Whether you're creating a rough draft of an illustration, learning how to draw, or sketching out a mockup before hitting the wireframe tools, you'll need to know what the best pencils are to get your work looking great. Fortunately, a solid, reliable set of pencils is not the most expensive item in the designer's toolkit, so you can afford to try out a few different brands.
Here we've gathered together our selection of top pencils to get you started – then why not pair up your choice with one of these designer notebooks to die for?
The best pencils for illustration and sketching
01. Palomino Blackwing pencils
Palmonio's range more than lives up to the Blackwing brand name.
In the pencil world, Blackwing has an impressive pedigree. It developed something of a cult following before being discontinued in 1998. In 2010, Palomino bought the brand, and the result is more than worthy of the Blackwing name. There are three main 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 create velvety dark marks. We gave them five stars – you can read our Palomino Blackwing pencils review here.
02. Caran D'ache Graphite Line gift box
The Bugatti Veyron of pencils.
No, you haven't misread that price. And yes, that's the correct picture. The Caran D'ache Graphite Line gift box really does come with fewer than 20 pencils, plus graphite sticks and accessories, at a price that would make even Jeff Bezos blink, but what you're paying for here is top-quality graphite.
The Graphite Line has been carefully developed and perfected in the Geneva workshops of Caran d’Ache to explore all the different shades of black and deliver thick and thin lines, gradation, flat-wash, blurring and watercolour effects. It's an insanely expensive set of pencil, but we suspect that once you've tried it, you won't want to use anything else.
03. Lyra Rembrandt Art Design Graphite Pencil Set
This little set's good for all your shading needs.
For a much more reasonable price, this set of hexagonal design pencils from Lyra is the ideal way to unleash your shading skills. The full Rembrandt Art Design set covers 17 grades from 9B to 6H, and this box features a good, representative sample, enabling you to really get creative with your shading.
Each pencil is encased in pure cedar wood and packs an ultra-fine graphite lead that's also suitable for more rigid technical drawing techniques.
04. Rotring Rapid Pro Drafting Pencil
This drafting pencil is firmly for the pros.
This beautiful metal drafting pencil is truly one of the best pencils for pros. It features a hexagonal body and a circular cross-hatch metal grip.
The cushion point mechanism allows the sliding sleeve to give slightly under pressure to reduce lead breakage while writing. The pencil includes a clip and eraser under the cap. It's a fantastic mechanical pencil suited for layouts and typography.
05. Faber-Castell Grip 2011 Pencil
Raised rubber dots give superb grip and precision.
The Faber-Castell Grip Mechanical Pencil has won several design awards and has become deservedly popular. This wonderful pencil feels second-nature thanks to the perfect-sized triangular barrel covered in raised rubber dots, which allow for a firm and comfortable grip.
Furthermore, the pencil comes with a handy extra-long twisting eraser and 0.7mm HB lead.
06. Derwent Graphic Medium pencils
Derwent makes the best pencils for sketching.
The Cumberland Pencil Company has been making some of the best pencils around since 1832, and it shows in the quality of its Derwent brand.
These pencils, which are sold individually and in sets, make smooth, easy lines on the paper, making them ideal for bold line drawings and freestyle sketches.
The best pencils for colouring
01. Derwent Procolour Pencils
High levels of pigment help these pencils stand out.
Derwent is well known for making good quality, reliable pencils. Procolour is its latest range of colouring pencils, released in 2017. The pencils themselves feel substantial, with a sturdy circular shaft.
The leads aren't too waxy or too brittle and have a high pigment level for wonderful gradation of colour, even with a light touch. We gave them four and a half stars in our Derwent Procolour review.
02. Staedtler Karat Aquarell watercolour pencils
Five-star watercolour pencils.
Staedtler claims to have invented the colouring pencil, so it should know a thing or two. These watercolour pencils come in sets of 12, 24, 36 and 48, they have high-pigment, break-resistant leads and a good quality wooden shaft that sharpens well. Of course you can use them dry, or add water for extra fun.
These are a reliable brand and a great option for beginners or more advanced artists. We gave these five stars in our Staedtler watercolour pencil review.
03. BIC Conté colouring pencils
If colour is your thing, you can't go wrong with this budget set.
If colour is your thing, you can't go wrong with this beautiful set of colouring pencils from BIC Conté. These high-quality art instruments have a wood-free, synthetic resin design, which make them completely splinter-free should they break.
But this is definitely not a case of style over substance, as these pencils also boast a 3.2mm pigment-based lead, providing smooth, even and consistent coverage for artists of any age.
04. Albrecht Dürer watercolor pencils
Albrecht Dürer pencils are made using high-quality materials.
This set is named after the famous German artist Albrecht Dürer. These are very carefully made using only the highest quality materials, including vibrant pigments and a unique binder medium, and they offer over 100 years of fade resistance.
These pencils are perfect for both drawing and painting techniques. They come in tins of 12, 24, 60, and a full range of 120 watercolour pencils, and are ideal for any artist.
05. Prismacolor Premier coloured pencils
Thick leads resist breakage so you can really go for it.
This pencil set is suited for students and entry-level artists. Soft, thick cores create a smooth colour laydown for superior blending and shading. The pencils are a true art medium with thick, soft leads containing brilliant permanent pigments that are smooth, water-resistant and lightfast.
Colours are easily blended on all art surfaces to form an infinite variety of hues and shades. Their thick leads resist breakage so you may get as dramatic as you dare.
06. Cretacolor Charcoal Powder
A creative alternative to the trusty pencil.
As an alternative to using a pencil for sketching and illustration, have you considered using graphite powder? The Cretacolor Charcoal Powder is made using a special deep-firing method to produce a dense, rich charcoal. Develop large-scale drawings or mix with water and a binding agent for additional tonal effects.
The graphite powder produces 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. Artist Kelvin Okafor is an avid user of the product, and his portfolio of drawings is spectacular.