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Best pencil for drawing 2023: Create stunning artwork with our pick of pencils for all budgets

Jul 01, 2023

Whether you’re an avid doodler, an art student, or a professional creative, you’re going to want the best pencil for drawing. But what should you be looking for in a drawing pencil? Our buying guide and reviews of several of the best artists’ pencils on the market will help you, well, draw your own conclusions.

If you think one pencil is very much like another, you’re very much mistaken. There are several different types of drawing pencil that creatives might reach for, including painting-like watercolour pencils or chalk pastel pencils that allow you to blend shades of colour into one another. And that's not to mention all the different hardness ratings for pencils.

Whether you’re new to drawing or an experienced artist, our guide will give you a wide variety of great drawing pencils to choose from. And we’ll answer all the questions you might have on the different types of pencil and what you should be looking for when picking your pencils.

First, you’ll need to decide whether you’re looking to draw in colour or grey tones. Then there are different levels of hardness, not to mention a wide range of finishes.

Graphite, charcoal, sepia, chalk pastel, watercolour and technical are all options available to you, depending on what you’re looking to achieve. We’ve put each type to the test below, with a few of the top picks even overlapping the categories.

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Even though you may remember encountering a HB pencil during your school days, it may not have dawned on you to question what that meant.

Each combination of letters and numbers tells you something specific. So, if you see a H on your pencil, this signifies its hardness. B, on the other hand, stands for blackness. HB, means hard black, while F denotes a firm pencil.

It can be tricky to decipher the different numbers and letters, but typically, those between 8B and 3B are ideal for artistic, pictorial drawing, between 2H and 6H are great for technical drawings and H, F, HB, B and 2B are what you would reach for if you plan on writing.

Drawing pencils are typically used on paper, card and even canvas. With coloured pencils, you can draw on black, dark or colourful backgrounds for creative impact.

While a traditional metal sharpener is the most common way to sharpen, you might consider an electric pencil sharpener if you have a lot of pencils to sharpen at once or are looking for a crisp, sharp tip.

If you’re feeling brave, you could sharpen with a utility blade or craft knife, although this requires both skill and patience.

Many sets come with a dedicated sharpener, created by the same brand as the pencils. These would be our first choice, if available, ensuring that your pencils sharpen correctly and evenly.

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For beginners and hobbyists, we definitely recommend buying your drawing pencils in a pack or set, especially if you’re looking for a good range of colours or hardnesses. A set should give you a comprehensive amount of shades to choose from, with some including a handful of core colours and others featuring a kaleidoscope of tones and shades to choose from.

If you are looking for a specific colour that isn't included in a set, or you use one shade more frequently than others, buying individual pencils could make more sense. Individual pencils are normally more expensive per unit, but it does allow you to pick and choose which ones you need.

As you’ll see from our list, most drawing pencils are a reasonable price, with some sets costing as little as £5. When you break down each set by the number of pencils that are included, the cost can be as little as a few pennies per pencil. Given how long each pencil should last, if sharpened correctly, all of the pencils included here are decently priced for either professional or beginner artists.

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Price: £14 | Buy now from Hobbycraft

Derwent has a vast array of different pencils and sets to choose from, but this graphic set of medium hardness pencils is easily the best-all round choice for drawing. The hexagonal shape of the pencils makes them easy to grip for extended periods and they can also be sharpened to a nice tip. The pencils themselves are firm but creamy, allowing them to blend nicely.

The brand also has sets designed with specific tasks in mind. Their Skin Tone Pack is one of the best that we have seen on the market if you’re looking to mimic the appearance of natural skin tones in portraits. We’re also big fans of the Metallic set to add something special to otherwise one-dimensional drawings.

Buy now from Hobbycraft

Price: £5.95 | Buy now from Cass Art

If you’re on a strict budget or are looking for a simple selection of great drawing pencils, this set of six from Cass Art is a brilliant option. These graphite pencils of varying levels of hardness can be used for sketching, outlining or drawing. If you’re just starting out when it comes to drawing or getting back into the hobby after many years away, they are a solid option for beginners.

They sharpen well and are comfortable to hold for long periods. These are the ones that we repurchase whenever we’re looking to restock our pencil collection with affordable, yet well performing drawing pencils.

Buy now from Cass Art

Price: from £13 | Buy now from Cass Art

If you are a complete beginner when it comes to drawing or you’re building your art supplies from scratch, this pencil set from Winsor & Newton comes with everything that you need to get started. The set includes three graphite pencils, sepia pencils, a white charcoal pencil, an eraser, a sharpener and even a blending stump to allow you to smudge and smooth out lines. And it's all encased in a smart tin to keep all of the products together.

This pack offers a comprehensive set of greyscale pencils, but if you’re looking to add colour to your drawings, scroll down to our next few picks.

Buy now from Cass Art

Price: From £36 | Buy now from Amazon

When it comes to colouring pencils, those from Prismacolor are among our favourites. This particular set, which comes with a great range of 36 coloured pencils, would be our top pick.

The pencils are soft and creamy and can be used on a variety of different papers and cardstock, including darker colours. Indeed, these colours really stand out against a black background. The colours are pigmented and don't require layer upon layer to build up a saturated hue, like some other colouring pencils that we’ve tried in the past.

Because they are soft cored, it is important to take care when sharpening. They may split or crack if roughly sharpened, so treat these premium pencils with care.

Price: £25 | Buy now from Hobbycraft

For those looking to create different tones and shading, a watercolour drawing pencil could be the best option. What makes watercolour pencils special is that, even though you can draw with them as you would any other pencil, adding water with a wet brush or spray completely changes the overall look of your drawings. They can also be used dry, making them a flexible addition to your art box.

The colours themselves are vibrant and encompass all of the shades that you will need to create beautiful drawings. Being able to mix and blend colours also means that you can truly customise your artwork, introducing your own unique hues and shades to your drawings.

Buy now from Hobbycraft

Price: From £30.78 | Buy now from Amazon

Another option when it comes to colouring pencils are the chalk pastel variety. These are some of the easiest to blend and can also be used with water, if you so desire. When used dry, they have an almost charcoal-like consistency that allows them to blend seamlessly to create a range of depth and dimension in your drawings.

Again, these colours really do pop and come into their own against a darker backdrop. But they also look just as impressive on lighter paper and cardstock. The pencils are comfortable to hold for extended periods and they also come with a dedicated sharpener.

Best all-round pencil for drawing: Derwent Graphic Medium Pencils 12 Pack Best budget pencil for drawing: CASS ART Drawing Pencil Set of 6 Best pencil for drawing for beginners: Winsor & Newton Studio Collection READ NEXT: The best notebooks for sketching and note-taking READ NEXT: The best essential oil diffusers READ NEXT: Best acrylic paint Price: Buy now from Hobbycraft Buy now from Hobbycraft Price: Buy now from Cass Art Buy now from Cass Art Price: Buy now from Cass Art Buy now from Cass Art Price: Buy now from Amazon Price: Buy now from Hobbycraft Buy now from Hobbycraft Price: Buy now from Amazon