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The 8 Best Pencils for Drawing and Shading: Improve Your Drawings

After using a bunch of off-brand pencils from my local retail store I wondered which brands supplied the best drawing pencils. 

I did some research and found out that the best pencils for drawing and shading are: 

  • Palomino Blackwing
  • Derwent
  • Staedtler Mars Lumograph
  • Faber-Castell 9000
  • Lyra Rembrandt Art Pencils
  • Prismacolor Premier 
  • Ebony Graphite Pencils
  • Caran D’ Ache’s Graphite Line Gift Box. 

I dug deeper into why these pencils are so good, what makes them so special, why so many professional artists recommend them, and whether they were even affordable.

What makes a pencil good for drawing?

pencil drawing of a forest made by Van Gogh

When using a pencil for drawing many people try to add variations in their strokes by pressing harder or lighter for their lines to appear darker or softer. 

However, this is not the right approach. 

To achieve the variations you desire In your drawings you have to get yourself the right pencils.

In a more practical sense, this means getting a B-grade pencil if you want to make darker marks and go for a harder H-grade pencil to make softer marks. 

By having various grade pencils at your disposal you tend to have a better perception of your drawings.

It should be noted however having a good pencil won’t automatically make you an exceptional artist.

These pencils give you more control over your drawings and aid you in achieving the depth, variation, and consistency you want in your drawings.

You are still required to put in the hard work, learn the fundamentals of art, and practice your drawing and techniques.

What makes a pencil good for shading?

pencil drawing of deer in a forest

Many artists recommend using soft (B-grade) pencils for shading purposes. This is because they tend to have a higher proportion of graphite in the lead compared to binder. 

This makes the pencil lay down darker marks ideal for shading at the expense of making the pencil blunt and having to sharpen frequently.

Even though it is generally considered that the B-grade pencils are best for shading it may all come down to what kind of shading you prefer. 

If you want a light tone of shading you may use one of the harder pencils (2H, 4H, 6H, etc.) and vice versa. 

It also depends on your shading technique as there are different shading techniques out there such as cross-hatching, contour shading, scribbling, blending with a blending stump or your fingers, etc.

For a more detailed guide on all the different shading techniques check out this article.

How to select the best drawing pencil?

Now, finding suitable answers to the above questions has given us a good guideline on what makes a pencil good for drawing and shading. 

After roaming around the internet, I have compiled the below list which I think are the best pencils for drawing and shading for both beginners and professionals.

1. Palomino Blackwing Pencils (Best Pick)

three different kinds of palomino blackwing pencils placed together
Pros Cons
Very smooth None
High-quality material
Dark rich marks
Don’t require too much sharpening

The Blackwing Pencil has been used by Grammy, Emmy, Pulitzer, and Academy Award winners including Chuck Jones, the creator of Looney Toons, John Steinbeck, and Disney Animator Shamus Culhane who had even requested to be buried with his Blackwing 602 Pencil.

There are 3 main options for the Blackwing Pencils: 

  • Blackwing – A soft pencil with grading similar to a 5B Pencil
  • Blackwing Pearl – The Blackwing pearl has a grading similar to a 4B Pencil
  • Blackwing 602 – This is the softest amongst the 3 with a grading similar to a 3B Pencil

The Blackwing pencils feature a soft and smooth premium quality Japanese graphite giving you soft dark lines without excessive sharpening. It draws very smooth lines as its leads have wax added to them. 

It has an iconic design as the pencil’s eraser is rectangular as compared to the traditional round eraser which keeps it from rolling. It is also replaceable either with another eraser or a pencil extender to give you more control over your pencil.

The gift box includes a set of 12 pencils and the gift box itself has a unique design that also doubles as a pencil cup.

You can buy the set from Amazon for $30-40 but you get it cheaper from Blick Art Supplies

2. Staedtler Mars Lumograph Graphite Pencils (Best Pick)

a box of 12 staedtler mars lumograph pencils
Pros Cons
High-quality wood casing None
Durable, sturdy
Great value for money
Light, portable case

Staedler is a very well-known and trusted brand. Many artists consider it to be their go-to pencil for sketching and drawing

The Mars Lumograph pencils range from 6B to 4H making them versatile and come in a set of 12 in a portable metal case. 

The pencils are made with high-quality materials, are less prone to breakage, and are one of the most consistent on this list. It also erases quite smoothly meaning you won’t have to deal with smudging.

Buy the Mars Lumograph Pencil Set for a discounted price on Blick.

Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Sketch Pencil Art Set (Best Pick)

Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Sketch Pencils
Pros Cons
Smooth and consistent None
Light, portable case

Faber-Castell is a German brand that has been around since 1761 and is known for its high-quality art supplies. 

The Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Sketch pencils have a hexagonal shape making them easier to grip.

They are durable, easy to sharpen, and break-resistant freeing you from worries of your pencil breaking during drawings and offer great consistency with no scratching and smooth flowing lines.

These pencils come in a set of 12 in a lightweight, small portable case so you can carry your sketch pencils with you.

These are an Artist’s favorite no matter the skill level.

Buy now for 52% off on Blick.

Derwent Drawing Pencils

derwent graphite drawing pencils box of 12 from 6b to 4h

Pros Cons
Can be bought individually Inconsistent
Smooth lines Scratchy – might rough up your drawings
Great for shading
Easy to sharpen

Derwent’s graphic pencils are great for both professionals and beginners and have a wide variety of shades with sets ranging from soft, medium, and hard.

These sharpen quite well and have a good sturdy wood casing which prevents them from breakages. 

The pencil is great for shading and detailed work because of its smooth lines, however, as compared to other well-known brands Derwent is inconsistent. The pencils can sometimes feel scratchy potentially roughing up your drawing.

Buy now from Blick for 40% off or on Amazon for $20

Caran D’ Ache Graphite Line Gift Box

gift box of caran d ache pencils
Pros Cons
Extremely high-quality Very expensive
Deluxe box includes eveything an artist needs

These are some of the most expensive pencil sets you might come across. 

The Caran D’ Ache pencils have been developed and perfected in Caran D’ Ache’s Genova workshops. These pencils were made possible because of extensive research and development carried out by Caran D’ Ache and the investment is totally worth it.

These are extremely high-quality pencils and I would suggest them for only serious sketchers as they might not be a good value for money for someone who does drawing for a hobby or is just starting out.

It is famously said about these pencils that once you start using them you will never want to go back to using any other pencil.

The Gift set includes 15 Graphite Pencils, 3 water-soluble pencils, and some extra accessories.

Buy now from Amazon.

Lyra Rembrandt Art Pencils

tin case of 12 lyra rembrandt art pencils
Pros Cons
Suitable for both beginners and professionals Harder to erase
High-quality cedar wood
Best for technical drawings
Includes 17 grades (19B to 6H)

This is another great set of pencils that is great for everyone from amateur to pro. 

The Lyra Rembrandt pencils are break-resistant and made with high-quality cedarwood. There is a constant degree of hardness throughout the graphite lead which makes them consistent, precise, and great for more technical drawings.

Many users have reported positive feedbacks with the most common favorite being how the lines are so smooth giving them a very consistent flow in their strokes.

The sketching kit is comprised of 12 pencils ranging from grades 4H to 6B for $12 making them a great value for money.

Buy now from Blick and save 34% on your order.

Prismacolor Premier Graphite Pencils

Prismacolor Graphite Pencil Set
Pros Cons
Great for beginners Prone to breakage
Versatile Not very durable, dont last long
Multiple options for shading Poor quality eraser and sharpener
Smooth velvety marks

The Prismacolor Graphite pencils are great for people thinking about taking their sketching/drawing to the next level as it includes some tools which many beginners could use to experiment in their drawings.

The set includes a wide range of professionally graded pencils offering versatility and allowing you to draw anything from shadows to highlights, to shading. These pencils create smooth and velvety textures from hard to light. 

The water-soluble pencils can be mixed with water to create a transparent wash and work really well.

The main downside of these pencils is that they are not very durable so if you plan on using them for a long time you might find yourself having to buy some parts separately.

The set contains 7 professional quality pencils (8B, 6B, 2B, B, 2H, 4H & 6H), 4 woodless graphite pencils (2B, 4B, 6B & 8B), 3 water soluble graphite pencils (HB, 4B & 8B), 2 erasers (Magic Rub vinyl & kneaded rubber), 1 steel sharpener and 1 sanding board

Buy now from Amazon or Blick.

Prismacolor Ebony Graphite Drawing Pencils

prismacolor ebony graphite pencil
Pros Cons
Ideal for beginners Prone to breakage
Smooth and easier to blend May require frequent sharpening
Best for shading Come in a single grade

The Prismacolor Ebony Graphite drawing pencils are more ideal for beginners in my opinion as they don’t offer as much versatility and variation in your strokes as the other pencils mentioned here. 

These however have a nice soft lead which makes your drawings smooth and easy to blend. The soft lead might require more sharpening and the pencil isn’t very sturdy and is prone to breakage.

However, it is excellent for shading as it can give you a texture similar to charcoal.

Buy now from Blick or Amazon.

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