Graphite Drawing Pencils – Tips for Choosing

Whether you want to become a draughtsman or a painter, you will use pencils.

How to choose them?

Let me give you some pointers.

The Perfect Shape

The first pencils have been made from graphite sticks wrapped in string. Later strings were replaced by hollow wooden or plastic frame. The latter variant is of great interest to us – plastic products of that kind are designed mainly for schoolchildren.
A shape of wooden pencils can be:

  • hexagonal;
  • triangular;
  • round.

There are also twig ones, which aren’t handy because of their big size, but funny.

Most artists use classic hexagonal pencils, and with good reason – they don’t slip out of fingers. Some professional draughtsmen prefer triangular shape as more ergonomic.

Various Grading Scales

A modern pencil rod is a combination of ground graphite, white clay and binders like wax or polymer – the components are mixed with water and then pressed at high temperature.

The more graphite there is, the darker (softer) will write the pencil. And vice versa, the more clay there is, the lighter (harder) it will be.

Following the European grading system, coined by Koh-i-Noor Hardtmuth in the Czech Republic, B means the rod is soft, i.e. black. The number next to the letter (2B, 3b, 5b) is the level of blackness.

H, in turn, indicates that the core is hard.

Maximum level both hardness and softness are 10. If you are going to draw as a draughtsman, buy a complete set.

For sketching before painting you should acquire medium-textured HB, which is in the middle of the spectrum.

It must be added, that sometimes graphite pencils have got the label F – fine point. F rods stand in European scale between HB and H.

The system of pencil labelling invented by Nicholas Conte and adopted by the Thoreau family in the USA is a slightly different. It’s numerical:

  • #1 = B;
  • #2 = HB;
  • #2½ = F;
  • #3 = H;
  • #4 = 2H.

The systems of designations seem absolutely clear and logical.

Alas, in reality, two HB (#2)-pencils from two brands don’t leave the same mark. Each manufacture put into practice the unique internal standards for graphite hardness grades.

It’s considered that Japan cores are softener then rods from European producers. Keep this in mind just in case and experiment with various brands to find the best products in response to your aims.

Helen Dickinson
Helen Dickinson

Hi! I am Helen, an artist. My favorite art supplies are watercolor paints, brushes and paper, but I also enjoy experimenting with the other materials. Maybe, my knowledges will be useful for you.

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