Table of Contents:
- Everything You Need to Know About Pencil Lead Hardness
- A Closer Look at Pencil Lead
- How Are Drawing Pencils Numbered?
- When to Use Which Pencil
- How to Choose Professional Pencils
Drawing is one of the few art practices you can do with the least amount of art supplies. All you really need is a pencil and a piece of paper. 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. If you’ve never explored all the possibilities that professional drawing pencils offer, then get ready to be amazed! In this article, you’ll discover the huge impact that can be made when using pencils in different lead hardnesses.
The core or lead inside your pencil is actually a mix of finely ground graphite and clay filler. This is what makes your lines, shapes and squiggles. Known as the pencil’s lead, graphite comes in varying degrees of solidity or pencil hardness. These degrees are known as the graphite scale and allow the artist to choose at a glance the right pencil for the kind of line or mark they wish to make.
The first thing that’s important to know is that the hardness of the lead is divided into two categories—H and B. H stands for hard and B stands for blackness. H, or hard, leads are tightly compacted and contain more filler, which causes them to make the lightest lines, as only a tiny amount of graphite is released when the pencil is used. It takes a lot of pressure to make a darker line with pencils in the H category. At the other end of the pencil hardness scale is the B category. The graphite in these pencils has not been compacted as tightly and doesn’t contain as much filler and so they are softer, causing more graphite to come off the pencil as you draw. Because you get more graphite, your mark will be darker and it doesn’t take very much pressure to create very dark lines.
Within each category, the hardness or softness of the lead is determined by numbers on a scale. To make it easier to understand, let’s start at the center of the scale. There you will find the HB pencil. You can think of it as the “Goldilocks pencil” —not too hard, not too soft, but just right. It is the closest thing to an equal mixture you’ll get. Left of center is where you’ll find the H category and right of center is where the B category starts. Within both categories, you have numbers that designate their density.
Let’s look at the H category first. As the pencils proceed from the center, or HB, pencil to the left, they get lighter. Therefore, as the number increases, so too, does the density, making each subsequent pencil lighter and lighter. The first pencil in this category is the one right next to the HB. It is considered the number one H pencil but is designated as simply H, without a number. The next pencil is a 2H, then 3H, 4H and so on, up to 6H.
Now for the B category. This category proceeds from the center to the right, getting darker as the numbers progress. As the number increases, so too, does the softness of the lead, making each subsequent pencil darker and darker. The first pencil in this category is the one next to the HB, and is considered the number one B pencil. It is designated as simply B. The next pencil is a 2B, then 3B, 4B and so on, up to as high as 12B.
Although 12B is considered a very dark pencil, you can actually get a darker mark with charcoal pencils. Charcoal is substantially darker and flakier than graphite. Many artist love it for its ability to be smeared or smudged in a way that graphite can’t.
The best way to discover which pencil is best for which situation is to experiment with them. For simple sketching, the HB pencil is probably the most popular, with artists also favoring the H and the B pencils. For preliminary sketches that will be used as a guide for a painting or illustration, the lighter 2H–4H pencils are ideal. These pencils allow you to draw your initial composition and erase it if necessary without damage to your paper or canvas. Very light pencils, such as 6H, are also preferred for making the preliminary sketches for watercolor painting as they won’t show through the paint. The higher numbered B pencils can accomplish a range of dark values for adding shadows and contrast within a drawing. For highly complex and realistic drawings, an artist will use pencils in all grades. While the softer B pencils (6B and up) are generally considered the best for shading, there's no reason to discount the harder H pencils, since everyone applies pressure to their pencils differently.
If you’re serious about taking your drawings to the next level, there are several ways to choose professional-grade pencils. Although they can be purchased separately, the best way to begin is to buy a set that includes the different grades. You can buy sets that have just a few of these or larger ones that have a complete range of lead hardnesses. The great thing about professional pencil sets is they allow you to try out all the leads in different ways within your own drawing. What works for another artist may not work for you, but by having several pencils to choose from you’ll be able to find the ones you like best.
Some sets also include additional drawing tools including charcoal, erasers, pencil sharpeners and blending stumps. Most come in sturdy metal or plastic cases, making them easy to transport and protected from damage.
Professional sets aren’t limited to graphite pencils. You can also find sets of colored pencils, too. Although they aren’t graded by lead hardness, they’re still fun to use and can enhance your black and white drawings immensely!
To complement your set, we recommend you have a sketchbook or a pad of drawing paper. There are tons of different types of books and pads, including ones that are hardbound, spiral-bound, rectangular or square. Books and pads made especially for pencil drawing will ensure that your drawings stay clean and neat and look their best. Some even come with micro-perforated pages that you can easily tear out after completion for displaying or sharing with others.
For more information about pencil sets and drawing techniques, we suggest you check out one of these blogs.
Drawing Pencil Set with Everything You Need
Step-By-Step Body Drawing
16 Pencil Drawing Techniques
There you have it. Now that you understand the importance of knowing about pencil lead hardness, you’re ready to get started. Everything around you is a potential subject for your drawing. Look around, go for a walk or sit in your favorite cafe or park and just start drawing. Soon you’ll find that the act of recording what you see and using a variety of pencils to capture the light, volume and depth of your surroundings will be one of the most relaxing and enjoyable activities you can do!
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 is the best pencil lead hardness for writing? ›
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.How do you choose pencil hardness? ›
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.What is the best lead hardness for drawing? ›
For simple sketching, the HB pencil is probably the most popular, with artists also favoring the H and the B pencils. For preliminary sketches that will be used as a guide for a painting or illustration, the lighter 2H–4H pencils are ideal.What is 2B 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 size pencil lead is best for writing? ›
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.What is the most preferable grade of pencil? ›
The best pencils for drawing and sketching are a HB, 2B, 6B and 9B. Far better than buying a whole set of pencils, most of which will never be used.What lead hardness is a #2 pencil? ›
A #2 pencil is the same as an HB, with lower numbers for softer pencils and higher numbers for harder. This numbered system only covers a range from B to 2H - enough to cover most office use, but not enough range for drawing and sketching.What hardness of pencil is easiest to erase? ›
The pencils that, generally speaking, erase the best are in the 2B, 3B and 4B grades.How do I choose the right pencil? ›
The hardness of a pencil's graphite is designated by a letter and/or number. High-quality pencils have centered graphite. There is no lead in a “lead pencil.” The core is instead made of a mixture of graphite and wax or oil. The hardest graphite available is 9H, while the softest is 9B.
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. Standard drawing sets usually run from 2H through to 6B because these grades allow you to achieve most of the techniques you'll need for your drawings.Is 0.5 or 0.7 lead 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 0.5 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.What is 5B pencil used for? ›
The 6B pencil is good for very dark areas, but it's very soft and blunts quickly, so it's difficult to use for detail and tends to look grainy, skimming over the surface of the paper. Burnished graphite—shaded very heavily—can look very shiny.What is an F pencil used for? ›
What is an F pencil used for? F pencils are optimal tools to use for writing just as HB pencils are. Since the tip of an F pencil is slightly pointier and harder than the tip of an HB pencil, you can also use the F pencil for any kind of precise freehand drawing.What makes a #2 pencil so special? ›
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.What lead grade is best for drafting? ›
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.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...
Lead pencils are graded on a scale from No. 1 to No. 4 based on how much graphite is inside the core. The #1 pencils are the softest, while the #4 pencils are the hardest.
For a beginner, we recommend trying 3 or 4 different hardnesses, like maybe 2H, HB, 3B and 5B. Drafting and line work: This is where to harder pencils come in! Most of our pencils harder than a 2H are sold to people who are using them for very precise drawing or for drafting.What are the 3 types of pencil? ›
- 3.1 Graphite Pencils.
- 3.2 Solid Graphite Pencils.
- 3.3 Liquid Graphite Pencils.
- 3.4 Charcoal Pencils.
- 3.5 Carbon Pencils.
- 3.6 Colored Pencils or Crayons.
- 3.7 Grease Pencils.
- 3.8 Watercolor 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. That's all there is to it.What hardness is a #1 pencil? ›
1 pencil. H (hard), equivalent to a No. 3.Is HB the same as #2 pencil? ›
Generally, an HB grade about the middle of the scale is considered to be equivalent to a #2 pencil using the U.S. numbering system. In reality however, there is no specific industry standard for the darkness of the mark to be left within the HB or any other hardness grade scale.What pencil does not smudge? ›
"The Uni" is a new version of the replacement for NanoDia. It is more resistant to abrasion and does not smudge despite its distinctly darker color compared to NanoDia.Why do artist pencils not have erasers? ›
Drawing Pencils Without Erasers
Either way, drawing pencils tend to lack erasers because the expectation is not that artists never erase, but rather when they do erase, artists want control, comfort, and the utmost safety for their medium (be it paper, canvas, or anything else).
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. Anything over 4B is probably too soft for most people's day-to-day use.
Generally, an HB grade about the middle of the scale is considered to be equivalent to a #2 pencil using the U.S. numbering system. In reality however, there is no specific industry standard for the darkness of the mark to be left within the HB or any other hardness grade scale.Is 2B harder than HB? ›
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.
The key difference between 2B and HB pencil is that writing from 2B pencil is darker than that from HB pencil. Moreover, 2B pencils produce very dark lines while HB pencils produce medium line density. Typically, 2B pencils are used by artists, while HB pencils are used by school children.Is 2B pencil okay for SAT? ›
Acceptable photo ID. Two No. 2 pencils with erasers. An approved calculator. Epinephrine auto-injectors (like EpiPens) are permitted without the need for accommodations.Which pencil is best for writing? ›
- Best Pencil Sets To Improve Your Handwriting. Jun 21, 2022. ...
- Resists Breakage. Apsara Platinum Extra Dark Pencils - Pack of 10. ...
- Aids Legibility. Apsara Platinum Pencils Value Pack - Pack of 20. ...
- HB Superior Bonded Lead. Nataraj 621 Pencil Jar - Pack of 50. ...
- Extra Dark. ...
Lead pencils are graded on a scale from No. 1 to No. 4 based on how much graphite is inside the core. The #1 pencils are the softest, while the #4 pencils are the hardest. This system was invented by famed author Henry David Thoreau in the 1820s.What are 3B pencils used for? ›
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 is 8B pencil used for? ›
The water-soluble pencil Graphite Aquarelle is ideal for preliminary sketches for watercolour drawings and for complete watercolour techniques in graphite. It features an extra break-resistant 3.3 mm lead and is available in the five hardness grades HB, 2B, 4B, 6B and 8B.Is 2B lead good for sketching? ›
The best pencils for drawing and sketching are a HB, 2B, 6B and 9B. Far better than buying a whole set of pencils, most of which will never be used.What is the difference between a 2B pencil and a 9B? ›
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.Why aren t mechanical pencils allowed on the SAT? ›
The short answer is that you can't use a mechanical pencil on the SAT or ACT because answer sheet scanners are specifically calibrated to detect the marks made by a No. 2 pencil and mechanical pencils are not always regulated as No. 2.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.