9 Pencil Types to Know; Your Ultimate Guide to Accurately Choose The Right Pencil

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

HB, 2B, H, F, what do all these symbols mean, and how do I know which one to buy?

Well, that is what we are going to discuss in this article: pencil types. So stick around if you love drawing and want to be an artist or even if you are a geek who enjoys learning about everything; this article is for you.

But wait a minute. Do you know first what is inside a pencil or how it is made?

Let’s tick this off of our to-do list first.

What is Inside a Pencil?

The core of a pencil is not lead, as you may have guessed; it is indeed a mixture of graphite and clay. However, there are many types of pencils that have different core materials, as we will see later. The more the amount of graphite your pencil has in relation to the clay, the softer and darker it gets and vice versa (the more the clay it contains in relation to its graphite content, the harder and lighter it becomes).

How are Pencils Made?

The most commonly used pencils, which are graphite ones, are made using the two main ingredients: graphite and a clay binder as follows:

  • First, the clay and graphite get mixed together.
  • Then, they are moulded into thin rods after being forced into small tubes.
  • After that, these rods are cut into several pieces.
  • Finally, they are roasted at a very high temperature to allow their solidification.
  • And there you have it, a core that will be then enclosed into a wooden frame after being waxed.

And here’s a video from Faber-Castell showing you how they make pencils inside their factories;

HB grading scale swatches

The Different Pencil Types

Pencils come in different types depending on the purpose they are designed for. We have many types of pencils, including graphite, charcoal, carbon, grease, coloured and more. We will discuss each type separately and give you an idea of what it looks like. We will discuss graphite pencils in detail, being the most widely used pencils among all other pencil types.

1. Pencil Types – Graphite Pencils

Graphite pencils are widely used nowadays for sketching and drawing purposes. The main component inside these pencils, as their name implies, is graphite (which is a pure form of carbon). These pencils are easily identified by the letters and numbers written at the opposite tip.

In a nutshell, the symbols on any graphite pencil give us an idea of its degree of hardness and darkness.

Graphite pencils are graded using what is known as the HB grading scale, which is most commonly used outside the U.S. This system categorizes pencils into four major categories distinguished by the following letters:

  • H: stands for hardness. These pencils contain large amounts of clay in relation to their graphite content. This means they are harder in consistency and lighter in colour. They come in different shades depending on the number next to the letter H. For example, H, 2H, 3H, etc. The higher the number next to the letter H, the harder and lighter it gets.
  • HB: stands for both hardness and blackness (so this means it’s not so hard nor so black; it’s something in between). These are the most commonly used pencils.
  • B: stands for blackness. These pencils contain a large amount of graphite, which increases their softness and blackness. They come in different shades ranging from 2B, 3B, and 4B, all the way up to 9xxB (which is the softest and darkest pencil on the market). The higher the number next to the letter B, the more graphite content it has and, thus, the darker and softer it gets.
  • F: stands for fineness or firmness. This mark indicates that the pencil can be sharpened to a fine point.

So, a pencil with the symbol 4B means it’s softer and darker than a 2B one. And both are darker and softer than a 4H pencil.

These grades make it easier for artists to choose specific shades that best fit their art, for example:

  • Grades B, 2B, F, H, and HB are best used for drawing, sketching, and writing.
  • Grades 2H to 6H are the most convenient option for technical drawing and outlines since they are less likely to smudge because of their hardness.
  • Grades 3B to 8B are used for artistic and pictorial drawing. They are ideal for shading and blending purposes since they are very soft and dark. They are also very liable to smudging.

Keep in mind that a 4B pencil can differ across different countries depending on the manufacturer. However, this grading system gives you an idea of all the shades in relation to each other.

To get a clear image of all these shades and how they look on paper, check out the video below, which provides swatches of all these shades;

HB grading scale swatches

2. Pencil Types – Solid Graphite Pencils

These pencils are very similar to the graphite ones except for one thing. That is, they don’t have a wooding frame covering the graphite core; that’s why they are also called wordless pencils. They also come in different grades of darkness.

3. Pencil Types – Liquid Graphite Pencils

You will need a brush or a nib to use it since it is liquid. These pencils come in different colours, such as red, yellow, blue, and grey. Because it is a liquid material, people have invented different ways to use it. For example, it was used in a ballpoint pen in an innovative way, which made its writing erasable, unlike all the other ballpoint pens. You have to keep these away from children since they hold a potential risk for poisoning.

4. Pencil Types – Charcoal Pencils

Charcoal pencils are the oldest drawing tools in the world. These pencils come in different styles and degrees of hardness. They were used by famous artists for their rich tone and sharp contrast. Charcoal pencils are darker than graphite pencils and give a more matte look. They are also easily erased compared to other pencil types. Another difference between graphite and charcoal pencils is that charcoal pencils are more dusty and crumbly.

5. Pencil Types – Carbon Pencils

Carbon pencils are very similar to charcoal ones. These pencils are darker than graphite pencils but smoother than charcoal ones. They differ from charcoal pencils in being stronger and less dusty, which makes them easier and more convenient to use than charcoal pencils.

6. Pencil Types – Coloured Pencils (Crayons)

Coloured pencils are most commonly used by children for colouring and drawing. Unlike graphite pencils, these crayons have a wax-based core.

7. Pencil Types – Watercolour Pencils

To draw or paint with these pencils, you can add water first and use a brush to get the watercolour effect. They can also be used dry, like coloured pencils. But unlike coloured pencils, watercolour pencils are water-soluble.

8. Pencil Types – Grease Pencils

Grease pencils are very soft and smooth since their core is wax-based. They are also known as wax pencils or china markers. Being so smooth means they do not leave scratches on the paper, no matter how hard you press on them. They work very well on glossy surfaces like plastic and glass.

9. Pencil Types – Mechanical Pencils

Mechanical pencils are widely used nowadays, replacing old-fashioned pencils, especially among students. These pencils offer many advantages over traditional pencils, including:

  • They offer more precise and accurate lines to draw and write.
  • Being easily refilled with replaceable graphite cartridges.
  • No need to replace them so long as they are working.


We hope by the end of this article, you got a clear picture of all these pencil types and know what all the symbols written on them mean. Picking the right pencil should be easier for you, but remember that it’s all a matter of personal preference, and you have to experiment and play around with all the available brands for you to see what works best for your projects and stick to it.

Are you having trouble transferring schools? Here are ten tips to make this process much more easier for you.

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