The 8 Best Pencils for Drawing, Sketching, and Shading

For amateur artists to professional doodlers

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

If your artistic expression involves drawing, doodling, sketching, hatching, shading, stenciling, or tracing, you'll need a high quality drawing pencil. Though relatively straightforward, drawing pencils come in a wide range of styles and colors and various lead types. You will want to find the right firmness, color, and type for you and the art you wish to create.

From fine-tipped and mechanical to colored and graphite, there are options out there for every skill level and budget. Our overall pick, the Staedtler Mars Lumograph Art Drawing Pencils (view at Amazon) are a no-nonsense option that won't break easily and work for beginners and professionals alike.

Finding a good range in colors and hues is key, says artist and art restoration specialist Sarah Valente. "Sets that have different colors of the same intensity are okay, but not ideal for shading and complex color schemes in fine artwork," she says. "A good pencil set will have different shades of one color."

These are the best drawing pencils you can buy online.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Staedtler Mars Lumograph Art Drawing Pencils

Staedtler Mars Lumograph Pencil Set

 Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • No scratchy feeling

  • Easy to get a sharp point

  • Smooth on paper

What We Don't Like
  • Can be difficult to erase

For a premium-quality, no-nonsense pencil, we recommend Staedtler's Mars Lumograph. This German-made drawing utensil comes in packs of six or 12, though you can also buy singles from certain retailers. It has super-bonded lead, which wears evenly and is notably easy to sharpen. The versatile design is ideal for drawing, hatching, sketching, and writing.

When you buy a pack, you'll receive a handy storage tin, and each pencil will have a different hardness level, ranging from very soft (8B) to extra-hard (6H). These drawing pencils have ultra-sharp break-resistant tips—even the softest option is surprisingly sturdy. And while they don't have erasers on the ends, the lead erases effortlessly with a standard eraser.

Count: 6 or 12 | Form: Wood | Eraser Included?: No | Variety: 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, 4H

Best Erasing: Palomino Blackwing 602 Matte Extra-Firm Graphite Pencils

Blackwing 602 Pencils

Courtesy of Blick

What We Like
  • Great for sketching

  • Extremely smooth

  • Easy to adjust pressure on paper

What We Don't Like
  • Tip may break easily

If you like pencils with built-in erasers, you'll appreciate Blackwing 602 Mattes. A unique flat eraser is connected to the end of each easy-to-grip hexagonal pencil.

Also, the extra-firm Japanese graphite lead is made of a special mixture of clay and wax for the perfect balance of strength and smoothness. Each pencil has a durable cedar casing finished with multiple layers of lacquer, making them easy to sharpen and comfortable to use.

Count: 12 | Form: Wood | Eraser Included?: Yes | Variety: Extra firm, firm, balanced, soft

Best Mechanical: MozArt Supplies Mechanical Pencil Set

Mechanical Pencil Set
What We Like
  • No need to sharpen

  • Precise tips

  • Long lasting

What We Don't Like
  • Tips may break easily

For those who like the convenience of mechanical pencils, we recommend this set from MozArt Supplies. It comes with four drawing pencils, each with a different tip size. You'll also get a lead refill pack for each size, plus four eraser refills.

The lead in these pencils is great for various applications, from sketching and hatching to writing and illustrating. With an always-sharp, consistently thick tip, a non-slip grip, and a lightweight feel, these pencils are great to use, no matter what the project. While you won't get a variety of graphite hardnesses in this kit, you will get different thicknesses to help with line weight.

Count: 4 | Form: Mechanical | Eraser Included?: Yes | Variety: 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, and 0.9 millimeters

Best Graphite: Cretacolor Fine Art Graphite Pencils

Cretacolor Fine Art Graphite Pencils

Courtesy of Blick

What We Like
  • Sharpen easily

  • Comes with convenient tin

  • Smooth

What We Don't Like
  • Some users found their pencils cracked easily

Cretacolor Fine Art Graphite Pencils are the go-to for hatching and sketching. The superior-quality lead is made by grinding various types of graphite together, then mixing it with a high-grade ceramic clay.

This unique concoction makes the tips extra sturdy, and hard cedar casing makes them easy to sharpen. You can buy these pre-sharpened drawing pencils individually to choose the exact hardness you're looking for, or get a variety pack of six or 12, which come in tin carrying cases.

Count: 6 or 12 | Form: Wood | Eraser Included?: No | Variety: 2H, HB, 2B, 4B, 6B, 8B

Best Colored: Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils 72 Pack

Premier Colored Pencils
What We Like
  • Extensive color range

  • Vibrant colors

  • Protective packaging

What We Don't Like
  • Can be difficult to sharpen

Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils are a great choice if you're looking for the best colored pencils for drawing. This 72-pack comes with a wide array of richly saturated colors—from terracotta to cool grey to parrot green and everything in between. We also like that they come in a convenient tin box.

The soft lead and semi-thick tips are easy to sharpen and resist cracking. The pencils apply smoothly and evenly, making them ideal for shading, shadowing, blending different colors, and free sketching.

Count: 26-150 | Form: Wood | Eraser Included?: No | Variety: 72 colors

Best for Sketching: Royal & Langnickel RART-200 Essentials Sketching Artist Set

Sketching Artist Set

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Everything you need for sketching

  • Suitable for beginners

  • Perfect for practicing different techniques

What We Don't Like
  • Pencils can be difficult to sharpen

Royal & Langnickel has been making top-tier art supplies for more than half a century, and you can rest assured the brand's drawing pencils are up to par. The Essentials Artist Set is chock full of carefully curated tools for sketching, doodling, and free-hand drawing.

You'll get eight standard graphite pencils of varying softness, one woodless graphite pencil, three charcoal pencils, three charcoal sticks, three sketching sticks, two types of erasers, and a sharpener.

Count: 21 | Form: Wood | Eraser Included?: Yes | Variety: 4H, 2H, H, Hb, B, 2B, 4B, 6B

Best for Beginners: Norberg & Linden Drawing Set 19 Piece Drawing and Sketch Kit

Drawing Set

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Affordable for all of the materials included

  • Great for beginners testing different skills

  • Suitable for various ages

What We Don't Like
  • Charcoal can break easily

The 19 Piece Drawing and Sketch Kit from Norberg & Linden is perfect for beginners. With eight standard graphite pencils, an ultra-soft woodless graphite pencil, three charcoal pencils, two charcoal sticks, two sharpeners, two erasers, and a sketch pad, you'll have everything you need to get started.

You can try out various leads and utensil styles to see what you like best while you explore the world of drawing. The spiral-bound sketchbook is just 6 x 9 inches, making it a good portable option to take with you wherever you go.

Count: 19-piece | Form: Wood, Graphite | Eraser Included?: Yes | Variety: 8B, 6B, 4B, 2B, HB, F, H, 2H

Best Set: Castle Arts 40 Piece Premium Quality Drawing Set

Premium Quality Drawing Set

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Convenient carrying case

  • Perfect for all levels

  • High-quality pencils

What We Don't Like
  • Not as suitable for professionals as more expensive options

This 40-piece drawing set from Castle Arts pulls out all the stops. It comes with several different graphite pencils, pastel pencils in varying shades, and charcoal pencils, plus charcoal, graphite, and willow sticks.

You'll also get blending tools, multiple sharpeners, a couple types of erasers, a sandpaper block, and a pencil extender, plus a zip-up carrying case with a place for each piece. The set is great for intermediate and established artists, though ambitious beginners might love it too.

Count: 40-piece | Form: Wood, Pastel | Eraser Included?: Yes | Variety: Not Listed

Final Verdict

For premium-quality, dependable, and versatile drawing utensils, you can't go wrong with Staedtler Mars Lumograph. These German-made pencils contain super-bonded lead, which wears evenly and resists breaking (view at Amazon). However, for those who like a built-in eraser, we recommend Palomino Blackwing 602 Graphite Pencils. Aside from high-quality flat erasers on the ends, they're made with extra-firm yet incredibly smooth Japanese graphite lead (view at Amazon).

What to Look for in Drawing Pencils

Price

As with all art supplies, the more professional and high-grade products will be more expensive. For beginners just starting out, a more inexpensive student-grade pencil might be better. Once your skills develop, you can splurge on a more expensive and extensive set of graphite or colored pencils.

"Higher end pencils are very waxy, which can result in your drawing looking hazy after a while if it is not framed and exposed to air," says Valente. "The wax can easily be rubbed out with a tissue, whereas cheaper pencils are less waxy because they are harder."

Type

Graphite pencils have a special kind of lead made of ground graphite (crystalline carbon) and clay. Most graphite pencils don't have attached erasers, but you can find high-quality options that do.

Then there are mechanical drawing pencils, which usually come with graphite lead. With the mechanical variety, you can count on a consistent, always-sharp tip, whereas standard pencils need to be sharpened. Both types of drawing pencils come in varying tip sizes.

Firmness

The lead in drawing pencils ranges from very soft to extra-hard. You can buy them individually based on your preference or how dark of a line you need to draw, but sets often come with a variety of options.

With high-quality drawing pencils, softness doesn't equate to flimsiness. You can usually count on even the softest leads to be sturdy and resistant to breaking. The difference has more to do with the effect they create. Softer pencils make darker marks, whereas firm pencils will produce lighter lines.

This varies between graphite and colored pencils, says Valente. "When you are buying a set of drawing pencils, you want a set that has either a range of hardnesses(in graphite pencils), or an overall soft quality (in colored pencils). The softer the pencil, the more intense the pigment. If you buy pencils that are too hard, they will be harsh on the paper, dull, and near impossible to erase if you make a mistake," she says.

Color

Most drawing pencils have relatively dark charcoal-colored lead. However, there are also options in varying shades of gray and pearly white, as well as lead that's a bit closer to black. 

And then there are colored pencils, which usually come in sets consisting of a broad range of hues. Colored pencils can be used for drawing and sketching. But since the lead is typically a little softer, they're better for shading, shadowing, and coloring in illustrations.

FAQ
  • How do you hold a drawing pencil?

    Hold the drawing pencil between your thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers—similar to how you hold a pen or regular pencil, only at a slightly different angle. When drawing or sketching, your outer two knuckles (on your pinky and ring finger) should graze the paper. Unlike writing, your elbow and arm will lead most of the movements.

    Where your place your fingers will affect the amount of pressure on the page. "The closer you get to the point, the more pressure on the pencil. That's how tips break and your fingers cramp. When sketching, it's better to hold the pencil in the middle or higher, because it prohibits you from pressing too hard. Eventually, you will be covering up those sketch lines and don’t want them to be hard and visible," Valente says.

  • How do you sharpen a drawing pencil?

    Drawing pencils can be sharpened with pencil sharpeners, but you'll want to use one specifically designed for drawing pencils. Often called a "long-point pencil sharpener," the tool is designed to minimize breakage when sharpening graphite lead. Some options allow you to customize the point. You can also use sandpaper to reshape softer lead pencils when they become blunt.

    Valente recommends using hand sharpeners. "Electric sharpeners get dull against colored pencils, and often over sharpen them, causing you to replace them more often,"" she shares.

  • What type of paper should I use with drawing pencils?

    You can use any type of paper with drawing pencils—even printer paper. However, you'll probably want to use heavier, firmer paper for detailed drawings, illustrations, and hatching. And if you're looking to do some expressive sketching, slightly rough and fibrous paper is best.

    You should look for a different tooth, or texture of the paper, depending on the medium you are using. "Paper with more tooth is for pastels and chalk, because it holds the pigment better. For drawing pencils, it is best to have a smooth, medium weight paper. Pencils amplify texture in paper," Valente says.

Why Trust The Spruce Crafts?

Theresa Holland has been writing for The Spruce since 2019. She's always loved arts and crafts and has a deep appreciation for high-quality writing utensils. You can check out more of her work on MyDomaine. Additional reporting was done by Julia Fields, a lifestyle writer for The Spruce brands covering all things surrounding toys, gifts, and the holidays. She's also covered similar topics in other roles, including toy reviews, product round-ups, expert-focused articles, and more.

Expert advice was provided by Artist and Art Restoration specialist Sarah Valente.

Updated by
Julia Fields
Julia Fields The Spruce

Julia is the Assistant Commerce Editor at The Spruce, covering all things toys, gifts, and holiday. She studied English and minored in Journalism and Gender and Sexuality Studies at New York University. 

Learn more about The Spruce Crafts' Editorial Process