What makes a pencil good for drawing?
While it’s possible to produce absolutely beautiful art with just a single pencil, for the purposes of this guide we’ll be looking only at pencils that are available, as a minimum, in a range of grades from at least HB to 6B.
Erasers aren’t necessary as you’ll almost always be using a separate eraser when drawing.
The lead should shade in a nice way. Although this is to a certain extent subjective, it should be easy to shade from light to dark.
The lighter grades, at least, should be easy to erase without smudging.
Drawing pencils should keep their points for a reasonable amount of time and should sharpen cleanly and easily. The lead should be smooth, to improve the overall experience of using the pencils and to help with shading.
Finally, if you’re putting down and picking up a selection of pencils, you need to be able to tell quickly and easily which grade each pencil is.
We’re taking a look at these pencils. Links lead to full reviews.
- Staedtler Mars Lumograph
- Faber-Castell 9000
- Staedtler Tradition
- Palomino Graphite
- Caran d’Ache Technograph 777
- Tombow Mono 100
- Caran d’Ache Grafwood 775
- Mitsu-bishi Hi-Uni
Range of grades
Staedtler Mars Lumograph: 6H to 8B
Faber-Castell 9000: 6H to 8B
Staedtler Tradition: 5H to 6B
Palomino Graphite: 2H to 6B
Caran d’Ache Technograph 777: 4H to 6B
Tombow Mono 100: 9H to 6B
Caran d’Ache Grafwood 775: 4H to 9B
Mitsu-bishi Hi-Uni: 10H to 10B
The Graphite was very smudgy and didn’t erase cleanly at all. The pencils that erased best were the 9000, Mars Lumograph and the Hi-Uni.
The Graphite was very grainy and didn’t shade nicely. The Tradition struggled a little too but the rest all behaved well. Which you prefer is going to be very much down to your own taste.
The Grafwood kept its point the best but they all did well apart from the Graphite.
All these pencils had good quality lead. The 9000 was the worst of the lot. It wasn’t bad, just not up to the high standard of the others. Japan absolutely won out with the Mono 100 and Hi-Uni both having exceptionally smooth lead.
I sharpened the 2B pencils with the wonderful DUX brass sharpener and, unsurprisingly since this sharpener is amazing, they all sharpened cleanly.
I sharpened the HB pencils with the KUM Automatic Long Point Sharpener. This is a tricky sharpener that can destroy some poorer quality pencils but all of these sharpened well. The thicker barrel of the Grafwood made it a little difficult but not impossible to use with this sharpener. You can see that the Tradition’s lead isn’t quite centred.
These pencils have the grade printed on at least three sides of the barrel, making it simple to pick up the one you want: Mono 100, Hi-Uni, 9000 and Mars Lumograph.
The others didn’t but the Grafwood barrels are shaded according to the grade (becoming a darker shade of silvery grey as the lead becomes softer).
Unless otherwise stated, these are the prices for single pencils taken from Cult Pens during December 2015.
Staedtler Mars Lumograph: £1.06
Faber-Castell 9000: £0.95
Staedtler Tradition: £0.64
Palomino Graphite: $9.95 (pack of 8 mixed grades from Pencils.com in the USA)
Caran d’Ache Technograph 777: £2.60
Tombow Mono 100: £1.84
Caran d’Ache Grafwood 775: £2.50
Mitsu-bishi Hi-Uni: £2.40
All of the pencils in this selection are good for drawing except for the Palomino Graphite which has waxy lead that is, basically, horrid.
The Caran d’Ache Technograph is one of the weaker performers (in an admittedly strong field) and is also the most expensive. It represents poor value for money.
The very best pencil for drawing is the Mitsu-bishi Hi-Uni. It keeps a good point, erases effectively, is wonderfully smooth, looks beautiful and shades extremely well. Worthy runners up are the Caran d’Ache Grafwood and the Tombow Mono 100. The Grafwood is on a par with the Hi-Uni most respects but it isn’t as smooth. The barrel design isn’t as pretty and doesn’t have clear grade marks on enough sides. The Mono 100 is a little smudgier when erasing and doesn’t keep its point quite as well as the Hi-Uni but shades in a beautiful way and is just as smooth.
The Grafwood and Hi-Uni are very expensive though. The Mono 100 is almost as good and costs about twenty-five per cent less.
If you’re on a budget then the Staedtler Mars Lumograph is an excellent choice. It’s smooth and shades and erases well. The barrel is clearly marked. It just loses its point a little more quickly than the best pencils.
If money is no object: Mitsu-bishi Hi-Uni
Best for a more sensible price: Tombow Mono 100
If you’re on a budget: Staedtler Mars Lumograph
Over to you
This guide will be updated when/if I come across something better. Do you know of anything I ought to be taking a look at? Have you got any favourites yourself? Do you think I’ve got these recommendations completely wrong? Please let me know.