The best pencils for artists can help your work shine – and can help you work more comfortably too. There are thousands of different pencils out there, so it can be tricky to whittle down your options, but in the guide below, we compare the best pencils of different categories to help you choose.
Our reviewers have tested out the best pencils for a range of creative tasks, including the best pencils for drawing, watercolour, colouring and pastels (you can use the quick links to skip to your preferred option). We've aimed to include options for both professionals and hobbyists, evaluating each pencil on value as well as quality, performance and durability.
For inspiration, see our essential guide to pencil drawing techniques and our pick of the most realistic pencil drawings. And if you want to test our your new pencils, why not get one of the best colouring books or one of the best sketchbooks?
The best pencils for drawing and sketching
Best pencils for drawing
+ Smooth to use
+ Quality materials
Palomino Blackwing pencils 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. A pack of 12 also offers good value for such fine-quality pencils, making these our best pencils for drawing overall.
Best pencils for a gift
+ Exceptional quality
+ Range of effects
If you want to treat someone (or yourself), the Caran D'ache Graphite Line gift box is truly a thing of beauty. It's very pricy for 20 pencils, plus graphite sticks and accessories, but the quality is exceptional, having been refined to perfection. They deliver thick and thin lines, gradation, flat-wash, blurring and watercolour effects.
Best pencils for shading
+ 17 grades
+ Pure cedar wood
For a much more economical option, these hexagonal design pencils are ideal for honing shading skills. The full range covers 17 grades from 9B to 6H, but smaller selections feature a good, representative sample. These are encased in pure cedar wood and boast ultra-fine graphite lead suitable for more rigid technical drawing techniques.
The best pencils for colouring
Best pencils for colouring
+ Intense colours
+ Layerable and buildable
The first oil-based range of pencils from Derwent, these offer super-intense but flexible colours – how firmly you press makes a huge difference in how they show. Derwent has taken the lightfast element very seriously for colour that can stay for up to 100 years in museum conditions. The pencils layer beautifully, and their maple casing looks and feels great.
Best for pigment
+ Blend well
+ Sharpen nicely
Another selection from the same reliable brand, the 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 budget colouring pencils
+ Very affordable
We think these are the best pencils for colouring on a budget. They're made of synthetic resin rather than wood, so they're splinter-free if they break. A 3.2mm pigment-based lead provides smooth, even and consistent coverage for artists of all types, and you can get them in sets of 12 or 24. The colour intensity isn't as strong as more expensive sets, but they're great value.
The best mechanical drawing pencils
Best mechanical pencil overall
+ Consistent lines
+ Low risk of breakage
The design of mechanical pencils hasn’t seen a massive of progression in recent years, but Uniball Kurutoga Pipe Slide takes a leap forward with a spring-loaded clutch that incrementally twists the graphite as you write. This means the lead wears in a uniform way, staying pointed so that the beautifully thin line remains consistent.
Best budget mechanical pencil
+ Great price
+ Good all-rounder
We think this is the best pencil for those that want a budget mechanical option. They might not boast any clever features, but they're nice to hold and draw with, and a pack of four is great value. With a plastic barrel, ribbed finger grip and removable metal pocket clip, these make good pencils for professional drafting, too.
The best mechanical pencil for pros
+ Clip and eraser included
+ Cross-hatch grip
This beautiful 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.
The best watercolour pencils
Best watercolour pencils overall
+ Can be used dry or wet
+ High pigment content
Coming in sets of 12, 24, 36 and 48, these are our pick of the best pencils for watercolour work. 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. We gave these five stars in our Staedtler watercolour pencil review.
Best pencils for fade resistance
+ High-quality materials
+ Can be used dry or wet
These excellent watercolour pencils boldly claim to offer over 100 years of fade resistance, and they're made from the highest quality materials, including vibrant pigments and a unique binder medium. They're perfect for both drawing and painting techniques and come in tins from 12 to 120.
Best pencils for large canvases
+ Soft laydown
+ Brush included
- Limited range
If you want to work on a large canvas, these bigger, chunkier vibrant pencils from the same brand may be the best pencils for you. The 5.3mm leads allow large areas to be covered quickly and easily, and their size and shape is easier on the wrist too. They come in tins of 12 or 24, and they come with a 10mm paintbrush.
The best pastel pencils
Best for professionals
Lightfastness: nearly all
These are pricy, but they're richly pigmented and almost all 84 have high lightfastness ratings. The texture is smooth as it goes down, and it leaves dense colour. They feel harder than a soft pastel, and the core is quite thick. The hexagonal barrel is a perk, and the wood is smooth and easy to cut with a blade.
Best for details
Best for details
Lightfastness: most pencils
These pencils have a smooth, chalky feel more on the firmer side, which makes them easy to sharpen to a good point, and they keep a point. This makes them one of the best pencils among pastels for fine lines. Colour intensity is fantastic, going down densely. They tend not to blend so easily as other pastels, though they transfer well.
Best soft pastels
Lightfastness: most pencils
Koh-I-Noor’s are among the softest pastel pencils our reviewers have used. They're bright and blend readily, though there is some loss of intensity when blending. For the price, the colour is surprisingly intense and most are lightfast. The casing is good quality and easy to sharpen. We found these to be suitable for beginners and professionals alike.
If you're looking for more options, also see our dedicated guide to the best coloured pencils.