How to Choose a Drawing Pencil

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  • Pencil Components
  • Brand Comparison Chart

Pencil Components

Pencils are the quintessential drawing media. In a few bold strokes, artists can capture movement, render delicate details, or utilize tonal shading to define form. With so many pencils to choose from, it’s important to consider how a few variables may determine which pencil is best for your artistic goals.

  • Graphite grading scale

    Graphite Grading Scale

    The core of every drawing pencil contains a mixture of graphite — a type of carbon — and a binder. Pencils containing more graphite are softer and produce darker marks, while pencils containing more binder are harder and produce lighter marks. Most manufacturers indicate the hardness of a pencil’s graphite with a number and/or letter. This is known as the HB scale.

    In this scale, the letter “H” is used to indicate hardness while the letter “B” indicates blackness. “F” designates that a pencil sharpens to a fine point. The higher the number next to the “B”, the softer the pencil is. Likewise, the higher the number next to the “H”, the harder the pencil is. In general, a standard writing pencil is equivalent to an HB hardness.

  • pencil wood types (basswood, cedar, pine)

    Wood Type

    Most drawing pencils are made with softwood casings, which protect the graphite core. California incense-cedar is the premier pencil wood. Grown in the United States, it boasts a smooth texture and straight grain which sharpens easily and uniformly without splintering.

    Other types of wood used in pencil making include basswood and pine. Although these woods sharpen with minimal splintering, they are harder woods and may contain some imperfections.

  • round and hexagonal pencil shapes

    Pencil Shape

    Pencils come in a variety of shapes, including hexagonal, round, and triangular. Most premium drawing pencils have hexagonal casings, with well-defined edges to prevent rolling. This shape also allows for better handling because artists can use all sides of a sharpened point. Edges may be sharp or softened — ultimately, the choice between the two comes down to personal preference.

    Round pencils are sleek, easy to grip, and good for learning. Over long drawing sessions, however, artists may find round pencils difficult to handle due to hand moisture. Pencil grips can alleviate this issue.

    Triangular pencils are less common, but provide many of the benefits of hexagonal pencils due to their ergonomic shape.

Brand Comparison Chart

  • Blick Graphite Pencils

    BLICK: Blick Graphite Pencil

    # of Graphite Grades: 12

    Graphite Grades Available: 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 4H, and 6H

    Wood Type: Cedar

    Shape: Hexagonal

    Core Diameter: 2-2.5 mm

    Sharpened: Yes

    Package: Tin

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  • Staedtler Graphite Pencils

    STAEDTLER: Lumograph Drawing Pencil

    # of Graphite Grades: 24

    Graphite Grades Available: 12B, 11B, 10B, 9B, 8B, 7B, 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, 4H, 5H, 6H, 7H, 8H, 9H, and 10H

    Wood Type: Cedar

    Shape: Hexagonal

    Core Diameter: 2-4.5 mm

    Sharpened: Yes

    Package: Tin

  • General's Kimberly Graphite Pencils

    GENERAL'S: Kimberly Pencils

    # of Graphite Grades: 20

    Graphite Grades Available: 9XXB, 8B, 7B, 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, 4H, 5H, 6H, 7H, 8H, and 9H

    Wood Type: Cedar

    Shape: Hexagonal

    Sharpened: Yes

    Package: Cardboard

  • Prismacolor Design Ebony Graphite Pencil

    PRISMACOLOR: Design Ebony Pencil

    # of Graphite Grades: 1

    Wood Type: Cedar

    Shape: Round

    Core Diameter: 4 mm

    Sharpened: No

    Package: Cardboard

  • Faber-Castell Goldfaber Graphite Pencils

    FABER-CASTELL: Goldfaber Graphite Pencil

    # of Graphite Grades: 8

    Graphite Grades Available: 6B, 4B, 2B, B, HB, H, 2H, and 4H

    Shape: Hexagonal

    Core Diameter: 2-2.8 mm

    Sharpened: Yes

    Package: Cardboard

  • Faber-Castell Series 9000 Graphite Pencils

    FABER-CASTELL: Series 9000

    # of Graphite Grades: 16

    Graphite Grades Available: 8B, 7B, 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, 4H, 5H, and 6H

    Shape: Hexagonal

    Core Diameter: 2-2.8 mm

    Sharpened: Yes

    Package: Tin

  • Derwent Sketch Graphite Pencils

    DERWENT: Derwent Sketch Pencil

    # of Graphite Grades: 20

    Graphite Grades Available: 9B, 8B, 7B, 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, 4H, 5H, 6H, 7H, 8H, and 9H

    Wood Type: Pine

    Shape: Hexagonal

    Core Diameter: 2.2-3.5 mm

    Sharpened: Yes

    Package: Tin

  • Prismacolor Turquoise Graphite Pencils

    PRISMACOLOR: Turquoise Pencil

    # of Graphite Grades: 18

    Graphite Grades Available: 9B, 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, 4H, 5H, 6H, 7H, 8H, and 9H

    Wood Type: Basswood

    Shape: Hexagonal

    Core Diameter: 2-4 mm

    Sharpened: No

    Package: Tin

  • Tombow Mono Drawing Pencil

    TOMBOW: Mono Drawing Pencil

    # of Graphite Grades: 12

    Graphite Grades Available: 6B, 4B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, 4H, 5H, and 6H

    Wood Type: Cedar

    Shape: Hexagonal

    Core Diameter: 1.9-3.8 mm

    Sharpened: No

    Package: Blister

  • Caran d'Ache Grafwood Pencils

    CARAN D'ACHE: Grafwood Pencil

    # of Graphite Grades: 15

    Graphite Grades Available: 9B, 8B, 7B, 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, and 4H

    Wood Type: Cedar

    Shape: Hexagonal

    Core Diameter: 2.1-3.6 mm

    Sharpened: Yes

    Package: Tube