If you’re new to drawing with graphite and wondering what are the best drawing pencils you should be using, this guide is for you!
In this guide, you will learn:
- What the numbers and letters on a pencil mean
- Which pencils you should use
- Which pencils are best for drawing portraits and pencils for sketching
- The reason why there are so many pencil grades
- How the quality of a pencil can affect your artwork
The letters on a pencil will tell you its level of hardness or softness. For example:
F: Fine Point
HB: Hard Black
Hard pencils produce light lines while soft pencils produce dark lines. Why? Because soft pencils deposit more graphite onto your drawing surface. The softer the pencil, the smoother the graphite.
The number beside each letter represents the level of hardness or softness. So a 9B pencil is softer/darker than a 2B, while an 8H will be harder/lighter than a 3H.
Here’s a list of pencil grades in order from lightest to darkest or hardest to softest.
9H, 8H, 7H, 6H, 5H, 4H, 3H, 2H, H, F, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B, 7B, 8B, 9B
Each pencil is capable of covering a wide range of values. If you look at the first image, there are some gradients under each square. This shows you how flexible each grade of pencil is. Even though 9B is the softest pencil, you can still use it to draw an entire portrait with values ranging from medium grey to black. Although, it would be a big challenge since it would require a lot of effort to keep from shading your drawing too dark.
The Best Pencils For Drawing
Don’t be intimidated by the number of pencils I listed up there! Most likely, you’ll only need to use 3-5 of them. The pencils you need will depend on the type of drawings you do.
Architectural / Product Sketches / Technical Sketches
If you’re into drawing buildings, cars or technical sketches, a set of hard pencils will suit you well. Hard pencils don’t smudge easily, so your drawings will always be sharp and clean. You won’t need to sharpen your pencils too often because the graphite is hard enough to hold a sharp tip longer than any B graded pencil.
If you want to add dark shading to your drawing, pick up a few soft pencils so you can make your drawings pop out of the page.
Portraiture / Animals / Realism
In order to achieve realistic textures such as fur, skin or fabrics, you’ll need pencils that blend well and are flexible enough to reach the darkest of tones in order to convey a realistic sense of depth. A set of soft pencils will fit the job perfectly. If you don’t want to buy a full set, you can get a few individual pencils. When it comes to portraiture, my most frequently used pencils are HB, 4B, 6B and 8B.
Why You Should Use More Than 1 Pencil
Each pencil has its benefits and can help you get the job done faster! I could use a monkey wrench to drive 1000 nails into my patio deck, but it wasn’t designed for that job. A hammer is so much more efficient!
Here’s how each pencil below helps me get the job done faster and more efficiently:
HB: This pencil helps me shade the lightest areas of my portrait such as eyeballs and highlights without having to spend too much time focusing on the amount of pressure I’m putting on the paper and worrying if I’m shading to dark.
6B: Without any effort at all, I can easily shade large areas of a portrait or background with a smooth dark layer of graphite.
If you feel really strained after you finish a drawing, you might need to add a few more pencil grades to your toolbox, or learn how to use them more efficiently.
Graphite pencils are typically mixed with varying amounts of clay. Which means that a low quality pencil could contain many sand-like bits that feel scratchy and can damage your artwork.
If you can’t test a pencil before buying it and you want to be sure it won’t be scratchy, check to see that the packaging says it’s mixed with high quality, pure or smooth clay. Keep in mind that no matter how high the quality, you’re not going to get a 100% pure pencil.
Pencils that I’ve used and recommend are Derwent Graphic and Daler Rowney Graphic (not sketch).
Have a question? Leave it in the comments!
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Darlene created RFA In 2013 with the goal of sharing simple yet detailed drawing tutorials with other artists on the world wide web. She is a self taught pencil portrait artist and Youtuber.