When it comes to drawing tools, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Every artist has different preferences and needs. Depending on your desired results, you can choose from a multitude of different drawing supplies. In this guide, we will recommend some of the best drawing tools for artists, based on various factors such as price, quality, and versatility.
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Pencils are perhaps the most essential drawing tool for artists. They come in a wide range of prices and styles, so you can find the perfect set of pencils to suit your needs and budget.
Graphite pencils are the most popular type of pencils for artists. They offer a wide range of tones, from very light to very dark. They are grey in tone and have a slight reflective quality on the paper. Graphite pencils are also relatively inexpensive, so they’re a great option if you’re just starting out.
The Faber-Castell 900 graphite pencils and the Caran d’Ache Grafwood pencils are both high quality, artist grade options that are made from quality materials, with a core that feels smooth and consistent to draw with. This compares to some of the ultra-cheap graphite pencils may yield scratchy results.
Graphite pencils come in a range of hardness grades, from 9H (the hardest) to 9B (the softest). The higher the number, the harder the lead and the lighter the mark on the paper. The lower the number, the softer the lead and the darker the mark on the paper.
Mechanical pencils like the Faber-Castell Clutch can provide precise results, are refillable, last longer and don’t need sharpening like regular pencils do. Plus, the knurling grip helps the artists to grip the pencil to achieve precise lines.
The hardness of the pencil lead will affect how light or dark your lines are, as well as how easy or difficult it is to erase them. Softer pencils are great for sketching and shading, while harder pencils are better for detailed work.
Charcoal pencils are another popular choice for artists. They have a rich, dark tone and can create dramatic effects on your drawings. The effect produced by charcoal is deep, matte black, unlike graphite which is slightly grey in tone and has a slight sheen to it. This is beneficial for artists who want to scan or photograph their work for print, without worrying about reflection.
Charcoal pencils are made from compressed charcoal and a binder that is usually made from wax or gum. This type of pencil is much softer than graphite and can leave more of a permanent mark compared to willow charcoal and graphite pencil.
The Derwent Charcoal pencils are a great option if you’re looking for artist-grade charcoal pencils. They’re made from high quality materials and come in a range of hardness grades, from light, medium to dark.
One type of charcoal pencil that stands out from the rest is the General Pencil Peelable Charcoal pencil. It’s easy to use—instead of sharpening with a knife, peel back the paper to reveal more charcoal after the tip has worn down. To create an ultra sharp point, sand the tip with a sanding block.
Coloured pencils are a great option for adding colour to your drawings. They come in a wide range of colours, so you can find the perfect shade to complement your drawing. Coloured pencils are made from a pigment that is ground down into a fine powder and bound together with wax or oil.
Coloured pencils are soft, highly pigmented and make intense and vibrant marks. Artists can mix colours on the paper, and colours from artist grade brands are permanent. So expect your artworks to stand the test of time.
The best brands of coloured pencils are Faber-Castell Polychromos and Prismacolor pencils. Polychromos pencils are oil based, have a harder core that is more resistant to breakage than wax pencils. They layer beautifully and are one of the most pigmented colour pencils you can get.
Prismacolor pencils are wax based, so are softer. They are also highly pigmented and blend beautifully. If you’re looking for a huge range of colours, Prismacolor or Polychromos could be your go-to brand. However, if you’re looking for a set of pencils that are less expensive, there are plenty of options. Check out our coloured pencil review for artists to find more options.
With coloured pencils, artists can achieve incredible details and realistic depth and colour profiles, it’s the medium of choice for artists wanting to create hyper realistic artworks.
Watercolour pencils are a great option for artists who want to add colour to their drawings with the added benefit of being able to blend and layer colours to create painterly effects. These pencils can be used dry, like regular coloured pencils, or they can be used wet to produce watercolour effects.
To use watercolour pencils wet, simply wet your brush and then paint over the area where you’ve used the pencil. The colour will flow from the paper and blend with other colours. You can also add water to the paper first and then use the pencils on top to produce a wash effect.
Watercolour pencils offer a lot of versatility to artists. They’re great for adding splashes of colour or for creating detailed and realistic artworks.
Pen and ink
Marker pens are another great way to add colour to your drawings. They’re filled with ink that is usually alcohol-based, which means the ink is fast drying. Marker pens come in a wide range of tip sizes and colours. Choose from brush tips, chisel tips and more depending on your desired results.
Some great marker brands include Copic markers and Winsor & Newton markers. These markers are both blendable, layerable and produce vivid results. Marker pens are the perfect choice for illustrators and designers, due to the bold colourful drawings that can be achieved.
For artists who love watercolour painting as well as drawing, there is a medium that bridges that gap. Watercolour markers are made from water soluble ink, that can be used like a regular marker, however when activated with water, artists can achieve watercolour effects.
When using markers, it’s important to use a good quality paper that won’t bleed through. Bleedproof marker paper is specially designed for use with alcohol-based inks. For a review of the best art markers, check out our guide!
Fountain pens are a classic drawing tool that have been around for centuries. These pens are filled with ink that flows from the nib to the paper. The ink is usually water-based, which means it’s easy to clean up.
They come in a wide range of designs and prices. Some brands that make great fountain pens include Pilot and Lamy. Fountain pens vary in price depending on the quality of the pen and the materials used. Check out our guide of the best fountain pens for drawing to find a more thorough review.
They are a great choice for artists who want to add a touch of elegance to their drawings. The ink flows smoothly from the pen, making it easy to create detailed and precise drawings, with consistent ink flow.
Ink liner pens are very similar to fountain pens, in that they’re filled with ink and have a nib that allows the ink to flow onto the paper. However, ink liner pens usually have a much finer tip, which makes them great for detailed drawings.
Ink liners are great to use for the line and wash technique. Create your ink illustration with precise lines and details, wait for it to dry, then use the wash technique with watercolour to create vivid, transparent layers of colour.
We’ve briefly reviewed the best charcoal pencils, but charcoal comes in other formats that provide varying results.
Nitram is a brand of charcoal, but it is distinct from other types of charcoal, as the sticks have been formulated to be much less prone to breakage. Choose from soft, medium and hard charcoal and sharpen the sticks to a fine point with a sanding block to achieve precise details. Nitram charcoal is durable and creates less dust than willow charcoal. It’s also soft, erasable and easy to work with. This brand is the top choice for ateliers and fine artists.
Willow charcoal is a popular choice for artists because it’s easy to find and relatively inexpensive. It’s also soft and easy to work with, making it ideal for sketching and shading. Willow charcoal comes in thin sticks that can be sharpened to a fine point.
Vine charcoal is another popular type of charcoal that’s made from grape vines that have been burned. It’s ideal for sketching and shading, as it produces a very smooth result. Vine charcoal is slightly harder than willow charcoal, but it’s still easy to work with.
Compressed charcoal is a type of charcoal that’s been pressed into a stick or pencil. It’s ideal for detailed drawings, as it can be sharpened to a fine point. Compressed charcoal is available in both hard and soft varieties. Hard compressed charcoal produces a light line, while soft compressed charcoal produces a darker line. Compressed charcoal will create a more indelible line compared to willow charcoal and is therefore more difficult to erase.
Powdered charcoal is made from charred wood or vine that’s been ground into a fine powder. It can be used to create soft, smudged effects. Brush it onto the paper to make smooth gradients and transitions and lift the charcoal marks with an eraser to form the highlighted areas.
Pastels are sticks of pigment that are bound with a binder. Soft pastels are made with a high pigment to binder ratio, the binder includes gum arabic, chalk and other inert binders. Oil pastels on the other hand are made with wax and oil. The difference in binder yields vastly different effects and appearance of the final artwork. Hard pastels are made from clay and pigment and are great for underpainting and detailed lines.
Oil pastels feel slick and buttery, while soft pastels feel drier, incredibly soft and crumbly. With both soft pastel and oil pastels artists can achieve wonderful painterly marks, however the two mediums can’t be used in mixed media applications together. Soft pastels are more suited to intermediate level artists, professionals, or beginners that want a bit of a challenge, as they are slightly more difficult to get to grips with.
Oil pastels are much more forgiving and can be used on a variety of surfaces. They’re perfect for artists that want to work quickly or for Plein air painting. For those reasons oil pastels are ideal for beginners.
Some brands that make great soft pastels are Sennelier, Unison and Rembrandt. Unison are handmade, come in selections of colours that are wonderfully bright and pigmented and are a joy to use. Rembrandt soft pastels are cheaper and harder in texture, so may be more suitable for beginners.
Depending on the drawing medium you choose, you should choose an appropriate paper that will withstand the medium and help it adhere to the surface. For graphite pencils we recommend a smooth Bristol paper to achieve fine details.
Charcoal requires paper with tooth, so that the drawing media can adhere, instead of becoming dusty and rubbing off the surface. Paper made for pastel drawing, such as Pastelmat also work excellently with charcoal.
For soft pastels we recommend using a sanded paper, such as Canson Mi-Teintes Touch, as this will give you a toothy surface that the pastels can grip onto. Papers like Canson Mi-Teintes Touch and Pastelmat are the best types of paper for coloured pencils too, as the papers enable artists to create multiple layers of colours and details without the pigments becoming muddied, or the tooth of the paper becoming full.
Marker paper is a little different from paper for other drawing media. Ink bleeds through thin paper, so it’s essential to get a thick, bleedproof paper, like extra smooth Strathmore Bristol board.
When choosing paper, pay attention to the weight, texture and what the paper is made from. For example, cotton paper is more durable than wood pulp. You can draw on just about any paper with graphite. However, when using other drawing mediums, the paper you choose will affect the final outcome.
Sketchbooks are personal to each artist, so finding the perfect sketchbook is essential. Moleskine makes great hardcover and softcover sketchbooks in a variety of sizes with plain, graph or dot grid paper.
Stillman & Birn make quality sketchbooks in a range of formats and sizes. For example, the Gamma range is 150gsm, with thick, ivory coloured paper sheets. Choose from wire bound or stitched books and from hardcover or softcover. The Stillman & Birn Beta series comes with extra heavy weight paper, making it suitable for paint and mixed media techniques.
Drawing on toned paper comes with many benefits. The tones of the paper can act as a neutral middle ground, making it easier to determine and represent accurate values. Plus, if you get a white or light coloured pencil, the highlight tones will really pop out of the page!
The best toned paper available to artists, that can be used with graphite, charcoal, coloured pencils and more is the Strathmore 400 series paper. It’s acid-free and comes in tan colour, plus it comes in a sketchbook format. If you’re drawing with pastels, or want a more toothy paper for your coloured pencil drawings, check out the toned Pastelmat papers, it’s extra thick, feels sturdy like card, and pastels appear more vivid on the surface due to the toothy texture.
Erasers are an essential part of any artist’s toolkit. Kneaded erasers are incredibly versatile as they can be pinched, pulled and shaped to erase both large and small areas with precision. Instead of leaving crumbs across the page, like gum or rubber erasers do, kneaded erasers absorb pencil marks. To clean these erasers, simply knead the eraser. These are undoubtedly the best erasers for work with all sorts of drawing media, except from ink, as they are less damaging to paper fibres and they lift pencil marks effectively.
For detailed work, we recommend a fine tipped eraser, like the Tombow Mono Zero. These types of erasers come with a mechanical, retractable tip and are great for lifting fine details from graphite, charcoal and coloured pencil work.
To remove the most stubborn marks, like ink and layers of coloured pencil, the Tombow Sand eraser is a good choice. The abrasive sand texture will remove the top layer of pencil or pen from the paper. Just be careful not to damage the paper surface.
You probably have some gum or rubber erasers lying around, which are also effective at remove pencil marks, but they can also leave more residue on the paper.
For charcoal drawing, sharpen charcoal sticks with a sanding block. This gives you more control over the length and thickness of the point. A regular pencil sharpener will cause sticks of charcoal to crumble and snap.
For graphite and coloured pencils, try to choose a sharpener that maintains the core of the pencil and shave the wood and lead to a long sharp point. The Derwent Super Point and the Prismacolor Pencil Sharpener are both excellent options for artists looking for a manual sharpener, that sharpens pencils to an ultra fine point and catches shavings in a reservoir.
Our pick for the best electric sharpener is the X-Acto Mighty Pro Electric pencil sharpener, as it’s compatible with coloured pencils and shaves pencils to a fine point, avoiding breakage.
To blend graphite, get a few different tortillions in different sizes. Artists use tortillions or paper stumps to create soft edges in their drawings, they have a fine tip so you can blend precise lines. To clean a tortillion, rub it on sandpaper to remove the excess residue.
For charcoal and pastel drawings, you can use a soft brush to achieve a softer, more diffused look. A chamois leather cloth is also effective at blending and can be used to create all sorts of different effects with charcoal.
When it comes to coloured pencils, there are a few great options for blending. The first is to use a colourless blender pencil. To use this pencil, simply colour over the area you want to blend and then lightly go over the top with the blender pencil. This will help to spread the pigment of your coloured pencils and create a softer, more diffused effect.
You can also use odourless mineral spirits to blend your coloured pencils. This is a great option if you want to achieve a smoother, more painterly look to the piece. Simply apply the mineral spirits to the area you want to blend with a brush. The pigment will disperse and create a softer effect. Just be sure to work in a well-ventilated area as the fumes from the mineral spirits can be quite strong.
Measuring and geometry tools
Proportional scale divider
When it comes to measuring and geometry, one of the most useful tools an artist can have is a proportional divider. This tool aids with achieving accurate proportions, measure from your reference or photo then transfer the measurements to your drawing. You can use the Derwent Proportional Scale Divider to scale images from 1:4 to 4:1.
Geometry drawing tools
If your drawing style is one that requires precision, for example cityscape or architecture, it may be worth getting some geometry drawing tools. Rulers, protractors and compasses can all help in finding the right angles, drawing straight lines and basic shapes accurately. If you are using the grid technique for drawing, drawing a horizon line, or using the one or two point perspective drawing method, using a ruler will be pretty much essential.
Stencils and templates
There are a wide variety of stencils and templates available of various sized shapes, that can be used in drawing. These can come in handy for adding repetitive patterns to your drawings, such as the windows on a building. The Staedtler Template includes various simple geometric shapes that can be used as a foundation to create more complex designs.
Drawing tools for travelling
Etchr Slate Satchel
If you want to be able to draw anywhere and everywhere, there are some specialised drawing tools that can help. The Etchr Slate Satchel has been designed with the urban sketcher in mind. It’s a stylish and sturdy satchel that has plenty of space for all your supplies. The large size can fit laptops, so it’s great for those who make digital art. The two sizes are both compatible with tripods, so you can fold the satchel out and use it as an easel. It’s a multipurpose piece of kit that any artist could find useful, whether it’s for taking to class, or drawing en plein air.
Pencil cases and holders
Depending on how many pencils and other drawing tools you have, you may want to invest in a pencil case or holder. This can help to keep everything organised and in one place, ready to grab when you need it.
There are some awesome pencil cases and organisers on Etsy, from brush rolls to sketchbook covers that hold your essential tools. A great idea, is to pack some of your favourite supplies into an art travel kit, so you can grab it and take it with you when inspiration strikes to get outside and draw from life.
For the serious artist, a drawing table can have many benefits. The height is adjustable so you can find a comfortable working position whether you are sitting or standing. Studio Designs make several drawing tables loved by both beginner and professional artists. Their Vintage Drafting table is incredibly popular and sturdy, it’s made with solid wood and adjusts to five different angles, including a 90° angle, so you can work on charcoal pieces with ease. Read our review of drafting tables to find one the best one to fit your space.
Reference drawing tools
Once you have your basic drawing tools sorted, it’s time to move on to some more specialised equipment. If you want to try drawing from life instead of drawing from photos, there are a few supplies that can help.
Manikins or figure models
A manikin or figure model is a small sculpted model of a human body that can be used for reference when drawing the human form. They come in different sizes, and with both male and female options available. You can also get models of hands to aid with drawing the hand and fingers in varying positions.
Artists often find them helpful because they can be posed in different positions, which can help develop gesture drawing skills and accuracy in rendering human anatomy. Check out our guide of the best drawing manikins for more in depth reivew.
A viewcatcher is a small, hand held frame that you can use to help find a composition when drawing from life. It allows you to zoom in on a small area and crop out any distractions, so you can focus on the task at hand.
It’s a great tool for those who want to draw more accurately, and can be especially useful when drawing outdoors.
Self portrait mirror
A self-portrait mirror can be a handy tool for artists who want to draw themselves, or for those who want to improve their skills in drawing faces from life.
Looking at your own reflection in a mirror is a great way to study the human face, and see all the small details that make up a person’s features.
A light box emits an even, bright light that makes it easier to see through paper so that you can transfer your drawings onto another surface, so that you can accurately trace details.
This can be a really helpful tool, especially when working with intricate drawings, or final pieces where you don’t want to make a mistake.
For a review of the best light boxes for artists, check out our guide.
It’s important to get good lighting for your studio or the space that you do your art in. The right lighting will help you in portraying the values in the artwork accurately. Look for bulbs that are labelled as daylight lamps. This means that they will emit light that illuminates a full spectrum of colour and will emit light with a balanced colour temperature, instead of being warm or cool in appearance.
This Daylight Studio Lamp is a floor lamp that comes with an efficient LED bulb, that will illuminate all the colours in your drawing, so you can see them accurately. Alternatively, you could get LED bulbs to fit your existing light fittings, make sure that the CRI number is high, the closer to 100 the better. Plus make sure the CCT number is around 5500k.
Other drawing tools and accessories
A pencil lengthener is a small tool that allows you to use up all of the pencil lead, even when the wood casing has been worn down to a nub.
It’s great for artists who want to be sustainable and not waste any materials. Plus it can help you save money in the long run.
This is especially useful for pastel or charcoal drawings where you want to achieve clean edges. Tape can also be used to help you draw a straight line or create a geometric shape.
Which drawing tools will you choose?
Art supplies can be pretty expensive, so it’s worth investing in some quality materials that will last. However, there are some things that you don’t need to spend a lot of money on, like graphite pencils or erasers.
The most important thing is to experiment with different materials and find what works best for you. There’s no right or wrong way to create art, so have fun and let your creativity flow!
We have a free ebook on drawing that we’re giving away to our readers that join our Facebook group. Follow the link below, join the Facebook group and go to the guides section on the group where you will find the Complete Drawing Guide For Beginners. Plus, you can post your own artwork on the group!