A must-have in most studios, graphite sticks are favored tools for sketching, portraiture, transferring drawings, and much more. This versatile medium is easier to control than its cousin, charcoal, which is messier, more delicate, and often rougher. And it offers a broader range of strokes than its wood-enclosed relative, the pencil. In stick form, powdered graphite is mixed with a binder, the amount of which determines its hardness. There are many reasons to prefer one kind of stick over another, most of them subjective. Our picks can help you decide which one is most likely to become your personal favorite.
1. Lyra Graphite Sticks
It’s easy to see the appeal of Lyra’s hexagonal sticks. Resembling pencils and roughly the size of a chunky crayon, they fit nicely in the hand, and each is wrapped in peelable paper to reduce mess. Durable and easy to sharpen, they leave dark marks that go on smoothly and have a subtle sheen. We especially like these sticks because you can choose between a non-water-soluble and a water-soluble form—the latter of which blends well with water to create beautiful tones and depth. This set comes with three pre-sharpened water-soluble sticks in 2B, 6B, and 9B grades.
2. Art Graf Water-Soluble Graphite
Art Graf’s sticks consist of highly water-soluble premium graphite that is perfect for value studies or plein air painting. They come from Viarco, a family-owned business in northern Portugal that has been producing top-grade drawing materials since 1907, and consist of a distinct blend of graphite and binders. They can be used dry, but they really shine when combined with water: use them like solid watercolor by wetting a brush and then stocking it with graphite to paint stunning tonal works. This set includes two graphite sticks.
3. Prima Marketing Water-Soluble Graphite Sticks
If a variety of hardness grades is what you seek, consider Prima Marketing’s graphite sticks, which come in a six-pack of 2B, 4B, 6B, 8B, 10B, and 12B grades. Similar in shape to Lyra’s product, these pencil-like sticks have a nice weight to them and lay down solid, strong lines. They have more of a crayon feel and effect than our other picks, but even the softest, 12B, can achieve a black with noticeable depth. Being water-soluble, they are also great for making rich marks that are similar in tone to an ink wash.
4. General’s Jumbo Compressed Graphite Sticks
These flat, wide sticks are wonderfully versatile. Their edges can be used for line work, or you can turn them on their side to easily shade large areas with rapid, broad strokes. This makes them ideal not only for sketching but for transfers and rubbings. Despite their slimness, they are sturdy enough to withstand firm pressure. This set includes three sticks in useful 2B, 4B, and 6B grades.
5. Derwent XL Graphite Blocks
If you want to add some color to your graphite work, Derwent offers these satisfyingly chunky blocks that come in a set of earthy hues. This set includes four sticks in Olive Green, Dark Prussian, Raw Umber, and Burnt Umber plus two natural ones classified as soft and very soft. Each is just over 2 inches long and features ends that measure roughly ? inch square; like General’s product, you can use them to quickly cover large areas or use the edges and corners for finer marks. Like many of our other options, these are water soluble and can produce vivid colors with a subtle sheen when wet.