The Ultimate Pencil Types Guide

Do you know how many types of pencils there are?

Most people have used a wooden pencil to either write or draw with, but did you know that there are now 12 different pencil types?

No? me neither so I did a little digging to find more information.

I discovered that there are specialist pencils for artists to get the deepest blacks, various mechanical pencils that offer precision and convenience, and even woodless pencils.

In this guide, I show you all 12 types of pencils, typical usage, and examples of the best pencils for each type.

So let’s begin.

Table of Contents

1. Carbon Pencils

Carbon Pencil

A carbon pencil is a special type of pencil that is used by artists when they want a deep black color.

They make carbon pencils from a combination of graphite and charcoal that gives the strength of a traditional graphite pencil and the deeper black colors that charcoal pencils can produce.

1.1 What are Carbon Pencils Used For?

Artists use carbon pencils for drawing and sketching when they want a deep dark black color. They eliminate the mess and smudginess of a standard charcoal pencil.

As well as preventing graphite shine which is a trait of traditional graphite pencils with softer B grade graphites.

1.2 Who Makes The Best Carbon Pencils?

The best carbon pencils are made by Conté à Paris, General Pencils, Lyra, Staedtler & Wolffs Pencils.

Conté à Paris Carbon Pencils

These are high-quality carbon pencils made by a French company with a 200-year-old history.

The pencils have a 4mm core diameter with a choice of 2H, H, HB, B, 2B, and 3B grades.

Generals Carbon Sketch Pencils

General Pencils are one of The US’s oldest pencil manufacturers, famous for their distinctive yellow liveried “Semi Hex Pencils”.

They make the pencils from high-quality incense Cedar wood and have a unique core formula that produces strong black lines that is darker than their 9B graphite pencils.

Lyra Rembrandt Carbon Pencils

Lyra is one of Europe’s oldest pencil brands dating back to 1868.

They make the pencils core from exceptionally fine grains that write cleanly and smoothly with a choice of H, HB, B, 2B, and 3B grades.

Staedtler Lumograph Black Pencils

These pencils have a unique core formulation that contains a high percentage of carbon They are available in 8B, 7B, 6B, 4B, 2B, and HB grades.

The 8B carbon pencil has a 4.5 mm core diameter and the rest measure 3.6mm in diameter.

Staedtler is Europe’s oldest and biggest pencil manufacturer, who can trace its history back to 162

Wolff’s Carbon Pencils

These pencils have gained a reputation for being one of the best carbon pencils there is. The pencils barrel is natural cedar wood with a strong finely grained core that produces smooth sharp lines.

The core diameter of the pencils is 5 mm with a choice of B, 2B, 4b, and 6B grades.

Wolff’s pencils started life as a brand name of a British manufacturer from the Royal Sovereign Pencil Co. However, in the late 1980s, Staedtler bought out the company.

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2. Charcoal Pencils

Charcoal Pencil

A charcoal pencil is usually a wood-cased pencil with a core made from compressed charcoal and a binder such as gum or wax that holds it all together.

They can also have a paper coating around the core, in the same way, that you would for a Chinagraph or grease pencil you can peel it off to reveal the core.

Charcoal pencils are used to produce deeper blacks than graphite pencils back although they work better on papers with a rougher surface. Because they are quite dry and powdery artists will often use a fixative spray to preserve their work.

2.1 What are Charcoal Pencils Used For?

Artists use charcoal pencils for drawing and sketching because unlike charcoal sticks they can produce thin lines. They can also produce a greater variation in tones than a graphite pencil can.

2.2 Who Makes The Best Charcoal Pencils?

The best charcoal pencils are made by brands such as Derwent UK. General Pencils, Staedtler and Windsor & Newton.

Derwent Charcoal Pencils

Derwent charcoal pencils have cedar wood barrels and they make the core from natural charcoal particles mixed with high-quality clays.

The pencils are available in three grades: light, medium, and dark, which can produce tones from soft grey to the deepest black.

Generals Charcoal Pencils

Generals charcoal pencils are a firm favorite with artists, made from high-quality Cedar wood and available in HB, 2B, 4B, and 6B grades.

The handcrafted pencils have an oil-free charcoal formula that produces rich intense blacks that blend with ease.

Staedtler Charcoal Pencils

Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100C charcoal pencils are outstanding pencils with a special core formation containing a high percentage of carbon. For deep black tones.

The pencils are available in three grades: soft medium and hard which produce a wide range of deep black tones.

Windsor and Newton Charcoal Pencils

The Windsor and Newton Studio collection of charcoal pencils are available in 2B, 4B, and 6B grades.

They are excellent quality pencils made from Linden Wood. These low-priced charcoal pencils are a good first option to try out.

For more information about different wood types check out our guide:

What Wood are Pencils Made From?

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3. Clutch Pencils / Lead Holders

Clutch Pencil

A clutch pencil, which is also known as a lead holder, is one of the simplest types of mechanical pencil

It comprises 3 principal parts: the clutch or jaws at the end of the pencil, a push button, and a spring to operate the push button.

Pressing the push button opens the jaws and the lead can fall freely out of the pencil via gravity until you release the pushbutton.

The jaws then clamp around the lead, gripping it in place. Most clutch pencils use 2mm lead, but   3mm, 3.15mm and 5.6mm lead diameter pencils are available.

3.1 What are Clutch Pencils/Lead holders Used For?

Artists use clutch pencils as they provide consistent line widths, by extending the lead. They can shade wider areas.

The advantage that they have over traditional graphite pencils is that their size and weight remain the same giving a good balance in your hand.

3.2 Who Makes The Best Clutch Pencils/Lead holders?

The best clutch pencils ( lead holders) are made by Faber-Castell, Rotring, Staedtler, and Staedtler.

Faber-Castell TK9400 2mm Clutch Pencil

The Faber-Castell Tk9400 2mm Clutch Pencil/Lead holder is another very popular lead holder.

The pencils have Faber-Castell classic green livery with either no marking or the lead grade from 4H- 4B for easy identification

Rotring 600 2mm Clutch Pencil/ Lead Holder

The Rotring 600 2mm clutch pencil is one of the most expensive clutch pencils there is at around $35.00 although the Rotring 800 is a hefty $100 and far too expensive for most people.

The Rotring 600 is an all-metal push button lead holder fitted with 2mm leads.

Staedtler Mars Technico 780C Lead holder

The Staedtler Mars Technico 780C Clutch Pencil/Lead holder is one of the all-time classics and a firm favorite of many artists.

It is a straightforward pencil with 2.0mm lead, which is extended by simply pressing its push button.

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4. Colored Pencils

Colored Pencil

A colored pencil is a wood-cased pencil with a color pigment and either a wax or oil-based binder.

The type of binder and the proportion of the pigment to the binder affect how the pencil feels and writes on paper.

Premium colored pencils have purer pigments giving more vibrant light-fast colors that resist the effects of fading caused by sunlight.

4.1 What are Colored Pencils Used For?

Colored pencils are used to create various art styles such as abstract, expressive, detailed artwork, or even photo-realistic.

They are very easy to use with no mess, or drying time. Very detailed work can be produced with colored pencils. Wax-based are more widely used than oil-based colored pencils as they are a lot cheaper.

4.2 Who Makes The Best Colored Pencils?

The best-colored pencils are made by brands such as Caran d’Ache, Faber-Castell, and Prismacolor.

Prismacolor Premier Soft Core Pencils

Prismacolor Premier Soft Core Pencils are inexpensive wax-based pencils and are ideal for beginners and adult coloring books.

Faber-Castell Polychromos Color Pencils

Faber-Castell Polychromos Color Pencils are a premium quality oil-based colored pencil that is a firm favorite with many artists. Because of their rich pigmented colors that lay down easily on paper.

Caran d’Ache Luminance Colored Pencils

Caran d’Ache Luminance Colored Pencils are premium pencils with excellent last fastness ratings.

Compared to other manufacturers pencils these will not fade as easily and retain their vibrance for a lot longer.

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5. China Markers Pencils (Grease Pencils)

Grease Marker China Marker

Chin Marker Pencils are a special type of pencil that is made from solid wax. They sometimes refer to this type of pencil as Grease Pencils.

Wood or paper is used to enclose the wax core of China marker or grease pencils. To reveal more of the core either use a normal pencil sharpener to sharpen the wood or peel off the paper.

5.1 What are China Markers (Grease Pencils) Used For?

China marker pencils are great at marking nonporous glossy surfaces hence the name “china marker.”

They are fade and moisture resistant and used to write on materials such as ceramics, glass, metal, paper, plastic, porcelain, stone and even photographs.

5.2 Who Makes The Best China Marker Pencils?

The best china markers/grease pencils are made by Listo, Sharpie, and Stabilo.

Listo No. 1620 Marking Pencil

Listo is the company that invented the grease pencil over 80 years ago. Their 1620 mechanical marking pencil is refillable and available in 8 colors.

It is one of the USA’s best-selling grease pencils.

Sharpie China Marker

The Sharpie China Marking Pencil is a very popular grease pencil, peeling the outer protective sleeve using a pull string reveals more of its waxy core.

Sharpie China markers are available in four colors.

Stabilo All Marking Pencil

The Stabilo all marking pencil is another popular Chinagraph pencil. It has a wood case to protect its wax core and is available in 9 colors.

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6. Liquid Graphite Pencils

Sharpie Liquid Pencil

Liquid graphite pencils, as the name suggests have a liquid graphite core instead of the traditional solid core. Scripto and Parker invented them in the 1950s but neither company makes any of them these days.

The Sharpie liquid pencil is the most famous modern-day liquid pencil. In 2010 they launched it in a blaze of publicity that it was going to revolutionize the pencils manufacturing industry.

Sharpie Liquid Pencils did not live up to the hype and have quietly faded away.

You may find some old stock but they are no longer in production.

6.1 Who Makes The Best Liquid Graphite Pencils Pencils?

Unfortunately, there are currently no liquid graphite pencils available at the present time.

The closest thing is Derivan Liquid Graphite Pencil.

The thing is it is not a pencil it is liquid graphite in a squeezable tube.

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7. Mechanical Pencils

Mechanical Pencil

A Mechanical pencil is a refillable mechanized pencil that can control the amount of pencil lead that protrudes from its tip, by either pushbutton, twist-action, side knock, or shaker mechanism.

Plastic, metal or a combination of both is used to make mechanical pencils They can have either a 0.2, 0.3, 0.4, 0.5 0.7, 0.9, 1.0, 1.1, 1.18, 1.3, 1.8, or 2.0 mm diameter graphite core.

Check out our Ultimate Guide to Mechanical Pencil Lead Sizes for More Information.

There are also 10 grades of lead available for mechanical pencils.

Other names for mechanical pencils include auto-pencils or propelling pencils

7.1 What are Mechanical Pencils Used For?

Mechanical pencils are a very versatile writing instrument often used by drafting technicians for technical drawing as they can draw consistent precision lines

They are great for everyday writing or maths, with no sharpening or mess to worry about.

Artists use them for drawing with they write very thin lines or shade in bigger areas, and unlike a pencil whose size changes they are always a suitable length to hold comfortably in your hands.

7.2 Who Makes The Best Mechanical Pencils?

There are many great mechanical pencils, check out our guide The Top Ten Drafting and Mechanical Pencils.

If you want a mini mechanical pencil there are three that stand out from the rest check out The Top 3  Mini Mechanical Pencils for more details.

Here are three of my favorites:

Ohto Super Promecha Drafting Pencil 1500

This is one of the best professional drafting pencils there is. It is an all-metal pencil packed with features such as being able to adjust the length of the lead sleeve.

The length of lead that is pushed out of the sleeve with each click of the push button and a built-in lead grade indicator.

Uni Kuru Toga Self Sharpening Mechanical Pencil

The Uni Kuru Toga Self Sharpening Mechanical Pencil is an engineering marvel that took 5 years to design, it has a unique clutch mechanism that rotates the pencils lead a quarter of a turn each time that you lift the pencil off the paper.

This acts as a self-sharpening mechanism by evenly wearing down the pencils lead.

Pentel Twist Erase Pencil

The Pentel Twist Erase Pencil is a solid performer with a large eraser. Twisting the barrel extends the eraser as it wears down.

The Twist Erase is an inexpensive pencil costing only a few bucks, and its big grip is comfortable to hold for extended periods of time.

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8. Multifunction Pencils

Multifunction Pencil

A Multi-Functional pencil is a writing instrument containing several functions, ie a pencil and ballpoint pen.

It can have several functions such as a pencil, a black ballpoint pen, and a red ballpoint pen.

They are more commonly referred to as Multi-functional Pens or Multi Pens.

8.1 What are Multifunction Pencils Used For?

The Multifunction pencils lead is usually 0.5 mm or 0.7mm in diameter. They are excellent for general purpose everyday tasks such as writing, maths, and note-taking.

Having 2 or 3 functions in the one writing instrument makes a multi-pencil ideal to take with you on your travels.

You don’t need to carry a pencil, two pens and a sharpener, pick up your multi-pencil and you are ready.

8.2 Who Makes The Best Multifunction Pencils?

The best multi-function pencils are made by Lamy, Pilot, and Rotring.

Lamy st twin Pen

The Lamy st Twin Pen has a slim stainless steel barrel and contains a 0.5 mm pencil and a black ballpoint pen.

To select the pen or pencil, twist the upper part of the barrel. To advance the lead simply press the pushbutton..

A handy eraser is underneath the cap of the pushbutton.

Pilot 2+1 Slim (2 color ballpoint pen + 0.5 mm pencil)

Most multi-pencils / pens have quite a wide barrel to incorporate the refills and the selector mechanism.

The Pilot 2 = 1 Slim is one of the more stylish multifunction pen / pencil combos on the market. Incorporating a black ballpoint pen, a red ballpoint pen, and a 0.5 mm pencil.

It works by a gravity mechanism stamped on the barrel are the colors and pencil simply hold the multi-pen horizontally with the name facing you and press the push button. To retract the tip press the side button at the top of the clip.

Rotring 600 3 in 1 (2 color ballpoint pen + 0.5 mm pencil)

The Rotring 600 is an all-metal multi-function writing instrument, It has the distinctive Rotring hexagonal shaped barrel, a black ballpoint pen, a red ballpoint pen, and a 0.5 mm pencil

To select a function, simply twist the knurled knob at the end of the pencil and it rotates through the different options.

With the pencil selected to extend the lead, press the push-button twice.

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9. Woodless Pencils (Solid Graphite Pencils)

Woodless Pencil

A woodless pencil which is also known as a solid graphite pencil is a graphite stick with a lacquered finish to protect its core.

We can sharpen them just like a wooden pencil in a handheld pencil sharpener.

Woodless /Solid graphite pencils are available in different degrees the same as wooden pencils ranging from HB – 9B

9.1 What are Woodless Pencils Used For?

Woodless pencils have a large diameter core than traditional wood-cased pencils, and this makes them ideal for shading larger areas.

They are available in different degrees the same as wooden pencils ranging from HB – 9B these are more commonly used by artists than harder H grades of graphite.

9.2 Who Makes The Best Woodless Pencils?

The best woodless/solid graphite pencils are made by Caran d’Ache, General Pencils, and Koh-I-Noor.

Caran d’Ache Grafstone Woodless Graphite Pencils

Caran d’Ache Grafstone Woodless Graphite Pencils are premium solid graphite pencils. They are available in HB, 3B, and 6B graphite grades.

Generals Woodless Graphite Pencils

Made from pure graphite Generals Woodless Graphite Pencils are available in HB, 2B 4B, 6B & 8B graphite grades.

They can shade larger areas or for detailed work by creating a fine point on the tip with a handheld sharpener.

Koh-I-Noor Progresso Woodless Graphite Pencils

Koh-I-Noor Progresso Woodless Graphite Pencils are very popular solid graphite pencils. Favored by artists they are available in HB, 2B 4B, 6B, 8B & 9B graphite grades.

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10. Stylus Pencils

Mechanical Pencil With Stylus

A stylus pencil is a mechanical pencil with a built-in stylus. There are only a couple of these types of pencils that you can buy. A premium Rotring 800+ mechanical pencil and stylus combo or the Monteverde One Touch Stylus mechanical pencil and multi-tool.

Rotring 800+ Mechanical Pencil and Stylus

The Rotring 800+ is a premium quality drafting pencil with a choice of 0.5mm or 0.7mm lead diameters. It has an innovative built-in high-quality stylus at the tip end of the pencil.

Twist the knurled section above the pocket clip to extend and retract the tip of the pencil.

Pressing the push button extends its lead, and underneath this is a replaceable eraser.

Monteverde One Touch Stylus Mechanical Pencil and Multi-tool

The Monteverde One Touch Stylus, Mechanical pencil, and Multi-tool is the Swiss army knife of mechanical pencils and packed with features.

On the side of the hexagonal barrel are 3 different scale rulers, 4 inches long. At, the end of the pencil is a capacitive stylus. Unscrewing the stylus reveals a reversible flat head/ Phillips screwdriver.

Twisting the knurled grip above just above the tip extends the 0.9mm pencil lead. To replace the lead, first, grab hold of the knurled grip and gently pull, the mechanical pencil insert will now slide out of the body.

This reveals an eraser, simply remove the eraser and fill it with the replacement lead.

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11. Water Color Pencils

Watercolor Pencil

A watercolor pencil is a special type of pencil that lays color down on paper in the same way as other colored pencils do.

Unlike normal colored pencils, to blend the colors, add water either to the color on the paper via a brush or the tip of the pencil.

In a very similar way that artists use watercolor paints, hence the name watercolor pencils.

We often refer to watercolor pencils as water-soluble pencils because of the way the pigment transforms into a liquid by adding water.

11.1 What are Water Color Pencils Used For?

Watercolor pencils are used to add depth to drawings we cannot gain this type of effect from the standard color pencils.

We achieve this by laying down the color on the paper and activating this water-based color pigment with water. This allows the colors to blend. Once the color is dry, the process is repeated as necessary.

11.2 Who Makes The Best Water Color Pencils?

The best watercolor pencils are made by Caran D’ache, Derwent, and Faber-Castell.

Caran D’ache Museum Aquarelle Pencils

Many professional artists consider Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle Pencils to be one of the best watercolor pencils in the world.

They have rich deep pigmented colors that lay down smoothly on paper with some of the highest lightfastness ratings.

By adding water to them brings these colors to life and artists can then manipulate them with a brush to create the exact depth of color that they require.

Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Artists’ Watercolor Pencils

Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer Artists’ Watercolor Pencils are another premium quality watercolor pencil. They have a large 3.8 mm diameter core and are available in 120 colors.

These pencils have excellent lightfastness ratings and are slightly cheaper than the Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle Pencils with little or no difference in quality.

Derwent Watercolor Pencils

Derwent watercolor pencils have natural wood barrels and a soft wax core water-soluble core that dissolves and mixes colors easily. They are slightly cheaper than Faber-Castell watercolor pencils making them a good choice for beginners.

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12. Wooden Graphite Pencils

Mitsubushi Hi Uni Pencil

A wooden pencil is a writing instrument with a graphite core that has an outer wood case to protect it. The graphite core is available in 24 different grades from 10H to 12B.

The grades refer to how hard the graphite core is H and how dark the core is B for more information check out the Graphite Pencil Scale Ultimate Guide.

They often refer to the graphite core as pencil lead. For many years they believed that graphite was lead when it is actually a type of carbon.

For more information check out our guide:

What is Pencil Lead Made Of?

12.1 What are Wooden Graphite Pencils Used For?

We use wooden graphite pencils for many things including writing, drawing, sketching, shading, technical drawing, and even just doodling.

The reason that they are so versatile is that they are available in 24 different graphite grades (lead grades).

Harder H grades leave a light gray precise mark on the paper and are used for drafting and technical drawing.

The middle range of Grades HB, B, 2B is excellent for writing as they are hard enough to leave precise marks on paper that are darker and easier to read.

Artists use a wide range of grades from 2H to 12B this allows them to create a wide variety of tonal gradients. The softer B grades are perfect for blending into each other.

12.2 Who Makes The Best Wooden Pencils?

There are over 22 different pencil manufacturers that make a vast range of wooden pencils check out our Ultimate Guide to Wooden Pencil Brands for more information. It depends on what you are using the pencils for as to who makes the best pencils.

Check out our guide The 7 Best Pencils for Writing on Paper for more information.

Mitsubishi Hi Uni Pencils

Many people believe that Mitsubishi Hi Uni Pencils are the finest pencils in the world. They use the finest quality Cedarwood for the barrel. The graphite core has a blend of precise finely graded granules that are strong, and super smooth writing.

Mitsubishi Hi Uni Pencils are available in 22 graphite grades from 10H – 10B.

Check out our Ultimate Guide to 10B pencils to see shading examples and how it stacked up against other 10B pencils.

Blackwing 602 Pencils

Perhaps the most famous pencils are the iconic Blackwing 602 Pencils with their iconic flat ferrule and eraser.

They have gained their notoriety from endearments by famous authors over the years. The Blackwing 602 is a premium pencil but like all good pencils, they use Californian Cedar wood for the barrel with a Japanese-made graphite core.

Staedtler Lumograph Pencils

Staedtler Lumograph Pencils are Staedtlers top of the range wooden pencil. They are available in 24 degrees of graphite from 10H – 12B.

Their pencils are ideal for both artists with the softer B grades and for technical drawing with the harder H grades.

The Staedtler 12B grade is their darkest grade of pencil and 2 grades darker than any other pencil manufacturer as they only go up to 10B.

If you would like to know more about the darkest pencil lead, then check out our Complete Guide to the Darkest Pencil Lead.

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13. Summary

Pencils have been around for hundreds of years ever since graphite was first discovered in the 1500s.

The graphite was used raw or wedged between two pieces of wood to provide stability.

Nothing much changed in pencil design until 1795 when Nicolas-Jacques Conte invented the first modern pencil.

Since then pencils have come a long way with thousands of pencils being manufactured by companies all over the world.

There are 12 different pencil types, all have their own distinct properties and fall into one of the following categories.

  1. Carbon Pencils
  2. Charcoal Pencils
  3. Clutch Pencils / Leadholders
  4. Colored Pencils
  5. China Marker Pencils/Chinagraph Pencils/Grease Pencils
  6. Liquid Graphite Pencils
  7. Mechanical Pencils
  8. Multifunction Pencils
  9. Woodless Pencils
  10. Stylus Pencils
  11. Watercolor Pencils
  12. Wooden Graphite Pencils
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Peter Warrior: Pen & Pencil Expert

With nearly a decade of experience in the pen industry, I successfully ran an online pen business for 9 years. My deep-rooted passion for pens and pencils led me to become a part-time blogger, where I've dedicated myself to sharing the wealth of knowledge I've amassed over the years. I'm a firm believer in the power of the written word, as echoed by Malcolm Forbes: "Putting pen to paper lights more fire than matches ever will." My expertise is not just rooted in business, but in the genuine appreciation and understanding of the art of writing instruments.

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