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The best pencils for artists: Colouring, drawing and sketching

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The best pencils can work like a dream for improving your artwork. But with thousands to choose from, where do you start when it comes to choosing the perfect pencil for you? We'd suggest right here!

We've trawled the internet to find the best pencils available for different creative needs. Whether you're a total beginner, a professional artist, or somewhere in between, you should find the best pencils for you on this list.

Read on to find the best pencils for artists and designers today. And if you need a little inspiration for what to do with them, don't miss 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

A range pf pencils that lives up to the Blackwing name

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

Blackwing has 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 result is 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 not bad value at all for such good quality pencils.

Best pencils: Caran D'ache Graphite LineCB endorsed

02. Caran D'ache Graphite Line

The Bugatti Veyron of pencils with top-quality graphite

Reasons to buy
+Top-quality granite+Developed to perfection
Reasons to avoid
-Extremely 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 contain fewer than 20 pencils, plus graphite sticks and accessories, at a price that would make even Jeff Bezos blink. What you're paying for here is top-quality graphite. 

The Graphite Line range has been carefully developed and perfected in Caran d’Ache's Geneva workshops to explore different shades of black and 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 won't want to use anything else.

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

03. Lyra Rembrandt Art Design

This graphite pencil set will serve 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 price, this set of Lyra Rembrandt hexagonal design pencils should be ideal to develop 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 to allow you to 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

04. Derwent Graphic Medium pencils

Derwent makes 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 around since 1832, and that experience shows in the quality of its Derwent brand. The Derwent Graphic Medium pencils are sold individually and in sets. They make smooth, easy lines on the paper, and they're ideal for bold line drawings as well as freestyle sketches. 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

If you're open to an alternative 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. 

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. 

Colouring

Best pencils for colouring 

Best pencils for designers and artists: Derwent LightfastCB

(Image credit: Derwent)

01. Derwent Lightfast Pencils

Derwent's first oil-based colouring pencil

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 in July 2019, the range was expanded to include 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 layer and built up beautifully, and the maple casing looks and feels great. 

Derwent has taken the lightfast element of these pencils very seriously (as you can tell by the name), and they don't disappoint. The colour remains lightfast in museum conditions for up to 100 years.

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 was released in 2017. The pencils themselves feel substantial, with a sturdy circular shaft. The leads aren't too waxy or too brittle, and they 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: 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, this set of BIC Conté colouring pencils is a bargain. These high-quality coloured pencils are made of synthetic resin rather than wood, which makes them completely splinter-free should 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 may not be as strong as on some of the previous sets, but for the price, you can't go wrong with this colouring set.

Best pencils: Colourful tins of Prismacolor Premier coloured pencils

04. Prismacolor Premier coloured pencils

Thick leads resist breakage so you can really lean on them

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 students and entry-level artists. They have soft, thick cores, which lay down smooth colour for superior blending and shading. 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. The thick leads are very resistant to breakage, so you can get as dramatic as you dare.

Mechanical

Best mechanical drawing pencils

Best pencils: Uni Kurutoga Pipe Slide pencilCB

(Image credit: Uni Kurutoga )

01. Uni Kurutoga Pipe Slide

A big leap forward for pencil design

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

The design of mechanical pencils hasn’t seen a huge amount of progression in recent years, but here’s a technical innovation that really does make a difference. TheUniball Kurutoga Pipe Slide uses a spring-loaded clutch to incrementally twist the graphite as you write. This creates a uniform wearing of the lead so that it stays pointed and the beautifully thin line remains consistent through your drawing. It also helps keep breakage to a minimum. It's a very welcome innovation, and very reasonably priced.

Best pencils: Pentel P200 pencilCB endorsed

(Image credit: Pentel)

02. Pentel 200

Our favourite 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 delivers quality, the Pentel 200 pack of four is a good bet. These low-priced pencils might not have any clever features, but they do the job just fine and are nice to hold and draw with. With a plastic barrel, ribbed finger grip and removable metal pocket clip, these are good pencils for professional drafting.

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

This 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 lead breakage while writing. The pencil also includes 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 wonderfully natural thanks to its perfectly sized triangular barrel. The raised rubber dots allow for a super firm ut comfortable grip, which is ideal if you need to make precise drawings. 

The pencil comes in a range of different colours (as well as the blue pictured above, there's also silver and black), all with 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, so it should know its stuff. Its 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 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 very carefully made using the highest quality materials, including vibrant pigments and a unique binder medium. 

These pencils are perfect for both drawing and painting techniques. A sound choice for any artist, these 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 pencils: Stabilo CarbOthello pastel pencilsCB

01. Stabilo CarbOthello pastel pencils

Create a riot of colour without breaking the bank

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 (and yes, that is how it's spelt) offer the level of quality we expect from Stabilo. The 24-piece set includes a decent spectrum of colours, and the pencils sharpen very well. 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

Both 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 as operations editor on Computer Arts, 3D World, Paint & Draw and Mac|Life magazines. Her interests lie in branding and illustration, tech and sexism, and plenty more in-between.