How to Choose a Pencil for Drawing and Sketching

By Alina Bradford
Pencil Types and How to Use Them

Knowing what kind of pencil you need for each sketch, stroke, and line is important for any artist. Your tools are everything, and a complete understanding of them is ideal. Here is a list of the most common pencils, descriptions of what they are for, and why you need them.

Traditional Pencils

A good pencil is an artist’s best friend. No subject is beyond an artist’s rendering if they have the pencils they need. A good rule of thumb to remember what each pencil does is to remember that the softer the lead, the darker your line will be. Pencils with “B” in the name are soft. Pencils with “H” in the name are harder leads.

This list will help you determine what type of pencils you need for different techniques: 

  • 2H- This is a very hard lead pencil that makes light marks. It is good for drawing details and preliminary drawings that you may not want to be permanent.
  • 6B- This pencil makes dark, softer marks. The 6B shown in the example is a wide woodless, which is great for expressive drawing and sketching.
  • #2 or HB- You remember this pencil from school. Most of use started our drawing career using this beauty to doodle on homework. Its lead falls between soft and hard and makes a great all-around go-to pencil. Keep this one with your sketchbook at all times.
  • #2 Jumbo- Remember these monster-sized pencils from kindergarten? They have all of the benefits of a regular #2, but they have a very wide lead that is perfect for expressive drawings and thick lines.
  • 2B- Softer than the HB, 2B makes darker lines. 2B is great for outlining drawings.
Colored Pencils

Colored pencils are wax and pigment in a wooden casing. Colored pencils are a good choice for artists who want their drawings to be colorful and can be combined with lead pencils.

You may remember these as being called “map pencils” geography class. Many artists have taken this tool to a whole new level through blending and complex burnishing techniques since then. Manufactures have also created new, sophisticated colored pencils exclusively for artists that contain high-grade pigments and less wax for brighter colors. To learn more read: How to Do Colored Pencil Guide.

Watercolor Pencils

Watercolor pencils are a close cousin to colored pencils. The biggest difference is that they can be used with water to mimic watercolors.
The benefits of using watercolor pencils are that they are much easier to carry than traditional watercolors, and they can be used either wet or dry. Drawings can be moistened for a watercolor look or the pencils can be dipped in water for a painterly look and feel.

Having a knowledge of these different types of pencils will help you choose the right one at the right time, which will make your skill as an artist grow.

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