No matter what type of creative individual you are, the pencil is a indispensable tool of the trade. Beginner, professional – or somewhere in between – a quality graphite pencil is a necessary component in your artistic tool belt.
Without it, you’d be naked – like Batman without his utility belt. So how do you go about picking the best drawing pencil for your needs?
We picked 3 of the best artistic pencil sets you can purchase below. If you’d like more information on how we choose these particular pencil sets, you can head to the explanation section.
Best Value For The Money In An Art Pencil Set:
This set of 12 durable pencils from LYRA are a perfect fit for the novice artist, as well as a great value for the expert practitioner. Inside this convenient tin case are 12 graphite pencils of assorted hardness levels. With these pencils in tow, you should always have the right hardness for the job at hand.
This company has been making high-quality pencils since 1816, and is well known for the craftsmanship and quality that is synonymous with German engineering. They are known for their consistency, and for being resistant to breakage.
Best Woodless Graphite Pencil Set:
While the box may have a promonent “11” on it, you’ll actually only get 6 pencils. But these are woodless graphite pencils, perfect for projects where water solubility is needed. These pencils can be used dry, applied dry and then use a wet brush to get a watercolor effect, or dipped into water directly for a richer, fuller color application. Made in Austria, Cretacolor is another trusted brand.
Woodless pencils are known to be smoother and longer-lasting than the average wood-encased pencil. Inside this kit you’ll get a kneaded eraser and a sharpener, so you’ll be ready to attack your project the moment you open the case.
Best Art Pencil Gift Box Set:
Have an artist on your gift-list and you aren’t sure what to get them? Here’s a perfect gift you can give to show how much the creator in your life means to you.
The Swiss brand Caran d’Arche is known as being the gold-standard in quality art supplies for over 100 years. They are among the highest quality pencils in existence, so they cost a bit more. This kit include 3 water-soluble pencils along with 15 graphite pencils of various hardness.
I know most artists wouldn’t want to spend this much on themselves – but would be extremely grateful if they received them as a gift. It’s not the right gift for everyone – but if you want to show someone you believe in them as an artist, this is a great gift idea.
How to Choose the Best Drawing Pencil For You
Picking the right pencil is a very personal choice. It depends a lot on your personal artistic style and what you are drawing. While you could draw both detailed, fine line sketches and shading from the same pencil, you’ll find it easier to choose different grades for each job. The same goes for how thick or thin your personal stroke style tends to be. That’s why I don’t think there’s one particular best pencil for you. Much depends on the use situation.
Must-Have Pencil Qualities:
Regardless of the brand and hardness you choose, a quality graphite art pencil will exhibit these qualities:
- Consistent Lead Quality – Your pencil needs to be made to exacting standards so the graphite/clay mixture (“lead”) is consistent from pencil to pencil. Without this rigorous quality control, you will really struggle to achieve the artistic effects you want from tool to tool.
- Good Sharpening – Some pencils will chip and break when sharpened. This quickly gets annoying. It also means the manufacturing process isn’t very high-quality, and you’ll likely have other problems with this pencil down the road.
- Erase Without Smudging – While some of this is based on the hardness of the pencil, higher quality pencils will smudge less at the same hardness level than cheaply-constructed ones. You are going to make mistakes, so do yourself a favor and look for a good quality brand name.
You might not know that the drawing portion of modern pencils is made up of a mixture of clay and graphite. The clay helps make the pencil draw smoother. By changing the ratio of clay to graphite we can change the darkness and hardness of the pencil. Generally, less clay = darker strokes and a softer pencil.
Most artistic pencils are graded on the HB scale. You can see from the picture above that 9B is the blackest while 9H is the lightest. While it’s easy to guess that the “B” is for blackness, not everyone can guess the “H” is for hardness of the pencil.
Here’s another gotya to keep your eye out for: there is no “universal” hardness scale. The HB scale is meant to judge pencils from a single manufacturer – so what is a 5B from Derwent might vary slightly from Staedtler. This isn’t generally something to worry about, but you might run across a pencil that makes you think “this isn’t a 4H?” It could be it’s just from a different brand than you are used to using.
In the United States of America, pencils are graded on a 5 point scale – #1,#2,#2.5,#3 and #4. The good-ole trust #2 pencil you know and love from standardized testing equates to a H on the HB scale.
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