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The best pencils for colouring, drawing and sketching

person holding one of the best pencils
(Image credit: Neven Krcmarek on Unsplash)

The best pencils can work wonders for improving your artwork. But with so many to choose from, it can be tricky to know where to start, so we've done the hard work for you. Whether you're a total beginner, a professional artist, or somewhere in between, you should find what you're looking for on this best pencils list.

We've divided everything into clear categories, including mechanical pencils, drawing pencils, colouring pencils and watercolour pencils, and added options that will suit a range of budgets. 

So read on to discover the best pencils for artists and designers available today. And if you need a little inspiration for what to do with them, don't miss our essential pencil drawing techniques, our pick of the best pencil drawings, or our round-up of tutorials to teach you how to draw.

Mechanical pencils

The best mechanical pencils for drawing

Best pencils: Uni Kurutoga Pipe Slide pencil

(Image credit: Uni Kurutoga )

01. Uni Kurutoga Pipe Slide

A great leap forward for pencil design

Consistent lines 
Low risk of breakage 
Nice looking

Pencil technology hasn’t progressed super-quickly over the years, but here’s an example of a technical innovation that really does make a difference to the user. Uniball Kurutoga uses a spring-loaded clutch to incrementally twist the graphite as you write, creating a uniform wearing of the lead so that it stays pointed. This means you get a beautifully thin line that remains consistent throughout your drawing, and breakage is kept to a minimum. 

Best pencils: Pentel P200 pencil

(Image credit: Pentel)

02. Pentel 200

The best mechanical pencil for those on a budget

Nice feel
Good all-rounder

If you’re looking for a cheap mechanical pencil that still delivers a high-quality experience, we’d recommend the Pentel 200. These low-priced pencils might not have any clever features, but they do the job handsomely, and are really nice to hold and draw with. With a plastic barrel, ribbed finger grip and removable metal pocket clip, these are the best pencils for professional drafting purposes.

Best pencils: Rotring Rapid Pro

03. Rotring Rapid Pro

This mechanical pencil is firmly for the pros

Cushioned against breakage
Clip and eraser included
Cross-hatch grip

This beautiful Rotring Rapid Pro metal drafting pencil is truly one of the best pencils for pros. It features a hexagonal body and a circular cross-hatch metal grip, as well as a full metal body designed to balance the weight. The cushion point mechanism allows the sliding sleeve to give slightly under pressure, reducing the risk of lead breakage while writing. The pencil also includes a clip and eraser under the cap. It's a fantastic mechanical pencil for designing layouts and typography.

Best pencils: Faber-Castell Grip 2011

04. Faber-Castell Grip 2011

Rubber dots give superb grip on this mechanical pencil

Triangular barrel
Rubber dots aid grip

The Faber-Castell Grip 2011 mechanical pencil has won several design awards and its popularity is well deserved. Drawing with this wonderful mechanical pencil comes second nature thanks to a perfectly sized triangular barrel. The raised rubber dots allow for a firm and comfortable grip, ideal for precise drawings. This pencil comes in a range of different colours (as well as the blue shown above, there's silver and black available), all with a handy extra-long twisting eraser and 0.7mm HB lead.

Pencils for drawing

The best pencils for drawing and sketching

Best pencils: Three Palomino Blackwing pencils

05. Palomino Blackwing pencils

Palmonio's range more than lives up to the Blackwing brand name

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

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. The price you see here is for a set of 12, which is not bad value at all for such good quality kit.

Best pencils: Caran D'ache Graphite Line

06. Caran D'ache Graphite Line

The Bugatti Veyron of pencils

Top-quality granite
Developed to perfection
Ridiculously expensive

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 range 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 pencils, but we suspect that once you've tried it, you won't want to use anything else.

Best pencils: Lyra Rembrandt Art Design Graphite Pencil Set tin

07. Lyra Rembrandt Art Design

This graphite pencil set's good for all your shading needs

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

For a much more reasonable price, this set of hexagonal design pencils from Lyra's Rembrandt range 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.

Best pencils: Derwent Graphic Medium pencils

08. Derwent Graphic Medium pencils

Derwent makes the best pencils for sketching

Available to buy individually
Smooth lines

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. They're ideal for bold line drawings as well as freestyle sketches, and you can select the set that suits your artistic style.

Best pencils: Cretacolor charcoal powder

09. Cretacolor charcoal powder

A creative alternative to the trusty pencil

Dense, rich pigment
Mix with water for tonal effects
Smudges and blends easily

As an alternative to using a pencil for sketching and illustration, have you considered experimenting with graphite powder? Cretacolor's powder is made using a special deep-firing method to produce a dense, rich charcoal. 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. For some inspiration on how to use this medium, take a look at artist Kelvin Okafor's spectacular portfolio of drawings.

Colouring pencils

The best pencils for colouring

Best pencils for designers and artists: Derwent Lightfast

(Image credit: Derwent)

10. Derwent Lightfast Pencils

Derwent's first oil-based colouring pencil.

Flexible colour pigmentation
Intense colours
Layerable and buildable
You'll need one of the bigger sets to get a true red or blue

Derwent released its Lightfast range of coloured pencils in 2018 to great applause. And in July 2019, the range expanded to include the 48 and 72 box assortments. The first oil-based pencil in the Derwent range, the colours are super-intense but flexible – how firmly you press makes a huge difference. They are also beautifully layerable and buildable. Plus the maple casing feels and looks great. 

Derwent aimed to take the lightfast element of the pencil extremely seriously (as you can tell by the name), and the pencils don't disappoint. The colour is lightfast in museum conditions for up to 100 years. 

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

11. Derwent Procolour pencils

High levels of pigment help these pencils stand out.

Blend well
Sharpen nicely
Sturdy, round shaft

Derwent is well known for making good quality, reliable pencils. Procolour is the range of pencils that were 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.

Best pencils: Tin of BIC Conté colouring pencils

12. BIC Conté colouring pencils

If colour is your thing, you can't go wrong with this budget set

Smooth, even coverage
Very affordable

If colour is your thing, you can't go wrong with this beautiful set of colouring pencils from BIC Conté. These high-quality coloured pencils are made of synthetic resin rather than wood, which makes 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 all types.

Best pencils: Colourful tins of Prismacolor Premier coloured pencils

13. Prismacolor Premier coloured pencils

Thick leads resist breakage so you can really go for it

Good entry-level set
Thick, soft cores
Good for blending

These are the best coloured pencils for students and entry-level artists. Soft, thick cores create a smooth colour laydown for superior blending and shading. The Sanford Prismacolor Premier 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 can be as dramatic as you dare.

Watercolour pencils

The best watercolour pencils

Best pencils: Staedtler Karat Aquarell watercolour pencils

14. Staedtler Karat Aquarell watercolour pencils

Five-star watercolour pencils

Break-resistant leads
Can be used dry or wet
High pigment content

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 (the price here is for the 24 tin), 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. Staedtler is reliable brand and this is a great option for beginners or more advanced artists. We gave these five stars in our Staedtler watercolour pencil review; the best pencils of their kind around.

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

15. Albrecht Dürer watercolor pencils

Albrecht Dürer pencils are made using high-quality materials

High-quality materials
Can be used dry or wet

This set of watercolour pencils 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 boldly claim to 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 a solid choice for any artist.

Pastel pencils

Best pencils: Stabilo CarbOthello pastel pencils

16. Stabilo CarbOthello pastel pencils

Create a riot of colour without breaking the bank

Charcoal-like stroke
Can be dry-mixed or blended
Not suited to total beginners

These CarbOthello pastel pencils (and yes, that is how it's spelt) offer the level of quality we expect from STABILO. The 24-pencil set includes a decent spectrum of colours, and the pencils sharpen very well. The pencils' dry stroke is perfect for blending, but the fun really starts when you begin adding water – 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 bit advanced for beginners. Read our full CarbOthello pastel pencils review.

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