Searching for the Blackest Black: Non Water-Soluble Drawing Materials

Still on my quest for the blackest black art materials! Next up is Part 3 of 4: Non Water-Soluble Drawing Materials.

This series has gone from two parts to three and now, to four! It’s been super fun to compare and contrast art materials. I now know why there are so many Instagram and Youtube accounts dedicated to comparisons and which have thousands of followers-myself included in that following, not to mention the thousands of hours I spend watching the videos…but I digress…

So we will now embark on this Part Three: Non-Water Soluble Drawing Materials. Like the Paint and Water-Soluble Materials comparisons, I used Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media Paper and Duralar Film, which are the two papers I use most for drawings. I chose to compare drawing materials that I had already narrowed down to the darkest ones in my collection. Again, I made short choppy strokes, a fluid line and a solid black rectangle. I comment first on the black-ness of the material, but I’m also interested in the smooth quality of the line. I’m a fluid draftsperson, I like things that flow and don’t grab at the paper or create too much texture-just my preference. The following list corresponds top down to the images below. I isolated each of the marks with the top being the Mixed Media paper and the second, the Duralar. Last, I include direct links to purchase each product from my Amazon affiliate store, Art Supplies I Love.

Stay tuned for Part Four of my Search for the Blackest Black, comparing the blackest black encaustic paints-this totally excites me!

BONUS!! Since most of these materials must be sharpened, here is the best Art Bite tip…This pencil sharpener is the best one I’ve ever purchased. It’s portable, sharpens pointed or blunt and apparently lasts a super long time without needing a new blade. The best part is that it sharpens to an extra long point, see the comparison below of my other studio pencil sharpener and this one.

  1. Scorched Fire Wood
    I started drawing with campfire wood a few years ago while teaching in Utah. I was looking for something to give to the workshop participants to draw with and there were old campfires everywhere, so walla..instant art material. It’s basically charcoal, but without binders and other things that make it easy to handle. You’ll get a variety of results depending on what kind of wood it is, how long it was burned, etc. The wood I used here is from my fire pit in Florida and is likely some kind of pine. It was super smooth and nice and dark on the paper, not so much on the Duralar. Like any charcoal, it needs a toothy surface to grab onto. If you try drawing with your own fire pit wood, made sure you use plenty of fixative!
  2. Posca Pen
    Hands down, the winner of the blackest black drawing material on both papers I tested. The pen is kind of a cheat because it’s actually acrylic paint and belongs in my paint comparison, but who cares. If you’re into paint markers, Posca pens are the best I’ve tried and I’ve tried A LOT of them so as to avoid paying for the expensive Posca. Like anything, you get what you pay for-Posca pens are smooth, luscious and you really don’t need a lot of it to get good coverage. They come in several sizes, so you can draw detailed and bold AND they come in a ton of rich colors, not just black.
  3. Prismacolor Ebony Pencil
    This is my go-to drawing pencil for all kinds of drawing. I can get a wide variety of shades from light to dark with just this one pencil. These pencils were originally made by Eberhard-Faber, then Sanford and now it looks like Prismacolor is making them. If you can get ahold of the EF pencils or even the Sanfords, you’ll find a slightly better and blacker pencil. I purchased a huge lot of the EF from Ebay and compared with the more recent Prismacolor, it seems that the more recent the pencil, the lesser the quality of graphite. It’s true that things in our modern age just aren’t made like they used to be.
  4. Generals Charcoal Pencil 557 HB
    You can’t beat Generals for anything charcoal, which is why four of their products have made it to this list. I love this particular pencil for drawing on paper, it’s extremely dark, smooth and doesn’t break or crumble when drawing or sharpening. Like any charcoal, it needs something toothy to grab so it didn’t do too well on the Duralar.
  5. Generals Carbon Sketch
    Believe it or not, this is a close second to Posca for the blackest black on both papers. It is the smoothest, darkest pencil I’ve ever had in my hand, it’s absolutely heavenly how it just glides over any surface. However, Heaven quickly turns to Hell when you try to sharpen it and sharpen it you must, as it’s extremely soft and loses it’s point very quickly and then breaks and breaks and breaks when you sharpen it. I’ve managed to be moderately successful sharpening it with a hand held sharpener, rather than an electric one. If you don’t lose your mind sharpening this pencil, it’s definitely worth it to draw with it, if only for a little while.
    **UPDATE An excellent alternative to this pencil is the Wolff’s Carbon Pencil, which is not to hard/not too soft and just right! Many thanks to @paddocknotes for the recommendation!
  6. Grumbacher Charcoal Pencil Medium
    Unfortunately, Grumbacher has discontinued this pencil, but I think you can still find it in sets under the Faber-Castell Pitt label. If you can find the vintage Grumabacher pencil on Ebay, they’re worth the extra work to purchase. They draw extremely smooth and dark on paper, maybe even slightly better than the General’s Charcoal pencil above. The charcoal is very firm and feels almost as smooth as graphite on paper, but an utter fail on the Duralar. I’m really in love with this pencil and I’m sad they’re not being made anymore.
  7. Primo Elite Grande #5000
    Made by General’s, their Primo line of charcoal pencils is as lovely as all of their products. Velvety smooth, dark and as heavenly as the Carbon Sketch above, it’s a little thicker than a regular pencil and easier to hold, it feels amazing in my hand. It draws wonderfully on both papers, but unfortunately suffers the same sharpening issues as the Carbon Sketch. Also, because it’s slightly thicker than most pencils, it won’t sharpen in most hand held sharpeners. However, I would choose this pencil over the other as it’s ever so slightly harder and doesn’t crumble quite as easily. Both are worth it, they really are heaven during the drawing process.
  8. Primo Charcoal 59 HB
    Like most of the General’s products listed here, the quality of this pencil is no exception. It’s also very dark, smooth and velvety as the others, but ever slightly firmer, making it easier to sharpen. The slightly harder charcoal, makes it slightly lighter on both papers. It’s still super dark, just not as dark as pitch like the others. If you don’t want to deal with the frustration of the softness of the other two, this one is just as good.
  9. Sharpie China Marker
    Unlike your usual everyday cheapie China Marker, this Sharpie China Marker is rich and black and ties for second in the line-up for the blackest black on Duralar, but only mediocre on the Mixed Media Paper. A china marker is what it is-a grease pencil-made to mark on difficult surfaces, so you’ll get an excellent black mark on smooth, shiny surfaces when most of the above pencils won’t cut it.
1. Scorched Fire Wood (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
2. Posca Pen (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
3. Prismacolor Ebony Pencil (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
4. Generals Charcoal Pencil 557 HB (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
5. General’s Carbon Sketch (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
6. Grumbacher Charcoal Pencil Medium (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
7. Primo Elite Grande 5000 (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
8. Primo Charcoal 59 HB (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)
9. Sharpie China Marker (Mixed Media Paper-top, Duralar-bottom)

Author: lorraineglessner

I'm a mixed media artist, workshop instructor and former assistant professor at tyler school of art in Philadelphia, PA.

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