical pencil is best for drawing?
The best mechanical pencil for drawing today is the Uni Kurutoga Pipe Slide (opens in new tab). That's because it has a clever mechanism that continually rotates the pencil lead as you write. This allows for a uniform wearing of the lead, and cleaner and more consistent lines. The lead is difficult to break, too, saving you stress and reducing the chances that your drawing will be smudged with graphic dust.
Which mechanical pencil is best for writing?
The best mechanical pencil for writing today is the LAMY 2000 (opens in new tab). Based on the well-known fountain pen of the same name, it's a light enough to be flexible, but solid enough to feel dependable, and durable enough to last for several years at the very least. And it provides beautifully smooth and precise lines, perfect for anyone whose handwriting needs to be neat and legible.
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.
Which mechanical pencil is best for sketching?
The best mechanical pencil for sketching is the Rotring 800 (opens in new tab). With its high-quality engineering, this model offers a precise instrument and a luxury feel that befits daily use in a professional capacity. The non-slip metal grip 'twist and click' retractable mechanism makes it very easy and comfortable to use, even for lengthy sessions. And the hexagonal shape makes it less likely to slide off your desk, or even a slanted surface.
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!
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