The 5 Best Charcoal Pencils for Artists in 2022

The Best Charcoal Pencils for Artists

Using charcoal for drawing, sketching, shading, or blending has long been done during the ancient times. It is one of the oldest known creative expressions in history. Before purchasing a charcoal pencil set or another type of charcoal, knowing how many pieces are included, the type of charcoal in the set, what it’s best used for, and what colors are included are all important before making a final purchase.

The difference between charcoal pencils and graphite pencils is that charcoal comes from wood such as willow or vines, plants, or in rare cases, bone. These materials are heated to remove oxygen, thereby creating carbon.

Due to its inconsistent form, binders are used to help charcoal stick to paper or other surfaces. A fixative is usually needed, similar to pastels, in order to bind the charcoal.

Graphite on the other hand is made from a paste of the finest clays, graphite, and water. This combination is purified by heat, then heated again at higher temperatures and combined with a binder.

Fun fact: Charcoal was used over 28,000 years ago in cave paintings. One of the oldest cave paintings seen is a zebra.

Knowing the difference between a charcoal pencil, graphite pencil, and compressed and natural charcoal is essential to purchasing the right charcoal drawing set for your needs. Below is a summary of the different types of charcoal and their most common uses.

Charcoal Types

There are a large variety of charcoal types. These include compressed charcoal for broad lines to charcoal pencils for a less messy option. Due to its ability to create more shading than colored pencils, a charcoal drawing set provides artists with more creative ways to sketch, draw or practice compared to other penciled mediums.

We suggest beginners purchase a drawing pad to practice mastering different charcoal hardness as well as when erasing using a kneaded eraser.

Charcoal Pencil

Charcoal pencils are compressed charcoal and binder. The best charcoal pencils can be sharpened to very thin points in order to draw finer lines with an Exacto knife.

It’s best to never use a traditional pencil sharpener as it will most likely make the tip more brittle, even with a General pencil brand. The lines can be erased with a kneaded eraser or blue-tack. Some charcoal pencil sets come with kneaded erasers, otherwise, they must be purchased separately.

These charcoal drawing tools can be bought either as hard charcoal pencils or as soft pencils for darker lines.

Charcoal Powder

As the name suggests, charcoal powder is charcoal that’s crushed from vine or willow. Charcoal artists use this type of charcoal with a brush or blending stumps when shading or highlighting images.

It can either be purchased as a powder or artists can recycle small pieces of leftover charcoal by grounding them using sandpaper to create their own.

Compressed Charcoal Sticks

Made of charcoal powder and a binder, compressed charcoals come in blending stick form and can be hard or soft. Charcoal drawing with compressed charcoal mediums comes out darker than vine charcoal.

They are also more difficult to break due to their binders. They also conform to paper better than vine charcoal. Compressed charcoal is best for sketching broad lines or small fine details. Note that it’s not as easy to erase compared to natural charcoal. It also doesn’t generally shade as well as other types of charcoal.

Vine Charcoal

Made of natural charcoal particles from willow branches, willow and vine charcoal are used interchangeably since the only difference is that vine charcoal is lighter. They are also usually called charcoal sticks.

These drawing tools have no binders in them as a charcoal pencil does and therefore it does leave a lot of charcoal powder on a page. Vine charcoal should not be sharpened with a pencil sharpener.

It also leaves charcoal residue on fingers, but the benefits of blending and erasing with natural charcoal make it worth the mess, especially for experienced artists.

White Pencil

A white pencil doesn’t actually contain any charcoal and is usually made with chalk, titanium white pigment, or calcium carbonate and a binder.

These charcoal pencils are used to create highlights, shading, or more details in artwork. White pencils can be sharpened with a regular pencil sharpener.

Hard Charcoal

Harder charcoal is lighter than soft charcoal due to the amount of charcoal powder present. Charcoal pencils can be purchased as hard pencils when doing lighter drawings.

Soft Charcoal

Of soft, medium, and hard pencils, soft charcoal produces more powder than all the other types of charcoal.

Extra soft charcoal will produce the darkest charcoal drawing with almost no white showing underneath. General’s charcoal is one of the more trusted and famous brands of charcoal pencils.

Medium Charcoal

A charcoal drawing set usually has soft, medium, and hard charcoal. Medium pencils are the best of both worlds in that they are a good balance between gray and very dark black charcoal. It can be bought as a soft pencil or the other forms mentioned above.

Our Recommendation List for the Best Charcoal Pencils

  1. Best Charcoal Pencils Overall: Derwent Charcoal Pencils
  2. Best White Charcoal PencilMARKART White, Black, and Sepia Charcoal Pencils
  3. Best Compressed Charcoal: General’s Charcoal Compressed Sticks
  4. Best Soft, Medium, and Hard Charcoal PencilsSunshilor Professional Charcoal Pencils
  5. Best Vine Charcoal SticksWinsor & Newton Artist Vine Charcoal

 

#1 Best Charcoal Pencils Overall – Derwent Charcoal Pencils

Selection Criteria

  • Price – ~$12.69 (Was $13.64) – Our score: 9/10
  • Pieces included – 6 – Our score: 9/10
  • Type – Hard, Medium and Soft – Our score: 9/10
  • Best used for – Fine or thin lines – Our score: 8/10
  • Colors – Black and white – Our score: 9/10

About Derwent Charcoal Pencils

Other brands of charcoal pencils don’t have a complete charcoal set such as Derwent charcoal pencils for drawing. These black charcoal pencils also come with a handy metal tin making it easier for beginners and professional artists to transport.

Artists can draw thin lines with the sharp point of each charcoal pencil form or dark lines with the two dark charcoal pencils. Also included are two medium and one light pencil as well as one white pencil.

Using a blending stump can help turn rich lines into blended and shaded forms, while a fixative spray like this Sennelier Delacroix spray fixative can help the charcoal adhere to the paper or other surfaces.

Pros

  • This charcoal pencil set comes with a white pencil for shading or highlights
  • Comes with six pencils of different hardness for maximum creativity
  • A pencil sharpener is included
  • The handy tin makes transport easier

Cons

  • They might be too crumbly for beginners just entering the world of charcoal

2. Best White Charcoal Pencils – MARKART White Charcoal Pencils

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Selection Criteria

  • Price – ~$7.99 (Was $9.99) – Our score: 8/10
  • Pieces included – 10 – Our score: 9/10
  • Type – Hard, medium, and soft – Our score: 9/10
  • Best used for – Sketching, drawing, shading, blending or fine lines – Our score: 8/10
  • Colors – Black, white, sepia, and brown – Our score: 8/10

About MARKART White Charcoal Pencils

The dark values of the charcoal pencils, three of which are of the soft same grade, help create darker tones with this set of MARKART pencils.

Also included in the set are three charcoal pencils that are white with a fine point for highlights, one medium, and one hard charcoal pencil. In addition, a sepia light and sepia dark charcoal pencil come with this high-quality art supplies set.

This set is excellent for art classes as students have all the tools necessary to learn different charcoal techniques. A professional artist will also appreciate the color variety in this set for landscapes, animals, and other art pieces.

Pros

  • The assorted colors included in this set allow for more versatility when drawing
  • They are best used with gray or mid-toned paper to make the colors pop
  • Doesn’t smudge
  • Excellent for quick studies

Cons

  • A regular sharpener should not be used with these charcoal pencils

3. Best Compressed Charcoal – General’s Charcoal Pencil Compressed Charcoal

Selection Criteria

  • Price – ~$4 – Our score: 9/10
  • Pieces included – 12 – Our score: 8/10
  • Type – 2B, 4B, and 6B – Our score: 8/10
  • Best used for – Broad strokes, sketching – Our score: 7/10
  • Colors – Black – Our score: 8/10

About General’s Charcoal Pencil Compressed Charcoal

General’s pencils have a reputation for quality and versatility and these General’s charcoal sticks live up to that name. Each blending stick has lighter or darker values making it easier for the art student to master blending, shading, or sketching techniques.

These high-quality pigments are not pre-sharpened, but the edges can be used similarly to a General pencil with its fine tip.

Beginners can purchase a kneaded eraser for their art supply cache as these won’t erase well with standard erasers. In addition, unlike most charcoal, these sticks can be sharpened with a standard pencil sharpener if sharpened very slowly.

Pros

  • General’s charcoal is one of the most trusted brands of charcoal pencils
  • Natural charcoal sticks for broad and easy sketches
  • Consistent charcoal application

Cons

  • They do break easier than standard charcoal pencils

4. Best Soft, Medium, and Hard Pencils – Sunshilor Charcoal Pencils

Selection Criteria

  • Price – ~$5.89 – Our score: 8/10
  • Pieces included – 12 – Our score: 8/10
  • Type – Soft, Medium, and Hard – Our score: 9/10
  • Best used for – Shading, Sketching, and Drawing – Our score: 7/10
  • Colors – Black – Our score: 8/10

About Sunshilor Charcoal Pencils

One of the best charcoal pencils for details, these mixed soft, medium, and hard charcoal pencils from Sunshilor are ideal for charcoal drawing.

This charcoal pencil set includes 12 pencils that include six soft, four medium, and two hard charcoal pencils. They hold their point well and are excellent for beginners who are just learning how to use charcoal.

The soft pencils in particular should not be sharpened with a standard sharpener as it will degrade the tips and make them fall out.

Pros

  • Each charcoal pencil can be used for art classes or other beginner applications
  • Excellent gift for younger artists
  • Excellent and consistent quality

Cons

  • The box that comes with the set isn’t very sturdy when used over the long-term

5. Best Vine Charcoal Sticks – Winsor & Newton Artist Vine Charcoal

Selection Criteria

  • Price – ~$9.79 – Our score: 8/10
  • Pieces included – 12 – Our score: 8/10
  • Type – Vine sticks – Our score: 8/10
  • Best used for – Broad strokes, sketching – Our score: 7/10
  • Colors – Black – Our score: 8/10

About Winsor & Newton Artist Vine Charcoal

Ideal for broad strokes, unlike other pencils, these Winsor & Newton soft charcoal sticks are easy to use and provide consistent coloring on most paper types. A kneaded eraser will not work well to erase these sticks and we suggest using blue putty.

Similar to a charcoal pencil, these vine charcoal sticks can be used for creating dark shadows. It’s imperative to know that these sticks only come in soft and are only useful for darker tones. If requiring lighter shadows or light sketching, buying an assorted set is suggested.

Note that soft pencils with their fine point can be used for quick sketches whereas these soft sticks are mainly used for quick thick lines for a landscape, portrait, or animal drawing.

Pros

  • Enough soft pastels to create dark highlights in drawings
  • Excellent quality charcoal without binders
  • Good for beginners to learn thick line methods

Cons

  • Beginners will find the dark, soft colors too limiting when needing shading variety

Conclusion

We hope you found our guide to the best charcoal pencils helpful. We’ve covered the different types of charcoal pencils available along with our recommendations in various contexts.

We’ve discussed how you can choose the best charcoal pencils from compressed charcoal sticks to a white charcoal pencil or an assorted charcoal pencil set. Lastly, we’ve combined our recommendations for the best charcoal pencils including soft, medium, and hard charcoal as sketch pencils, drawing tools, or shading.

Thanks for reading. We hope our suggestions help you choose the best charcoal pencils, whether you’re just exploring charcoal or are an avid professional.