Which Pencils Work Best for Drawing?
Darrel Tank put a number of pencil brands to the test and here are the answers about which ones give the best results...
by Darrel Tank

Drawing with pencils that behave consistently and have an equal spacing between the pencil grades can be a big help. Here's a review of what I've found to work best for the 5-Pencil Method.

Here are my top 3 choices...

#1 Blick® Studio (Czech Rep.)
#2 Caran d’Ache® Grafwood (Swiss made)
#3 Faber-Castell® Castell 9000 (Germany)

(Scroll down for Video Review!)

Note: There is no affiliation between Darrel Tank, the 5-Pencil Method or Happy Brain, Inc and any brand of pencil or pencil manufacturer. This is simply an independent review to help you choose pencils that may work well for you. Results are based on the pencils that were available at the time of review and are not a guarantee of consistency or quality for any brand of pencil in the future. As we now know all too well: the quality of a product can change without warning.

Swatch results

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Here's what the test swatches mean...

  • Each complete horizontal row shows the results of a different brand of pencil
  • Each pencil brand was compared to the same standard. That was the original PRISMACOLOR® Turquoise Graphite Pencils made in the USA with a 5 digit code.
  • The results from each pencil grade (4H, 2H, HB, 2B, and 4B) is shown in 3 different ways in column 1:
    • Bar 1 for each pencil grade is darker in value, because the graphite was applied with about twice the normal amount of pressure when using the 5-Pencil Method. This causes a burnishing of the paper’s surface and makes the removal of the graphite difficult, if not impossible. However, it showed the more extreme value of each individual pencil’s lead.
    • Bar 2 for each pencil grade is done with the same amount of pressure that is used with the 5-Pencil Method and makes the removal of most of the graphite from the paper possible without damaging the paper.
    • Bar 3 for each pencil grade has been done with the appropriate pressure used with the 5-Pencil Method to create a “patch” or gradient contour with the full range of value for that intended grade of pencil.
  • Column 2 shows each grade of pencil for each brand with the same amount of pressure that is used with the 5-Pencil Method and makes the removal of most of the graphite from the paper possible without damaging the paper.
  • Column 3 shows the same thing as column 2 and additionally shows how the graphite handles erasing for each grade of pencil.
  • The PRISMACOLOR Turquoise pencils with the 4 digit code and made in Mexico, are unacceptable in quality at this time. I hope that they can fix the problem.



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Notes:

You will notice that with the Blick®  Studio and the Faber-Castell® Castell 9000, that Test Bar 1 is closer in value to Bar 2 with less contrast than with other pencil brands.  The closer those two bars are in value, the better. The less difference in value between those two bars, the easier it will be to achieve the proper value on your paper.  The reason is because if Test Bar 1 is much darker when compared to Bar 2, it makes it too easy to accidentally apply too dark of a line on your paper for the intended value, if your application or pressure is in anyway inconsistent.

Pleasant surprises, not related to function of the pencil: One thing I like about the Blick Studio and the Staedtler® Mars Lumograph pencils is that the grade of the pencil is clearly marked on all six sides of the pencil. With the Faber-Castell 9000 pencils, the grade is marked on three sides, but was only fairly easy to read. With many of the other brands of pencils I tested, it was very difficult to see what the grade of pencil was if they were marked in a difficult-to-read foil or metallic color, and/or when they were only marked on one side of the pencil.

All in all, I liked these 3 the best:

#1 Blick® Studio (Czeck Rep.)
#2 Caran d’Ache® Grafwood (Swiss made)
#3 Faber-Castell® Castell 9000 (Germany)

The Blick® Studio was very consistent in application, and any variations were easy to refine. The values were quite consistent. They also had an excellent progressive range of value from the 4H through to the 4B. These drawing pencils have the least amount of contrast between the first two bars of each pencil grade test, so that the value of each graded lead, is the closet to the 5-Pencil Method value limits for each pencil. Tapping off the graphite with the large end of the kneaded eraser was acceptable through all grade bars. Making a thin erased line, with both the kneaded and electric erasers, also worked well through all of those grade bars. Grade of pencil is printed on all six sides for easy identification.

The Caran d’Ache® Grafwood pencils were very smooth with good consistency and seemed to flow when applied, with little need for refinement. Also the progressive range of value from the 4H to the 4B was quite good. There is very low contrast between the first two bars of each pencil grade test, making it easier to maintain the 5-Pencil Method value limits for each pencil. Tapping off the graphite with the large end of the kneaded eraser was quite acceptable through all grade bars. Making a thin erased line, with both the kneaded and electric erasers also worked well through all of those grade bars. The grade designation is printed in silver and on one side of the pencil only.

The Faber-Castell® Castell 9000 has an excellent progression of value with each pencil, from the 4H to the 4B. It went on very consistent, and refinement was easy. There was very low contrast between the first two bars of each pencil grade test. Tapping off the graphite with the large end of the kneaded eraser was acceptable through all of the grade bars. Making a thin erased line through all of the five grade bars with both the kneaded and electric erasers, worked well. This pencil has the grade designation printed on three of the six sides.

Two others that are quite good:

#4 Derwent® Graphic (England)
#5 Staedtler® Mars Lumograph 100 (Germany)

The Derwent® Graphic Pencils have a smooth application and they were easily refined. They have an above average progression of value from one grade to the next and an acceptable contrast between the first two bars. Tapping off the graphite with the large end of the kneaded eraser was acceptable. Making a thin erased line, with both the kneaded and electric erasers through all grade bars, worked well. The grade designation is printed in white letters on black and is on one side only.

The Staedtler® Mars Lumograph 100 pencils have a smooth application and they are easy to refine. They have a good progression from one grade to the next and an average contrast between the first two bars. Tapping off the graphite with the large end of the kneaded eraser was acceptable. Making a thin erased line, with both the kneaded and electric erasers through all grade bars, worked well. The grades of these pencils are printed on all six sides for easy identification.

Pencils that did not perform well for me:

The Tombow Mono is consistent in quality, but for me, the graphite is too soft and has darker values overall. This accentuates the grain of the paper and made it difficult to refine - Tapping off the graphite with the large end of the kneaded eraser was more difficult to lighten in the darker values - Making a thin erased line through all grade bars, with both the kneaded and electric erasers, worked well, but there was some smearing when passing the eraser through the values, because of the softer and darker graphite. The pencil grades are printed on three sides with silver on black at the capped end for easy identification.

The General’s Kimberly Graphite Drawing Pencils were disappointing. For me, they were inconsistent in value when applied and seemed to be “scratchy”. They tended to show every variation in the paper texture, which made it difficult to refine or create smooth gradations. This required more work and time - The progression of value from one grade of pencil to the next was poor. In fact, the 4H was darker than the 2H - This pencil’s grade designation is printed on two sides. One in gold and one in white - Tapping off the graphite with the large end of the kneaded eraser was acceptable. Making a thin erased line through all of the grade bars, with both the kneaded and electric erasers, worked well.

The Goldfaber 1221 Pencils had a fairly smooth application. The progression from one pencil grade to the next was incrementally poor. The 4H and the 2H were not much different in value, but then the HB is suddenly quite a bit darker. There is also very little difference between the 2B and 4B. Tapping off the graphite with the large end of the kneaded eraser was acceptable. When making a thin erased line through all of the grade bars, with both the kneaded and the electric eraser worked well. The pencil grade designation is printed in gold on only one side of the shaft.

And of course, the Prismacolor Turquoise with the 4-digit code are now performing worse than any other pencil I tested. I strongly recommend that you stay away from these pencils until Prismacolor can correct the issue.