| updated on 28.12.2019

Different pencils for drawing

Do you even need so many different pencils?

Are the different degrees of hardness of pencils complete nonsense or is it worth drawing with different pencil hardnesses? You can draw with any pencil, but if you don’t use the variety of different hardnesses, the drawings will always lack something.

How is the hardness of the pencil determined?

The degree of hardness always refers to the lead in the pencil and gives information about its mixing ratio of clay and the mineral graphite. Clay serves as a binder for graphite, which gives the pencil its black color.

The mixing ratio is given in units that cover a spectrum between H and B. The higher the pencil moves towards B on the spectrum, the more graphite it will contain. The line becomes darker and the lead softer. The higher the pencil moves towards H on the spectrum, the more clay it will contain. The line becomes lighter and the lead harder.

A 6B pencil would not be suitable for technical drawings because it cannot draw fine lines and is easily blurred. In the same way a 4H is also not suitable for an expressive portrait drawing, because it is simply too bright.

hardness of the pencil

Drawing with different pencils

What's missing if you only use one hardness

One pencil alone will not be able to add depth to a drawing. No matter how well you work, without a wide spectrum of brightness and darkness, the result will always look flat.

This drawing was drawn only with a HB pencil. The hair could have been much more convincing if the strands had been drawn with softer pencils to get more darkness. The same applies to all shadows in this drawing.

Drawing without depth

Another problem is dark shadows: If you try to draw them with a hard pencil, it simply doesn't look convincing and most of the time you can see the strokes of the pencil.

In this drawing from 2011 some harsh strokes are intended, but in the lower jaw region you can see it does not look good.

Drawing strong shadows with an unsuitable pencil

2H Pencil: For sketches and soft shadows

For sketches I recommend a 2H pencil. On the white paper its strength is sufficient to build up a good plan for the motif. All lines can be erased and it is easily covered by any softer pencil. Other things that can be drawn well with a 2H are skin and light areas with only light shadows like eyeballs.

2H pencil for sketches
Covering 2H pencil with softer pencils

HB Pencil: The first step into depth

I use the HB pencil especially for drawing medium shadows. These are, for example, in the crease of the eyelid, in the corners of the mouth or under the nose.

darken shadows with a HB pencil

2B, 4B and 6B Pencils: The Shadow Masters

Depending on the darkness of the shadows, you can use all the soft pencils you can get your hands on. In order to keep the transitions smooth, I recommend to work step by step. There are also the odd Bs, but for me personally the difference is not strong enough.

2B pencil for dark shadows

In this drawing of a friend with very dark hair, a 4B pencil had to be used and was also used in the glasses to create a balance.

4B pencil for dark hair

A long, long time ago I even experimented with an 8B pencil and made this drawing. It has to be kept in a transparent film, because the 8B is so soft it lands everywhere else: on fingers, on the surroundings and more.

8B pencil drawing

What is the best pencil for drawing?

There are many manufacturers of pencils, so you can quickly feel overwhelmed by the offer.

I personally prefer to use pencils from Faber Castell and Rembrandt. Both brands offer excellently finished leads that do not suddenly scratch the paper while drawing and do not split immediately after a fall from the table.

It is best to try different pencils to find the most suitable manufacturer for yourself.

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