Today I’m reviewing the graphite pencils of Koh-I-Noor. You might not know this brand well, yet they deserve your attention because in 1792, Joseph Hardtmuth (the founder) was the first person in history to mix graphite powder and clay to create the modern leads we still use today in pencils. There are several different types of graphite pencil by Koh I Noor and I’ll be focussing mostly on the Toison d’Or ones today. So are they any good? Let’s find out in my Koh I Noor graphite pencils review.
History of the graphite of Koh I Noor
A French man called Nicolas Jacques Conté is sometimes credited with being the inventor of the modern pencil. He indeed invented a pencil using graphite powder and clay in 1795. However, Joseph Hardtmuth was actually the first person to discover the graphite powder and clay method, because his date of discover is 1792. Was Nicolas Jacques Conté aware of Joseph Hardtmuth’s invention? It’s hard to say. All that’s sure is that Joseph Hardtmuth, the founder of Koh-I-Noor has been recorded in history as the first person to discover the mixture of graphite powder and clay. The pencil lead Koh I Noor created wasn’t patented until 1802.
Koh-I-Noor used to be an Austrian company, so the graphite pencils were originally created there. In 1848, the company moved from Vienna, Austria to Budějovice (now in the Czech Republic). After the Second World War, Koh I Noor became a state owned company before becoming private again in 1992. This complicated company history is probably why many artists are less familiar with Koh-I-Noor as a brand.
The pencils I am reviewing today, the Toison d’Or graphite pecils are Koh-I-Noor’s professional artist pencils. Toison d’Or means “Fleece of Gold” in French.
Last bit of random trivia about Koh-I-Noor, the name is inspired by one of the largest diamonds in the World, the Koh-I-Noor. The name means “Mountain of Light” in Persian and Hindu-Urdu.
What do drawings with Koh-I-Noor graphite pencils look like?
Below is a drawing of a squirrel I did with the 1900 Toison d’Or graphite pencils by Koh-I-Noor. The graphite quality of the 1900 Toison d’Or pencils is excellent. I also used a Koh-I-Noor Progresso graphite pencil to help cover the background in heavy graphite a bit faster. The Progresso pencils are Koh-I-Noor’s pure graphite pencils (the kind with no wood). The majority of the drawing is done with the Toison d’Or pencils (the wood cased ones).
I had a lot of fun drawing with the Koh-I-Noor Toison d’Or pencils. I found it very easy to control tone with them and the range I have is perfect for the kind of shading I like doing. Rendering fur and wood is a demanding task for graphite pencils, so the fact that the drawing turned out quite well is a testament to how capable Koh-I-Noor’s graphite is.
What do Koh-I-Noor’s graphite pencils feel like to draw with?
Now that you’ve seen the squirrel above, maybe you’re wondering if the tactile feeling of the pencils is good? Well it is. Koh-I-Noor’s graphite feels slightly chalky, in a similar way to Derwent’s. Those of you visiting this website for the first time may be unaware that I describe different graphite pencils as feeling different. Some feel like polished stone, others like plastic, others very scratchy, some buttery; Koh-I-Noor’s are chalky. They’re not chalky in the way that chalk screeches across a chalkboard however, what I mean is that they have that kind of friction in my hand as I drag the pencils across a page, which feels quite pleasant.
The size and hexagonal shape of the Koh-I-Noor Toison d’Or graphite pencils feels very similar to other pencils, so it’s very likely you’ll adapt to that aspect of them quickly. Koh-I-Noor also has watercolour graphite, pure graphite pencils and graphite sticks. The Progresso shape is round and the watercolour pencils are hexagonal. I’ll talk more about the watercolour pencils another day but you can see the dry swatches of them below. The watercolour graphite feels different to the Toison d’Or graphite when drawing dry. I assume that’s because the clay in the watercolour ones is made of different materials to make it water soluble. The Toison d’Or graphite that I’m reviewing in this article is not water soluble, they’re classic dry graphite pencils.
Swatches of Koh-I-Noor graphite pencils
The pencils I used to draw the squirrel and those I’m reviewing in this article are the 1900 Toison d’Or pencils (not to be confused with other different materials named Toison d’Or), which you’ll see in the top row of the image above. There are several different sets of the Toison d’Or pencils available, with different mixes of graphite grades.
My set includes 8H, 6H, 4H, 2H, F, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 6B and 8B. This isn’t a typical mix of pencils and you’ll notice there are grades missing throughout. In my opinion it’s an intelligent move by Koh-I-Noor to skip grades in sets because having every single grade between 8H and 2H would be pointless for most people, as would having 5B and 7B when you’d already have 4B, 6B and 8B. You can get every neighbouring grade with Koh-I-Noor pencils if you want, I’m just glad that’s not the case in my set.
Each pencil in the Koh-I-Noor 1900 Toison d’Or range feels unique and makes it easier to achieve certain tones. It’s always important to me that each pencil grade has a different range of tone. All of the pencils are exceptional in quality and I even enjoyed drawing very light tones with the 6H pencil. The only pencil I don’t like so much is the 8H pencil, because that one is so hard that it scratches a bit too much. So I’d recommend going no harder than 6H.
The Koh-I-Noor progresso pencil in 6B is also a pencil worth buying. It’s a woodless graphite pencil and those make shading very large areas like the background of my squirrel drawing very easy. The graphite sticks are fine but I don’t have much use for them. The watercolour graphite pencils are interesting but I’ll talk more about those in a different article in the future. All I’ll say for now is that if you’re planning to draw dry with graphite (as is normal), get the Toison d’Or pencils instead of the watercolour ones, because they feel better for that.
Wood from sustainably managed forests
Not every pencil brand uses sustainable sources for the wood in their pencils. Thankfully, Koh-I-Noor does, so that means the wood used in their 1900 Toison d’Or pencils is a bit more sustainable in certain of their competitors. The wood Koh-I-Noor uses in their pencils is certified by the FSC as being sustainable.
Concluding my Koh-I-Noor graphite pencil review
- Excellent graphite quality.
- Has a big range of pencil grades.
- Has other good graphite products.
- Several barrel shapes available.
- Wood from sustainable sources.
- Bit difficult to find unless you buy online.
- Tin is likely to open up in bag without being taped down.
- Lots of different pencil shapes and names by same company can make it confusing when searching for them.
The Koh-I-Noor 1900 Toison d’Or pencils are excellent graphite pencils and truly do live up to the word “Professional” that they write on the tins. I highly recommend these pencils and am going to continue enjoying drawing with them. The fact that Koh-I-Noor’s founder was the earliest person in recorded history to mix together graphite powder and clay is also a major bragging right for this brand.
As I mentioned earlier in the review, there are several different packs of the 1900 Toison d’Or pencils available. I bought a pack that includes very hard pencils, which aren’t going to be every artist’s cup of tea. If you prefer standard ranges of pencils or even if you’re a beginner, I recommend getting the 8B – 2H pack rather than the one I got.
Koh-I-Noor do triangular pencils and woodless ones called “Progresso” as well as the Toison d’Or graphite pencils. There are also wood pencils with different colour casing. With all of these pencils, the graphite lead is the same, so it’s mostly about the shape and casing of the graphite. The watercolour versions of the pencils must have a different clay in them because the leads feel different in those. In any case, for most artists I recommend the Toison d’Or pencils rather than the other kinds Koh I Noor sells!
Hope you enjoyed the review! If you have any thoughts, throw them down in the comments.
Where can you buy the Koh-I-Noor 1900 Toison d’Or pencils?
You’re probably going to need to order the Koh-I-Noor 1900 pencils online, because I haven’t personally seen them in brick and mortar art shops. I’m including some links for you below and if you use them, I appreciate it, because when the shops know I sent you, they give me a few pennies, which I’m putting aside for my ever growing addiction to coffee.
2H – 8B set of Koh-I-Noor Pencils (best range for most artists)
Jackson’s Art (UK / Europe)