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Best Types of Pencils Used for Sketching and Shading

Best Types of Pencils Used for Sketching and Shading

One of the most challenging things for people in the creative field is to figure out the best types of pencils for their work.

No matter the level at which you are, you have a wide range of options to choose from to get the best results.

Read on to discover the best pencils for your drawing and sketching needs.

best types of pencils

What are the types of pencils?

pencil grip 1

As a tool for writing, drawing, and sketching, the pencil has been around for a long time.

Its development cuts across several decades.

There have been various inventions for different uses. Let’s look at the various classifications and types of pencils.

Graphite pencils                                                                         

drawing pencils

Graphite pencils have their core made from a mix of graphite and clay while the casing is made of wood.

They are made to give different shades of dark impressions suited for different needs.

Different levels of darkness are developed by mixing graphite and clay at different ratios.

Graphite pencils are used in versatile ways.

They can be used by fine artists to create realistic images as well as used by architects to draw expressive lines.

The downside is that they are soft and can wear down faster than most types of pencils.

Graphite pencils are further found in two categories.

Solid graphite pencils

staedtler woodless graphite

This class of graphite pencils is also referred to as woodless pencils.

They are mostly used for creative drawing. 

Liquid graphite pencils

derivan liquid pencil

Just as the name indicates, liquid graphite pencils are made to produce pencil effects with the use of liquid.

They also come in different shades.

Colored pencils

prismacolor colored pencils

These are also known as pencil crayons.

They are writing and drawing pencils with cores made of wax or oil-based.

Just like an average graphite pencil, the colored pencil is wrapped in a wood casing.

It is mostly used by architects and fine artists for drawing and coloring, but it is also convenient for children. 

Pencil crayons are easy to use and do not leave messy trails which is common with similar gears when used by kids.

They come in various colors including a white pencil.

A white pencil can be used to add a shadow to an object or make a darker color lighter.

Watercolor pencils

faber castell watercolor pencils

Also known as water-soluble pencils, this is a subtype of colored pencils.

The marks made by watercolor pencils can be dissolved in water.

They come in 60 – 70 color distinctions with up to 120 color varieties.

Just like regular colored pencils, watercolors can be used dry, but they can also be used in the watery form if need be.

These pencils are used with regular watercolors to create sharp lines between colors.

This combination can also produce gradients when mixed with water.

Grease pencils

sharpie grease pencil

Grease pencils are made of hardened colored wax core and have very versatile usage.

This type of pencil hardly comes in wood casing because they are mostly made of paper casing.

They also have a wide range of use. 

Grease pencils can be used on different kinds of surfaces, wet or dry.

They do not leave scratches on the objects.

This type of pencil can write clearly on glass surfaces which makes it popular for marking glassware in chemical labs.

Other types of surfaces that grease pencils can be used on include: plastic, metal, plastic, x-rays, glossy papers.        

Solid graphite pencils

yellow drawing pencils

These drawing pencils are also known as woodless pencils.

They provide many levels of dark shades and can cover large areas of a drawing surface.

Solid graphite pencils are in similar form to regular graphite pencils but they do not come in a wood casing.

They are mostly used for drawing.

Charcoal pencils

generals charcoal pencils

Charcoal pencils are made of charcoal and are mostly used by fine artists.

Over the centuries, renowned artists including Michelangelo, Ernst Barlach, and Leonardo da Vinci have used this type of pencil in some of their famous works.

This type of pencil comes mostly in black tones.

The tones are rich and they can produce high contrasts.

There are also some derivatives of this pencil type in sepia and white and they are designed in different styles.

They create darker marks than the ones made with graphite pencils, but they are more fragile. 

If care is not taken, charcoal pencils easily smear on paper.

The good part is that it’s easy to fade the dark marks or wipe off dark shading if you make mistakes.

Carbon pencils

staedtler carbon pencils

This type of pencil is made of a mix of clay and black pigment.

It has a combination of charcoal and graphite.

The dark form of charcoal pencils changes with a mixture of more graphite or charcoal. 

This pencil type is consistently soft, therefore suitable for stronger blending.

But, they also leave marks that are thick and quite hard to erase.

Although the carbon pencils are darker than regular pencils, they are smoother in use than charcoal pencils.

Mechanical pencils

pentel graphgear mechanical pencil

The mechanical pencil is mainly used for writing and technical drawing.

This type of pencil is designed with a metal or plastic casing just like a ball pen.

A mechanism is applied to push lead through an opening at the tip which enables it to function. 

Like a regular graphite pencil, they can be of different shades of darkness.

Mechanical pencils use replaceable graphite cartridges which can be extended longer.

These pencils are automatic and enable you to create much thinner lines.

Carpenter’s pencils

irwin carpenter pencil

This type of pencil is made of strong graphite. It comes in an oval casing with a comfortable grip.

They are made to be long-lasting and have a firmer grip on the desk than other pencil types.

Copying pencils

faber castell indelible pencil

These are also known as indelible pencils.

Copying pencils are a special kind of pencil that became popular in the 19th century, but they are not easily found these days.

This pencil is used by getting the core wet with moisture, mostly saliva.

The pencil core is fitted with a dye that can create lines and marks like a regular pencil.

By applying water to the marks left on a paper and pressing together, copies can be made on a second paper.

Apart from writing on a paper or wood surface, copying pencils are also used to create marks on the skin. It leaves indelible and permanent marks.

Read Also:

Is HB or 2B better for drawing?

2b vs hb

To find out which pencil is better for drawing between HB and 2B pencils, you first need to understand a few things.

Graphite pencils are labeled with letters and numbers with each letter and number signifying specific effects.

You have H, F, HB, and B.

Based on the grading structure, H is the hardest of all graphite pencil grades while B is the softest.

The numbers also indicate how high the texture is, in hardness or softness.

So, a 2H pencil is harder than a 1H graphite pencil.

On the other hand, a 2B graphite pencil is softer than a 1B pencil.

When you have an HB, it means that the pencil is somewhere between H and B. It also means that the HB pencil is harder than a B pencil but softer than an H graphite pencil.

For a professional artist or a beginner, a softer graphite pencil leaves more graphite on the paper with each line drawn.

It is also easier to handle an erase. Also, it will not easily cause wear and tear on your drawing surface.

To identify which pencil is better for drawing between HB and 2B, you’d find that 2B is softer than HB.

From the explanations so far provided, you now know that 2B which is much softer than an HB pencil is better for drawing.

It will leave more graphite on your page and will be easier to erase when you make errors. Also, your page will be better protected from wearing off.

What pencils should a beginner use?

different pencil types

To provide a clearer approach in responding to this question, I’d like to reference a response from Saumya Shivhare to this same question on Quora. 

I find her response apt and straight to the point.

According to Saumya, “there is no algorithm that needs to be followed while sketching.”

She goes on to explain what she does while sketching a landscape portrait.

The following are her suggestions based on her personal experience.

  • Use HB or 2B to divide the sheet into 2:1 parts horizontally.
  • Make a rough sketch having basic elementary objects. This can be done using a light 2B or HB with little pressure and light strokes.
  • According to the perspective (one—point or two-point) rendering of the sketch. Near—darker, far—lighter.
  • Actual dark pencils are 6B, 8B, and 10B. These must be used when you have finished 80% of the rendering with 3B—5B pencils.
  • I switch pencils as and when needed. If I need to add depth in detailing I switch from 6B to 3B anytime.
  • Erase! It’s very important to erase to enhance the shadows.
  • Charcoal pencil is my favorite. It is the most important tool I use to give a real 3D effect.

Is H or B better for sketching?

h pencil vs b pencil

Like I explained earlier, graphite pencils are graded with both letters and numbers.

These letters and numbers define the hard and soft textures of the lead.

H stands for hard and represents the hardest range of the graphite pencil.

An H-grade pencil contains more clay in the lead and creates finer lines, but also lighter.

The leads on H pencils do not easily smudge. The higher the number appended to it, the lighter the lead component.

You will find that a 9H pencil is the highest it can go. A 9H is the hardest and lightest pencil.

On the other hand, B stands for blackness.

The B-grade pencils have more graphite than clay.

They leave marks that are darker, softer, and bolder.

Similarly, the higher the appended number, the darker and softer the lead is.

A 9B pencil is the highest in the B grade, but it is also the darkest and softest available.

The lead on the B pencil easily smudges but can be easily erased.

As I mentioned earlier, HB pencils are somewhere between hard and soft.

So, to determine which type of pencil is best for sketching, the answer is this.

It depends on the kind of paper you are using and what you want to draw.

It is recommended to use HB or a softer pencil. You may look at anything between and HB and 7B.

Do beginners need expensive pencils?

watercolor drawing pencils

It might be quite challenging to try to figure out the best types of pencils for drawing and sketching.

This is because; there is a wide range of pencil types in the market.

But different grades of pencils are designed for specific purposes.

For instance, expensive high-quality pencils are great, but what will a beginner do with them?

Professional artists can use high-quality materials for specific jobs, but they can also be in the order description.

Remember, they are professionals and they know how to make their money back.

For a beginner, all you need is a basic knowledge of the pencil grades.

You can use the harder pencil to get used to drawing lines firmly on the paper.

You can also use a softer one to teach yourself how not to puncture the paper.

Also, you should be more interested in getting your outlines right, and then shading/blending.

In this case, the regular inexpensive pencils should be good for you.

Start with a 2B or HB for outlining your contour drawing, and then add a 3B, 4B, 5B, or 6B for shading.

These are all affordable pencils. You don’t have to bother about the details or the edges.

Focus on getting your sketches right and widen the range of your shading.

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Drawing Pencils

Here are three things you may consider when choosing the best drawing pencils.

Different grades of pencils

pencil grades

I have mentioned this earlier, but it is worth repeating.

Graphite pencils come in ranges and grades.

These grades define the tone of lines that you can create with each pencil. 

H stands for Hard.

The pencils classed as H are the harder pencils, and they produce lighter marks.

B stands for Black. The pencils classed as B are the softer pencils, and they produce darker marks.

HB stands in the middle of the H and B ranges. F stands for Firm and they’re used to make firm steady sketches.

The right use of pencil grades

drawing pencil

Use the right pencil to produce the required effect.

Don’t try to press hard on an H pencil to make the shades darker or blacker.

You could destroy your paper in the process.

Use the H pencils when creating an outline for watermarks and use the right B pencil to produce dark effects that you may need.

The right surface for your drawing

drawing surface

Identify the right surface for your pencil grades.

You can use pencils on different surfaces such as smooth papers, textured papers, and a Bristol board.

The result of the textures is different on each surface.

Therefore, test out the different combinations on sample surfaces before you start working.

Final thoughts

You could see that sketching pencils are an essential part of an artist’s supply.

Whether you are a professional artist or you are just starting out in the drawing and sketching field, you need to select the best types of pencils.

Although there is a wide range of drawing pencils in the market, you have been equipped with the right information to make the right choices.

Now, you can narrow down your options to what really matters when choosing the best types of pencils for drawing and sketching.