this thing's incredible

My Favorite Pencil Never Smudges and Looks Like Black Velvet on a Page

Photo: Liza Corsillo

While talking to a bunch of artists I admire for a piece about the best drawing pencils, it became clear that, for the most part, the relationship between artist and drawing tool is as personal as that between chef and paring knife. So, as an illustrator myself, I started to think about my own preferences. Like many other artists, I carry a sketchbook — a Muji A5 paper bind — and a pencil case (mine is Snoopy-themed) at all times. Inside the case, there are always brush and chisel-tip markers, as well as several pencils, including a statusy Palomino Blackwing, with its satisfying rectangular eraser, and a Prismacolor Ebony Jet Black Extra Smooth, which I learned to covet as a kid while watching my mother sharpen hers with an X-Acto blade. But the pencil I reach for most often, both for drawing and for jotting down ideas or making to-do lists, is actually a colored pencil.

Okay, it’s a black-colored pencil. But still, my beloved Prismacolor Premier Black gives me the softest, darkest, and blackest lines of any pencil or colored pencil I’ve tried. (At its darkest, the pencil is just as opaque and black as my favorite Faber Castell markers.) On the whole, I like pencils that are soft, because they glide easily across paper and create dense marks. My Prismacolor Premier has that ideal softness, but also allows me to vary the thickness and darkness of my lines, depending on the angle at which I hold it — something hard leads 2H and beyond can’t do. It’s truly a multitasker that lets me draw marks ranging from fine and ghostly transparent (like those you’d get from a 2H graphite pencil) all the way to dense and pitch-black (as if they were drawn with a stick of charcoal). Except my favorite pencil never smudges the way charcoal or soft graphite can, nor does it produce a silvery color that you tend to get with the former. Instead, no matter what I draw or write, the lines stay put and the color is luxurious, like bits of black velvet streaked across the page.

After watching a few mesmerizing videos about the fabrication process of colored pencils, I came to understand why my favorite one acts the way it does. Standard pencils like your classic Ticonderogas or artist-grade Fabre Castells are made of graphite mixed with clay, which is why they tend to smudge under the heat and pressure of a hand. But Prismacolor Premier and other colored pencils are made using a mix of pigment and wax binder; that wax binds the pigment together in the pencil’s core, but it also binds the pigment to the pages of my sketchbook or notebook, allowing me to draw or write with abandon and never worry about dirtying my palm or the page. I write a lot in transit, and when I use the Prismacolor Premier, my to-do lists remain pristine through every bump and jostle. Of course, there are benefits to every tool in my pencil case — graphite pencils are easier to erase, markers are quick and consistent in tone — but none of them are as versatile or lay down as dark and soft on the page without making a mess.

Thankfully, Prismacolor sells its Premier line of soft-core colored pencils individually by color. Otherwise, I would go broke if I had to buy a new set every time I wore my black one down to a nub. That they’re sold individually also allows me to keep a backstock. Usually, I buy them by the dozen, lest I misplace one — or decide to share their gospel with a friend. Which reminds me, I think it’s time to order more.

A few more Strategist-approved pencils

Of the 15 different pencils mentioned in our article about the best pencils for drawing, Staedtler Mars Lumograph were the resounding favorite.

The statusy Blackwing that I keep in my pencil case is also a favorite of New York Magazine city editor Christopher Bonanos, and came recommended by Nick Sese, who manages e-commerce at Pencils.com, in our article about the best pencils for students.

And these charcoal pencils are a new favorite of illustrator Amber Vittoria, who calls them “soft enough, but not too soft.”

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My Favorite Pencil Never Smudges and Writes Like Velvet