As one of the main tools of the trade for artists and designers, the pencil is an absolutely essential piece of kit for anybody considering a foray into the world of artistic pursuits.
Though a standard HB, office style pencil can be used for outlines and basic shading, there is a wide and diverse range of specially crafted art pencils that are available for people of all levels.
Whether you are looking for a range of colors, soft leads and hard leads or perhaps a mixture of everything, you should be able to find a set of good quality art pencils without having to spend a small fortune.
Used extensively in classrooms, colleges, studios and the workplace, art pencils are created to allow the user to take control over the work they are doing.
There are many different manufacturers, some with well-established reputations and others who are relative newcomers to the industry, but as a general rule, most sets on the market will provide you with everything you need, no matter what your budget or specific requirements may be.
What type of art pencils are there?
There are several different types of art pencil available and the type you will need will vary depending on what you will be using them for.
At one end of the scale, there is an extensive range of hard and soft leaded pencils that can be used for black and white sketching. Leads usually range from 9H through to 9B. H graded pencils are used for technical drawing, very fine lines and lighter shading whereas B graded pencils can be used for dark areas of shading, shadow work and strong, bold lines.
At the other end of the scale, there is now a wide variety of colored pencils available, sometimes within the same set as standard, black/grey graphite core pencils.
Colored pencils can be used in conjunction with graphite pencils or by themselves, depending on the kind of work you are trying to create. In some cases, manufacturers have created specially designed watercolor pencils that can create similar effects to painting, so there really are very few limits in terms of what you can do with a good quality set of art pencils.
The Best Art Pencils in 2018
Faber-Castel Polychromos Colored Pencil Set
For the discerning artist or those who appreciate quality, Faber Castel’s Polychromos colored pencil set offers 60 different colors and the well known high standard of production that the company is known for. The cores or leads that are used in these art pencils are specially bonded during the build process which means they are resistant to breaking and quite resilient. They are also designed to be smudge resistant, waterproof and won’t fade over time, so all of your artworks will look just as good as the day you created them, even after several years. He 3.88 mm leads are designed to be long lasting while also providing strong, clear lines or graduated shading and the outer wood is treated with a high-quality varnish finish.
Unlike wax-based pencils, the artwork you create with Polychromos pencils won’t smudge or “bloom” so if you need to make accurate reproductions of things like buildings, technical plans or maps, this set would be ideal. The metal tin that houses all of the pencils is sturdy and sleek meaning it can fit into small bags or even larger pockets if you need to take your products around with you from place to place. Though there are no extras such as pencil sharpeners, erasers or charcoal sticks included here, the quality and selection of the pencils available as well as the metal carrying case make this a good investment for anybody who is serious about art.
The Lowdown: these are the best coloured art pencils on the market
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Amazrock Watercolor Pencils Set
Ideally suited for professionals or beginners who would like to experiment with watercolor style work the Amazrock color art pencil set offers a range of pre-sharpened leads. Made from a special soft core material that is designed to give outstanding color coverage, the pigments used here are of a very good quality. As with other watercolor style pencils, these materials can be used dry or wet to create different effects.
The package comes complete with a carrying case made from canvas so you can keep everything together and the pencil barrel’s themselves are embossed with an Amazrock logo, which looks very professional. As a good all round selection of colored pencils that also double as watercolors, this is a very good set of art pencils that will suit all ages and ability levels.
The Lowdown: best for beginners
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Magicfly Charcoal Sketching Pencils Set
This set of art pencils covers all of the basics with 12 core pieces that range between 5H and 8B. This means any sketching in black and white can be done with ease and there is also an ultra soft, all graphite pencil for use in delicate shading areas. The handy portable zipper case means transportation and storage are well taken care of so you don’t have to worry about losing anything or unwanted damage. If you are considering this pack as a gift for a loved one or perhaps a child, the materials are all safe and non-toxic, so you can buy with confidence.
In addition to the main pencils, this package also includes 3 charcoal pencils, 4 pastel graphite pencils a pencil knife, extender and a range of other fantastic extras. A kneaded eraser can take care of any errors or mistakes and the two sharpeners included mean you can keep all of your pencils nice and sharp. This set could be ideal for both beginners or professionals and is great value for money overall. If you need a spare set of pencils for your art studio at home or perhaps would like to introduce children to the pleasures of drawing and creating art, the Magicfly 41 piece pencil set is ideal.
The Lowdown: best for drawing and shading
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Faber Castell 9000 Design Pencils
Faber-Castell are known extremely well in the art and office supply world as they have been creating products for generations. Though a little more expensive than some of the other sets, this simple set of graphite drawing pencils is designed to promote quality over quantity. There are 16 degrees of lead hardness available within the set, so you can undertake technical drawing, shading and portrait work with ease. The manufacturing process involves strengthening the leads to a break resistant standard which means although basic common sense and care will be needed when handling them, these pencils are less likely to break or shatter than some of the cheaper models on the market.
Presented in an attractive and durable metal tin that is both stylish and protective, this set of art pencils can be stored without taking up too much space and transported very easily. The trademark green varnish finish has become somewhat famous since Faber-Castell started using it on their products and many experienced professionals see this is as a mark of quality. Though this set would not be suitable for young children or those who need color and a range of additional materials, the build quality and simple but effective design make it a perfect for sketching enthusiasts or artists everywhere.
The Lowdown: great all round set
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Funlavie Artist’s Quality Coloring Pencils
Funlavie may not be the best-known brand when it comes to art supplies but this handy 24 pack includes enough good quality, soft leaded pencils to create fantastically smooth colors, shading and blending. The manufacturers say these pencils can be used to make strong, thick strokes in one movement, followed by light, delicate shades in the next. This means you could create extremely effective works without the need for a huge array of separate colors.
The outer shell of each pencil is crafted from beech wood so they won’t splinter or shatter when dropped. The leads themselves, though soft enough to be used in diverse ways, are still easy to sharpen to a decent point. Though this is a smaller selection than some of the kits on the market, this does mean they are a little cheaper and could be a good budget option. Included in the package is a cylindrical carrying case to keep all of your pencils together so they don’t get lost or broken. Though not as stylish as some of the higher end, metal tins that come with some other packages, this still does the job and protects your materials from unwanted damage.
The Lowdown: best for those on a budget
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Angstep Artist Grade 2 in1 Watercolor Pencils
Featuring a galaxy of 72 colors, this pack of specially designed watercolor pencils is the perfect gift for enthusiasts or professionals. They can be used as regular coloring pencils very effectively and would be ideal for creating colorful designs, landscape pictures or detailed still life work. Made from recycled wood which is great for the environment, these art pencils are also non-toxic and comply with all safety regulations. Having so many colors at your disposal means that you can create vivid, diverse pictures from this set alone, so if you need to furnish your child’s playroom with a reliable selection of drawing materials, this could be a good choice.
The real selling point for this set is the watercolor element incorporated into the pencils. By just adding a drop of water to the paper, you can release soft, warm colors, very similar to the effect you get from watercolor cakes and a brush. Some artists use watercolor pencils as a back up for when they don’t have all of their materials to hand and others prefer their versatility to actual paints. Overall, this set provides limitless creativity and offers a great range of color for anybody who loves to create.
What to consider when buying art pencils
Other than obvious considerations such as your budget, you will need to think about the kind of work you intend to create and how or where the art pencils will be used.
If you will be mainly be creating black and white sketches, a simple but good quality set of graphite core pencils will be a good option, however, if you plan to draw colorful pictures, a set that includes both types would be more appropriate.
Similarly, if the pencils are going to be used by young children or in a classroom environment, it would be sensible to ensure they are robust enough to withstand a fair amount of wear and tear. It can also be a good idea to look at the materials used in art pencils as some manufacturers deliberately use nontoxic components to ensure any accidents can be easily avoided.
Storage may also be an issue for you if you have limited space or need to transport your art materials from place to pace, so a good quality case may be an important consideration, too.
Editor’s choice Best Art Pencils 2018
For the sheer range of colors available and the excellent two in one watercolor style pigments, the Angstep Artist Grade 2 in1 Watercolor Pencils are our pick of the bunch.
Though other, better-known brands are available, unless you have a particular loyalty to certain manufacturers, this set of high-quality colored art pencils is one of the best on the market at the moment. Essentially, you are getting two potential mediums for the price of one when you buy this package and if taken care of properly, there is no reason these pencils can’t provide you with many enjoyable creative sessions.