Graphite Pencils

A pencil review on an airbrush site? Well yes, I do more then airbrushing and I think drawing is a fundamental part of art, in any format.

So you might think that a pencil is a pencil is a pencil? Not quite. You do get what you pay for but sometimes you also don’t get what you pay for.

There a many brands out there and within a brand, you get many models. I got a few brands and tested them against each other. I’m trying the 5 pencil method so I am trying to get away from using paper stumps and tortillons. But this also means not using all 20 grades of pencils that come in some sets. The method teaches you to start light and slowly build up the layers until you either reach the darkness required or then switch over to a softer pencil and continue the build-up. This is very time consuming but you get amazing results.

Here you can see the test panel I did. It is on normal 110gsm sketch pad paper. This is done using a single grade lay-up. This means that I did not build up the graduation starting at the hardest, 4H, pencil. You will get a smoother colour if you do this. On the edges of the block you can see what is left after you erase it.

So lets get to the individual brands.

First up is the trusty old Steadtler Traditional. These are the “Made in Germany” one. You get the ones that does not have that tag printed on and has the SABS logo on. I have no idea where they come from but they are not the same quality. The German ones are also alot more exspensive then the SABS ones.

I was quite surprised with this set. It is really smooth and lays down easily. I got one or two hard bits in the 4H but a quick scribble on scrap paper got rid of it and went fine from there.

They are also the ones more readily available and even CNA stocks them. They range from between R10 – R12 each.

Next is the Schwan Stabilo Micro 8000. Also from Germany but I don’t think you can still buy them. I bought 4 complete sets in 1995 because that is when I started and I got these for about R1.50 each then. Back then, anything not from China represented quality.

Back then I did not notice it but now I’m shocked on how rough these layed down. What seemed as such nice quality can not be compared to the products available today. Although I did not find any hard clumps stuck in the graphite, it did not want to go down smooth. The 4H is also not as light as the other brands.

Derwent Graphic, (insert Tim from Home improvement grunt here). Now this is a pencil. I’m sure there are better but I’m sure they will also cost more. The R15 price tag for one of these are already touching on the limit. The weird thing about this pencil is that it actually feels lighter then the others. I weighed them but all come in at the same 4gr mark. But I guess some are 4.4gr and this one is 3.6gr and the scale just rounds the numbers up and down.

These pencils lay down so smooth, you just want to keep going. Not a single bit of hard graphite found in the of them. The 4H is really smooth and builds up a really nice foundation. The shade graduation between the grades are also better then the other brands.

Well this the pencil that when I bought my first one, I bought 3 more sets. They are really cheap at PNA at about R8 each but have seen them for about R15 at art stores. But with the cheap price comes some draw backs. The XH pencils have alot of hard graphite bits in. You feel and hear them quickly before you do damage to the paper and a quick scribble on a scrap piece of paper gets rid of it. I’ve been using these now for just over a year and have gotten some really good results. The pencils on the B side of the range is nice and smooth and dark. If you can look past the hard graphite bits, and if your PNA stocks them for R8, it is really worth it.


I know there are still other good brands like the incredible Faber Castells and Creta Color and many others but when the price goes higher then R15 each, I need to wait for a special somewhere so that I can get them cheaper. And also availability is an issue. If I walk into a second store and I can not find my preferred brand, that is a problem.

If you can afford the Derwents, then get them. But if you weigh up money against performance, the Steadtler Tradition is the winner. In my pencil holder the Koh-I-Noors will be replaced with the Steadtlers as second choice.

So keep on drawing.