Pencil review: Derwent Graphic

It is a bit of a shock to realize that this website has existed for so many years without offering a single article on a product from this particular manufacturer. With a location near the original Borrowdale graphite mine and the beginnings of the lead pencil industry, as well as offering a broad and internationally distributed line of premium pencils, Derwent is one of today’s top manufacturers.

Derwent was established in Keswick in 1832. This is in the region of the mine where graphite was discovered. (See Petroski’s The Pencil for further information.) The location cannot be random, and it seems reasonable that there is some link back to the original mine.

The company today is owned by global conglomerate ACCO (originally “American Clip Company”), who have wisely left the brand unaltered. The ownership has continued to invest in production as well as support the company history and heritage through the sponsorship of the Cumberland Pencil Museum. Contrast this with how Sanford has treated acquisitions!

Derwent today offers over a dozen full lines of artist oriented pencils, plus many other media and accessories. They have all the traditional media in woodcased pencil form – graphite, wax colour, charcoal, and chalk pastels. Plus they offer all of these in a huge number of format permutations.

In woodcased graphite pencil form, the following are offered:

Graphic – a range of hexagonal pencils in twenty degrees, from 9H to 9B. We’ll look at the HB today.

Sketching – HB, 2B, and 4B round pencils with oversize cores. Very waxy, we’ll look at these another day. I think many people will like them!

Watersoluble Sketching – HB, 4B, and 8B round pencils with oversize water soluble cores. They seem drier than other watersoluble pencils I have tried.

Onyx – a new line, apparently very dark and saturated.

Lakeland Graphite – a student range which I’ve unfortunately never seen.

Cumberland Graphite – a general purpose range.

Rexel Office Pencil – the Derwent website says, “It does the job you expect it to.” Again, I haven’t seen this pencil.

Do you know any of this range? Do you live near the Lake District?

Derwent Graphic pencil

Name: Derwent Graphic.

Full name and model no: Derwent Graphic.

Manufacturer: Cumberland Pencil Company, part of ACCO UK Ltd.

Background: See above.

Weight: 3.7g – possibly the lightest modern quality pencil.

Dimensions: Rounded hexagon with finished cap. Standard (~175mm) length.

Derwent Graphic pencil

Appearance: The pencils are hexagonal and sharpened. The pencil finish is black, with white imprints and a geometric orange stripe. The lacquer seems very light. The basic black colour scheme may contribute to this appearance. Different pencils purchased at different stores seem to vary, but the lacquering generally seems quite “bargain” rather than “premium” to me. The stinginess with the paint might be an aspect of the pencil’s light weight.

The pencil is marked:

England Derwent Graphic HB

Other notes: The minimal marking on the pencil and absence of a bar code are a nice change of pace.

Grip: It is a fairly standard pencil.

Sharpening: Using cedar (less common in 2010), the pencil offers a superior sharpening experience.

Writing: There are a lot of possible reasons for choosing a pencil. Some criteria, such as reaction to atmospheric humidity – which I do see as a reasonable measure – require either specialized equipment or years of study to detect. I can’t comment on these aspects. But as a smooth writer with dark precise lines, it just doesn’t compare with a pencil like the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni. Against the Castell 9000, it seems possibly better in some ways, and worse in others. So it belongs in the graphite pencil Formula 1 season, but won’t win pole position most days.

Erasure: On Rhodia paper, a Pilot Foam erased very well. A Factis Extra Soft ES20 has a couple of challenges.

Derwent Graphic pencil

Overall: I’m glad that Cumberland and their Derwent brand are thriving. Yet as a potentially top-tier pencil, I find the lead of the Graphic not quite good enough. Industry officials have stated that a pencil’s core may be 10% of the cost and the finish 33% of that cost. The Graphic already has a very modest finish – barely acceptable, in fact. Cumberland should put some of their lacquer/paint savings into the graphite/clay/wax core. Globalization is the challenge, and there are some very good competitors out there.

Weblogs suggest there are a number of UK readers who may know Derwent – what do you think?

26 Replies to “Pencil review: Derwent Graphic”

  1. They are the go-to pencil for many British artists. Few people I know use them for writing.

    I was at the Pencil Museum last summer. The way they put the stripe on at an angle is very neat; you probably wouldn’t guess how. Neat place; they have a mad little van outside: The Cumberland Pencil Van

  2. Derwent are my first choice for a variety of artist’s pencils (only surpassed for ‘general colouring’ by the Faber Castell Polychromos), but I’ve never really liked them for writing. They smudge too easily, and it’s true the finish of the Graphic aren’t really top notch. It’s better with Derwent Drawing or Coloursoft of Artists, really…
    However, I think it’s nice to see some entries about my favourite pencil manufacturer on this blog ;)

  3. Nice post and good observations on an often overlooked pencil brand despite its long history and widespread distribution. I don’t think I have blogged specifically about their graphite range products either despite counting several of them in my own collection. I’ll have to start correcting that oversight once I get back, but it’s so easy to get seduced and stuck with the flawless performance of the Hi-Uni pencils

  4. This particular pencil hapens to be my biggest disappointment – the blackness is superb and the lead draws easy, however it is (mildly) scratchy (absolutely annoying when using the pencil for drawing) and the lead is soft and not too hard to break while being sharpened with a knife.

  5. Unfortunately, we do get some ‘scratchy’ complains from our end users for this model…but overall, Derwent pencils still beats any other brands that we carry in terms of popularity although comparatively, they are priced higher than other brands! Great post! =)

  6. I’ve seen these around a few shops, but I never picked them up because the finish always just seemed cheap. Even if they were awesome writers, the finishing probably would have turned me off, especially after getting into the premium Japanese set. This fit-finish bias has made me miss out on some sleepers, like the Ohto 9000.

  7. I’ve been using Derwent pencils for drawing for around twenty years now. In the pre internet days you used what was available in the shops and the two major brands were Derwent and Faber-Castell so my drawing kit has long consisted of mix of the two.
    The Graphic is a little darker than the Castell 9000 – not quite a whole grade but getting there.
    The downside with Graphics is that they can be inconsistent – you get a 2B that seems more like a B or vie versa. This is not such a problem with the really soft grades though. They are smudgy – but then I want smudgy for drawing and once blended they tend to stay put and not smear any further.
    The large core sketching pencils and the water soluble ones are nice to use. The soluble ones come as woodless sticks as well and there is a tinted graphite version.
    The finish used to be better but Derwent switched from lacquer to an environmentally friendly water based coating. I don’t think the switch was that successful.
    I don’t use them for writing but I wouldn’t use a high priced Japanese pencil for sketching – I say High priced because of the shipping charges – always a problem.
    Overall the Graphics are worth the money.

  8. I started my career as a hobby sketcher with a set of these many, many moons ago. So I still have some veneration for them, although I’ve moved on to the shores of Staedtler and Faber Castell – and lately Hi-Uni & co ?.
    Derwent’s seem to be the standard offering at art suppliers here in DK. They’re sold as singles and sets.

    BTW I still have the remains of my first set and it looks a bit different. Much nicer lacquer job and no zigzag red band – just a straight one.

    Oh, and the sketching line pencils are the only non-Castell pencils, which will fit a Graf von Faber Castell extender. Nice.

  9. I remember the vans, too. The Post Office used them – green for telephones, red for Royal Mail.
    Like the Morris Minor vans the GPO had them fitted with rubber mudguards (wings) so as to protect the finish in tight corners. Drivers used to leave those sliding doors open so they could get in and out faster on deliveries – and there were no seat belts in those days!

  10. The Derwent Graphic B-grades have a finish that I think is much to slippery. But the H-grades have a much different finish with more grip that I like very much. I would like to see all pencils with this grip. Unfortunately the Derwent Graphic HB has the slippery finish.
    As a student someone bought the Derwent Graphic 9H pencil for me. For fifteen years I thought it was a very special pencil. Then I found out I can buy Derwent pencils in a lot of local art shops.

  11. I have a few Derwent Graphic pencils from the two previous designs. Before the “cheap” look, the orange stripe was straight. The end beyond the stripe was the same, or very similar, finish used today, but the body of the pencil was a matte finish. I have this kind of pencil with two kinds of stamp. One has the current “ENGLAND DERWENT * GRAPHIC X” imprint, but my older ones read “MADE IN GT. BRITAIN REXEL CUMBERLAND Derwent Graphic X”. That’s not very old though since I bought them from open stock around 2002.

  12. Hello Katherine,

    I’ll interpret that as a recommendation from a highly respected online authority! The category is now created, though I’m afraid there aren’t many posts there.

  13. I’ve used Derwent graphic pencils for many years, mostly for technical drawing and then marking up during the making of wood tools. I did think that i’d found the best pencil in the world, they were superb. Unfortunately, the new wax like matt finish is appalling. It is sticky and comes off very quickly. I’m now looking for a better pencil. I really miss the gloss finish, though i’m happy that they are thinking about their environmental impact(nothing to do with production costs, ha),

  14. The Derwent Graphics in the medium range from H to 2B are lovely pencils, however beyond 2B they are very unreliable and brittle. I recently had to send 2 Graphic Soft sets (H-9B) back to Acco brands (the owner) because almost every pencil I sharpened between 3B and 9B had the lead continually break. I think this is because Derwent Graphics do not have a bonding process between the core and the wood like Faber-Castell 9000’s and Staedtler Lumographs do…well at least they don’t advertise it. The matt finish and generally poor finish on recent editions of this pencil is another turn off. I will continue to buy them in the medium grades…softer grades are a complete waste of time.

  15. Hello! This is such a comprehensive review, thanks for posting it!

    The finish on the pencils is different because of the environmentally friendly UV paint process that Derwent use. In order to reduce emissions the process was changed to help ‘clean up’ the environmental issues of painting with lacquer.

    Derwent always strives to improve its quality and I will pass these comments on to our laboratory.

    Best wishes from Rebecca, Design & Social Media Specialist at Derwent.

    P.S. If you would like any more info please feel free to email us at

  16. Hi, I have to agree with Kevin 100%
    I tried to sharpen a 4B and a 5B with using different sharpeners (electric Dahle200, manual Dahle 166, and metallic KUM) with no success at all and I ended with a couple of 2-inch long pencil. Leads did broke at every try.
    Waste of time and a little bit disappointed.
    Merry Xmas

  17. I think you all just answered a question for me. I have both Derwent Academy and the GraphicSoft, and have had trouble with 3B and higher in both sets with breakages when sharpening, despite trying different sharpeners.

    So it’s not just me, after all.:)

  18. I use these pencils every day for drawing out detailed designs but find the consistency in grading to be hit and miss.
    6H is my regular as I can get a good point and decent line image.
    I have just tested several 5H,6H,7H and each group is inconsistent.
    Sometimes the grading is out by more than one number.
    I found this site as I was frustrated by my pencils and googled “inconsistency in Derwent Graphic”.

  19. FWIW:
    I am in a group (graphite) drawing class where we just completed a large “shading” exercise.

    We had a discussion re: graphite pencils, and Derwent seemed to get best raves re: lack of grit. Those of us who have used both Derwent and Staedtler Lumograph and/or Prismacolor graphics found Derwent much less gritty.

  20. I’ve been on about these pencils for years, since finding them at an art supply store chain here in the States.

    Confession: I’m a a “pencil and paper” writer, planner, and note-taker – not an artist. I’m not a complete luddite, but when it comes to creativity and functionality, I don’t like distractions.

    Derwent’s minimal paint scheme on these is lovely, and the finish doesn’t quite bother me the way it does some of you. Yes, it dulls in the hand, but it also stays put. I’ve found that heavier (and shinier) finishes tend to sweat a bit. I imagine after a while that I begin to feel the cedar grain against my fingertips, like the burl of a pipe or a worry-stone.

    All silliness aside, I swear by the 2H, as I have a bit of heavy hand. I don’t require a super-dark line, and I absolutely hate crumbly, dusty trails all over my page.

    The DG 2H stands up to these fists of meat, no problem at all, and can be sharpened on both ends as well!

    I have found a few inconsistencies (over several years of use), but I buy 3 or 4 at a time, and sometimes bad points and sharpening difficulties just happen.

    …And… I’ve been a big fan of your site over the years as well, thank you for continuing to spread the pencil/paper love!

  21. (This is a repost of a comment I made on Memm’s blog, which I’m sharing here because it seems relevant. For context, I grew up in a small town in the UK, and left high school in 2001.)

    My secondary school art teacher, a flamboyant and slightly eccentric type who characteristically mispronounced French words for comic effect, used Derwents and guarded them jealously. She had a stock for the classroom, stored in an ice cream tub and counted out and back in as if they were precious antiques. Deliberately breaking one, as some classmates did, was to invite a serious bollocking, and rightfully so.

    The last time I saw her, she was stoped over an ice cream tub, deep in concentration with her gigantic earrings touching the tip of her nose, counting the precious Derwents back into an ice cream tub. “Ow ree-voy-er, Mee-shell!” she said, not looking up, a soft clack each time she carefully put another pencil down on the stack.

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