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 were made from graphite sticks wrapped in string. Later, strings were replaced by hollow wooden or plastic frames. The latter variant is of great interest to us – plastic products of that kind are designed mainly for schoolchildren.
The 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 your fingers. Some professional draughtsmen prefer a triangular shape as it is more ergonomic.

Various Grading Scales

A modern pencil rod combines 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) the pencil will write. 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.

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

If 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 the label F – fine point. F rods stand on a European scale between HB and H.

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

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

The systems of designations seem clear and logical.

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

It’s considered that Japanese cores are softer than 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.

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Natalia Usanova
I am a poet and an amateur artist. A few years ago, it seemed to me creating works of art is a much more important occupation than reading books, visiting galleries, or listening to music. Now I don't think so. Let me share with you the masterpieces which have changed my life and can change yours. Follow me on Twitter!

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