Best Mechanical Pencil for Drawing in 2021

As much as I love drawing on my iPad, there is absolutely nothing more satisfying and – what’s the word? – personal than drawing on a piece of paper with a nice, high quality mechanical pencil.

In this article, we will have a look at which one is the best mechanical pencil for drawing in 2021!

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Table of Contents

The kind of tactile feedback you get with each stroke and each gesture, the control, precision and expressiveness, the tangibility of the results as they appear on the paper. Digital art is great, revolutionary even, but it may never really be like physically drawing.

Of course, this experience is greatly enhanced by having the right pencil, and so many artists, crafters, engineers, designers, illustrators and inveterate doodlers choose mechanical pencils, for their precision, their feeling in the hand, the quality of their lead (graphite, actually) and many other reasons.

How can you find the best mechanical pencils for you and your art? I’ve tried a bunch of them, and have assembled a list of the mechanical pencils I think work the best, feel the best, last the longest and offer the best value.

In this buyer’s guide for mechanical pencils I will try to answer some basic questions:

  • What is the best mechanical pencil for drawing artists?
  • What are the best mechanical pencils for drawing crafters?
  • What are the best mechanical pencils for drawing and sketching?
  • What are the best mechanical pencils when you are on a budget?
  • Are mechanical pencils better than normal pencils for drawing and illustrating?
  • Why are mechanical pencils better?

Mechanical Pencils, automatic pencils, technical pencils, lead holders, clutch pencils, whatever you want to call it you’ll find the best of them here, so read on!

I’ve also just posted two related articles, so please check those out as well:

What are the Advantages of Mechanical Pencils for Artists?

Let’s answer those last questions first…

  • Are mechanical pencils better than normal pencils for drawing and illustrating?
  • Why are mechanical pencils better?

…and talk a little about why mechanical pencils are in fact such a good choice for drawing, sketching, illustrating, design and other processes.

For one thing, mechanical pencils usually feel more substantial in the hand, are easier to feel, and can offer better control, precision, and expressiveness. Now I know a lot of artists who have resisted this idea, because they are so used to normal pencils, but when they actually try a good quality mechanical pencil – and especially when they use it for at least a bit of an extended period – they love it, and kind of see what they’ve been missing.

For another thing, the lead in a mechanical pencil is precise, and stays precise as you’re working. A normal pencil, when it’s first sharpened, can have a very precise fine line, but this will quickly change – which just doesn’t work for a lot of drawing techniques. A mechanical pencil has an exact lead width that doesn’t change – and, as I already hinted at, that lead is generally of very high quality.

And if you’re doing a lot of drawing, mechanical pencils are refillable, which can save money (and the environment), and don’t need sharpening, which can save time.

Besides, mechanical pencils are – or at least can be – super cool.

What to Look For in the Best Mechanical Pencil for Drawing?

It’s not difficult to see what makes a mechanical or drafting pencil great for artists, designers and crafters, since it really comes down to a few basic common sense factors:

Good Heft / Weight

I use the word “heft” a little too broadly here, since I am really talking about a pencil that has a good weight to it, not too heavy but solid and substantial, and also has a good metal body shape and feeling overall.

Good Lead

You can always buy better lead, but when I get a new mechanical / drafting pencil I want to know that the included leads will be of excellent quality, that they flow well, have consistent darkness and appearance, are strong and durable.

Simple Mechanism

I don’t want to have to stop and think about how to lengthen my lead, or lose a lot of time with refills. I just want to draw, and when I fall into the zone I want to stay there.

Quality Fit and Finish

I also want a mechanical pencil that I know will last, and that looks it. Something about tangible quality and even style in a writing instrument seems to elevate the whole process of drawing (or at least elevates my mood when I’m drawing).

But you’re sure to find all of these things in any of my recommendations for the best mechanical pencils available today. Another factor you might want to decide on before you make your purchase is how thick of lead you want. And the first thing to understand about mechanical pencils is that lead diameter thicknesses are not interchangeable. If you have a 0.5 mm pencil, you can’t use 0.7 mm or 0.9 mm lead, and the pencil will gag just looking at a 2 mm or 5 mm refill.

The most common mechanical pencil lead diameter sizes are:

  • 0.3 mm: very fine, and great for very precise and detailed work, but also less strong and prone to breakage, and not so versatile.
  • 0.5 mm: along with 0.7, the most popular, thin enough for detailed work but stronger than a 0.3.
  • 0.7 mm: probably the most popular overall, and the most versatile as well.
  • 0.9 mm: not as good for detail, but the strongest of the small lead sizes. Flows well and is good for softer paper, as well as larger, more expressive lines and marks.
  • 2.0 mm: A great large size, which can be sharpened for detailed work (the pens usually have an integrated sharpener) and used more blunt for very expressive lines.
  • 5.5-5.7 mm: The biggest size normally used. Can also be sharpened, if not quite as fine, and is ok for some detail work, but is really unbeatable for strong, bold black strokes and for sketching.

If it were me, I would want (and, in fact, have) at least one of each mechanical pencil lead diameter, to offer a wide range of weight – both weight of blackness and weight of line / stroke – as well as the most versatility and convenience. If I had to choose 2, a 2.0 (or a 5.0 with really good, sharpenable lead) and a .5 or .7. Only one? Well, I dimly recall being asked by my mother, in a candy shop in my childhood, the same thing – I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now.

Luckily – with the obvious exception of the “best of the best” Montblanc pencils – the best mechanical pencils are usually quite affordable, and you can get more than one. Of course so are truffles, and that argument somehow didn’t work at all back then…

How to Find the Best Mechanical Pencil for Drawing

It can, I know, be really frustrating to try to find the right artist tool of any kind when shopping online, and this is as true for a mechanical pencil as for any other product.

A pencil that looks great on the screen can feel cheap in your hands, or doesn’t have any real weight, or has too much weight, or has creaky parts or squeaky lead or bad flow or too much flow or – bleck! 

To be fair, though, a lot of mechanical pencils available today are actually very nice, and would make at least good and usable tools for any artist, illustrator, designer, engineer or crafter. I have, though, in my own experience, found a few best mechanical pencils, in which everything just seems to come together perfectly.

Some of these are pretty expensive, and some are, if not exactly exorbitant, definitely premium in price and in quality. And these more expensive mechanical pencils are, to be sure, well worth the money – if you can spend that much – offering solidity, feel, control and precision, superb image quality and an overall wonderful creative experience.

But some are surprisingly inexpensive, and while they may not offer a Montblanc level of drawing experience, they still do everything right, and are wonderful tools for any artist.

All of my recommendations can be found below, but here is a cheat sheet with a few of my top picks:

Overview: Best Mechanical Pencil for Drawing in 2021

  1. Pentel GraphGear 1000 Mechanical Pencil 0.5 mm
  2. Pentel GraphGear 1000 Mechanical Pencil 0.5 mm

    Best Affordable Mechanical Pencil for Sketching and Drawing

    Black Barrel, Metallic Grey


    Buy Now on Amazon
  3. Koh-i-Noor Mechanical Hardtmuth Lead Holder 5.6 mm
  4. Koh-i-Noor Mechanical Hardtmuth Lead Holder 5.6 mm

    Best Wide Lead (5.6 mm) Mechanical Pencil for Sketching and Drawing 

    

    Buy Now on Amazon
  5. rOtring Rapid Pro Mechanical Pencil 2 mm
  6. rOtring Rapid Pro Mechanical Pencil 2 mm

    Best Wide Lead (2 mm) Mechanical Pencil for Sketching and Drawing

    

    Buy Now on Amazon
  7. rOtring Rapid Pro Mechanical Pencil 0.5 mm
  8. rOtring Rapid Pro Mechanical Pencil 0.5 mm

    Best Normal Lead (0.5 mm) Mechanical Pencil for Sketching and Drawing 

    

    Buy Now on Amazon
  9. rOtring Rapid Pro Mechanical Pencil 0.7 mm
  10. rOtring Rapid Pro Mechanical Pencil 0.7 mm

    Best Normal Lead (0.7 mm) Mechanical Pencil for Sketching and Drawing 

    Buy Now on Amazon
  11. Pentel Arts GraphGear 1000 Premium Gift Set with Refill Leads & Erasers
  12. Pentel Arts GraphGear 1000 Premium Gift Set with Refill Leads & Erasers

    Best Mechanical Pencil Set for the Studio

    Black , 0.3 mm, 0.5 mm, 0.7 mm, 0.9 mm


    Buy Now on Amazon
  13. Montblanc Meisterstück Gold Leonardo Sketch Pencil
  14. Montblanc Meisterstück Gold Leonardo Sketch Pencil

    The legacy quality that will last not just for a lifetime but literally for generations!

    

    Buy Now on Amazon
  15. Montblanc Meisterstuck Classique Platinum Mechanical Pencil
  16. Montblanc Meisterstuck Classique Platinum Mechanical Pencil

    Best Mechanical Pencil Overall for Sketching and Drawing

    

    Buy Now on Amazon

So let’s get into it, with my list of personal recommendations for the best mechanical pencils for drawing on the market today for drawing, sketching, illustrating or any creative work. And at the end of the article, in the Bonus section, I will get a little bit into different leads for the best refills 

Mont Blanc 165-Meisterstück Classique

Montblanc Meisterstuck Classique Platinum Mechanical Pencil

Best Mechanical Pencil Overall for Sketching and Drawing



The Platinum Leonardo is an extraordinary art pencil, but the Montblanc Platinum Classique is still a Meisterstück, and is the best mechanical pencil for drawing and general use, on the market today,

With a thinner body and thinner lead, the Classique nonetheless still has great heft and feels superbly natural and controllable in the hand, and the standard .5mm lead is the best you can get – still quite expressive, but also incredibly strong, and perfect for fine detail and a huge range of techniques.

But at the end of the day I don’t think that I, or anybody else, can really explain why any Montblanc Meisterstück pen is so great, or is clearly and easily worth the money. They simply look, feel and work far better than anything else, are such a joy to use, allow for control, precision and expressivity on a much higher level, and will last for generations.

If you can afford a Montblanc Meisterstück Classique Platinum mechanical pencil, it will be one of the best investments you have ever made, one of your most cherished possessions and perhaps the finest artist tool you have ever used. It is, easily, one of the the best mechanical pencils for drawing overall on the market today.

Pentel GraphGear 1000 Mechanical Pencil

Pentel GraphGear 1000 Mechanical Pencil 0.5 mm

Best Affordable Mechanical Pencil for Sketching and Drawing

Black Barrel, Metallic Grey


What? You can’t afford 550 dollars for a pencil? I suspect you are not alone, and so as my choice for best affordable mechanical pencil for artists I’ve kind of gone to the other end of the spectrum – at least as far as price goes; the quality of the Pentel GraphGear 1000 is remarkably high. Ok, maybe not Montblanc high, but way beyond anything you might expect to find in a pencil a half a millimeter north of twenty bucks.

I might say that the rOtring Rapid Pro, which I’ve recommended 3 (!!!) times below, is a better pencil, but just a shade better, and the GraphGear is so excellent, with such a great feel in the hand, such heft and controllability, such beautiful, strong and usable lead, that it seems an almost unbelievably attractive and good choice.

The Pentel GraphGear mechanical pencil is my choice, then, for the best mechanical pencil for sketching and drawing available today, and easily the best value I know.

Koh-i-Noor Hardtmuth Mechanical Pencil

Koh-i-Noor Mechanical Hardtmuth Lead Holder 5.6 mm

Best Wide Lead (5.6 mm) Mechanical Pencil for Sketching and Drawing 



A remarkably affordable pencil, especially when you consider the premium look and feel and the solid and durable material quality, this Koh-i-Noor lead holder is even more remarkable when you start to use it, with a deep, impactful black lead and big, declamatory strokes that are exactly what you are looking for in a wide lead mechanical pencil.

There are much more expensive mechanical pencils for drawing out there, and some of them might be a bit better, but the Koh-i-Noor Hardmuth lead holder seems to me like pretty much the perfect expressive instrument, and is a supreme value for the money, as well as a first rate drawing and sketching pencil which will satisfy – even inspire – any artist on any level.

rOtring Rapid Pro Mechanical Pencil

  1. rOtring Rapid Pro Mechanical Pencil 2 mm
  2. rOtring Rapid Pro Mechanical Pencil 2 mm

    Best Wide Lead (2 mm) Mechanical Pencil for Sketching and Drawing

    

    Buy Now on Amazon
  3. rOtring Rapid Pro Mechanical Pencil 0.5 mm
  4. rOtring Rapid Pro Mechanical Pencil 0.5 mm

    Best Normal Lead (0.5 mm) Mechanical Pencil for Sketching and Drawing 

    

    Buy Now on Amazon
  5. rOtring Rapid Pro Mechanical Pencil 0.7 mm
  6. rOtring Rapid Pro Mechanical Pencil 0.7 mm

    Best Normal Lead (0.7 mm) Mechanical Pencil for Sketching and Drawing 

    Buy Now on Amazon

You’d think that I’m either lazy and sick of typing, or I own stock in the rOtring company, but actually neither are true. Well, the first a little bit, but that’s not why I am recommending the same mechanical pencil three times in a row.

The real reason is that the rOtring Rapid Pro is simply a superb mechanical pencil. For the super-expressive fast-sketch world of the bigger 5mm lead, I prefer the less expensive Koh-i-Noor that I’ve recommended above, but for 2mm, or the popular fine sizes – .5 and .7 – the superb rOtring is an easy choice. And considering the lead is so sharp, strong and hard to break, the Rapid Pro lays down remarkably dark and strong lines and flows with wonderful ease and consistency.

But more than all that, there is something about how the rOtring Rapid Pro feels, natural and comfortable in the hand, like an organic part of my body and my process, extremely controllable and at the same time spontaneous and somehow freeing. I have this mechanical pencil in all sizes and use each of them on a very regular basis. Not just my choice for the best mechanical pencil for artists in these sizes, but my favorite and personal choice as well.

Pentel Arts GraphGear 1000

My Pick
Pentel Arts GraphGear 1000 Premium Gift Set with Refill Leads & Erasers

Best Mechanical Pencil Set for the Studio

Black , 0.3 mm, 0.5 mm, 0.7 mm, 0.9 mm


This super-useful and very high quality range of pencils may be billed as a premium gift set, but to me the Pentel Arts GraphGear 1000 package is more of an ideal and intelligent purchase for any artist, and a great value complete set of premium mechanical drawing pencils in the four most important small sizes, each a superb and wonderful tool for drawing and sketching.

With extra leads in all four sizes, extra erasers and four color-coded pencils, this really is both a complete drawing set and a remarkably useful one as well. It’s not just the feeling of these nice pencils in the hand, the heft, balance and control, that makes them so great, but also the super hard yet bold and flowing Pentel graphite.

For any artist who draws and sketches regularly, any working commercial or fine artist, any serious art student or even an enthusiastic beginner, the Pentel Arts GraphGear 1000 premium gift set is a great package, and you’ll be amazed at how often you use all four of these wonderful mechanical pencils for artists.

Faber Castell E-Motion

Don’t ask me why, but there is something so intensely compelling about the Faber Castell E-Motion Pure Black mechanical pencil, and it seems the perfect item with which to close up this buyer’s guide for the best mechanical pencils for artists.

Yeah, I don’t know if it is the dramatic jet black finish, with beautiful guilloche pattern, the chunky shape and weighty weight, the deeply saturated graphite and the stunningly dark lines it lays down, the cool name – ok, really it is all of the above and, perhaps most importantly, how great it feels to sketch and draw with this pencil.

A bit of an outlier in terms of lead size – it takes a 1.3mm lead, which is actually a very nice and versatile size – the E-Motion can be difficult to find lead for, but as good as the Faber Castell lead is you won’t ever want to look for other options anyway. Other than the odd, and surprisingly useful, lead size, though, this is a wonderful and, it must be said again, decidedly cool mechanical pencil, and one of my favorites.

Mont Blanc Meisterstück Leonardo Mechanical Pencil

Montblanc Meisterstück Gold Leonardo Sketch Pencil

The legacy quality that will last not just for a lifetime but literally for generations!



Meisterstück is German for masterpiece, and there could be no more fitting appellation for a product – the Montblanc Meisterstück Platinum Leonardo is truly a masterpiece of design, appearance, function and usability.

And somehow the usability part of this is what makes this the most desirable mechanical pencil on the market. The Meisterstück Platinum is a thick lead pencil, with super-wide 5.5 mm leads (both soft and hard are included) of such superb quality that every stroke and every line is extraordinarily expressive. The Platinum also has a removable finial (the button at the bottom end) which has a sharpener built in, so you can use the same wondrous leads for fine lines and details.

I have never used any pencil – mechanical or standard – which feels so right in my hand, which flows so perfectly or creates such magically rich and vibrant lines, which is so beautiful, so incredibly well made and of such obviously premium quality.

With the Montblanc Meisterstück Platinum Leonardo mechanical pencil you are, to be sure, paying for the materials and the artisan-crafted quality, but you are getting the finest drawing instrument and the best pencil in the world. An overwhelmingly lavish, incredibly thoughtful and imminently usable gift for any artist – even yourself.

What Are the Best Refill Leads for My Mechanical Pencil?

There are two basic factors when selecting the best refill lead for your mechanical pencil: hardness and size. 

Just like any pencil, a mechanical pencil will offer a range of hardnesses, usually from 9H to 9B. 9H will be the hardest, strongest lead, which makes the thinnest and lightest mark on paper, and the leads get progressively softer and darker until we arrive at 9B, which will draw a very dark and saturated black line.

It would seem that the artist’s technique and touch would also provide a satisfactory range of darkness and effect, and to a certain extent this is true, but at the end of the day even the most talented or capable artist cannot draw with quite the precision, expressive range or subtle shading provided by different hardnesses of lead.

The most common lead, and the one that will come most often with a mechanical pencil, is 2H, which is medium hardness, offering both great strength and a very versatile and, when necessary, a very black line. Ideally you might want to get a range of hardnesses, but if you are just looking for a standard refill 2H is probably the way to go. 

The other factor is a bit more simple to decide on, since it will be dictated by your pencil. The size, or width, of the refill leads you purchase must be the size of the pencil itself. Now, some guides will tell you that a slightly smaller lead will fit in, and work fine with, a slightly larger mechanical pencil, but in my experience this is never a good idea – they slip and even break, and never offer the control and precision we come to expect from the best mechanical pencils.

So, if you have a 0.5 mm pencil, get a 0.5 mm lead, a 2 mm lead for a 2 mm pencil, and so forth and so on. The only exception I know of to this rule is in the ultra-thick 5.5 mm range, where anything from 5.5 to 5.7 mm can be used interchangeably.

Bonus: What Are the Best Brands of Mechanical Pencil Refills?

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  1. Koh-I-Noor 2B & 4B Leads Refill, 2 mm
  2. Koh-I-Noor 2B & 4B Leads Refill, 2 mm

    Mechanical Pencil Graphite Lead for Technical Drawing & Drafting Pencil - 24 Leads

    Buy Now on Amazon

As far as what brands make the best graphite refills for mechanical pencils, if you like the way your pencil’s lead has performed I would just stick with that company. In particular, if you have a Montblanc pen, you will never find a finer lead, but even if you have a Pentel, rOtring, Faber Castell or Koh-I-Noor mechanical pencil it will be tough to find a better quality refill, and saving a little money on something different or generic is almost always a bad idea.

But if you have a cheaper pencil, and you like the way it works (or at least are used to it by now) but you’ve never been happy with the way the graphite looks or feels, I would strongly suggest a Pentel refill, which seems always to be a good idea. I’ve included links here for the four most popular sizes – 0.3 mm to 0.9 mm.

For a really bold statement with a bigger 2mm mechanical pencil, you can’t do better than the wonderful Koh-i-Nor leads, here with two intense soft grades in one package.

And if you can’t afford a Meisterstück Platinum Line Leonardo Sketch Pen, you might now want to hear how much the refills alone cost. But this doesn’t mean you can’t get really superb, fat, dark and expressive leads for any 5.5mm – 5.7mm mechanical pencil – and my favorite come from WSD – who, apparently, make leads for lots of the best pencils anyway.

Thanks for reading this article – Best Mechanical Pencils for Sketching and Drawing: A 2021 Buyer’s Guide – and make sure to check out my two related articles, on the Best Artist Pencils for Sketching and Drawing and the Best Ink Pens for Sketching and Drawing. And please also visit my blog – Art Side of Life –  for tons of other inspiring ideas, resources, articles, buyer’s guides and a lot more!

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