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HB Pencils, B Pencils, H Pencils: Graphite Scale Explained

HB Pencils, B Pencils, H Pencils: Graphite Scale Explained

HB pencils, B pencils, and H pencils are all different forms of graphite pencils labeled with letters and numbers with each letter and number signifying different degrees of hardness or softness.

hb pencil

What is an HB Pencil?

hb pencils

The lead in a graphite pencil comprises graphite and clay as its primary components. 

These two substances are used by pencil makers in various degrees to determine the texture of a graphite pencil. 

The more graphite in the pencil, the softer the lead will be and produce darker marks. 

On the other hand, the more clay in the pencil, the harder the lead will be and produce lighter marks.

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

The letters H, F, HB, and B are used to represent the texture of a graphite pencil in the grading structure. 

H is the hardest of all graphite pencil grades while B is the softest. 

Going by an understanding of the grading system, we can say that an HB pencil is a graphite pencil that is softer than an H pencil but softer than a B pencil.

What is an HB Pencil Used for?

pencil drawing of kids

An HB pencil is used in many different ways in drawing because it writes clearly but does not leave much graphite on paper. 

Also, it does not leave many smears on paper, unlike an outright B pencil. 

Additionally, it is much easier to erase when mistakes occur than will be the case for an H pencil.

What is a B Pencil?

b pencils

B pencils represent graphite pencils with a softer core. 

The letter “B” stands for blackness. 

There are different derivations of the B pencils ranging from 1 to 9. 

The higher the number on a B pencil, the softer and darker the texture will be.

As such, 5B is darker and softer than 2B pencil and 8B is darker and softer than 5B. 

In its composition, a B-grade pencil has more graphite than clay. 

The marks made with a B pencil are bolder, darker, and softer. 

The B-grade pencil ranges from 1 to 9. 

Therefore, 9B which is the highest in the range, is the darkest as well as the softest graphite pencil. 

Because of its soft texture, the B pencil smudges easily on a drawing surface. 

But, the good part is that it is also easy to be cleaned with rubber erasers.

What is a B Pencil Used for?

snow leopard pencil sketch

A B pencil is used for creating dark marks. 

Because it is soft, it leaves more graphite on a drawing surface allowing it to produce dark shades. 

It comes in handy when an artist is creating a portion of work that does not need much detail but requires shadows and shades. 

Working with a B pencil does not require much pressure to produce dark marks. 

The B-grade pencils are softer in texture and produce darker marks with little pressure from the artist. 

This makes them the ideal pencils for shading and tonal display. 

When a B pencil comes with higher numbers such as 8B or 9B, you can use it to blend and smudge even more.  

It is suitable for creating dark shading, dark marks, dark shadows, clouds, or night features.

What is an H Pencil?

h pencils

The letter “H” in an H pencil stands for hard. It represents the hardest range of the graphite pencil. 

The composition of H-grade pencil features more clay in the lead which makes it harder, lighter, and able to produce cleaner lines. 

The H pencil ranges from 1H to 9H. The higher the number appended on it, the lighter the lead component in it. 

Therefore, it is safe to say that the 9H pencil is the lightest and hardest pencil you could find.

What is an H Pencil Used for?

illustrator drawing cartoons

An H pencil contains less graphite, is relatively light, and is formed with break-resistant leads. 

Its light texture makes it ideal for creating finer lines. 

Visual artists use this pencil grade to create thinner lines, light marks, light sketches on a realistic drawing, or lighter grey marks in dark areas.

H pencil releases only a tiny amount of graphite because of the hardness of the core. 

It is the best pencil to produce the lightest lines. 

You can make your sketches with an H pencil and then use a softer pencil to create darker marks or shades.

An H-grade pencil contains more clay in the lead and is used to create finer but also lighter lines. 

The lead on H pencils does not easily smudge which makes it the ideal pencil for technical drawing. It is also suitable for creating outlines in paintings because the marks could be hardly visible. 

The higher the number appended on it, the harder pencils they are, and the lighter marks they make.

Because of its relatively light output, an H pencil is ideal for making light sketches before you start the actual drawing. 

The biggest challenge an artist would experience with an H pencil is exerting much pressure to make the line darker when the need arises. 

At this point, care should be taken to avoid causing tears on your paper.

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What Does B Mean on Pencils?

sketching with b pencil

The letter “B” on pencils stands for black or blackness.  

B pencils are composed of softer lead which allows them to leave more graphite on paper.  

The B-grade pencils have more graphite than clay contrary to the composition of an H pencil. 

The B pencil leaves marks that are darker, softer, and bolder. 

Just like the scaling in the H-grade which shows different degrees of hardness, the scaling on a B pencil shows the blackness of the pencil. 

The higher the appended number on a B pencil, the darker and softer the lead is. 

The B-grade ranges from 1 to 9. 

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

The downside is that the lead on the B pencil easily smudges. But this can be fixed with a rubber eraser or kneaded eraser.

What Does the H Mean on a Pencil?

sketching with h pencil

H stands for hard. 

The lead in an H pencil is tightly compacted and contains more filler resulting in the H pencils releasing a little amount of graphite when in use. 

Because of its hard texture, it will take much pressure to produce darker marks or darker values with an H pencil. 

Stemming from the grading structure, H is the hardest of all graphite pencil grades. 

H pencils do not require frequent sharpening because of their break-resistant cores. 

They are ideal for creating fine lines and marking fine points because they have harder pencil cores.

What Does HB Mean on a Pencil?

sketching with hb pencil

Historically, pencil manufacturers used a combination of letters to distinguish the first pencil sets.  

To disclose the graphite content of a pencil, “HB” represented a pencil that is hard and black; “HH” was used for a pencil that is very hard, while “BBB” was used to identify a pencil that is deep black.  

Today, graphite pencils are differentiated for different degrees of hardness represented by H, B, HB, and F. H stands for hard, B stands for blackness, while HB pencils are somewhere between the H-grade pencils and the B-grade pencils. 

F stands for Firm and is used to represent pencils that are firmer than an HB pencil.

It also implies that F pencils sharpen to a much finer point.

The different pencil grades are used for varying drawing techniques. 

While an HB pencil is darker and softer than an H pencil, it is at the same time harder and lighter than a B pencil. 

So, a drawing made with an HB pencil will be a lighter drawing with less blackness.

Which is Darker: 2B or HB?

2b pencil and hb pencil comparison

A B pencil is a good graphite pencil that has more blackness and produces darker marks. 

Practically, B pencils are used to create features such as dark marks, dark shading, dark lines, dark values, and overall darker features in a drawing.

On the other hand, an H pencil contains more clay composite than graphite and therefore is the best pencil for creating fine lines or a fine point. 

If your drawing requires different types of marks, then an H pencil would come in handy for producing lighter lines and values. 

The HB pencil, which represents Hard Black, falls between softer B pencils and harder H pencils. 

It is a drawing pencil that is neither as light as an H pencil nor as dark as the 2B pencil.  

The HB pencil is more like in the middle of the scale for pencil drawing. 

That is to say, a 2B pencil is darker than an HB pencil.

How Many B Pencils are There?

b pencil collection

There are 9 variations in the B-grade of pencils which range from B to 9B.  B pencils are dark and soft and are used to create darker lines and darker shades. 

The number found in front of the letter shows how soft the pencil in this range is. That is to say, a 4B pencil is softer and darker than a 2B pencil. 

Since the highest number on the B-grade pencils is 9, it means that 9B is the softest and darkest graphite pencil and they are great pencils for darkest shades.

Graphite Scale

pencil grades scale

The graphite grading scale is used to determine the hardness of a pencil’s graphite core. 

The core of the pencil is the lead inside the pencil which comes in various degrees of hardness. 

The mixture of graphite and clay determines the hardness or lightness of a pencil. 

The degrees of combination are represented in numeric scale that allows an artist to select the ideal pencil for a good range of tones. 

The grading scale used to measure the core of a pencil comes in two ways.

The Numerical Graphite Scale –

The numeric graphite scale uses numbers such as 1, 2, 3, or 4 to represent how hard a pencil’s core is. 

This implies that the higher the number marked on a pencil, the harder the pencil’s writing core is. 

On the other hand, the lower the number marked on a pencil, the softer and darker the writing core is.

When a pencil core is made of lower proportions of clay, it becomes softer and produces darker marks. 

At this point, it could create heavy lines or a darker mark because it is softer and leaves more graphite on the drawing surface. 

When in use, pencils with softer graphite cores diminish faster and require sharpening more often.

The HB Graphite Scale –

Pencil manufacturers use letters to indicate the various degrees of hardness of the lead in a pencil. 

The letter “H” is used to indicate a hard pencil. “B” is used to indicate the blackness of a pencil, and “F” indicates that a pencil is firm and sharpens to a fine point.

When a pencil is marked HB, it means that it is between two extremes of hard and light on the one hand, and dark and soft on the other hand. 

Pencils with a harder core are lighter while pencils with a softer core produce darker marks. 

So, HB would be used by a pencil maker to indicate that a pencil is softer than an H pencil while at the same time lighter than a B pencil.

Final Thoughts on the Difference Among HB, B, and H pencils

You could see that the HB, B, and H pencils have unique and distinguishing features even though they fall under the same pencil set. 

They are categorized as graphite pencils, but they fall under different pencil grades and come with different degrees of hardness as well as softness. 

Additionally, each of them produces different types of marks. 

The drawing techniques of the artist will determine their choice of the best pencil to use for their drawing project.

It is pointless owning all types of graphite pencils. 

Pencils that fall on a close range can produce similar effects. 

For instance, in many cases, pencils in the same range but with different numbers can have almost the same degree of hardness or blackness. 

A 4B pencil can produce similar dark shades as a 5B pencil; also, they both require frequent sharpening. 

In the same vein, a 3H pencil can produce fine lines or detailed work similar to that of a 4H pencil. 

But, a 2H pencil cannot produce the same dark shades or thicker lead attributed to an 8B pencil. 

The H pencils can all produce thin lines and fine points, while the B pencils can produce dark shade and thick lines. 

The HB pencil falls between the H-grade and the B-grade. 

Understanding their differences and uses could guide you to make the best choice of professional-grade pencils.