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The best pencils for artists: Colouring, drawing and sketching

best pencils for artists: rows of coloured pencils
(Image credit: Helen Davies)
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The best pencils can do wonders to improve your artwork, and we've trawled the internet to find the very best out there. With thousands of different options to choose from, it can be hard to know how to choose the perfect pencil, but we've sought out a selection for a range of creative needs, from the best pencils for drawing to colouring, watercolour and pastels (use the quick links to jump to each section if you're looking for something in particular).

Whether you're a professional artist a keen hobbyist or just starting out, you should find something for you here, so read on to find the best pencils for artists and designers today. If you need a little inspiration for what to do when you have them, check out our essential guide to pencil drawing techniques, our pick of realistic pencil drawings and our roundup of tutorials on how to draw

Drawing

Best pencils for drawing and sketching

Best pencils: Three Palomino Blackwing pencilscb badge

01. Palomino Blackwing pencils

The best pencils for drawing overall

Reasons to buy
+Smooth to use+Velvety, dark marks+Quality materials+Long-lasting leads

Blackwing boasts a very impressive pedigree in the pencil world. It developed something of a cult following before being discontinued in 1998, but then, in 2010, Palomino bought the brand. The resulting pencils are more than worthy of the Blackwing name. 

There are three main Palomino Blackwing pencil options to choose from: the Blackwing (similar to a 5B), Blackwing Pearl (4B) and Blackwing 602 (3B). The leads have wax added to them, making them super-smooth to use, and they create velvety dark marks. We gave them five stars in our Palomino Blackwing pencils review. The price you see here is for a set of 12, and it's good value for such fine quality pencils, making these our best pencils for drawing overall.

Best pencils: Caran D'ache Graphite LineCB endorsed

02. Caran D'ache Graphite Line

The best pencils if you want to treat yourself

Reasons to buy
+Top-quality granite+Developed to perfection
Reasons to avoid
-Extremely expensive

No, that price isn't a mistake. And yes, it's the right picture. The Caran D'ache Graphite Line gift box really does contain fewer than 20 pencils, plus graphite sticks and accessories, at a price that could make even the most extravagant artist's eyes water, but what you're paying for here is absolute top-quality graphite. 

The Graphite Line range was developed and perfected in Caran d’Ache's Geneva workshops to explore different shades of black and to deliver thick and thin lines, gradation, flat-wash, blurring and watercolour effects. Yes, it's ludicrously expensive for a set of pencils, but we suspect that after you've tried it, you probably won't want to use anything else.

Best pencils: Lyra Rembrandt Art Design Graphite Pencil Set tinCB endorsed

03. Lyra Rembrandt Art Design

Great pencils for all your shading needs

Reasons to buy
+Covers 17 grades from 9B to 6H+Pure cedar wood+Suitable for technical drawing

For a much more economical option, this set of Lyra Rembrandt hexagonal design pencils is ideal if you're looking to hone your shading skills. The full Rembrandt Art Design set covers 17 grades from 9B to 6H, and this smaller selection features a good, representative sample with enough options for you to be able to get creative with your shading. The pencils are encased in pure cedar wood and boast an ultra-fine graphite lead that's also suitable for more rigid technical drawing techniques.

Best pencils: Derwent Graphic Medium pencils

04. Derwent Graphic Medium pencils

Exceptional pencils for sketching

Reasons to buy
+Available to buy individually+Smooth lines+Affordable

The Cumberland Pencil Company has been making some of the best pencils available since way back in 1832, and that experience comes through in the quality of its Derwent brand. The Derwent Graphic Medium pencils make smooth, easy lines on the paper, and they're ideal for bold line drawings as well as freestyle sketches. the pencils are sold individually and in sets, and you can choose the set that best suits your own artistic style.

Best pencils: Cretacolor charcoal powder

05. Cretacolor charcoal powder

A creative alternative to pencil shading

Reasons to buy
+Dense, rich pigment+Mix with water for tonal effects+Smudges and blends easily
Reasons to avoid
-Can be messy

Looking for a different option? If you're open to alternatives to using a pencil for sketching and illustration, you might want to consider experimenting with graphite powder. Cretacolor Charcoal Powder is made using a special deep-firing method to produce a dense, rich charcoal that creates luminous light and dark shades of grey. It slides easily, smudges, blends, and rubs off like chalk.

Fixative must be used on the final artwork and is suitable for wet or dry techniques on paper or canvas. It's well worth considering if you're looking to experiment with different techniques.

Colouring

Best pencils for colouring 

Best pencils for designers and artists: Derwent LightfastCB

(Image credit: Derwent)

01. Derwent Lightfast Pencils

The best pencils for colouring overall

Reasons to buy
+Flexible colour pigmentation+Intense colours+Layerable and buildable
Reasons to avoid
-Only bigger sets have true red or blue

The Derwent Lightfast range of coloured pencils launched in 2018 to great acclaim and the range was later expanded to include 48 and 72 box assortments. The first oil-based range of pencils from Derwent, it offers super-intense but flexible colours – how firmly you press makes a huge difference in how they show.

Derwent has also taken the lightfast element very seriously with these pencils, hence the name, and the colour remains lightfast in museum conditions for up to 100 years. The pencils layer and build up beautifully, and their maple casing looks and feels great.

Best pencils: Three coloured Derwent Procolour pencils with the edge of the tin behindCB endorsed

02. Derwent Procolour pencils

High levels of pigment make these pencils stand out

Reasons to buy
+Blend well+Sharpen nicely+Sturdy, round shaft

Another selection from the same reliable brand, the Derwent Procolour range came out in 2017. The pencils feel substantial, with a sturdy circular shaft, and the leads aren't too waxy or too brittle. They boast a high pigment level, which makes for wonderful colour gradation, even with a light touch. We gave them four and a half stars in our Derwent Procolour review.

best pencils: Conté

(Image credit: BIC Conté)

03. BIC Conté colouring pencils

One of the best budget colouring pencil sets

Reasons to buy
+Splinter-free+Smooth, even coverage+Very affordable
Reasons to avoid
-Lower colour intensity

For a much more economical option, the BIC Conté colouring pencils are a bargain. These high-quality coloured pencils are made of synthetic resin rather than wood, which means they're splinter-free if they break. They boast a 3.2mm pigment-based lead, which provides smooth, even and consistent coverage for artists of all types. The colour intensity might not be as strong as with the previous sets, but for this price, you can't go wrong with this colouring set.

Best pencils: Colourful tins of Prismacolor Premier coloured pencils

04. Prismacolor Premier coloured pencils

The best colouring pencils with thick leads to resist breakage

Reasons to buy
+Good entry-level set+Thick, soft cores+Good for blending

These Sanford Prismacolor Premier colored pencils are among the best pencils for colouring for students and entry-level artists. They have soft, thick cores, which lay down smooth colours for superior blending and shading. The thick leads are also very resistant to breakage, so you can really lean into them and get as dramatic as you dare.

The brilliant permanent pigments are smooth, water-resistant and lightfast. Colours can be easily blended on all art surfaces to form an infinite array of hues and shades. 

Mechanical

Best mechanical drawing pencils

Best pencils: Uni Kurutoga Pipe Slide pencilCB

(Image credit: Uni Kurutoga )

01. Uni Kurutoga Pipe Slide

The most advanced mechanical drawing pencil

Reasons to buy
+Consistent lines +Low risk of breakage +Nice looking

The design of mechanical pencils hasn’t seen a massive amount of progression in recent years, but Uniball Kurutoga Pipe Slideuses really does take a leap forward for pencil design with a technical innovation that makes a difference. It has a spring-loaded clutch that incrementally twists the graphite as you write. This means that the lead wears in a uniform way, so that it stays pointed and the beautifully thin line remains consistent throughout your drawing. The innovation also helps keep breakage to a minimum. It's a very reasonably priced pencil, too.

Best pencils: Pentel P200 pencilCB endorsed

(Image credit: Pentel)

02. Pentel 200

The best mechanical pencil for those on a budget

Reasons to buy
+Cheap+Nice feel+Good all-rounder

If you’re looking for a budget mechanical pencil that still offers great quality, this Pentel 200 pack of four is a great option. These low-priced pencils might not boast any clever features, but they're nice to hold and draw with and do the job just fine. With a plastic barrel, ribbed finger grip and removable metal pocket clip, these make good pencils for professional drafting, too.

Best pencils: Rotring Rapid Pro

03. Rotring Rapid Pro

The best mechanical pencil for pros

Reasons to buy
+Cushioned against breakage+Clip and eraser included+Cross-hatch grip

The beautiful Rotring Rapid Pro metal drafting pencil is without a doubt one of the best pencils for pros. It has a full metal hexagonal body designed to balance its weight and a circular cross-hatch metal grip. 

The cushion point mechanism allows the sliding sleeve to give slightly under pressure, reducing the risk of the lead breaking while you're writing. The pencil also has a clip and eraser under the cap. All in all, it's a brilliant mechanical pencil for designing layouts and typography.

Best pencils: Faber-Castell Grip 2011

04. Faber-Castell Grip 2011

Rubber dots give this pencil a superb grip

Reasons to buy
+Award-winning+Triangular barrel+Rubber dots aid grip

The Faber-Castell Grip 2011 mechanical pencil has won several design awards, and the accolades are well deserved. Drawing with this pencil feels extremely natural thanks to the perfectly sized triangular barrel. The raised rubber dots allow for a super firm but comfortable grip, which is ideal when it comes to making precise drawings. 

The pencil comes in several colours (there's also silver and black as well as the blue pictured above). It boasts a handy extra-long twisting eraser and a 0.7mm HB lead.

Watercolour

Best watercolour pencils

Best pencils: Staedtler Karat Aquarell watercolour pencilsCB

01. Staedtler Karat Aquarell watercolour pencils

The best watercolour pencils overall

Reasons to buy
+Break-resistant leads+Can be used dry or wet+High pigment content

Staedtler claims to have invented the colouring pencil, and this set shows that it certainly knows its stuff. The Staedtler Karat Aquarell watercolour pencils come in sets of 12, 24, 36 and 48 (the price above is for the 24-pencil tin). They have high-pigment, break-resistant leads and a quality wooden shaft that sharpens well. 

Of course, you can use them dry, but you can add water for extra fun. Staedtler is always a reliable brand, and this set is a great option for beginners or more advanced artists alike. We gave these five stars in our Staedtler watercolour pencil review.

Best pencils: Box of Albrecht Dürer watercolor pencils, with watercolour brushes and an artworkCB endorsed

02. Albrecht Dürer watercolour pencils

High-quality watercolour pencils with lasting fade resistance

Reasons to buy
+High-quality materials+Can be used dry or wet+Fade-resistant

This set of watercolour pencils from Faber Castell is named after the German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer. Boldly claiming to offer over 100 years of fade resistance, they're made from the highest quality materials, including vibrant pigments and a unique binder medium. 

A sound choice for any artist, these pencils are perfect for both drawing and painting techniques. They come in tins of 12, 24, 60, or a full range of 120. The price above is for the Albrecht Dürer set of 24.

Pastel

Best pastel pencils

Best pencils: Stabilo CarbOthello pastel pencilsCB

The best pastel pencils overall

Reasons to buy
+Charcoal-like stroke+Colourfast+Can be dry-mixed or blended
Reasons to avoid
-Not suited for complete beginners

These CarbOthello pastel pencils (yes, that is how it's spelt) offer the kind of quality we expect from Stabilo. The 24-piece set includes a decent spectrum of colours, and the pencils sharpen very well. They also offer a great range of colours for the price. 

Their dry stroke is perfect for blending, but the fun starts when you add water – and you can create some particularly interesting results by working in wet areas with dry pencils. This is a great mid-level set of pencils, but might be a little advanced for beginners. Read our full CarbOthello pastel pencils review for more details.

best pencils: KOH-I-NOOR Artist's Soft Pastel Pencils

(Image credit: KOH-I-NOOR)

02. KOH-I-NOOR Artist's Soft Pastel Pencils

Smooth, easy to use pastel pencils

Reasons to buy
+Smooth and easy to use+A good range of colours+Easy to sharpen
Reasons to avoid
-Slim-Cores can be inconsistent

For colour range and quality, this set of KOH-I-NOOR Artist's Soft Pastel Pencils is another highly recommended option for pastels. The Czech company's pencils are soft, silky smooth and easy to blend. With a 7.5-millimetre barrel and a core of just 4.2 millimetres, they're fairly slim, but they still have plenty of pigment, and they're easy to control and sharpen.

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Rosie Hilder

Rosie Hilder is the acting editor of Creative Bloq. Before joining the CB team in 2018, she worked on a range of print titles, including Time Out Buenos Aires, Computer Arts, 3D World, Paint & Draw and Mac|Life. Her interests lie in branding and illustration, tech and sexism, and plenty more in-between. This year, she was delighted to be invited to join the judging panel on the Brand Impact Awards.