Best Mechanical Drawing Pencils For Artists

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Kevin Hayler: Professional Wildlife artist, author, and traveler.

As a professional artist with over 20 years of experience using mechanical pencils to draw very detailed pencilwork, I’m well placed to offer some good advice about choosing the best mechanical pencils for drawing.

The Pentel P200 and Pentel P120 A3 series are the best mechanical pencils for drawing due to their affordable price, extensive range of leads, and consistent quality. They are the perfect mechanical pencils for beginners and professional artists alike, combining value for money with quality performance. 

Other reviews on page one are not written by artists, they’re merely affiliate list posts suggesting the most expensive writing pencils or listing everything on the market.  

In contrast, this post is intended to offer the best advice for choosing the best mechanical pencils suitable for drawing only.

So let’s get straight to it. 

Disclaimer: When you buy something via my affiliate links, I sometimes earn a commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend trusted sites.

The Best Mechanical Pencils For Drawing and Sketching

I won’t beat around the bush with an artificial countdown of the top 10 mechanical drawing pencils. That’s all nonsense. You need a set of simple pencils with a good range of leads in various sizes and luckily, you have limited choices. That’s a good thing believe me. 

Male orangutan (with original reference photo) drawn with mechanical pencils by Kevin Hayler.
A male orangutan was drawn exclusively with Pentel mechanical pencils
by Kevin Hayler

Pentel P200 Mechanical Pencil

The P200 is a great mechanical pencil and is sold at an affordable price that won’t break the bank. I’ve been using the 0.3mm gauge pencils for years to make my super detailed work, and I can assure you that you don’t need anything more expensive. As far as I’m concerned it’s a top-quality pencil and has everything you could possibly need. 

  • A slim lightweight barrel
  • 4 gauges – 0.3mm (brown), 0.5mm (black), 0.7mm (blue), 0.9mm (yellow)
  • Well engineered mechanism
  • The 0.3mm pencil has a clearing pin in the eraser 

A tiny built-in eraser is included but in all honesty, they are of little use to a serious artist. The erasers are found beneath the removable button at the top of the pencil and serve a more useful purpose as a stopper containing the spare leads. The eraser also doubles as a cushion for the clearing pin. 

A new pencil is supplied with one HB lead pre-installed, and 2 spares in the barrel. The lead is propelled forward each time you press the top button, and when the lead is exhausted the next lead feeds through. Sometimes you need to shake the pencil slightly for the next lead to position itself. 

The lead is retracted by holding the push button down and pushing the lead back manually inside the tip of the pencil. I simply press the nib down on the paper surface.

Remove the end button to refill the barrel with extra leads. Replacement leads are supplied in tiny plastic containers as a set of 10. Be careful as you pour the leads into the barrel of the pencil, they are extremely thin and fragile. 

The mechanism is clean and well-engineered and works efficiently and usually without a hiccup. 

Glitches do occur occasionally but nothing serious. Occasionally, two leads will try to slot into the propelling mechanism at once. Unscrew the pencil tip and use the clearing pin to release the jam. Likewise, the pin will push any lead fragment that’s reluctant to slide out of the shoot.

As these pencils are on the mid-scale of mechanical pencils they don’t have a fancy retractable mechanism or lead grade indicator, but so what? that’s all fluff. Do as I do and write the grades on a label and tape them to the barrel. Job done.

The Best Budget Mechanical Pencil for Drawing

My alternative suggestion is the cheaper P120 pencil also made by Pentel. I used them for years before I even bothered to buy a P200. They work a treat. If your budget is low, this is the best pencil for you. 

Pentel P120 A3 Mechanical Pencil

I began drawing with the P120 Pentel mechanical pencils. You don’t need anything else, it’s a great choice and a perfectly good mechanical pencil, indeed some people may prefer it. It has the following features:

  • A rounded lightweight barrel with a rubber grip
  • 4 gauges – 0.3mm (red), 0.5mm (black), 0.7mm (blue), 0.9mm (mustard)
  • Fully functioning mechanism

It has the obligatory eraser, but as I said, it’s no good for artists. 

I’m not sure if the mechanism is substantially different from the P200. It “feels” less engineered but that could be my imagination. It certainly shouldn’t be a reason not to buy one. In my experience, I think they suffer from more lead jams when they feed through.

The P120 works in the usual way. You press the cap to push the lead through, and the spares are contained in the barrel. 

I still use the P120 series, for my 0.5mm and 0.7mm pencils, and I still have some old 0.3mm pencils in my box. The P120 and P200 series share the same leads.

I have only minor niggles. One omission I can’t understand is not providing a clearing pin. How much would it cost to add a piece of wire? Some of the end caps have split on my older pencils, and the grips do get dirty with finger grease. That’s it.

These are the only Mechanical Pencils you need for drawing. The alternatives offer bells and whistles you don’t need, with fewer pencil grades. 

Take a look at the work of Stephen Bauman, he takes drawing with Pentel mechanical pencils to another level.

The Pros and Cons of Using Mechanical Pencils For Drawing

I love drawing with mechanical pencils because I’m a perfectionist and a control freak. Perhaps it says a lot more about me than the pencils. 

These are the pros and cons of using mechanical pencils to draw as I see them.

The Advantages of Using Mechanical Pencils

  • Mechanical pencils offer you ultimate control. They produce a more consistent line than regular pencils. 
  • They are easily the best pencils for adding fine details 
  • Over time buying replacement leads works out cheaper than buying traditional drawing pencils
  • They produce seamless controlled hatching
  • There is less pencil shine than standard B-grade pencils
  • The tips can be blunted or sharpened with a sheet of wet and dry sandpaper
  • The fragility of the leads demands less pressure, consequently, they’re easier to erase

The Disadvantages of Using Mechanical Pencils

  • Mechanical pencils are less versatile for rapid sketching and using expressive varied lines
  • They are expensive to buy initially
  • The tips break easily when dropped on a hard surface
  • Leads break all the time and they require soft handling
  • You need clearing pins to dislodge leads that get stuck
  • Lead replacements are sometimes hard to find, even online
  • The soft grades do not mix with standard soft graphite pencils

You’ll need to buy a separate mechanical pencil for each grade of lead you use and I figured out that if I wanted to use every pencil grade, in every gauge, I would need 22 pencils!

Don’t worry, you’ll soon discover your favorite pencil grades and sizes, and cut that number down dramatically. You can use traditional pencils for the harder grades because they keep their point so well.

I use 0.3mm grades – 2H, HB, B, and 2B consistently, plus 0.5mm pencils, HB, and 4B. I can’t recall the last time I used a 0.7mm pencil. I’ve never used a 0.9mm.

If you are confused by the grading system read this: What Do Pencil Numbers Mean? Pencil Shades Explained

How to Choose the Best Mechanical Pencils for Drawing

When choosing the best mechanical pencil for drawing, there are 4 main factors to consider: 

1. The Lead Size

Lead sizes are expressed in millimeters from 0.2mm at one end to 0.9mm at the other. If you need larger leads then you have a choice of clutch pencils ranging from 2mm to a whopping 5.8mm Copic clutch pencil. 

As an artist who uses mechanical pencils all the time,  I think 0.3mm leads are thin enough and fragile enough as it is, so I can’t really see the need for 0.2mm pencils. Stick with 0.3mm and you won’t go wrong.

They are fantastic for adding detail. In fact, I even use them for hatching the backgrounds. A tiny lead brings out the paper grain in such a delicate and refined way.

0.5mm pencils are the standard all-rounders. They are good for sketching and a looser style of work. They are much more robust than the thinner grades and will not break so easily. A simple sketching set of 3 would be fine for most artists, 2H, HB, and 2B.

Choose Pentel or Faber Castell for a full range of pencils to choose from. 

2. The Weight and Balance

The ‘feel’ of your pencil is such an intangible and subjective thing. I like drawing with lighter pencils but I can appreciate the pleasure of holding a heavier barrel. A heavy writing pen is a joy to use, but that’s not the same as a drawing pencil.

A standard pencil is not heavy, it’s just a stick of wood. Balance doesn’t come into it, and ergonomics? Give me a break. 

In my opinion, and for what it is worth, a heavy pencil requires the artist to compensate for the extra weight involved. A heavy barrel has the same effect as pressing harder. That’s not what I want. And consider this, do you want to lug a set of heavy pencils around with you? What if you are sketching outdoors? Weight really matters.

I advise you against buying expensive pencils with a full metal body. Stainless steel pencils are great for writing, but as far as I am concerned, I’ll use a plastic pencil thanks.

3. The Lead Grades

The same rule applies regarding mechanical pencils as it does to traditional wooden pencils, the brands use different grading systems. It’s not universal. Each company set its own standards. It’s important, therefore, to choose a good brand and get used to them. Don’t be tempted to mix and match leads from different companies until you are very familiar with your brand and can make an informed decision. 

The grades work in the same way most standard drawing pencils are graded these days, they use the H and B scales. H is for hard and light, and B is for soft and blacker. All three leading brands supply 2H – 2B leads in various sizes. Pentel has an added 4B 0.5mm which is super handy, and Staedtler offers a 3H 0.5mm lead which is less important.

In my experience, Pentel 2B 0.3mm leads have been dark enough for most of my drawings. If you need to add a darker value you can use a 4B 0.5mm lead over top. Always bear in mind that darker leads mean more pencil shine. You will have to weigh up the pros and cons yourself on that one.

4. The Mechanism

Finally, I will mention the pencil mechanisms. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a pencil is better because it has a self-sharpening mechanism. There’s every reason to avoid them.

It doesn’t help to have a permanent point. These rotating mechanisms are designed for smooth writing, not for artists. There are times, even with the finest leads when a blunt tip is required. 

I regularly blunt my pencil tips on sandpaper and draw at an angle. I deliberately chamfer the tip to highlight the grain in the paper. This is difficult to do with a built-in sharpener. You’ll be paying more to achieve less.

There is, however, every reason to use clutch pencils as I will explain. Keep reading

The Top Mechanical Pencils for Drawing Compared

Researching this list drove me mad. Faber-Castell in particular has an unnavigatable website. Nonetheless, these are the top 3 brands I came up with, in a comparison chart.

Lead SizePentel P200, P120, and
Graphgear Series
Faber-Castell TK 9713
Staedtler Mars Micro 775
0.2mmHB, B, 2B
0.3mm2H, H, HB, B, 2B2H, H, HB
0.35mm2H, H, HB, B
0.5mm2H, H, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B2H, H, HB, B3H, 2H, H, F, HB, B, 2B
0.7mm H, HB, B, 2B2H, H, HB, B, 2B2H, H, HB, B, 2B
0.9mmHB, B, 2BB, HB

This table lists the pencil grades available for each lead size for the Pentel, Faber-Castell, and Staedtler brands. Every other major brand seemed to offer far less.

As far as I can tell the current offering is up to date, and as a customer of Pentel, I’m disappointed to see the reduction in grades. They have discontinued many of the H grades. That said…

Pentel remains the best mechanical pencil brand with the best choice and the brand most widely available

I’ve included the Pentel Graphgear series in my comparison chart because they use the same leads as the other Pentel models. They are, however, less suitable as drawing pencils than the cheaper P200 and P120 versions because they are heavy and self-sharpening.

Best Clutch Pencil For Drawing

Clutch pencils are heavy-duty versions of mechanical pencils. They work in a similar way. Both pencils have a gripping mechanism that holds the lead in place. As the lead wears away it’s extended by pushing down the end button. 

Mechanical pencils are designed to feed the lead into a protective shoot and require precision engineering. Clutch pencils have no need for a sheath because they have thicker leads and are not easily broken.

There are many companies offering clutch pencils, but there is only one brand that stands out for artists. 

Faber-Castell TK9400 2mm Clutch Pencil (Lead Holder)

The Faber-Castell TK9400 2mm clutch pencil is perfect for artists with 8 pencil grades ranging from 4H – 3B. If you require a soft lead you need a Faber-Castell TK9400 3.15mm Clutch Pencil for a 4B, 5B, or 6B pencil grade. More than enough.

On the face of it, clutch pencils don’t offer any obvious advantages over traditional drawing pencils, but they do have one. The lead is strong enough to be extended a long way from the tip, and this enables an artist to use the side of the pencil lead in broad expressive strokes.

You can do this with an ordinary drawing pencil if you sharpen it with a blade, but as anyone with experience knows, it’s all too easy to break the lead. 

A clutch pencil is an optional extra, it really depends on the type of drawing you wish to make and your personal preference.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can You Use Fixative With Mechanical Pencils?

There’s no reason why you shouldn’t beyond my concerns about using fixatives in general. Mechanical pencil ‘leads’ are made of graphite mixed with clay or polymer binders and behave in an almost identical way to standard pencils.

Many artists, especially beginners, are convinced that a final spray coat of fixative is almost mandatory. That’s not true at all. Most fixatives, all those that I’ve ever used, alter the tonal values of the drawing. That’s fine if you apply a coat deliberately as part of the creative process, otherwise, it’s an irreversible alteration. 

Ask yourself why you need to spray a varnish coat and it’s hard to find the logic. 

  • Graphite is permanent and won’t fade over time, so as long as you draw on acid-free paper, the extra UV protection is pointless.
  • There is a very real danger of random uneven spray splashes sprinkling across the surface
  • The tonal values are altered and darken the drawing
  • Fixative binds particles but doesn’t give 100% protection, so a drawing needs to be framed under glass anyway.

Whatever you decide to do, do not use hairspray!

Read about fixatives here: How to Protect and Preserve Your Pencil Drawings Properly

Are Mechanical Pencils Easily Broken?

Mechanical pencils are easily broken if you misuse them as much as I do. I mostly draw outside, and they don’t like being dropped on a hard surface, I can tell you that. 

Most of my replacement pencils have come about because I have dropped a pencil on its tip. Mechanical pencils are precision made and any damage to the tip will prevent the lead from feeding through. You can’t buy a replacement tip (as far as I know) so you have to buy a new pencil.

It’s another reason not to buy a heavy metal pencil too. Dropping a heavier object could only be worse. The body might be solid but the tip will still be fragile. It’s worth noting.

More questions are answered here: Can You Draw With Mechanical Pencils? YES! Here’s How

Do The Leads Break?

Casual misuse aside, the made bugbear is due to lead jams. It’s not uncommon for leads to get stuck in both the ratchet and the nozzle. It’s annoying because it interrupts your workflow. You will definitely need a wire to free up the mechanism.

In theory, as one lead finishes, the next one slots into place and pushes the old lead out. Sometimes the new lead doesn’t want to cooperate and a fragment remains within the nozzle. The nozzle can be unscrewed and a wire inserted to clear the shoot. 

If you haven’t got a wire, rattle the pen and keep pressing the end button until a new lead appears in the ratchet mechanism. Screw the conical cap back on and gently continue pressing the button as before until the new lead pushes the fragment through.

Releasing two leads jammed into the ratchet feed is usually straightforward. Unscrew the conical cap and tilt the pencil up while holding the button down. The clamp will open and hopefully, the leads will slip back into the barrel. You might need to coax them with your wire. 

Lead breakage is not a big issue. The leads don’t seem to break within the barrel. They do break easily if I try to pick them up individually. If I accidentally drop one, I’ll pick it up by wetting my fingertip. Having broken leads in the barrel doesn’t seem to cause extra issues. 

The most likely way to break a lead is by pressing too hard while I’m drawing. It happens all the time when you use fine leads. As you get to them and your drawing technique improves, your breakages will get fewer and fewer. 

Is it Easy to Buy Replacement Leads?

In my experience, it can be difficult at times to find replacement leads. As everything transfers online, local stockists carry fewer items with low turnover. Sadly mechanical pencil leads are rarely stocked as an entire range.

Searching online is inevitable, so imagine my surprise when I couldn’t find Pentel 4H leads the last time I looked. I found some eventually on eBay, but it taught me not to take things for granted. Pentel has discontinued its harder leads.

In some ways, things have always been this way. You get used to a brand and expect to use them forever, only to discover the company discontinues or changes the product. It throws you completely. 

In other words, buy your favorite products in bulk, just in case.

Do Mechanical Pencils Erase Well?

Yes, mechanical pencils erase just as well as normal pencils, in fact probably better, because they require a softer touch. I use kneadable erasers, Tombow Mono pen erasers, battery erasers, and Blu-Tack to remove graphite. 

I never use the eraser supplied with the pencil, for one thing, it acts a soft stopper for my spare leads and there is always the fear that it will smear my drawing. I don’t take the chance. 

Best Mechanical Drawing Pencils: Final Thoughts

I could give a list of the best mechanical pencils with no genuine qualifiers and it wouldn’t help you at all. That’s what most affiliate-focused sites do. They talk in generic terms and you’ll leave non the wiser. I have tried to steer you toward the very few brands that artists will find useful. 

Honestly guys, when it comes to mechanical pencils, I know what I’m talking about.

Let’s face it, you’ll need 10 pencils to cover all your drawing needs. and that costs money. I don’t want you to pay far more for so-called ‘best’ drawing pencils just because they are shiny and over-engineered. You’ll waste your money.

Stick with the cheaper plastic Pentel mechanical pencils. They are reasonably priced, produce fantastic results, and are easily obtainable. 

Keep scrolling to see the Nile crocodile I drew with mechanical pencils

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This Croc was drawn entirely with mechanical pencils

"Monster Croc" A drawing using mechanical pencils by Kevin Hayler
“Monster Croc” A drawing using mechanical pencils by Kevin Hayler
Best mechanical pencils for artists. A Pin for Pinterest
The artist and Author Kevin Hayler

Hi, I’m Kevin Hayler
I’ve been selling my wildlife art and traveling the world for over 20 years, and if that sounds too good to be true, I’ve done it all without social media, art school, or galleries!
I can show you how to do it. You’ll find a wealth of info on my site, about selling art, drawing tips, lifestyle, reviews, travel, my portfolio, and more. Enjoy

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