Graphite Pencils Artists  head

Artists Pencils (Graphite
Pencils) Explained

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Have you ever bought one of those "Artists Pencils" sets and wondered what all those different types of pencils are and what they are used for? You've got "HB", "H" pencils and "B" pencils.  Many people just grab a set and start using them without considering what pencils really might be right for their application. 

The material inside of the pencil is called "graphite".   Some people refer to it as "lead", but to artists, it's referred to as graphite.  The numbers and letters on the pencils refer to the grade of the graphite material inside. 

"H" pencils have harder graphite and "B" pencils are softer.  This is all explained in the video below.  Since the graphite is harder in "H" pencils, less of it comes off on the paper.  Therefore the mark of an "H" pencil is lighter. 

*NOTE: The quality of the graphite pencil that you use for your drawings does affect the quality of the result. Check out the brands I recommend here.

When "B" pencils are used to make a mark, the mark is darker because the graphite is softer.  Consider the pencil before you begin your project and choose the pencil that best suites your needs.



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Video Transcription
Alright, today I'm going to take a stab at explaining graphite pencils. I have a lot of people ask me what kind of pencil I like to use, so I'm going to explain that.  We are going to start off with a standard "HB" pencil.  Now, if you buy a standard set of art pencils, you'll notice that "HB" is one of the pencils.  "HB" basically refers to the grade of the pencil.  You've also got HB's cousin - "F".  The graphite in "HB" and "F" pencils are very similar, so I am grouping them together on the graph.  "HB" is a middle grade pencil.  It's a pretty common pencil, so we're going to start off with it.  There are "H" pencils as well.  If you buy one of these art pencil sets, you'll find these "H" pencils.  "H" pencils range from "H" to "9H". 

The grade of the graphite in "H" pencils become progressively harder.  So, a "9H" pencil is harder than an "H" pencil.  A "5H" pencil is softer than a "7H" pencil. 

So, how would this affect the mark that you make?

Well, harder graphites will make lighter marks.  When you rub the graphite over the surface, less of the graphite actually goes on the surface of the paper.  So, a "9H" pencil will make a lighter mark. 

So, let's take a look at the grades of the graphite and how they may look on the surface of the paper.  We can see here that a "9H" pencil is considerably lighter than a "2H" pencil.  So, if you were to be making lighter marks, you may be tempted to use the "9H" pencil, but hold that thought.

When you use a harder graphite, because it is harder, it makes impressions into the surface of the paper, which might cause some problems.

Let's talk about the other side of things.  These are the "B" pencils and they range from "B" to "9B".  Since we just talked about the "H" pencils being harder, you might go ahead and deduce that the "B" pencils are softer.  "B" is a harder pencil then "9B". "9B" is a softer pencil, and as a result, it will make a darker mark on the surface.

So, what's the advantage of using a "B" pencil?

Well, you've got more variety in the values that you can make with a "B" pencil.  You can push down hard with a "9B" pencil and get a really dark value, or you can push lightly and still get a mark similar to a "2H" pencil.  So, you get a full variety of value with just one of the darker pencils.

So, what pencil do I use most of the time?

I use a pencil that is somewhere between "4B" and "6B". Occasionally, I'll pick up an "HB".

By the way, an "HB" pencil is called a "#2" pencil. I'm not really sure where the number comes from, but it is the same as an "HB" pencil. 

I hope that this explains some of the different grades of graphite pencils.  This has been another video tutorial brought to you by TheVirtualInstructor.com.

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