Learn all about the best artist drawing pencils and how to use types of graphite. Discover everything that you need to know about art drawing and sketching pencils in this simple tutorial.
Find out the best drawing pencils for beginners, what types to use for sketching and shading, and take a look at different brands, Also learn about extra drawing tools that are great to have on hand.
Artist pencils can be intimidating when you are just starting out. This easy guide will help explain what the letters and numbers on artists’ pencils really mean and the different ways to use the different types of pencils.
Understanding graphite drawing pencils and how to use them can improve your drawing skills, help you learn faster, and make you a more confident artist.
Learn all About Artist’s Drawing Pencils
H Artist Drawing Pencils
H in artist pencils means “hardness.” These pencils tend to stay sharp, have soft lines and do not need sharpening that often.
H pencils are great for initial sketches, underdrawings, underpaintings, and detailed lines. Marks made with these pencils are generally easy to erase if you do not push hard.
When sketching in initial lines for a watercolor painting use an H pencil. If you draw very lightly the lines will disappear under the paint with no need to erase.
F Artist Drawing Pencils
F stands for “fine.” F pencils are fairly hard and designed to maintain a pointy tip.
These pencils are best for fine lines and detailed work.
B Artist Drawing Pencils
The B on pencils signifies “blackness”. B pencils make soft, dark marks.
The higher the number in front of the B, the softer and darker the pencil will be. HB pencils are the lightest, followed by B, then 2B, 3B and so on.
B Pencils are best used for shading, adding value, achieving contrast. By applying more or less pressure a wide variety of marks can be made with these pencils.
HB Artists Drawing Pencils
HB Pencils are hard and black. They are the lightest of the B Pencils and offer a tip that stays sharp with darker values.
Number 2 Pencils
Most #2 school pencils are HB. This is a good mix of hardness and darkness which makes them very versatile.
Number 2 pencils can absolutely be used for nice drawings. Artist pencils are not necessary to be an artist.
Matte Drawing Pencils
Graphite tends to have a shiny surface quality. If this bothers you, look for look special matte drawing pencils.
Matte pencils come in a variety of types, H, F, HB and Bs. They have carbon added to give them a dull finish.
Combining types of Artist Drawing Pencils
While each different type of drawing pencil has a specific purpose and use you can also combine the different types of pencils into one drawing to create a variety of line quality.
Use the H and F pencils to draw fine detailed lines and then use the B pencils to create a variety of shading and fuzzier, less defined lines.
When I am drawing, I like to draw in a quick overall sketch of my drawing with a H or F pencil and then use several different B pencils to shade it in.
Other Drawing Tools and Supplies
Woodless graphite is a graphite pencil without the wood casing. Another fun way to draw and sketch. These also come in different hardness and blackness grades.
Graphite sticks are graphite compressed into small easy-to-grab sticks. These are great for shading or turning on the side to fill in large areas more quickly. They also come in different gradients of blackness.
Use water-soluble graphite sticks with water to spread the graphite around. You can use a brush to paint the graphite on your paper or wet the paper first and draw back into it for some fantastic effects.
Mechanical pencils can be great drawing tools as well, especially for fine lines and detailed work. If you like using mechanical pencils, specialty pencils are available with artist-grade graphite in varying hardness, fineness, and blackness.
Stumps are compressed paper in the shape of a pencil used to blend your pencil marks together for smooth shading. You could use your finger or Q-tips to blend as another option.
A soft brush is optional, but really nice to brush off eraser dust without smudging your paper. I use an inexpensive bristle paint sample brush from the hardware store.
Erasers are essential and come in many different kinds the best to use with graphite are white vinyl erasers and kneaded erasers, which you can mold into a pointy tip for erasing small areas.
Never use electric or hand crank sharpeners on nice artist drawing pencils, that eats them up too quickly! Use a hand pencil sharpener. The all-metal ones last the longest and are nice and strong for repeated sharpening.
Don’t throw away those little nubby ends of pencils that are hard to hold. Instead, get a pencil holder to use your entire drawing pencil comfortably.
Best Artist Pencil Brands
Many brands of drawing pencils are comparable. When purchasing drawing or sketching pencils it is best not to focus too much on the brand.
However, if you want to invest in some nice drawing pencils it is best to avoid the very cheap store brands. Remember that regular number 2 writing pencils will also work well for basic drawing.
Prismacolor Turquoise pencils are my personal favorite because they are very smooth and easy to draw with.
Many artists also like Staedtler, Faber-Castell, General and Derwent brands.
Tips and tricks
- Combine soft and hard pencils lines in a drawing for variety
- Build up layers to create value that increases the darkness and contrast
- You don’t need to get all the drawing pencils, small sets offer a variety of pencils that range from light to dark
- For white areas and highlights, remember to leave some paper showing
- Like all pencils, avoid dropping them because it can break the graphite inside the wooden pencil case and cause chunks of the graphite to fall out when you sharpen it
Artist pencils come with letter and number designations on them. This is an H pencil. The H means hardness. This H pencil will stay sharp and make nice soft lines, it doesn't need sharpening that often. H pencil are really great for making initial sketches, underdrawings, underpaintings or other details.
When you see F on a pencil, like this one it means "fine." Like the H pencil it's hard and it's designed for fine detail work. It keeps a nice fine point for a long time. This is a b pencil, it's actually an HB pencil, but when you see B on a pencil that means "blackness." So an HB pencil like this one means it is hard and black. You can see more value in this pencil as well. Actually, a number two school pencil, these are usually HB pencils and they can absolutely be used for drawing. You don't have to have the artist pencils necessarily to make nice drawings. This B pencil is giving me even a little bit more value, it's a little bit softer. The higher the number next to the B, the softer and darker the pencil will be.
You can also build up layers to create value. You can keep going over and over an area until you get it as dark as you like.
And I also wanted to point out that the graphite is a little bit shiny when you lay it down on the paper. You can't really see it in this video but if that shininess bothers you you can actually buy specially formulated pencils that have carbon added into them so that you don't get that shininess. [Music] You can also combine the hard and soft pencils in one drawing for a little bit of a variety so you can get the nice fine detailed lines of an H or an F pencil with the darker lines of the B pencils.
And lastly, the 9B is the darkest of them all. So I'm going to do a couple of quick little sketches so you can actually see what these pencils look like in a sketch.
This is the H pencil so it is light and you're getting a lot of detail with the fine lines,
and yet the shading remains really light.
I have that nice pointy tip.
Now I'm moving to the 3B pencil. So it's a black or pencil, darker. The lines are not quite as detailed but they have more value to them, more darkness right away and I'm able to do a little bit more of the shading as well. I would also like to point out that you don't necessarily need all of these pencils. They sell smaller starter sets that usually contain maybe an HB, 2B, 4B, and 6B pencil or some combination of different pencils just to give you a little bit of variety to begin with.
Lastly, this is the 9B.
So the lines are darker but I'm losing a little bit of that detail
but I'm able to get nice soft shading.
The best way to figure out what kind of drawing pencils that you like is to just try, buy a few different ones and try them out and see what you like and figure out how to use them yourself.
Thanks for watching. Hope to see you next time [Music].
For More Practice
- Buy several different types of these pencils to try them out and discover the best ways to use them.
- Try some of the drawing tutorials here with different artists pencils
- Practice drawing multiples of a simple object, each time with a different type of pencil.
- Set up a still life and try using and H or F pencil for the fine details and use a B pencil for shading and adding darks.
Frequently Asked Questions
It depends on the type of drawing. For general drawing an HB pencil will work well. When drawing something with a lot of detail an F or and H pencil is the best. A softer pencil like a 2B or 4B will work well for a sketch with a lot of shading and value.
Either an HB or a 2B pencil will work well for sketching and drawing. The 2B pencil will be slightly softer and make darker lines. The HB pencil is slightly harder and will keep a fine tip longer.
Most artists will use a variety of different drawing pencils depending on the type of sketching that they are doing.
Artists often combine different pencils into one drawing to get a wide range of value and some fine detail. They might include H, F, HB, 2B, and 6B pencils marks all in one project.
B on a pencil stands for blackness. The higher the number next to the B, the softer and blacker the pencil is. So a 2B pencil is slightly dark and soft. It will be good for general drawing and shading but not for fine detail.