Starting to Draw: Why so many pencils?

You may wonder why there are so many different grades of graphite pencil. You have ‘H’ range, ‘HB’, ‘F’ and ‘B’ range, usually in a set when you buy them. Each of the letters represent a different mix or combination of graphite. The harder the lead the less graphite and the more clay there is in a pencil.
Let us quickly look at the different types of pencil there are and what the different letters mean and also explore some of their uses (although any type of pencil can be used for drawing, each pencil will produce unique results).

The ‘H’ on a pencil means it is hard, it will keep its sharp point and will produce lighter lines than the rest of the range. It is usually (but not always) used for more technical work along the lines of architectural studies and technical drawing. It will keep the line you draw and won’t smudge easily like the other pencils, but it is not much good for grey tones or shading. The higher the number on these pencils the harder the tip, so a ‘6H will be much harder than a ‘2H’.

The ‘HB’ (Hard Black) is your standard school pencil. It can be used for drawing but it is better to use ‘F’ or ‘B’ range. This pencil is less versatile than the rest of the range. The ‘F’ pencil has a fine point and is not as dark as the ‘HB’ pencil (this is due to there being less graphite and more clay in its mix). It produces a lighter tone than the ‘HB’ and the ‘B’ range. The ‘F’ pencil is also slightly softer than the ‘HB’ and can be useful for basic shading. It can also be useful for quick sketches where you only need some basic shading (although you won’t get the darker shading and shadows you may need).

The ‘B’ range is probably the most versatile of the pencil range as it can be used to achieve very dark velvety tones and expressive mark making techniques. The higher the number on the pencil the softer the graphite and the darker the tones you can use (so a ‘6B’ will be much softer
than a ‘2B’).

Having said all this, you need to remember that a pencil is a tool and the more you explore and experiment with it the greater the idea you will have of what it can do.

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