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How to Choose the Right Pencils for Drawings and Sketching


How to Choose the Right Pencils for Drawings and Sketching

graphite pencil set

It goes without saying that an artist can make art with any medium they find. In fact, people that love art want to fill their homes with art, and see it everywhere and in everything. That being said, if you are an artist or trying to become one, you probably have an arsenal of art supplies to create art, and you may even have a favourite medium. 

Nevertheless, whether you are a professional artist, a long-time hobbyist or you are just starting to draw and sketch, pencils are a vital element in your collection of art supplies. While they are an old tool when it comes to writing, pencils have been developing, and in time new types have been developed for many different uses.

Artist pencils can be used in many ways, and they are as versatile as any other medium. Different pencils defer from each other in many ways, not only by colours but also by the materials they are made of, quality, grades, colours, weight, etc. Commonly pencils fall into three wider categories: graphite, charcoal and coloured pencils. Generally, professional artists and hobbyists alike, choose pencils according to what they want to achieve, their style, their technique, their taste, as well as the kind of art they are producing.

Regardless of your level of experience, with so many choices out there, choosing the right natural wood pencils for your drawings and sketches can be confusing. While any pencil you have at home can be a good tool for creating art, if you want to create artworks that will look good for a long time, with colours or shades that pop out, you should learn more about your options. Typically, pencils come in grades which are marked with the letters H, B and F, where H stands for ‘hard’, B stands for ‘black’ and ‘F’ stands for a fine point, as well as numbers to indicate the hardness and the tone.

Graphite Pencils 

close up of graphite pencils

Made with graphite, which is a naturally occurring type of crystalline carbon, these pencils are a great option for beginners. More precisely, they are made with a blend of finely ground graphite and clay, and then baked, which helps the graphite adhere to the surface. These pencils range from light grey to black, and while all of them are somewhat blendable with water, there are also pencils that are made with a water-soluble binder, specifically for that purpose.

Whether you are a beginner or not, if you want to enrich your art supplies and you’ve decided to buy a graphite pencil set to further develop your sketching techniques, to make the right decision, you need to learn the basics about the different grades of these versatile pencils. Pencils are marked by manufacturers with letters and numbers. Even though they may defer from one brand to another, these symbols are supposed to tell you the grade of the pencil, or in other words how hard the graphite is, which can indicate how dark the line they leave will be. 

HB wooden pencils are the middle range. As the numbers change, it indicates the change in the ratio between the graphite and the binder, and how dark or light they’ll be. H, 2H, 3H up to 9H pencils are progressively becoming harder as the numbers grow. The bigger the number is, the less graphite there is and more of the binder, which means that as the numbers grow, the lighter the lines will be. On the other hand, B, B2 pencils all the way up to 9B, get softer and softer with the numbers growing, and the bigger the number, the more graphite there is and the darker (or blacker) the line is. 

The softer the pencil is the more tones it will provide you. Harder pencils can’t become darker with more pressure, which is why if you want darker tones, you should get a graphite pencil set with pencils with different grades. Of course, when you are buying any type of pencil, you should also take quality and price into consideration, and go for the best quality you can get for your budget.

Charcoal Pencils


Charcoal pencils are great for sketching, and they can provide darker tones. But charcoal is rougher than graphite, and it can be smudged easier. Charcoal can be compressed or uncompressed, with compressed being more refined, making it a better choice if you want more control, and if you want to avoid smudges. 

Charcoal pencils are softer than graphite pencils, and they range from HB pencils (the middle range), to 6B. They leave rich black lines, they have a matte finish, unlike graphite pencils which leave metallic lines with a somewhat reflective finish. Furthermore, while graphite lines are smoother, charcoal leaves a dusty or crumbly texture. This is why artists don’t use charcoal pencils for drawings and sketches with finer details. 

Coloured Pencils

close up of coloured pencils

Coloured pencils are a broad term for many different types of pencils. They can be wax or oil-based pencils or watercolour pencils, depending on the binder they use. They also come in different grades, quality, hues, colour intensity etc. To get the colours, instead of graphite or charcoal, these pencils use pigments and a binder. 

Artists use these different types for different techniques. Wax and oil-based pencils are the most common ones. While both use wax as a binder, the latter also uses oil, which makes them softer. Nevertheless, they are easier to smear, which is why wax-based pencils are better for beginners.

On the other hand, watercolour pencils, seemingly indistinguishable from them, use water-soluble gum as a binder, so they can not only be used for drawing or sketching but can also be used for painting. 

The last type of pencils with pigments are pastel pencils, but they are different from the other types mainly because they are used for pastel artworks. While they are soft, they are a little bit harder than regular pastel colours and can provide artists with more control for more detailed paintings or drawings.

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