Zen pencils: a quick look at drawing pencils

Choosing the right pencil for drawing and shading

Let me start by saying that I am not an authority on pencils. I like to roughly sketch in a drawing and then go in with paints. But when I was starting out, I did quite a lot of research on pencils and grades, and I remember that some of this information was really hard to find. A lot of this information has been sitting in a note on my phone; I hope you find it of use.

We start with the most common pencil – the HB pencil. These are the pencil packs you’ll get at every store, and is what you’ve probably used all your life. HB pencils stand for hard black pencils – think of them as all round pencils that are excellent for writing, sketching, doodling. When it comes to finer drawing and shading, though, you will need to invest in a couple of different grades of pencils.

Grading for graphite pencils

But to know which pencils to buy, you need to understand pencil grading. Broadly, you will need either a H or a B pencil.

H pencils indicate the hardness of a pencil. The harder a pencil, the lighter it will be. For example, a 4H pencil is harder than a 2H pencil and is also lighter than a 2H pencil. Put simply, the bigger the number, the harder and lighter it is.

B pencils refer to the blackness, or darkness, of a pencil. These pencils are softer and leave more graphite on the paper – the darker the pencil, the softer it is. For example, a 5B is softer than a 2B and is also darker than a 2B. Put simply, the bigger the number, the softer and darker it is.

Choosing the right pencil grade for drawing and shading

So should you run out and buy the darkest B pencil you can find? Perhaps not. A 6B pencil, which is the softest that you can find, is so soft that it doesn’t hold its tip at all. It also looks tends to look quite grainy.

On the other end of the spectrum, the harder a H pencil is, the harder it is and the easier it holds its point. However, the harder it gets, the greyer the pencil gets, and the more easily it leaves a dent in your paper.

Put this information to work: Pick a few different grades of pencils and swatch them. That way, you will know exactly how they work and what they can be best used for.

Posted in Art Journaling, Artists Toolbox and tagged , , , , , , .


  1. The right kind of pencil can make or break your sketch. Thanks for providing such valuable feedback all through the challenge. Your posts are quite resourceful to the artist community. Congratulations on finishing the challenge successfully!

  2. I will never be looking at pencils with casualness again. Never knew all these details.
    April has been an insightful and informative month regarding Arts and Supplies. Thanks for sharing all about it. It was good to connect with you through this challenge, Shinjini 🙂

  3. this is so helpful! now i understand the H & B, and the grading! I plan to try my hand at sketching later this year, and this will be helpful! I know that shading can really make a difference to a sketch – probably all the difference 🙂

Leave a Reply