HomeBuying GuidesHobbiesHow to buy the best pencils for drawing and sketching - Updated...

How to buy the best pencils for drawing and sketching – Updated 2022

There is such a large selection of pencils to choose from that it might be overwhelming. This article will help you sort through the confusion and determine which pencils are best for drawing and sketching, as well as how to utilise them. You’ll discover why only four pencils are required.

First, I’ll go through pencils in depth so you know exactly what goes into choosing the best pencils for drawing and sketching, as well as how to utilise them.
Scroll to the bottom if you just want to know what four pencils you need to buy.

Drawing and sketching pencils in a standard range

This article is about drawing and sketching pencils made of graphite. Although wood pencil fills are commonly referred to as “lead,” they are actually a mixture of graphite and clay. Pencils that produce darker lines (such as the B range) include more graphite, whereas harder pencils (such as the H range) contain more clay.

Please don’t get mixed up with carbon pencils, charcoal pencils, water soluble graphite pencils, or the plethora of coloured pencils on the market.

The standard range of sketching and drawing pencils go through 9B to 9H and F.


What do the letters mean?

The letter ‘H’ stands for Hard, the letter ‘B’ stands for Black, and the letter ‘F’ stands for Fine.

H pencils have a firm lead (less graphite, more clay) that stays sharp for a long period. They don’t leave much graphite (the material used to make pencil leads) on the page, resulting in a light or pale drawing. Because they are firm, they tend to dig into the paper surface, making them difficult to remove with an eraser, as the groove they created remains behind, creating unsightly indentations on your page. These aren’t the best pencils for sketching and drawing.

B pencils are softer (less clay, more graphite) and blunt more quickly. This is due to the fact that they are leaving much more graphite on the page, resulting in a darker drawing or sketch. Because you don’t have to press down very hard to make a mark, they don’t dig into the page like H pencils do, creating those unsightly indentations. Rubbing out with an eraser is much easier because the graphite tends to sit on top of the paper surface and is generally easy to remove (this depends on the type of paper, but I’ll discuss this in more detail in a later post). These are widely regarded as the best pencils for sketching and drawing.

F pencils have extremely hard lead and are only encountered in pencil sets on rare occasions.

HB pencils sit in the middle and are a good all-around pencil to use.
This is typically a standard office or classroom pencil.

What exactly do the numbers imply?

Within their respective ranges, the numbers indicate the pencil’s hardness or softness.

The H pencil series includes the toughest 9H pencil and the softest H pencil.
The 9B pencil is the softest, and the B pencil is the hardest in the B pencil spectrum.

This means that the toughest pencil is on the right (9B), and the softest is on the left (9B) (9H and F). The lighter the mark made by a pencil, the harder it is. The darker the mark made by a pencil, the softer it is.

When performing something as simple as sketching and drawing, there are a lot of pencils to consider.
You’ll be relieved to learn that you can safely ignore the majority of them.

Which pencils should I ignore?

Architects and draftspeople, as well as artists and illustrators who desire very controlled and precisely detailed drawings, choose the H and F pencil grades. In your search for the best pencils for drawing and sketching, the normal drawer or sketcher can overlook this spectrum of pencils.

As a result, your pencil options are already slashed in half.

Smudge factor, tones, hues, and lines

Shades or tones

Before you can choose the best pencils for drawing and sketching, you must first grasp the tones or shades that each pencil in the range can produce. The illustration on the left compares the range of tones and shades that different pencils may produce. The very soft 9B pencil brings out the texture of the paper and has a darker tone, whereas the stiffer HB pencil flattens the grain of the paper (you have to press harder) and has a silvery grey tone.

Line Quality

Different pencils will generate lines of varying fineness. This is dependent on the pencil manufacturer and the type of paper used. There are just too many varieties to even try to cover them all. Finding your favourite combinations simply requires time and experimenting. The illustration on the left depicts the various line qualities that a 9B, 6B, 2B, and HB pencil can produce. You’ll note that the 9B pencil produces a soft fuzzy line, whereas the HB pencil produces a firmer, sharper edged line.

Pencil tone gradations

The smudge element

This is an excellent quality of pencil graphite, and you should use it frequently when drawing. When smudging a line or combining tones/shades, smudging with your finger can provide lovely results. Again, it depends on the sort of paper you’re using and the pencil you’re using. Smudge-ability of a very soft 9B pencil and a mid-range HB pencil is compared in the image on the left. Because more graphite is left on the paper surface with the 9B pencil, it can be smudged a lot more than the tougher HB pencil.

Which manufacturer should I go with if I want to buy something?

This is frequently determined by your budget, but the quality of the marks you may make when drawing and sketching will be affected. These companies produce the best pencils for drawing and sketching.

Caran d’Ache graphite


Derwent Graphite

Faber Castell

Staedtler Mars Lumograph

best pencils

As you can see from the photographs, I use a variety of pencils from various manufacturers. This is because, through time, I’ve developed a preference for certain qualities of pencils and try to stick to them as much as possible. Of course, as you learn more about your pencils and what you can do with them, you can use them interchangeably. As long as they’re all graphite pencils, that is.
Is it really necessary for novices to invest in pricey pencils?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that as a novice, you can get away with using cheap pencils while’seeing how it goes.’ Low-quality materials and tools may lead to dissatisfaction and the abandonment of a new pastime. The success of your drawing will be limited if you use low-cost tools. When you start with good pencils, you’ll get the best results, which will motivate you to keep going.

When it comes to selecting the best pencils for drawing and sketching, my recommendation is to go for the highest quality you can afford. It’s preferable to buy a few high-quality pencils rather than an entire set of inexpensive pencils, most of which you’ll never use!

Don’t be fooled by the ‘cheap’ sets of 19 or so pencils (9B – 9H) available in discount stores. I wouldn’t be seduced by the excellent pencil bundles (about £13) that have the entire B range plus 2H and F. It is preferable to purchase the four pencils I recommend at the end of this post. They nevertheless provide a significant savings at around £1.20 each, allowing you to buy more of the pencils you’ll use on a daily basis.

So, which pencils are the finest for drawing and sketching?

The four pencils listed here are the only ones you’ll need and are the best for drawing and sketching.

HB On smooth paper, I use this for extremely light line drawings. It’s ideal for preparatory sketches because it doesn’t leave a lot of graphite on the sheet, which could contaminate any paint or watercolour applied on top. It has limited tone/shading capabilities, but it’s ideal for beginners who are confused where to begin with their drawings and sketches.

2B This is my go-to sketching and drawing pencil. It’s ideal for planning, drawing, and blocking in the key areas of tone and shadow. It gives a nice line quality that may be smudged and erased easily if desired. It’s still tough enough to sharpen to a point and utilise for fine detail in drawings and sketches, as well as for creating sharp edges to contrast with the soft sections.

6B Great for creating significantly darker tones/shading to your drawings and sketches, which will bring them to life by contrast with the lighter colours on white paper. This pencil may be used to create some great rich dark grey tones and has good shading capabilities.

9B My 9B pencils are one of my favourites, and they tend to shrink quickly. Remember that the softer the lead of the pencil, the more graphite it leaves on the paper and the more sharpening it requires. This pencil has the darkest of hues, lovely smudging and blending properties, and a rich and varied line quality. Just be aware of its softness, as too much of it will result in a lack of sharpness and definition in your drawings.

That’s all there is to it. You now know.

A HB, 2B, 6B, and 9B pencil are the best for drawing and sketching. Much better than purchasing an entire set of pencils, the majority of which will be unused.

View the selection of pencils at Amazon

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