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The Best Graphite Drawing Pencils

The Best Graphite Drawing Pencils

August 21, 2023 - Posted by Zoe to Guides, Pencils, Wooden Pencils

The Best Graphite Drawing Pencils

Pencils may seem basic, but tweaking the balance of graphite and clay in a pencil's lead can dramatically change its performance. From soft and dark B leads to hard and light H leads, wooden drawing pencils offer a huge range of drawing effects. Add in their durability, ease of maintenance, and low entry cost, and it's easy to see why artists love them. Read on for recommendations and test results.

What are the Best Pencils for Drawing?
Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Pencils
Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Pencils have exceptional smoothness, blendability, and consistent quality.

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We recommend the Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni as the best drawing pencil. This line of pencils features smooth lead and an impressive range of twenty two lead grades. With such a broad selection of dark and light leads, it's easy to develop realistic drawings. An artist can also simply choose the individual grades they prefer. The soft grades are especially creamy, which makes them ideal for capturing quick, fluid movements and expressing a variety of light and dark tones. They’re as close to brushes as pencils can get, and we especially enjoy them for fine art.

The Hi-Uni is easily blendable and holds its point well, but it may wear down slightly faster than other pencils due to its softness. It’s a good idea to keep a sharpener on hand—you’ll need it!

Graphite Drawing Pencil Considerations
Range of Lead Grades
Our selection of leads spans from 10H to 12B.
Our selection of graphite pencils covers 24 lead grades.
Almost all drawing pencils use the European system, which combines a letter and a number, to grade lead hardness. H indicates hard leads, which make lighter, more precise marks. Softer leads are on the B (“black”) side of the scale. They create darker marks and are more prone to smudging. The number next to the H or B indicates how hard or black the lead is; for example, a 5H lead is harder than a 2H lead, while a 5B lead is darker than a 2B lead.

The HB and F grades in the middle of the scale represent a balance between the hardness of the leads and the darkness of the marks they make. F, which stands for “fine,” is slightly harder than HB and sharpens to a finer point. At JetPens, we carry pencils in 24 lead grades ranging from 10H to 12B.

Drawing pencils are available in a wide range of lead grades so artists can select those best suited to their needs. For more information on lead grades, read our guide to The Best Lead Grade For Every Application.

Consistent Lead Quality
Inconsistent pencil leads are hard to draw with.
Inconsistent pencil leads are hard to draw with.
Graphite drawing pencils need smooth, consistent leads so that users can count on them to produce the effects that they expect. Some leads may “grip” the paper more than others—and hard leads can feel “scratchy” or more textured—but they should never leave darker streaks or gouge the paper.
Easy to Erase
Some pencil leads are easier to erase than others.
Some pencil leads are easier to erase than others.
It’s critical for leads to erase cleanly with minimal smudging. This results in a neater finished product. Graphite that erases well can also save you a headache down the line if you plan to ink your sketches. Whether cleaning up a messy sketch to make it clear which parts you plan to ink, lightening pencil lines so they don’t compete with pen, or erasing over both pen and pencil together, good erasability is truly crucial. Lead grades respond differently to erasing, but a high quality eraser will certainly make it easier to clean up your artwork.
Sharpen Without Breaking
Some pencils are more likely to break than others.
Some pencils are more likely to break than others.
Some pencils break when sharpened, leaving them with sharp, broken tips or splintered ends. To avoid this, look for pencils made with high quality wood that sharpens cleanly. Be sure to take a look at your pencils to see if the leads are centered in the barrels, too: improperly centered leads often sharpen poorly.

Some artists hand sharpen their pencils with a plane or knife to achieve certain effects. Any pencil can be sharpened by hand, but it’s easier to produce a consistent angle with a pencil that is made from softer wood and contains lead that is about as hard as the wooden casing.

Graphite Drawing Pencil Recommendations
The Best Graphite Drawing Pencils for Sketching

Many artists bring simple art kits with them when they go out so they can take advantage of interesting scenes in moments of downtime. Pencils for sketching should be soft enough for quick drawing, but also smudge resistant so that your piece doesn’t smear beyond repair in a closed sketchbook. Grades from 2H–2B are right in the sweet spot for sketching.

Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Pencils
Faber-Castell 9000 Pencils smudge less than most.

Forest green Faber-Castell 9000 Pencils are available individually in grades 6H–8B or in convenient sets of six or 12 pencils. These sets are packaged in slim, sturdy tins that slip easily into bags and protect the pencil tips while you’re on the go. Each set includes a variety of different lead grades: the six-pencil tin only has HB and softer lead grades, while the Art Set and Design Set both have more variety.

Faber-Castell 9000 Pencils are quite smooth and maintain excellent consistency as you use up the leads, although the high H grades may feel somewhat scratchy. We also found that the Faber-Castell 9000 leads smudge less than most pencils. They sharpen easily and hold their points well, making them ideal for fine details and occasions when you don’t want to bother with a sharpener. The leads are break resistant due to being glued to the wood on both sides down the whole length of the pencil.

We Also Tested:
  • Faber-Castell Grip 2001 Pencil Set: The ergonomic design of these pencils is great for anyone sketching on the go in precarious situations: they have triangular barrels and raised dots on their grip sections, so they’re unlikely to fly out of your hand down a cliffside (or just roll behind your desk). Their leads are also break resistant. However, they’re only available in grades HB, B, and 2B, and you can only get them in a set.
  • Uni Mitsubishi 9800 Pencils: These pencils provide smooth, crisp writing experiences and hold points beautifully. They’re also comparatively accessibly priced. Alas, their lead grade range doesn’t extend beyond 2H–2B.
The Best Graphite Drawing Pencils for Underdrawing

Painters often make preparatory drawings to plan out their vision and guide their painting. These are vital parts of the painting process, but badly chosen media can hurt more than they help. Pencils for underdrawing need to make fairly light lines so they won’t show through the finished painting or cause the paints to get muddy. That’s why it’s best to stick with harder grades for underdrawing—6H–2H are ideal.

Staedtler Mars Lumograph Graphite Pencils make marks that are slightly lighter than the same grades in other lines, so they work well for underdrawing. They’re buttery smooth and can provide great control as well as perfect shadow buildup. They also erased more cleanly than any of the other pencils we tested.

We’re impressed by their range: they come individually in grades 7H–12B and, in their 24-pencil set, all the way from 10H–12B. Their casings are made from sustainably harvested cedar that sharpens smoothly with no cracks or splits. They stood up very well to hand sharpening.

We Also Tested:
  • Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Pencils: The high grades of our favorite pencils are stunningly light. We don’t usually enjoy going all the way to 10H—that grade is hard enough that you really have to scrape it along the page—but if you must, the 10H Hi-Uni graphite is very slightly smoother than that of the Mars Lumograph.
The Best Graphite Drawing Pencils for Fine Arts

Fine art pencil drawings use graphite from start to finish to produce a fully developed image with incredible detail and shading. In some cases, the final product is so realistic that it seems to be a black and white photograph. Fine artists working with graphite pencils need a full range of lead grades at their disposal to achieve realistic tones. Our top recommendation, the Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni, is a fantastic pencil for fine arts, but we’ll also recommend a pencil that can bring a striking range of textures to your graphite work.

Caran d'Ache Technalo Pencils
Caran d'Ache Technalo Pencils write with water-soluble graphite.

Unique water-soluble Caran d'Ache Technalo Pencils can be activated with water brushes, letting you create washes in your graphite drawings. This opens up many options for filling shaded areas, blending, and producing dramatic effects outside the normal purview of pencils. They lay down smooth, consistent lines and sharpen to fine points, whether with sharpeners or by hand sharpening. They erase well when dry but do smudge a small amount. They resist erasing after being activated with water. Caran d’Ache Technalo Pencils are available in B and 3B.

If you're bewitched by the effects of water-soluble graphite, branch out with graphite watercolor paints. Though they aren't erasable and aren't as portable as pencils, they're available in subtle colors that add fascinating tones to your artworks.

We Also Tested:
  • Staedtler Mars Lumograph Pencils: These aren't water soluble, so consider them alternatives to the Hi-Unis, not the Technalos. Staedtler Mars Lumograph Pencils erase cleanly and create consistent lines. We’ve already pointed out their utility for light underdrawings, but their lead grade range also extends to ultra-dark 12B pencils.
The Best Graphite Drawing Pencils for Penciling

Comic artists often use a process called penciling to determine a comic page’s layout, from the arrangement of panels to the positions of speech bubbles. These penciled layouts are often more structured than sketches or thumbnails because they’re typically finished before inking, in which the final version of the comic page is rendered. For the purpose of penciling, it’s best to use HB–4B because they’re dark enough to be clearly visible without smudging badly. Darker pencils help emulate the look of inks but can increase smudging.

Tombow Mono 100 Pencils
Tombow Mono 100 Pencils have smooth, high-density leads.

Tombow Mono 100 Pencils are another well-loved line of smooth, high quality pencils. They’re especially known for their high-density leads, which resist breakage and help the points stay sharp longer. They also smear less and are a bit darker than other pencils, making them a good choice for penciling. Tombow Mono 100 Pencils sharpen easily and stand up well to hand sharpening. They’re available in grades 9H–6B.
We Also Tested:
  • Blackwing Pencils: We love these pencils for writing, but they dance across the page when used for art as well. Blackwing has their own somewhat freeform approach to lead grades, but for sketching, their limited selection of grades is perfectly suitable. Their rectangular, replaceable erasers are good for touch-ups. To learn more about these cult classics, read our comprehensive guide.
  • Faber-Castell 9000 Pencils: The same traits that make these pencils great for sketching make them great for penciling, too.
Drawing Pencils in Action
A single pencil can make darker or lighter marks if you vary the pressure you use or build up layers of graphite, but using multiple grades helps achieve specific tones and increase the variation in your art piece. Check out the video below to see different pencil grades in action!
Higher H Grades

Pencils in the higher H grades sharpen to fine points, hold their points for longer, and make light marks. This makes them ideal for filling in lighter areas and underdrawing. They can also help blend the edges of darker areas for a gradient effect.

Higher B Grades

The higher B grades are soft and dark with high proportions of graphite. They won’t stay sharp as long as the other grades, but they’re also smoother. They can produce the most variation between light and dark with different levels of pressure. They excel at filling in dark areas, like shadows and facial contours.

Middle Grades: 2H–2B

The middle grades contain relatively balanced levels of clay and graphite. They are dark enough to show up well but are still hard enough to keep a sharp point. This makes them good all-purpose pencils if you only have room for a few, but detail work really makes them shine.

The Best Graphite Drawing Pencil Accessories
The Best Paper for Graphite Drawing Pencils: Stillman & Birn Alpha Sketchbooks
Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks
Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbooks are suitable for pencil drawings. They can even handle touches of mixed media like ink and watercolor.

Paper influences a pencil’s performance and the appearance of the finished drawing. Look for paper that has a slight tooth instead of being completely smooth. This kind of paper “grabs” the pencil lead so that it creates a crisp line. Stillman & Birn make excellent sketchbooks, and we recommend their Alpha paper for pencil artists. It has a medium grain that’s excellent with dry media and stands up well to inking.

We don’t recommend rougher mediums like cold press watercolor paper for artwork that is finished with pencils. The paper’s texture will make pencil lines look as if they have holes in them. Only use very toothy paper if that’s the effect you want, or if you plan to finish the artwork with inks or paint. Read our guide to sketchbooks to see more recommendations for use with pencils and other media.

The Best Erasers for Graphite Drawing Pencils: Prismacolor Kneaded Rubber Erasers
Prismacolor Kneaded Rubber Eraser
The Prismacolor Kneaded Rubber Eraser can be molded as you wish, like the precise tip we created here.

A stray line or smudge doesn’t need to ruin a drawing if you have an eraser that removes marks cleanly. The Prismacolor Kneaded Rubber Eraser can change shape and lift graphite off the paper without rubbing. This lets you clear small mistakes without disturbing the surrounding work and lighten precise areas without smudging.

If you prefer a block eraser, we like the Hwarang Design Art Soft Eraser, which erases smoothly and has a pleasing size and shape reminiscent of a mahjong piece. If you find the Art Soft gets grubby when used with graphite-covered hands, try the Sakura Arch Foam Eraser, which comes in a smartly designed sleeve. Read our guide to erasers for more detailed suggestions.

The Best Sharpeners for Graphite Drawing Pencils: Sonic Ratchetta Pencil Sharpeners
Sonic Ratchetta Pencil Sharpener
The Sonic Ratchetta is a dependable sharpener.

Even the best pencil will perform badly if sharpened poorly. There are many quality sharpeners, but we like the Sonic Ratchetta because it’s compact and fits nicely in a pencil case. It consistently produces a clean point with less effort thanks to its mechanism, which works like a ratcheting screwdriver. Instead of having to let go of the pencil when you’ve turned it in the sharpener as far as your wrist will rotate, you can turn the pencil back and forth to sharpen it quickly.

We prefer the Sharpener with Notification because it will alert you when the pencil is sharpened, preventing oversharpening. Artists who like to use blunt pencils should consider the Point Adjustment version, which allows you to switch between a sharp point and a blunt tip.

Check out our guide to pencil sharpeners to learn more.

The Best Pencil Caps for Graphite Drawing Pencils: Tombow Ippo Pencil Caps
Tombow Ippo Pencil Cap
Much like sheathes for swords, Tombow Ippo Pencil Caps keep points sharp.

Once you’ve sharpened your pencil to a perfect point, you may as well invest in a pencil cap to preserve it. Tombow Ippo Pencil Caps come with an added bonus: the sides of these caps slot together, bringing order to a jumbled pencil case. Protecting your lead from inopportune breakage also extends the lifespan of your pencil.

If you find the cheerful colors of the Ippo don’t suit your aesthetic, upgrade to a classy metal pencil cap instead.

The Best Pencil Extenders for Graphite Drawing Pencils: E+M Peanpole Wood Pencil Extenders
The tragedy of wooden pencils is that the more you use them, the shorter and less comfortable they become. A pencil extender like the E+M Peanpole solves this problem by giving you a longer barrel to hold. Insert the unsharpened end of the pencil into the extender’s clutch, then slide the metal ring down to tighten the clutch. We'll note that pencils with metal ferrules on their ends fit less comfortably into this extender, and odd-shaped ferrules like those of Blackwing pencils are totally incompatible. The extender adds about five inches of length, so you can use your favorite pencil until there’s nothing left.
Graphite Drawing Pencil Comparison & Test Results

For a quick overview of our lead selection, glance at the table below. For more detailed erasing and smudging results, scroll on to our tests.

Graphite Drawing Pencil Comparison
 BlackwingCaran d'Ache TechnaloFaber-Castell 9000Faber-Castell Grip 2001Staedtler Mars LumographTombow Mono 100Uni Mitsubishi 9000Uni Mitsubishi 9800Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni
10H    Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 10H   Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - 10H
9H    Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 9HTombow Mono 100 - 9H  Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - 9H
8H    Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 8HTombow Mono 100 - 8H  Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - 8H
7H    Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 7HTombow Mono 100 - 7H  Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - 7H
6H  Faber-Castell 9000 - 6H Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 6HTombow Mono 100 - 6H  Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - 6H
5H  Faber-Castell 9000 - 5H Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 5HTombow Mono 100 - 5H  Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - 5H
4H  Faber-Castell 9000 - 4H Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 4HTombow Mono 100 - 4H  Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - 4H
3H  Faber-Castell 9000 - 3H Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 3HTombow Mono 100 - 3H  Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - 3H
2H  Faber-Castell 9000 - 2H Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 2HTombow Mono 100 - 2H Uni Mitsubishi 9800 - 2HUni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - 2H
H  Faber-Castell 9000 - H Staedtler Mars Lumograph - HTombow Mono 100 - H Uni Mitsubishi 9800 - HUni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - H
F  Faber-Castell 9000 - F Staedtler Mars Lumograph - FTombow Mono 100 - F Uni Mitsubishi 9800 - FUni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - F
HBBlackwing - Extra Firm Faber-Castell 9000 - HBFaber-Castell Grip 2001 - HBStaedtler Mars Lumograph - HBTombow Mono 100 - HBUni Mitsubishi 9000 - HBUni Mitsubishi 9800 - HBUni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - HB
BBlackwing - FirmCaran d'Ache Technalo - BFaber-Castell 9000 - BFaber-Castell Grip 2001 - BStaedtler Mars Lumograph - BTombow Mono 100 - BUni Mitsubishi 9000 - BUni Mitsubishi 9800 - BUni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - B
2BBlackwing - Balanced Faber-Castell 9000 - 2BFaber-Castell Grip 2001 - 2BStaedtler Mars Lumograph - 2BTombow Mono 100 - 2BUni Mitsubishi 9000 - 2BUni Mitsubishi 9800 - 2BUni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - 2B
3BBlackwing - SoftCaran d'Ache Technalo - 3BFaber-Castell 9000 - 3B Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 3BTombow Mono 100 - 3BUni Mitsubishi 9000 - 3B Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - 3B
4B  Faber-Castell 9000 - 4B Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 4BTombow Mono 100 - 4BUni Mitsubishi 9000 - 4B Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - 4B
5B  Faber-Castell 9000 - 5B Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 5BTombow Mono 100 - 5B  Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - 5B
6B  Faber-Castell 9000 - 6B Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 6BTombow Mono 100 - 6B  Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - 6B
7B  Faber-Castell 9000 - 7B Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 7B   Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - 7B
8B  Faber-Castell 9000 - 8B Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 8B   Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - 8B
9B    Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 9B   Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - 9B
10B    Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 10B   Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni - 10B
11B    Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 11B    
12B    Staedtler Mars Lumograph - 12B   
Graphite Drawing Pencil Test Results

We produced writing samples, swatches, smudge tests, and erasing tests for each grade of all of the pencil lines mentioned in this article. Tests were created on Maruman Mnemosyne paper using a Sakura Arch Foam Eraser for erasing. Click below to see the results.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a painter, comic artist, professional or hobbyist—your art kit isn’t complete without graphite drawing pencils. What are your favorite pencils? Let us know in the comments below!
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Wooden Pencil Sampler
Try a JetPens Pencil Starter Kit to compare our selection.

Still not sure what to try? Check out our Wooden Pencil Samplers for some of our favorite and most popular wooden pencils. From starter sets to sets based on lead grade, these kits will help you rediscover the joys of using a wooden pencil!