The best charcoal pencils are those that give you the perfect balance of control and darkness. They should be easy to use, comfortable to hold, and produce consistent results.
There are many different brands and types of charcoal pencils on the market, so it can be tough to know which ones are the best. To help you make your decision, we’ve reviewed 8 of the best charcoal pencils on the market.
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The Conté à Paris pencils are one of the most popular brands of charcoal pencils. They’re made with high-quality wood and pigments, and they’re perfect for sketching and drawing. These pencils come as single pencils, or in an assorted set of 6. Additionally, they come in seven different colours, including carbon black, white and sanguine.
Expect rich, deep colours from these pencils. The charcoal ranges from HB to 3B in softness, allowing artists to create a variety of tones. White charcoal pencils are especially good for drawing on toned paper. Grab a carbon black or sanguine colour for the shadows and white charcoal for the highlights to create classical looking portraits.
These pencils are more resistant to breakage than some other lower quality charcoal pencils. However, make sure to sharpen with a knife to avoid breakage while sharpening. With the softer pencils, make sure to use a lighter touch when shading.
Per pencil these are on the cheaper side, cheaper than Caran d’Ache but more expensive than brands like Ritmo.
The Caran d’Ache brand is known for making high-quality artist supplies, and their charcoal pencils are no exception. This charcoal pencil is more expensive than some of the others on the list, however they are still priced reasonably for the quality.
Artists can achieve dark, matte black tones with this pencil. With a width of 4.7mm, the core is perfect for drawing fine, deep black marks. The charcoal itself creates smooth, even and consistent results. Shade to make transitions and gradients with a slight pressure. It blends well too, get a chamois, tortillion or another blending tool and blend the charcoal into the paper.
Cretacolor charcoal pencils offer artists a wide range of tones to choose from. They come in sets, with each set containing a different variety of shades. The charcoal comes in three hardness levels: soft, medium and hard. The pencils are excellent for creating smooth transitions, deep blacks and fine precise lines. The soft charcoal pencil will need sharpening more regularly as they wear down more quickly.
These charcoal pencils provide consistent and smooth marks, with quality cedar wood casings. They’re available in a set of four different pencils, each with their own hardness level. These pencils have excellent point retention and produce deep, rich blacks. With light, medium and dark charcoal, then a tinted white charcoal which is perfect for creating highlights on toned paper.
The Derwent charcoal pencils are easy to control and produce great results. They’re cheaper per pencil compared to Caran d’Ache, and are great for making bold and subtle marks.
The General charcoal pencils are another popular and affordable brand of charcoal pencil. They’re made with high-quality wood and pigments, and they’re perfect for sketching and drawing. These pencils come in sets of 5 or 8, with a variety of hardness levels. The five charcoal pencils come in HB, 2B, 4B, 6B and white. They come pre-sharpened, so you can start using them right away.
These pencils produce rich, deep colours. The charcoal ranges from HB to 6B in softness, allowing artists to create a variety of tones.
Faber-Castell is a well-known brand in the art supplies industry, and their charcoal pencils are excellent quality.
These charcoal pencils are made from soot and clay, that feel soft to draw with and blend easily. They are available in soft, medium and hard varieties and make blue-black marks on the paper. The pencils make a deep, black mark that is much darker than other pencils.
Go carefully when sharpening to avoid breakage, use a craft knife, or sanding block to gently carve the wooden casing.
Winsor & Newton’s charcoal pencils come in sketching sets. Create dark, fine lines, smudge and blend to create smoky or smooth gradients.
The charcoal set comes with six different charcoal pencils—two soft, two medium and two hard, each with a 4.0mm core.
Use these charcoal pencils for life drawing, sketching, taking to class, or drawing on the go.
Charcoal pencil softness ratings
Just like graphite pencils have softness ratings that range from around 8H to 8B+, charcoal pencils can be rated on a scale from hard to soft. Charcoal pencils with a rating of H will be harder than a pencil with a rating of B. Then 2B is softer than B and so forth.
Features of the best charcoal pencils
There are a few things that set the best charcoal pencils apart from the rest. These are the things you should look for when shopping for your next set of charcoal pencils.
The best charcoal pencils will be made with high-quality wood. This is important because it helps to prevent breakage and ensures a comfortable grip.
The best charcoal pencils will also be made with high-quality pigments. This ensures that your pencils will produce consistent results and rich, deep colors.
When shopping for charcoal pencils, you’ll want to pay attention to the softness rating. This will determine how dark your pencils will be. If you want a softer pencil, look for something with a B rating. If you want a harder pencil, look for something with an H rating.
Sets vs. single pencils
When shopping for charcoal pencils, you’ll have the option of purchasing a set or a single pencil. If you’re just starting out, we recommend purchasing a set. This will give you a chance to try out a variety of pencils and find the ones that you like best.
Charcoal has a tendency to crumble and break more easily than graphite. So make sure to choose a pencil that has a quality core that is less prone to breakage.
The benefits of drawing with charcoal pencils
The wooden casing prevents hands from getting messy. This is also advantageous for transporting in a pencil case or roll, as the casing prevents charcoal from leaving residue inside your pencil case.
The lead is less likely to break than when using a stick of charcoal. Charcoal pencils are made from compressed charcoal, which is less prone to breakage than willow charcoal. This means you can apply some pressure to the pencil without fear of it snapping or crumbling.
They’re easy to control, so you can create fine lines and details. For artists who want to create fine details in charcoal, charcoal pencils are a great choice. The stable core can be sharpened easily to create thin lines and tiny details.
You can achieve a wide variety of tones and values, from very light to very dark. This is due to the different softness ratings available in charcoal pencils. So if you want to create a charcoal drawing with lots of contrast, charcoal pencils are a great choice.
Charcoal pencils vs willow charcoal
Charcoal pencils create more indelible marks than willow and brush charcoal. As charcoal pencils are compressed charcoal in a wooden casing. Willow charcoal is made from burning willow branches. It’s then cut into thin sticks, which are used for drawing. Willow charcoal is light and easy to erase. Whereas compressed charcoal and charcoal pencils are more difficult to erase. So start with lighter marks, then gradually build up the darker shadow tones.
They’re less messy than sticks of charcoal, as the wooden casing prevents your hands from getting covered in charcoal.
How to use charcoal pencils
If you’re new to using charcoal pencils, here are a few tips on how to draw with charcoal.
Start with a light touch. When you’re first starting out, use a light touch when drawing with charcoal pencils. This will help you get a feel for how they work and how much pressure to apply.
Work from light to dark. Start by sketching out your drawing in light tones. Then gradually build up the darker shadow tones. This will give your drawing more depth and dimension.
Use a variety of pencils. Charcoal pencils come in a range of softness ratings, from B to H. So make sure to experiment with a few different pencils to find the ones you like best.
Keep your pencils sharp. Sharp pencils will give you more control and allow you to create finer details. So make sure to sharpen your pencils often.
Erase with a kneadable eraser. Charcoal pencil can be difficult to erase, so start by applying light pressure, then gradually increase pressure when you’re sure of the placement of different elements. Kneadable erasers are gentle on charcoal paper fibres. To remove more stubborn marks, consider getting a sand eraser.
Use a fixative. Once you’ve finished your drawing, use a fixative to prevent the charcoal from smudging or rubbing off.
Supplies to use with charcoal pencils
Charcoal pencils can be used with other types of charcoal, for example, powdered charcoal and willow charcoal sticks. Brush powdered charcoal onto the paper to create a smooth background, then deepen shadows in the drawing with your charcoal pencils.
Kneaded erasers work excellently with charcoal, because they are soft on charcoal paper fibres. Mould the eraser into a fine point to pick up details and reveal small highlights in your drawing.
The best paper for charcoal drawing should have some tooth, to enable charcoal layers to adhere properly. Pastelmat is a great option, its sanded texture allows charcoal to stick to the surface. Other great papers include Canson Mi-Teintes Touch and Hahnemühle Velour.
For a complete list of drawing tools and supplies, check out our review.
How to sharpen charcoal pencils
Sharpening charcoal pencils with a regular sharpener can cause breakage. The best option is either to sharpen the pencil with a sanding block, by running the pencil up and down the block until the end is sharp. The alternative is to sharpen with a craft knife. Carve the wooden casing around the pencil, to lengthen and sharpen the charcoal core.
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