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Which Pencils are Used for Sketching?

Woman working on sketches.

When you are new to sketching or have been sketching for quite some time, you may be wondering if certain pencils may be better than others when it comes to sketching.

There are specific pencils used for sketching that allow for an easier creative process. They differ in hardness and levels of darkness. 

The pencils that work best for sketching fall in the B-grade of graphite pencil. The B-grade has more graphite and is softer and darker than the H-grade, which is harder.

Many specifics are involved in pencils that are outside of the world of the number 2 pencil. You may have multiple questions about them and what the different grades mean and entail. 

Related: Which Pencils are Used for Writing? | Which Pencils are Used for Shading? 

What are pencil grades?

Graphite pencils with grading scale.

Pencils each have a grade that is dependent on the type of graphite that is inside them. There are also corresponding numbers next to the grade. 

The following grades are: 

  • H-grade. An H-grade pencil has more clay that allows it to be lighter and finer. The lines are thin and can create detail. The numbers start from one and the higher the number on the grade, the tighter the lead is. The H-grade pencils do not smudge easily as they are more chiseled and fine.
  • B-grade. The B-grade pencil has more graphite, creating a darker line as the B stands for blackness. The number corresponding with the grade also starts at one and the higher the number on the grade, the softer and darker the lead will be. The highest grade B pencil within your art supplies will be the darkest of the bunch. The B-grade pencils smudge easily but can easily be erased. 
  • F-grade. An F-grade pencil produces darker and lighter marks. The grade ‘F’ stands for a fine point, as it is the finest pencil of the grades. F-grade pencils stay sharp for a long period. The F-grade pencils normally do not come in pencil sketching sets. However, they are found occasionally in them.
  • HB-grade. An HB-grade pencil is exactly what you might think it is. It is an average pencil and sits between the H-grade and B-grade pencils. These pencils are the most common pencils to find in your office or school. 
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It is easier to pick the pencil you want for your sketching once you know what each grade is. This allows you to know what pencil works for the type of drawing you are creating. 

What grade pencil is best for sketching?

So now you are ready to sketch your drawing. However, which grade works best for sketching? 

Each grade has its benefits depending on the sketch. 

H-grade pencils

Tombow MONO Drawing Pencil, H, Graphite 12-Pack

H-grade pencils do not smudge easily and create clean thin lines. You can quickly create outlines and technical drawings with them. They can be quite scratchy as you move up in hardness. 

B-grade pencils

Professional Drawing Sketching Pencils Set, 24 Pieces Art Pencils 14B, 12B, 10B, 9B, 8B, 7B, 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H - 9H, Graphite Shading Pencils for Beginners & Pro Artists

The B-grade pencils can be easily erased all the while. They are not smudge-resistant in the slightest. They are best for drawing pencils as they can create a brush-like medium due to their softness. You will have to use pressure to create texture and shading. However, they are soft, easy pencils to use for sketching. 

F-grade pencils

Staedtler Staedtler-Rumogurafu drafting pencil F 100-F (japan import)

The fine graded pencil, the F-grade, is perfect for drawing fine details and writing. However, they may not be best for sketching. 

HB-grade pencils

Arteza School Pencils HB #2, Pack of 96, Wood-Cased Graphite Pencils in Bulk, Pre-Sharpened, with Erasers, Office & School Supplies for Exams and Classrooms

In the middle of the scale is the HB pencil. This HB pencil is the standard pencil that is used. It works well for regular sketching and everyday drawing. However, to capture details and texture, it may be best to use a softer B-grade pencil. If you are avoiding smudging and want clean lines, an H-grade might be your calling. 

How to choose a sketching pencil?

Artist sketching on white canvas.

When you are picking out a pencil for sketching there are three things that are important for you to understand. These factors are shades, lines, and smudges. 

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Shades

Shading in your sketches is important. Too much shading or too little shading may be frustrating as the process can be difficult depending on your medium. If you are using a super soft pencil like a 9B, you may notice the shading can come quite easy but can be very dark. If you do not want your sketches to be too dark, it is best to go with a lower B-grade pencil. 

Lines

Each grade pencil has different types of lines. If it is a softer lead, it will create a thicker line, but a harder lead will create a thin, precise line.

Through experimenting with each pencil to find what you prefer, you will notice the different quality of lines each pencil grade makes. If you want a thin, precise line, it is best to go with an H-grade. Technical sketching like architecture benefits from these grades as little smudging comes through, and the line is accurate. 

Smudge Factor

If you have a softer graphite pencil, you can smudge the graphite with your finger. You can blend tones and shades with soft graphite. Through smudging, you have a direct application of what type of shading your sketching creates. 

This is all dependent on which grade of pencil you are using. A 9B-grade pencil allows you to create smudges easily as the graphite is fuzzy and is easily brushed off. However, an H-grade pencil will not allow this. 

Similar to the line quality, it is all up to experimentation to find what pencil smudge factor you like best for your work. 

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Should beginner sketchers use expensive pencils? 

Pencils against vintage backdrop.

When you are looking for pencils, you may not want to buy the most expensive ones on the shelf if you are a beginner. However, if you buy cheap pencils, you may end up frustrated with the quality of your work and your tools. 

Cheap pencils may limit your sketching success as you will be limited by your ability. If your tools are limited, so are you. Owning quality pencils to sketch with will help you achieve your creative success. 

It is best to buy what you can afford. However, make sure it is of good quality before making your purchase. When it comes to art supplies, quality over quantity is what helps you succeed. You may help your wallet by buying a few quality pencils that you will use more, rather than buying a whole-value pack.

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