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Perhaps we’re biased, but there’s a unique beauty to drawing pencils that isn’t matched in your everyday writing pencils. Usually painted in pleasing colors and embossed with their name and grade, they cut a striking figure in your art set. Of course, you can’t judge a drawing pencil (solely) by its beauty. Graphite pencils come in a variety of grades: B pencils have more graphite in them, so they make dark and soft marks, while H pencils have more clay in them which provides harder and more precise marks. A good drawing set will include a range of grades that transition smoothly from one into the next. Ahead, find top notch options to get your sketching and drafting off to a good start.
1. Tombow MONO Drawing Pencil Set
If you’ve ever known the special, quiet frustration that accompanies a pencil that won’t sharpen evenly, you’ll appreciate the inverse joy of finding a pencil that does. From Japanese artist supply company Tombow, these pencils feature precisely centered lead cores that are adhered to the cedar wood barrel. Cedar wood is hard, so it shaves away cleanly and smoothly, exposing a sharp point. This set contains 12 pencils in degrees from a soft 6B to a hard 4H.
2. Derwent Graphic Drawing Pencils
Derwent, a British manufacturer of fine art supplies, makes this go-to drawing pencil set. The medium range set includes 12 pencils: 4 H grade pencils, 6 B grade pencils, an HB, and a F (featuring a lead that keeps its point and is a step harder than an HB). The hard pencils have a thinner core (2.2 millimeters) than the black pencils (which have a 3.5 millimeter core) to make a sharper line.
3. Faber-Castell Jumbo Graphite Pencils Set
The Castell 9000 pencil has a cult following and a long history: it was purportedly launched by Count Alexander von Faber-Castell himself back in 1905. Loved for all the right reasons—smooth lead, even transitions, consistent wood—the pencils are staples in many studios. This jumbo version only improves on the old standard, featuring a thick barrel that feels balanced in the hand and a 5.3 millimeter lead that provides a variety of possible line widths.
4. General’s Semi-Hex Graphite Drawing Pencils
For those who are looking for a classic, no-frills set with everything you need to get started, General’s pencils are a good bet. With a hexagonal shaft made of hard cedar painted dark blue, the pencils in this soft-grade set range from HB to 6B. They blend well, but the distinction between the two darker grades is minimal.
5. Staedtler Mars Lumograph Black Drawing Pencil Set
Staedtler Mars Lumograph pencils are beloved among artists, and part of that reputation has to do with the 8B and 7B pencils. Up until a few years ago, these grades contained some carbon, which provided a deeper and darker black. Staedtler now keeps its traditional Lumograph line carbon-free, and has introduced a line of carbon-mixed pencils called Lumograph Black. Each B pencil contains a gradually higher proportion of carbon to make the transition from lighter graphite to darker carbon. The price of such charcoal-like tones? The black line doesn’t erase or blend as well as graphite.