December 28, 2013

Tutorial: Pencils and Leads

Pencil Grading Chart
Pencil cores are generally made of graphite mixed with a clay binder which creates easily erased grey or black marks. Graphite pencils are used for both writing and drawing which provides a durable mark, resistant to moisture, ultraviolet radiation, and aging.

Pencils come with either numbers or letters on them. From the image right, we can see that the letter B signifies the blackness of the pencil, the letter H signifies the hardness, and the letter F stands for 'fine.' In the United States, we use a different system using numbers to identify pencil hardness, ranging from #1 to #4. A #2 pencil, all to familiar to those that grew up in the US is the equivalent to the European HB.

The B's get darker and as you get to 9B they become more and more charcoal like. B's are tougher to erase than H leads so remember what type of sketch or drawing you are doing. Quick sketches using a B lead are very vibrant with more emotion then with an H lead. H leads are harder and make then easier to erase. Just remember that the harder you press down, they will indent the paper making them tough to erase, just watch the amount of pressure you use. I tend to use an H lead, such as a 2H, 4H, or even 6H to start my drawings, sketch it out, and use an HB or a B lead to go over it, just remember B leads are tougher to erase. You can always use as many leads as you want and layer over it. You can even use the leads to color your drawing or sketch using the leads. A 4H lead for example is very grey, I sometimes use this for metal, while an HB can be used for shadows with a 6B can be used for deep shadows or whatever you want to be black. Look at the image above again and you will see what I mean.

I recommend buying a cheap electric pencil sharpener and a few pencil sharpeners to make sketching easier. A scrap piece of paper can also work well to help keep the ideal edge or point on your pencil. Using conventional leads to draft can be difficult, but not impossible. It is better to use a lead holder and sharpener, as the leads are much sharper which gives you a cleaner, sharper drawing. You can also use lead holders for sketching and drawing. Mechanical pencils can also be used for drafting, however I prefer to use them to do homework as they don't need sharpening.


If you are just starting to draw, you might one to pick up just a few pencils to get a feel for them. You don't necessarily need pencils of each type, opt to get a few: 4B, 2B, HB, 2H, 4H will suffice and will save you a little money. A combo pack or starter set gets you the best bang for your buck, just be sure you check which leads they come with. As an architecture student, you probably want ones in the middle (6B through 4H), though a 9B you might like for some quick sketches now and again.


The last thing that you should be aware of is pencil quality. If you buy pencils that are not high quality, the leads are more prone to break with a wood casing of questionable quality. I have been drawing for about 30 years and I recommend using Staedtler pencils, they are my favorite brand. However, Koh-i-Noor, Faber-Castell, Derwent, and Turquoise are all my second choices. General pencils I found not too be too great however they make great charcoal pencils. To start, buy a pencil set of some sort and play with them. Once you figure out which leads you prefer, you can always buy replacement pencils later as you use them up.

Staedler Pencil Set

Jumbo Pencils

Other then the standard type of pencil, they do have thick lead pencils. They might look like they are the kind that children use to learn to write since they are thicker and easier to grip. I find this type of pencils quick comfortable to use and great for sketching. The thick leads are great for sketching, especially quick sketches aimed at capturing the feeling of what you are drawing. Koh-i-Noor makes triangular ones which are very comfortable to hold but you will need to sharpen them with a knife. Faber Castell makes some that are round and thicker referred to as their Jumbo pencils.They are designed to be used with those jumbo pencil sharpeners we used as kids.

Koh-i-Noor Triograph Pencils

Faber Castell Jumbo
Woodless Pencils

Another type of pencil is the woodless pencil. Instead of having wood, the whole pencil is a lead. They can be expensive, though they are similar to using charcoal and you can use the edge of it for gestures. They can be messy to use, I recommend buying something in the 4B to 2H range. If you get a 9B, it will be tough to use as it will smudge easily. These type of pencils are great for quick sketches. Careful how you store them, they can break much easier than a wood pencil.

Woodless Pencils

Personally, I have all my pencils in a Yasutomo Niji pencil Roll. This way I have easy access to whichever pencil I need while working. I have many types of pencils, a set of Staedtler pencils, some woodless pencils, some jumbo pencils, blenders, a few erasers (pinkwhite, wood and mechanical eraser) and a mechanical pencil for good measure (i.e. for taking notes, doing homework ), or writing something down). Check out my pencil roll below.

You can also store them in a pencil bag or case. You can also just keep them in the original tin, if you purchase a pencil set. Use whatever works for you. Hunt around your local or online art supply store to see what might work for you. I use Amazon myself.


Drafting leads are a bit different and you'll need some additional supplies. Check out our Tutorial on Drafting Necessities. If you are looking for information on drafting techniques and workflows, please see our Hand Drafting Tutorial.

Pencil Textures

Now that you know all about pencil leads. Check out the following video that will show you how to use your pencils to create basic textures in your drawings.

I hope you found this post informative. Please post any questions or comments below.


  1. name what you have in your pencil bag pleease!! so i can buy them

    1. In the paragraph above the picture of my pencil roll I explain everything I have in it and links if you are interested. I'm a big fan of Staedtler pencils. High quality and they do not break while sharpening. Wood-less pencils can also be fun for quick sketches.


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