- Mechanical Pencil Lead Sizes & Lead Types
The humble mechanical pencil might not be as flashy as the gold-nibbed fountain pen. Yet, it is a hard-working, trusted creative tool. Professionals from many fields do important work with a pencil in hand. In this article, we hope to guide you toward the perfect pencil for your sketching, writing, and drawing needs. You'll become familiar with types of mechanical pencils, the range of lead sizes as well as the lead hardness grades.
Types of Mechanical Pencils
Mechanical pencils can be divided into two categories by the basic types of mechanism - those that only hold the lead in position and those that hold and propel the lead.
Pencils that hold and propel the lead are the most popular for everyday writing, sketching and technical drawing. These pencils can be further classified by two different mechanisms - ratchet and screw.
Ratchet-based pencils advance the lead one small step at a time. Each time you activate the pencil's mechanism, the lead advances in a fixed increment.
Here are a several examples of common ratchet-based mechanical pencils.
- Push button
A button usually located on the top or side of the pencil is the most common method for advancing the lead. This is the most common type of ratchet-based pencils. The Caran d'Ache 844 pencil seen here is an example of a push-button, ratchet mechanical pencil.
When the pencil is shaken (not stirred), a weight inside of the pencil's body operates the advancing mechanism.
When a part of the mechanical pencil's body is twisted round (it then springs back), a cam and a push rod advances the lead.
- Automatic lead advance
As the tip of the pencil touches the paper, the lead automatically advances replace the worn section. The Uniball Kuru Toga is a popular example of this type of mechanism.
Screw-based pencils advance the lead by twisting some part of the upper body or the pencil tip. The mechanism is wound around internally to move the lead. The lead is advanced continuously by the screw thread. It is not advanced in increments like ratchet mechanisms. In the early 20th Century, this was the most common type of hold-and-propel pencil mechanism.
The Retro 51 Tornado Pencil is one of our most popular mechanical pencils that uses the screw-based mechanism. Twisting the knurled top smoothly slides the 1.15mm lead out from the front nosecone. To retract the lead, the user turns the knurled top in the opposite direction.
The second category of mechanical pencils hold the lead in position. They are frequently referred to as leadholders or clutch pencils. These types of pencils typically use a thicker lead (commonly 2-5mm in diameter), but many other sizes are also used. Pencils in this category have a set of jaws that clamp the lead at the tip. The jaws are typically opened by pressing down the top cap. This allows the lead to freely drop through the barrel. They can only carry one whole stick of lead at a time. Similarly to wooden pencils, the thick leads of leadholders require frequent sharpening by the user to enable fine lines to be drawn. Some pencils, like the Caran d'Ache Fixpencil, will have a built-in lead sharpener underneath the push-button cap.
The Kaweco Sport 3.2mm Clutch Pencil shown here has a clear, demonstrator design to show the mechanism in action.
Mechanical Pencil Lead Sizes and Hardness
Just like the sheet of paper they sketch upon, pencil leads are two-dimensional. When you are selecting the lead for your pencil, be aware of its hardness and the diameter size.
Lead hardness indicates how dark of a mark you can make while using the same finger pressure. To produce the scale below, we tested 12 different pencil leads using the same amount of tip pressure on the page.
As you may know already, pencil lead isn't made of lead. It's made of graphite. Pencil manufacturers mix graphite with either clay or polymer, depending on the lead size and hardness. The blending of materials results in the various hardness grades you see in the scale below.
The higher the number next to the "H," the harder the lead is. The higher the number next to the "B," the softer the lead is. The hardest leads produce the lightest lines with the same finger pressure it takes to create dark lines using the softest leads.
|Tone and Grade||Character||Uses|
B / #1
HB / #2
Writing / Linear Drawing
F / #2 1/2
Writing / Linear Drawing
H / #3
Technical / Mathematical Drawing
2H / #4
Technical / Mathematical Drawing
Remember the trusty #2 pencil? That is actually a reference to the American lead hardness scale. It is considered to be the equivalent of "HB" - not too hard, yet not too soft. Perfect for filling in the bubbles of scan sheets.
Harder (H) leads are better suited for technical drafting and under-drawings. The lighter value is easier to erase. They are also harder to smudge, making H-leads ideal for lefties. Illustrators use a hard lead to lay out the shapes and composition of the drawing. Then, the shapes would be defined in softer leads or with ink to create more contrast.
Softer (B) leads are smoother and draw a darker line. Rapidly sketch an outdoor park scene or capture the gesture of a person riding the train. Leads softer than 4B require less finger pressure to make a darker mark. Artists can fill in large areas of value quicker with a soft lead. They are easier to smudge to blend gradients on the page.
Depending on how you intend on using the pencil, the lead diameter plays a major role in selecting a mechanical pencil, moreso than lead hardness. Mechanical pencil mechanisms are fixed for the type of lead they accept. This means that a 0.7mm mechanical pencil only accepts 0.7mm diameter lead. While it is possible to use different lead hardnesses (2B, HB, or 2H, for example) in the same lead diameter, it is not possible to switch a different lead diameter (like putting a 0.9mm in a 0.5mm pencil) in a mechanical pencil.
Thinner leads under 0.7mm are best suited for light, technical drawings, drafts, and fine details. The lines will appear lighter on the paper and are easier to erase. Thinner leads are ideal for those who have small, neat handwriting.
Leads between 0.9mm and 1.4mm are suitable for general purpose writing and sketching. In the fountain pen world, these would be your "medium" point sizes available on most pens.
Leads above 2mm are usually considered "sketch" mechanical pencils that clutch the larger piece of lead. Although the lead is measured by its diameter, the point is sharpened and will require a sharpener to control the line thickness. An artist may use the lead on the side of the point to fill in large areas of value.
Why Choose a Mechanical Pencil over a Typical Woodcase Pencil?
Woodcase pencils are 100% consumable and disposable. To use one, a sharpener is required. Each time you sharpen a wood pencil, you shave away a piece of your writing tool. At the end, a woodcase pencil can be sharpened to the point (pun intended) where the pencil is too short to write comfortably. Thus, the user cannot effectively use 100% of the pencil, disposing of the stub when it becomes too small. Also, without using a pocket protector or pencil cap, putting a sharpened pencil in your pocket can lead to a hole in your favorite shirt or bodily harm if you accidently poke yourself with the tip.
In contrast to the consumable wood pencil, the mechanical pencil can write forever as long as the lead is replaced. Mechanical pencils under 0.7mm in lead diameter deliver a consistent line without needing a sharpener. Instead of discarding the pencil when it becomes too small to use, each stick of mechanical pencil lead can be used almost all the way until the mechanism can no longer hold the graphite. Mechanical pencils are much more pocket friendly, as they typically have a pocket clip and the lead can be retracted to hide inside the pencil when not in use.
Finding the right mechanical pencil for you
Similar to the range of nib options available with fountain pens, mechanical pencils provide the user with a tool tailored to their work. By carefully selecting the lead diameter and lead hardness, the writer/artist can fine tune their pencil to best suit their needs. Whether you're drafting the floor plans to an office building or casually sketching a city skyline, there's an ideal pencil for you. And, perhaps it isn't just one pencil. Much like a painter has an assortment of brushes to fill a canvas, a creative artist will employ an assortment of pencils is varying lead hardnesses and diameters to create a piece.
So, while there isn't any one right answer for "what is the best mechanical pencil?," you can find the world's best writing tools on Goldspot Pens and find one (or five) that best fit your needs. Explore our various mechanical pencil options, refill leads, and erasers at our store.
Who invented the ballpoint pen?
How did the "Biro" get it's name? How did the Bic get its nickname?
Read the short history of the ballpoint pen here
How does a ballpoint pen work?
See the magic of the ballpoint pen's clever design in action.
See how a ballpoint pen works.
Ballpoint vs. Rollerball Pens
How does a rollerball pen differ from a ballpoint? We compare the differences between writing modes.
See the differences between ballpoint and rollerball pens here.
What's the difference between fountain and ballpoint pens
Fountain pens were the original, ink-delivering writing instrument. See how ballpoints evolved from their predecessors.
Find the differences between fountain and ballpoint pens here.
How to get a ballpoint pen to work
Troubleshoot a problematic ballpoint pen with this handy guide.
Get a ballpoint pen to start writing again.
What sizes do ballpoint pens come in?
Find the ideal tip size for your writing needs.
See all ballpoint pen tip sizes here.
How artists use ballpoint pens
Pens are used for more than just writing.
Find creative uses for ballpoint pens here.
What are gel pens and how do they work?
Find out how a gel ink pen differs from a ballpoint pen.
See how a gel pen works here.
Mechanical pencil lead sizes & lead types
Find the ideal grade and lead diameter for your mechanical pencil.
Explore the various types of pencil leads here.
0.7mm is the most common lead size used for mechanical pencils. The writing style matches closely to the size of a fine ballpoint or rollerball, and is available in the widest array of hardnesses.What are the different types of lead for mechanical pencils? ›
The five most common grades of hardness in pencil lead: 2B, B, HB, H and 2H and they run in that order, with 2B being the darkest imprint, HB being the middle of the road (used in just about every school in the world) and 2H giving you the lightest imprint of the five grades.Which is thicker 0.5 or 0.7 lead? ›
The 0.7mm leads are thicker, which is better for people who tend to press hard on the pencil when writing. For drawing,use 0.5mm leads, because they're more precise than the 0.7mm leads.What are the different mechanical lead sizes? ›
Mechanical Pencils: 0.3mm, 0.5mm, 0.7mm, 0.9mm, 2mm.Is 0.5 lead the same as a #2 pencil? ›
Super Hi-Polymer® Lead, 0.5mm, 30 Pieces
Pentel Super Hi-Polymer HB lead is equivalent to a #2 pencil, guaranteed to scan on tests, resists breaking and never needs sharpening Each tube o...
The more common lead sizes are 0.5 mm and 0.7 mm, whose line widths provide a favourable balance between precision and strength. Less common lead sizes can range from 0.2 mm up to 5.6 mm. Pentel has also previously demonstrated a prototype 0.1 mm pencil.Is 0.5 or 0.7 lead better? ›
If you're going to be writing with your pencil, you'll want lead thick enough that it won't break too easily. With modern leads, 0.5mm is quite strong enough for most people, but more heavy-handed people do sometimes find they snap such thin leads, and 0.7mm or even 0.9mm leads are better for them.Is 0.5 or 0.7 better for drawing? ›
For most types of drawing, a 0.5mm lead is best, but a thick 0.7mm lead can be better for shading, sketching and non-detailed work. For light, detailed marks, meanwhile, you might want to go in the opposite direction, and try an ultra-fine 0.3mm lead.Is 0.9 or 0.7 lead better? ›
Thinner leads under 0.7mm are best suited for light, technical drawings, drafts, and fine details. The lines will appear lighter on the paper and are easier to erase. Thinner leads are ideal for those who have small, neat handwriting. Leads between 0.9mm and 1.4mm are suitable for general purpose writing and sketching.What is 0.3 lead used for? ›
0.3mm is mostly used for drafting purposes, but it's also used for writing where the user prefers a very fine line. However, the very fine width makes it inherently more prone to breaking than the larger diameters. The widest range of lead grades available in 0.3mm is currently Uni's Nano Dia lead.
4B and 6B's are preferred for shading. HB and 2HB's are ideal for writing purposes. B pencils tend to produce more 'shine' than H's. H pencils can stay sharper for longer periods.Which lead is softer HB or 2B? ›
Softer lead gets a B grading, with a number to say how soft the lead is. B on its own is just a little softer than HB. 2B, 3B and 4B are increasingly soft. Further up the range, 9B is the very softest lead available, but so soft and crumbly that it's rarely used.Is 0.7 lead the same as a #2 pencil? ›
A: Yes, it's equivalent to a #2 pencil.What size lead is thicker? ›
A diameter of 0.3mm is considered relatively thin, whereas 0.9mm is a thicker lead. Each diameter of lead can be used for different purposes. For example, 0.3mm lead may be used for drawing outlines or work requiring minute detail.
Yes as long as the pencil is the same mm lead diameter.Can #2 pencils be mechanical? ›
These Staples medium assorted-color gripped mechanical pencils never need sharpening and use No. 2 lead, making them ideal for standardized tests and other writing applications.Why is #2 pencils preferred? ›
According to Dictionary.com, early machines that scanned and recorded test scores couldn't properly detect marks made by hard pencils. While No. 1 -- the softest -- pencils were prone to smudging, the No. 2 pencil was the perfect balance of softness and hardness.Which lead is darker HB or 2B? ›
The key difference between 2B and HB pencil is that 2B pencils produce very dark lines while HB pencils produce medium line density. A pencil is a writing or drawing tool having a solid pigment core that is surrounded by a sleeve, barrel, or shaft, which can prevent the breakdown of the core.What are the pencil sizes in order? ›
Pencils are graded in the following order: 9H, 8H, 7H, 6H, 5H, 4H, 3H, 2H, H, F, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B, 7B, 8B, 9B, 9xxB.Which type of lead is best? ›
Good lead pencils range from hard to soft, including 2B, B, HB, F, and H. HB is the most common pencil lead for writing. Extra soft graphite is used for artwork and drawings, and extra hard graphite is used for precision and technical drawings.
Even though there are darkness and hardness variations among different brands' No. 2 and/or HB pencils, it's widely considered to be the ideal lead grade for writing (and it's required for many standardized tests), making the Golden Bear a perfect choice for elementary school and beyond.What is the best pencil hardness for drawing? ›
The best pencils for drawing and sketching are a HB, 2B, 6B and 9B.Is 2mm mechanical pencil good for drawing? ›
These mechanical pencils are self feeding (click to extend) and metal (no cheap plastic barrels here). Leads are 2mm, a favorite among life drawing artists for the ability to make fine lines, and when holding at a 45 degree angle, make bold lines and charcoal esque shading techniques for large shapes.Is a number 2 pencil good for drawing? ›
Everything You Need to Know About Pencil Lead Hardness
And, although the common #2 pencil we've all used in school is sufficient to make great drawings, if you want to create the most realistic and nuanced drawings you can, then it's important to use pencils in a variety of lead hardnesses.
0.5 mm and 0.7 mm lead are the most common for mechanical pencils.What is 0.9 lead used for? ›
The 0.9mm lead is closer to the size of the original mechanical pencil leads from the late 1940s. The lead is still good for writing, sketching and with some control, you can have strong solid lines our light shading.Is 0.5 mm lead good for writing? ›
Mechanical pencils are ideal for sketching, drawing and writing. Choose between two line widths: the 0.7 mm lead for particularly break-resistant writing or the 0.5 mm lead for fine writing.Is 0.9 mm lead good? ›
0.9mm is less popular for general-purpose writing than 0.5 or 0.7mm - it's generally considered too broad. It's use therefore is largely in the drafting field, though it's also a good size for younger children or the heavy-handed to use as it's size makes it inherently more break-resistant than the smaller diameters.What is the difference between #1 and #2 pencil? ›
In terms of performance, there's no real difference, but the Apple Pencil 2 has better ergonomics, is easier to charge, boasts a useful double-tap functionality, and benefits from the cool new hover feature on the latest iPad Pro.How many mm is .5 lead? ›
Nowadays mechanical pencil lead diameters are all measured in metric. A common writing size is 0.5mm = 0.0197 inches = about 1/50th of an inch. The lead in ordinary wood pencils is usually about 2mm = 0.0787 inches = a little under 1/12th inch.
Hard pencils are good for technical drawing. They are excellent with hardness grades H, 2H to 6H. Because they do not lubricate, you can work with them very accurately. Their lines are more grey than black.What is 5B pencil used for? ›
2b pencils are good for drawing your initial sketches because they are hard enough to create crisp lines that are easy to erase, yet soft enough to create lines that are dark enough to be seen. Any pencils within the 2H to 4B range can be great choices that are just the right hardness for sketches.What is the most popular mechanical pencil? ›
- 1 - rOtring 600 Mechanical Pencil.
- 2 - uni Kuru Toga Advance Upgrade Mechanical Pencil.
- 3 - MUJI Low Center of Gravity Mechanical Pencil.
- 4 - Pentel Sharp Kerry Mechanical Pencil.
- 5 - Staedtler Mars technico Mechanical Pencil.
- 6 - Zebra Techo TS-3 Mini Mechanical Pencil.
- 7 - Alvin Draft-Matic Mechanical Pencil.
The numbers and letters on the scale show the hardness or softness of the lead/core. If a pencil is marked with a letter H it has a hard lead. The higher the number on a H pencil the harder the lead. A Hard lead pencil will draw alight mark. H pencils are ideal for precision drawing and architectural style design.What does F mean on a pencil? ›
The letter F on a graphite pencil stands for fine and is located on the blackness scale between HB and H. On the numeric scale "HB" in considered #2, H is considered #3 and F can, therefore, be referred to as #2.5.What is an F pencil used for? ›
Uses for different pencil grades
B leads – B leads smudge and can be easily erased, so they are suited for pencil drawings as they can create brush-like expressions and build texture. F leads – ideal for drawing fine details.
For deep, dark shading use a grade from 3B upwards. For a very light mark – such as for when you are suggesting an outline for a watercolour – use a grade around the 2H mark. Use various grades in a drawing to give a range of mark-making to achieve depth and interest. It is also important to use an appropriate surface.What does the 2 in #2 pencil mean? ›
A No. 2 pencil is towards the middle when it comes to the hardness of lead (graphite) and the darkness of the shade. If a pencil has a number higher than 2 it means it has a harder graphite core, a harder point, and a lighter shade. These pencils are often used by engineers or architects.How do I know if my mechanical pencil is number 2? ›
The hardness of the graphite core is often marked on the pencil — look for a number (such as “2” “2-1/2” or “3”) — and the higher the number, the harder the writing core and the lighter the mark left on the paper.
4B and 6B's are preferred for shading. HB and 2HB's are ideal for writing purposes. B pencils tend to produce more 'shine' than H's. H pencils can stay sharper for longer periods.What size of lead is better for drawing? ›
Leads between 0.9mm and 1.4mm are suitable for general purpose writing and sketching. In the fountain pen world, these would be your "medium" point sizes available on most pens. Leads above 2mm are usually considered "sketch" mechanical pencils that clutch the larger piece of lead.What mechanical pencil is best for drawing? ›
The Mercedes of mechanical pencils, this Uni Kurutoga pipe slide premium pencil, is the overall best mechanical pencil for drawing with its rotating lead that keeps the pencil tip always sharp.Are #2 mechanical pencils allowed on the SAT? ›
Mechanical pencils are officially not allowed on the SAT or the ACT. The ACT claims that this is because your test won't be scored properly if you use a mechanical pencil.