Guide to Graphite Drawing Pencils

Guide to Graphite Drawing Pencils

No art kit is complete without a set of graphite drawing pencils.

They may seem basic, but pencils’ gradiated mix of graphite and clay allows artists to render expressive lines, draw realistic images, make light guidelines, and more with tremendous versatility. Wood-case pencils are especially hard to beat for their durability, ease of maintenance, and low entry cost – not to mention, we love the smell of a freshly-sharpened wooden pencil.

In this guide, we will discuss what to look for in a wooden graphite drawing pencil and recommend specific pencil lines and grades for common applications.

CONSIDERATIONS

A Wide Range of Lead Grades

Graphite pencils come in 22 lead grades.
Graphite pencils come in 22 lead grades.

Pencil leads come in 22 lead grades, which range from 10H-10B. H indicates harder leads, which make lighter, more precise markings. Softer leads are on the B side of the scale. They make darker marks and produce more smudging. The F and HB grades in the middle of the scale represent a balance between the hardness of the leads and the blackness of the marks they make.

Drawing pencils should be available in a wide range of lead grades so that artists can select the ones that are best suited to their needs.

For more information on lead grades, read our guide to Picking the Perfect Pencil Hardness Grade.

Consistent Lead Quality

Consistent Lead Quality
Inconsistent pencil leads are hard to draw with.

Graphite drawing pencils need smooth, consistent leads so that users can count on them to produce the effect that they expect. Some leads may grip the paper more than others, but they should never scratch the paper.

Easy to Erase Without Smudging

Easy to Erase Without Smudging
Some pencils are easier to erase than others.

Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, so it’s critical for leads to erase well with minimal smudging. This results in a neater finished product.

Sharpen Well

Some pencils are more likely to break than others.
Some pencils are more likely to break than others.

Some pencils break when sharpened, leaving them with chisel-sharp broken tips or splintered ends. To avoid this, look for carefully manufactured pencils made with high-quality wood. They sharpen cleanly and contain centered leads that are not already broken inside when you receive them.

Some artists hand sharpen their pencils to achieve certain effects. Any pencil can be sharpened by hand, but it’s easier to produce a consistent angle with pencils that are made from softer wood and have a lead that is a similar hardness to the wood.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR…

Sketching

Many artists take a pared-down art kit with them when they go out so that they can take advantage of interesting scenes and moments of downtime. Pencils for sketching should be soft enough for quick drawing, but also smudge-resistant so that your piece doesn’t smear beyond repair in a closed sketchbook. Grades from 2H-2B are right in the sweet spot for sketching.

Faber-Castell Grip 2001 Pencil Set

Faber-Castell Grip 2001 Pencil Set
Faber-Castell Grip 2001 pencils smudge less than most.

Sketching with Faber-Castell Grip 2001 Pencil Set
Faber-Castell Grip 2001 pencils are good for sketching.

This lightweight, triangular pencil set comes with three pencils in grades HB, B, and 2B, as well as an eraser and basic sharpener. The pencils feature small, grippy dots along most of the barrel that make them easy to hold. Faber-Castell Grip 2001 pencils are made from a soft wood that tends to develop a rough texture and produce fine, untidy-looking fibers when sharpened. Despite this aesthetic drawback, they consistently yield strong, sharp points. The leads are break resistant due to being glued to the wood on both sides down the whole length of the pencil. We didn’t have any trouble hand-sharpening them, although the wood’s large grain lead us to occasionally remove more wood than we intended to. These pencils smudge less than most, so they are well suited for sketching.

Also Consider: Uni Mitsubishi 9800 Pencils

Underdrawing

Painters often make preparatory drawings to plan out the picture and guide their painting. These are a vital part of the painting process, but badly chosen media can hurt as much as help. Pencils for underdrawing need to make fairly light lines so they won’t show through the finished painting or cause the paints to get muddy. That’s why it’s best to stick with harder grades — 6H-2H are ideal.

Staedtler Mars Lumograph Graphite Pencils

Staedtler Mars Lumograph Graphite Pencils
Staedtler Mars Lumograph Pencils erase cleanly.

Underdrawing with Staedtler Mars Lumograph Graphite Pencils
Staedtler Mars Lumograph Pencils are precise and light.

Staedtler Mars Lumograph Graphite Pencils are specially formulated and bonded to be extremely break resistant. They erased more cleanly than any of the other pencils we tested and come in grades 6H-8B. They are butter-smooth and can provide great control and perfect shadow buildup. Their marks are slightly lighter than the same grade in other lines, so they work well for underdrawing. Their casings are made from sustainably-harvested cedar that sharpens smoothly with no cracks or splits. They stood up very well to hand-sharpening.

Also Consider: Uni Mitsubishi 9000 Pencils

Fine Arts

Fine art pencil drawings use pencil from start to finish to produce a fully-developed image with incredible detail and shading. In some cases, the final product is so realistic that it seems like a photograph. Fine artists working with graphite pencils need the full range of pencil grades at their disposal to achieve realistic tones.

Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Pencils

Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Pencils
Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Pencils are exceptionally smooth.

Fine Art made with Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Pencils
Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Pencils come in every grade.

The high B grades of this legendary pencil line may be the closest thing to a brush in pencil form, but all of its grades are known for exceptional smoothness. Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Pencils are slightly darker and softer than other lines, so they wear down a little faster and smudge a bit more. There’s no fear of scratchy, broken leads here – they sharpen cleanly every time. They stood up to hand-sharpening very well. Hi-Uni Pencils are available in every grade, from 10H-10B, so they are excellent for fine art.

Also Consider: Staedtler Mars Lumograph, Tombow Mono 100

Caran d’Ache Technalo Pencils

Caran d'Ache Technalo Pencils
Caran d’Ache Technalo Pencils are available in three grades.

Fine Art made with Caran d'Ache Technalo Pencils
Caran d’Ache Technalo Pencils let you do graphite washes.

Water-soluble Caran d’Ache Technalo Pencils let you use washes in your graphite drawings when activated with a water brush. This opens up many options for filling shaded areas, blending, and producing dramatic effects outside the normal purview of pencils. They lay down smooth, consistent lines and sharpen to a fine point, whether with a sharpener or hand-sharpening. They erase well when dry but do smudge a small amount. They resist erasing after being activated with water. Caran d’Ache Technalo Pencils are available in HB, B, and 3B.

Penciling

Comic artists often use a process called penciling, in which they first draw the artwork with pencil and then either go over it themselves with a pen or send it to specialized inkers who trace, interpret, and add weight to the lines with ink. For this purpose, it’s best to use pencils that won’t smudge very badly but are dark enough to be clearly visible. The HB-4B grades are good for this. Darker pencils help emulate the look of inks but can increase smudging.

Tombow Mono 100 Pencils

Tombow Mono 100 Pencils
Tombow Mono 100 Pencils have smooth, high-density leads.

Penciling with Tombow Mono 100 Pencils
Tombow Mono 100 Pencils are darker than most.

Tombow Mono 100 Pencils are another well-loved line of smooth, high-quality pencils. They are especially known for their high-density lead, which resists breakage and helps the point stay sharp longer. They sharpen easily and stand up well to hand-sharpening. Their leads smear less and are a bit darker than most, so these pencils are a good choice for penciling. They are available in grades 9H-6B.

Also Consider: Palomino Blackwing Pencils

PENCILS IN ACTION

A single pencil can make heavier or lighter marks if you vary the pressure you use or build up layers of graphite, but using multiple grades helps achieve specific tones and increase the variation in your art piece. Check out the video below to see different pencil grades in action!

Higher H Grades

Pencils in the higher H grades sharpen to fine points, hold their points for longer, and make light marks. This makes them ideal for lighter areas and underdrawing. They can also help blend the edges of darker areas for a gradiated effect.

Higher B Grades

The higher B grades contain soft, dark pencils with high proportions of graphite. They won’t stay sharp as long as the other grades, but they are also smoother. They can produce the most variation between light and dark with different levels of pressure. They excel at filling in dark areas, like shadows and facial contours.

Middle Grades: 2H-2B

The middle grades contain relatively balanced levels of clay and graphite. They are dark enough to show up well but are still hard enough to keep a sharp point. This makes them good all-purpose pencils if you only have room for a few, but detail work really makes them shine.

ACCESSORIES

Paper

Drawing Paper
Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbooks are good for drawing.

Paper influences pencils’ performance and the appearance of the finished drawing. Look for paper that has some tooth instead of being completely smooth. This kind of paper “grabs” the pencil lead so that it lays down a good line. Stillman & Birn makes excellent sketchbooks. We used their Alpha paper for our tests. Rougher mediums, like watercolor paper, will leave holes in the line. Only use very toothy paper if you want that effect!

Erasers

Drawing eraser
The Prismacolor Kneaded Rubber Eraser lifts graphite without rubbing.

A stray line or smudge doesn’t need to ruin a drawing if you have an eraser that removes marks cleanly. The Prismacolor Kneaded Rubber Eraser can change shape and lift graphite off the paper without rubbing. This lets you clear small mistakes without disturbing the surrounding work and lighten precise areas without smudging.

Read our Guide to Choosing an Eraser for more detailed suggestions.

Sharpeners

Pencil Sharpener
The Sonic Ratchetta is a dependable sharpener.

Even the best pencil will perform badly if sharpened poorly. There are many quality sharpeners, but we like to keep the Sonic Ratchetta in our pencil cases because it consistently produces a good, clean point.

Check out our Guide to Pencil Sharpeners to learn more.

Pencil Extenders

Pencil Extender
E+M Peanpole Wood Pencil Extenders are light and stylish.

The tragedy of wooden pencils is the more you use them, the shorter and less usable they become. Pencil extenders solve this problem by holding pencil stubs securely in place and giving you a longer barrel to hold. This way, you can use your favorite pencils until there’s nothing left. E+M Peanpole Wood Pencil Extenders are a light and stylish option that preserves the wooden feel of the original pencil.

WRITING SAMPLES & TEST RESULTS

We produced writing samples, swatches, smudge tests, and erasing tests for each grade of all of the pencil lines mentioned in this article. Click below to see the results.

Faber-Castell Grip 2001 Pencil Set
Faber-Castell Grip 2001 Pencil Set

Faber-Castell Grip 2001 Writing Samples

Uni Mitsubishi 9800 Pencils
Uni Mitsubishi 9800 Pencils

Uni Mitsubishi 9800 Writing Samples

Staedtler Mars Lumograph Graphite Pencils
Staedtler Mars Lumograph Graphite Pencils

Staedtler Mars Lumograph Writing Samples

Uni Mitsubishi 9000 Pencils
Uni Mitsubishi 9000 Pencils

Uni Mitsubishi 9000 Writing Samples

Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Pencils
Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Pencils

Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Writing Samples

Caran d’Ache Technalo Pencils
Caran d’Ache Technalo Pencils

Caran d'Ache Technalo Writing Samples

Tombow Mono 100 Pencils
Tombow Mono 100 Pencils

Tombow Mono 100 Writing Samples

Palomino Blackwing Pencils
Palomino Blackwing Pencils

Palomino Blackwing Writing Samples

CONCLUSION

It doesn’t matter whether you are a painter, comic artist, professional or hobbyist – your art kit isn’t complete without graphite drawing pencils. What are your favorite pencils? Let us know in the comments below!

Pencil Name Grades
Faber-Castell Grip 2001 Pencil Set 2B, B, HB
Uni Mitsubishi 9800 Pencils 2H, H, F, HB, B, 2B
Staedtler Mars Lumograph Graphite Pencils 6H, 5H, 4H, 3H, 2H, H, F, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B, 7B, 8B
Uni Mitsubishi 9000 Pencils 3H, 2H, H, F, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B
Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni Pencils 10H, 9H, 8H, 7H, 6H, 5H, 4H, 3H, 2H, H, F, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B, 7B, 8B, 9B, 10B
Caran d’Ache Technalo Pencils HB, B, 3B
Tombow Mono 100 Pencils 9H, 8H, 7H, 6H, 5H, 4H, 3H, 2H, H, F, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B
Palomino Blackwing Pencils 602, Pearl, Regular

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Wooden Pencil Samplers
JetPens Pencil Starter Kit

Still not sure what to try? Check out our Wooden Pencil Samplers for some of our favorite and most popular wooden pencils. From starter sets to sets based on lead grade, these kits will help you rediscover the joys of using a wooden pencil!


SOURCE:http://www.jetpens.com/blog/guide-to-graphite-drawing-pencils/pt/897