Pencil Drawing Supply Review
Updated: 14 May 2021
When starting out, the different types and brands of drawing materials can be confusing.
In this guide, I will explore most of the known types and brands to consider.
Disclosure: some links in this article are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you choose to make a purchase.
Supply & equipment categories:
Drawing Pencils Types
Standard Drawing Pencils
Drawing pencils come in varying brightness values when HB is the standard value.
- The H value stands for Hardness and indicates how hard and light the pencil is.
- The B value stands for Blackness and indicates how soft and dark the pencil is.
For example, a 3B pencil will be darker and softer than a 2B pencil.
Pencils with high degree of softness tend to break.
The lighter grades will begin with the H values until HB and then, the B group for the dark levels.
Graphite is very soft and has a single brightness value.
The different grades in pencils are different amounts of clay added to the graphite.
Clay makes the pencil harder. Harder means that the pencil lays less graphite particles on a paper sheet and therefore looks brighter.
We can reach the same brightness values with different grades of pencils by drawing softer, adding pressure or adding layers to get a darker value.
I recommend to my students these pencil grades: 4H, 2H, HB, 2B and 4B. These are more than enough to have a full range of brightness values.
Here is an example of me drawing (almost) the same brightness value with different pencil grades:
Recommended Drawing Pencils Brands
MY TOP 3 CHOICES:
*My top choices are pencils that I use for ANY type of drawing or sketching.
Staedtler Mars Lumograph
Highly recommended, durable, high quality pencils suitable for ANY task. The pencil grade is clearly written on ALL sides.
I use the Staedtler for my commission work. They always deliver!
Another top quality choice. Faber-Castell is the largest pencil manufacturer and one of the oldest.
Tombow MONO Drawing Pencils
Tombow pencils have a nice balance between precision and softness.
They are quite dark and their precision require a gentle touch. Experienced artists will enjoy these pencils as their main drawing pencils.
They arrive unsharpened.
They also exist as a set including the excellent MONO Zero eraser.
*These next pencil brands are all recommended. I use them for specific tasks though!
The Mitsu-Bishi pencils are quite smooth and easy to work with. Great for shading.
Being smooth, they require frequent sharpening in order to draw fine details.
They arrive unsharpened.
Because they are soft and forgiving, I let my students use them when drawing or sketching realism.
And I use them for sketching demos:
Faber-Castell Grip 2001
These are amazing pencils for sketching. They come with only 5 brightness values (2H, H, HB, B, 2B). Therefore, less idle for realistic drawing.
They are lightweight, with an ergonomic structure and non-slip points. All of these make them great for sketching (and writing) for long periods of time.
Because they are super comfortable, I use them when I teach, for quick demonstrations:
In addition, when drawing from imagination (like concept art or product design), they are great for initial sketches.
The "1900" pencils are a fine option for drawing and sketching. Their "forgiving" marks will appeal to beginners.
They are smooth and quite on the bright side.
Goldfaber, by Faber-Castell, are smooth and affordable pencils.
They are great for beginners, for both drawing and sketching.
Because they are smooth, dark (soft) levels may break while sharpening.
Caran d'Ache Grafwood
Quality pencils yet pricey. Unique barrel color in accordance to the graphite grade.
Barrel is a bit thicker than regular pencils and might not fit in some sharpeners.
These pencils are VERY soft and therefore very gentle and in need of constant sharpening.
I use these pencils for sketching. Not for accurate realistic drawing.
These are a bit darker and harder than other brands.
I use them in a gentle way since they leave noticeable marks.
They arrive unsharpened.
Recommended for artists that can control the pressure while drawing.
These pencils are great for drawing and sketching.
Unlike the Staedtler Mars Lumograph, the size is not written on all sides of the pencil, and they are not as smooth.
Good drawing pencils but quite soft and in need of constant sharpening.
Lyra Rembrandt Art Design
Good pencils. Dark grades are not as dark as some other brands.
Staedtler Mars Lumograph Black
Artist pencils which are intended for creating dark brightness values.
Regular graphite pencils will produce shiny results under a certain angle from the light. Mars Black, on the other hand, have a high proportion of carbon, and therefore produce a matt result, especially in darker grades.
Pencils with cylindrical body tend to roll on the work surface. A hexagonal pencil is a better choice for that reason.
Thick Drawing Pencils
Thick pencils (also called Jumbo) with a thick graphite bar are used for sketching or for filling large surfaces.
They are less comfortable and therefore less idle for realism or accuracy.
A graphite rod or bar is a graphite stick with no wood coating.
Graphite sticks come in many shapes. Cylinder, rectangle-bar and pencil-shaped are very common and are used for filling large areas quickly.
The degree of lightness or darkness of a graphite stick will determine the brightness value of the area it fills.
A graphite stick can be used to draw directly as with a pastel stick.
Artists who prefer not to get dirty while working can use a graphite stick coated with a thin layer of plastic.
The advantage of graphite sticks is that they can be used both for details and for covering large areas.
If you want to draw in a realistic style, check out my beginners guide to realistic pencil drawing.
A mechanical pencil is a pencil that can be filled with graphite sticks that can be extended mechanically.
Mechanical pencils do not have to be sharpened.
Like technical pens for drawing, a mechanical pencil produces lines of uniform thickness and is used, among other things, for technical drawing.
The mechanical pencil is suitable for the creation of small, precise details.
Good to Know:
High quality mechanical pencils come with high quality eraser.
Due to the small size of the eraser, it can be used for creating fine and precise details such as hair.
To learn how to use mechanical pencils, visit my article on when, why and how to draw with a mechanical pencil.
How to Safely Store or Carry Pencils
I use a Derwent pencil case to carry my pencils and other drawing supply.
It is made of thick and strong fabric yet flexible enough not to damage the sharpened tip of the pencil.
Any roll-up case from thick canvas is a good solution (See on Amazon).
Many pencil brands provide a strong, metal case when buying a set.
I keep these cases for storing my pencils.
Erasers for Pencil Drawing
The advantage of a pencil, unlike other drawing and painting tools, is the ability to erase.
Eraser (also called a rubber) is used for erasing AND drawing.
Certain erasers can be used to change the brightness value of a surface or to create noticeable, bright details.
When you hold your drawing paper in order to erase, always erase against your grip.
If you erase toward your grip, the paper sheet will bend, and there is no way to fix it.
Gum eraser (also vinyl or plastic) is the standard eraser and is intended to erase mistakes.
This eraser leaves debris behind and is not intended to produce precise details.
A brush can be used to clean the eraser debris from the drawing surface.
My choice: STAEDTLER Mars plastic.
Keep in mind:
A gum eraser, by a quality brand, will erase better. That said, it could damage the drawing paper if you are not gentle.
Another quality option is the Tombow MONO plastic eraser.
Last but not least, the Faber-Castell dust-free eraser is a superb choice.
It has an excellent balance between softness and erasing power.
A kneaded eraser is designed to collect graphite or charcoal particles by absorption.
This eraser does not wear down and does not leave residue like a regular eraser.
By gentle friction of the kneaded eraser on a drawing surface or gentle taps, it can increase the brightness value of a particular area.
The kneaded eraser is flexible and can be made of shapes such as a dot or line. The harder the eraser is the more accurate textures it can create.
A kneaded Eraser is recommended for any type of pencil drawing art.
The purpose for erasers in the form of pencils is to enable the creation of small and precise details, or to erase small areas.
That said, these eraser pencils are usually not that effective!
A pencil eraser with a brush is great for cleaning debris from the drawing surface.
Tombow MONO Zero
This little refillable eraser pen can make all the difference!
The Tombow MONO Zero eraser is superior to any other type of eraser when it comes to creating fine details, especially for drawing hair, or for erasing small areas.
This eraser is a lot like erasers that come with quality mechanical pencils, only much smaller and therefore more precise.
Once you get used to it, especially when drawing realism, it is hard to do without.
Two tip types to choose from: round and rectangular (I use the round one).
Drawing (erasing) the highlights with Tombow MONO Zero:
Always pay attention that the eraser is bulging out of its case.
Otherwise, the metal case can scratch your drawing paper.
How to Sharpen Pencils
Pencils can be sharpened with a regular pencil sharpener or an electric sharpener.
Another way to sharpen pencils is using a knife for a very sharp point. Knife sharpening gives better control and accuracy for some artists; it is a matter of personal preference.
Sharpening pencils with a knife takes time, create dirt and leaves wood and graphite waste in the work environment. Using a knife can lead to injury.
My favorite is a canister sharpener since it is efficient, clean and easy to use.
Paper for Pencil Drawing
There is a wide range of paper for pencil drawing that includes:
- Single sheets of paper
- Pads of paper sheets
- Notebooks and sketchbooks
A pad of paper is a collection of individual sheets of paper that can be torn off.
The characteristics of paper:
*The roughness level of a paper indicates how well it grabs graphite particles.
For quick sketches, I prefer rough paper; for realism, I prefer smooth paper.
Some recommended brands:
Canson is a French company for the production of quality paper and other art related products.
Canson 1557 is one of my favorite paper sheets for drawing realism or any style!
XL Bristol (yellow) is VERY smooth & extra white. It is another favorite.
XL Drawing (green) is quite grainy and good for rough sketches.
XL Sketch (orange) is good for practice drawing and sketching. It is quite thin though.
The use of Canson XL Sketch for a quick portrait:
Fabriano is a leading paper manufacturing company. In addition, the company is unique in that it uses renewable energy.
The company is named after the town of Fabriano, located in Italy. Fabriano is one of the first places in Europe to produce quality commercial paper, from the 13th century to the present day.
Toned paper can add atmosphere to a drawing.
Winsor & Newton
Winsor & Newton is a British company that manufactures art equipment including paper for drawing and sketching.
Sketchbook is a book with smooth pages designed for drawing and sketching with pencil and used by artists as part of the creative process or for practicing.
Hahnemühle is a German paper manufacturing company and a world leader in the production of paper for inkjet printers. The company is known for the high quality of paper for drawing and sketching.
The Hahnemühle Nostalgie, is highly recommended and another one of my favorites.
A Sketchbook with a spiral allows ripping or cutting a page for an unsuccessful sketch.
Arches is an established French company (1492) specializing in the production of high quality paper.
Arches paper is made of 100% cotton.
This paper is of a high quality, but also very delicate. Extensive use of an eraser can damage it.
Rulers have a key role in many drawing styles. They are an important part of a drafter's drawing supplies.
Technical Drawing Rulers
When drawing in linear perspective, a ruler is essential for accuracy.
Regular rulers might cause bleeding with some technical pens. The solution is a ruler with an inking edge.
Inking edge means that at least one side of the ruler is a bit above the drawing surface.
My absolute favorite ruler for drawing in perspective is the Staedtler Mars 563 Aluminium Ruler.
It is of non-slip quality.
The Staedtler Mars 563 has a special structure for a firm grip.
I use its structure to hold my pen or pencil when I do other things (like erasing) and I do not want them to roll on the drawing surface.
A French curve is a ruler with many curves.
It is used to draw smooth curves and for fashion design.
I use French curve rulers for creating speech balloons when I draw comics.
Rulers are used for all kind of tasks like creating symbols.
There are rulers with many geometric or unique shapes for special usage.
A blending stump is made of compressed paper and used for mixing or smoothing of charcoal or graphite particles.
It is an excellent tool for smoothing or filling large areas and creating transitions in brightness values.
When a gentle mixing or smoothing is needed, a soft synthetic brush can be used.
The combination of quality pencils and little use of a soft brush, to draw the face:
Pencil drawing is laying particles of graphite or charcoal on paper.
Fixative is a liquid that can be sprayed on dry media artwork like pencil, charcoal or pastel, to preserve it and prevent smudging.
Fixative is toxic and flammable and should be sprayed in a well-ventilated place and kept away from the reach of children.
A thin layer or layers should be sprayed. A larger amount of liquid will cause the paper to wrinkle. Once it completely evaporated, another layer can be sprayed.
Pencil drawing is a craft that can be learned and for some artists is a solid basis for their craft.
Creating different brightness values is one of the characteristics of pencil drawing. It is advisable to use several drawing pencils with different lightness or darkness degrees.
Kneaded eraser is also used for drawing and not just for erasing. Due to its flexibility, it can be shaped in many ways to create different textures and effects.
It is recommended to use quality drawing-paper. Fixative can be sprayed on a finished drawing in order to preserve it for future generations.
Where to Go Next?
Now that we have some drawing supplies, it is time to start drawing.
The world is three-dimensional, but our drawing paper is two-dimensional!
To create the 3D illusion, I wrote a guide on how to draw the illusion of depth. It includes 15 proven ways to create depth, and it has MANY examples for you to explore.
*ALL art supplies in this article are owned & used by me.