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Drawing Tools: How to Choose a Pencil

June 6, 2009


pencils1What kind of pencil do you need for drawing? The truth is that you can use any kind of pencil as a drawing tool, but some pencils are better for certain types of drawings than others. The type of pencil you choose depends on what you need it for.

Pencil Hardness Scale

The array of drawing pencils found at the art supply store can be overwhelming at first, but it’s quite simple to navigate once you know what you need. Pencils are rated on a scale of numbers and letters that describes the hardness of the graphite. Both hard and soft pencils have their uses in drawings.


“H” Pencils

“H” is the letter assigned to the hard graphite. The larger the number in front of the “H,” the harder the graphite; a 6H pencil is harder than a 3H one. A hard pencil produces a fine, light line. The hard pencils erase easily as long as you press lightly. If you press hard enough to indent the paper, you’ll never get rid of your line. I use a hard pencil to draw my grids and the basic outlines of my drawing, because these lines will need to be erased later.

“B” Pencils

A “B” indicates the softer pencils, again with the higher number being the softer graphite. A soft pencil will give a darker, fuzzier line. I use a B or a 2B pencil for the majority of my shading, switching to something softer, like a 4B or 6B, for the deepest shadows. You’ll want to be careful with these for two reasons: they can be difficult to erase completely, and if you press too hard your shadows can become reflective and metallic.

Other Pencils

An “HB” pencil, the standard pencil available almost anywhere, falls right in the middle. I find these to be a little too hard to get smooth shading. A letter “F” indicates a firm, or fine point pencil. It falls between HB and H on the scale.

The pencil you choose will depend on what kind of drawing you are doing, but it’s best to have a few in your tool box as you will probably need several different pencils.


From → Art General, Drawing

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