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Purchase a sharpener. A good sharpener helps keep you drawing by giving your pencil the proper point without wearing away too much of its substance. There are many different models that take you towards the same goal.
The kind of sharpener that feels right is up to you. Consider the size of the pencil. Sharpeners come in different sizes, so you wouldn’t want to choose one too small for your pencil. Consider the shape of the pencil, too.
Chances are the sharpener can work with any shape, but some are better for specific tips such as hexagonal or circular. Sharpeners sharpen pencil tips to different angles. A sharpener that takes off more of the pencil’s wood leaves more lead exposed at the risk of breakage.
How much of a lead point do you need? A sharpener that leaves a pointed tip, naturally, allows you to create more intricate details with the pencil.
I’ve decided to start drawing and shading. What pencil selection should I have?
And while we’ve gone over how to select the best colored pencils, there are a whole other set of considerations when thinking about the right graphite pencil to add to your collection. In fact, you’ll probably—like most artists—wind up using several different pencils depending on the effect you’re looking for.
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Drawing pencils are available in many degrees of lead softness. Also, different substances included into the lead create different types of pencils with different effects. In addition the pencils themselves come in a variety of styles by different manufacturers. While that can sound a little intimidating, experimentation is at the heart of art. Still, with a little knowledge, you can find the drawing pencil that best suits you.
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Try out carbon pencils. These are a mixture of clay, black pigment, and charcoal or graphite, allowing them to have the darkness of charcoal and the smoothness of pencils. This means they make soft black lines smoothly and consistently.
 Carbon pencils are soft and therefore come in a range of lead grade B to 6B.
Once you know what type of artwork you need the pencil for, you need to understand the different grades of graphite pencils. Even though we often refer to lead in pencils, there is actually no component of lead used in them. Whereas colored pencils are made with wax and pigment, graphite pencils are a mixture of graphite and clay. The combination of these two components allows for smooth strokes, but graphite pencils will give different lines depending on how much clay is present. Generally, the more clay in the pencil, the harder the pencil—and lighter the stroke—will be.
For a good value, you can’t beat Lyra Art Design Pencils. The graphite is rigid enough that it works for technical drawing, and with 17 different grades available, there’s no shortage of shading you can accomplish. One reviewer writes, “The finest pencils for drawing. High-quality graphite that is smooth and easy to blend. A wide variety of hardness for all your artwork needs.”
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Buy a wooden pencil. Regular pencils are familiar. Many people have used them at school or around the house. They’re common and the use of different grades of lead allows you to learn about the rating scale and how the change in lead affects your style.
Beginners who want to start with a single pencil can experiment with an intermediate-grade lead pencil. Buying specific lead grade pencils gives you the opportunity to specifically choose what you need to achieve the desired effect.
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Figuring out the best pencils to bring your sketches and designs to life can appear challenging, but much of it comes down to personal preference. Once you get the hang of which brand you prefer, you can mix and match different pencil grades in order to expand your sketching capabilities. You’ll see that much of what we suggest are pencil sets, which allows you to experiment with a wide variety of lines and shading, but each brand will also sell their pencils individually once you need to restock.
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When you are first learning to draw, draw with graphite pencils with a lead of average or greater hardness. These are easier to erase. If your budget is limited and you can buy a single pencil, try a mechanical pencil with a .
5 mm lead. This is a versatile pencil that can be used for sketching and shading without wearing down too fast. Executing a large drawing with an H-series pencil alone entails a lot of work because the lines are finer due to harder pencils putting less graphite and therefore lighter marks on paper.
Test pencils in stores to see how they work, the quality of the line, and the color tone of the lead.
Buy B-series pencils. B pencils have soft lead due to having more graphite than filler. This means that they leave darker marks that are hard to erase and smudge more easily. This is why they’re used for darker shading and finishing details.
A 9B pencil puts down the most graphite on paper, so it leaves a black mark. These pencils wear down easily due to using more graphite with each stroke, so they need to be sharpened more often. Art in dark shades is vulnerable to “graphite glare,” which results from the graphite forming a smooth surface that reflects light.
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Consider intermediate-grade pencils. In addition to an HB pencil, which falls right in the middle of the shade and hardness scales, you may encounter an F pencil. F indicates that the pencil is sharpened to a fine point.
These are only slightly lighter and harder than HB pencils. H, B, HB, and F pencils are good for beginners who want to practice using a variety of different leads.
You can use any type of pencil that suits your artistic desire. However, if you use a regular wooden pencil, try one with a balanced lead. HB pencils are hard enough to leave a mark but soft enough to be erased.
Only go as far as H2 for lighter marks and B2 for darker marks. Otherwise, you can also use mechanical pencils with a lead diameter .5 millimeters and over or a clutch pencil with a lead diameter 2 millimeters or greater, both of which have soft lead.
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Start using charcoal pencils. Pencils now come made in a wide variety of substances that can give the ambitious different results in drawing. One of these, charcoal, is known for its dark color and popular for its versatility.
Charcoal is good for new artists because it provides the ability to make different types of lines with minimal effort. Charcoal pencils follow the European scale, but the lead is soft. Charcoal pencils range from lead grades H and HB to 6B.
 The pencils can be bought individually and in sets for minimal cost. Besides the traditional black color, you can find sepia tones and white.
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Woodless pencils may cost a bit more, but they generally last longer than the typical wood-encased pencils. Cretacolor woodless pencils are perfect for shading and the graphite in them is water-soluble, allowing you to create soft washes over the page. Creatacolor’s kit also comes with a kneaded eraser and sharpener, giving you all the tools you need in one box.
Keep an appropriate eraser. A part of the drawing process is being able to fix mistakes. With pencils, this means you get more of an opportunity through erasing. Again, different erasers have properties that affect how they behave and the effect they have on the type of pencil you use.
Rubber erasers are the most obvious choice due to their use in school with HB pencils. They come in pink wedges that last long but can tear paper if used too vigorously. Gum erasers are similar to their rubber counterparts, except they are softer, don’t last as long, crumble to pick up graphite, and aren’t as hard on paper.
 Kneaded erasers are essential for charcoal, but also useful for other substances. They are flexible, so they can be shaped in your hands to attack small details. Vinyl erasers are the hardest kind.
At the cost of wear and tear on paper, they combat most substances. Some even come shaped like pencils so you can sharpen them for detail work.
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Prismacolor’s graphite drawing set is a good introductory kit when starting to sketch. It comes with seven graphite drawing pencils of different grades, as well as four woodless graphite pencils. These create beautiful, broad strokes when used on their side, and allow you to experiment with a variety of tools. As an added bonus, the pencil set includes water-soluble graphite pencils, which transform into a wash when brushed with water. All told, the drawing kit is a great way to start sketching seriously.
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Keep in mind that most artists use more than one type of pencil. In fact, many manufacturers sell drawing pencil sets that come with a selection of graphite pencils in different grades. This will allow you to switch between tools depending on the requirements of a particular image.
Buy a mechanical pencil. These pencils do come in a variety of lead grades, but not as many as regular pencils. The reason for this is that the mechanical action can only handle thin, dark lead. The ease of pushing a button to feed lead to the tip makes this a good choice for beginners.
 The pencil keeps one grade of lead at a time, which promotes learning consistency and control with that particular pencil. These are the cheapest pencils available, found in art supply stores or online, along with lead packs to refill them.
They’re durable and come in a variety of designs. Mechanical pencils that use lead with a .5 millimeter diameter are very versatile. Smaller thickness pencils are useful for detailed drawing, and larger thickness is good for rough sketches.
Due to only using one grade of lead, these pencils can leave you with less of a range in shades, making your work appear darker.
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You are welcome to buy a set of graphite pencils that will offer you a wide variety of tools for lines and shading due to lead hardness, but if you want to buy one pencil you can try a mechanical pencil that uses lead of a .
5 millimeter thickness. This kind of pencil is very versatile on its own and is easy for beginners to use.
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Many artists swear by Staedtler’s range of drawing pencils. Their Mars Lumograph is known for its consistency and lack of breakage, making them great for detailed work. They also erase cleanly, meaning you won’t be left with stray smudges on the paper. Staedtler’s standard set provides 6B, 5B, 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, 4H drawing pencils, making it extremely versatile. “I’ve been using Staedtler Lumograph professionally for over 30 years and in that time I’ve found no better,” says artist and art educator Mike Sibley. “I even give them away at my workshops.”
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Buy H-series pencils. H pencils have hard lead due to having more filler than graphite, so they leave light lines that don’t smudge and are easier to erase. These are used for precision work, including delicate details and outlining areas to be filled in later.
For example, a 9H pencil puts down the smallest amount of graphite on paper, so it leaves the lightest mark.
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Japanese manufacturer Tombow is known for their high-density pencils, meaning they sharpen easily and the point stays longer. The Mono pencil is known to run a bit dark and is virtually smudge-proof. The dark lines of the Tombow Mono can almost mimic inks, making it a favorite of artists who focus on linework and tracing.
Try a clutch (lead holder) pencil. These are specialized pencils used by artists and are a combination of regular and mechanical pencils. Compared to regular pencils, they have a larger variety of lead diameters, but also use the lead dispensing system of mechanical pencils.
The most common lead diameter size is 2 mm and can be used for drafting. Thicker lead is used for sketching and thinner lead is used for drafting. Varieties of these pencils are hard to find at art supply shops.
Regular and mechanical pencils are more specialized and popular.
In most creative fields, it’s impossible to get away from one important tool—the pencil. It doesn’t matter if you’re an architect, a professional fine artist, or you’re just learning to draw; a good graphite pencil is an essential part of any artist’s supplies.
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Once you understand the type of lines you can expect from your pencils, it’s easy to mix and match to put together a graphite pencil set that will cover your needs as an artist.
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The HB scale ranges from 9H, a hard pencil that leaves fine, light marks, to 9B, a soft pencil which a high ratio of graphite that leaves bold, dark marks. While every manufacturer gives each pencil a designation on the scale, it’s all relative within a given brand, so remember that a 6H pencil from one manufacturer might give a slightly different stroke than a 6H pencil from another.
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When selecting the perfect graphite pencil, the first thing to take into consideration is your drawing style. Technical drawing and detailed artwork with fine lines will require different pencils than those used for shading and sketching figures. Do you use dark, thick lines in your sketches or prefer lighter, thinner strokes? Understanding your personal artistic style and needs will help you narrow down the selection when searching for a good drawing pencil.
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When learning how a particular type of pencil works, buy just one to try. It’s better not to invest a lot of money in several pencils of a certain type, such as charcoal pencils, until you know that specific brand feels comfortable to use and gives your drawing the effect you desire.
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In the United States, we commonly think of the number 2 pencil, which is standard for schools and test taking. The American number scale for pencils ranges 1 to 4 (including 2.5), but the rest of the world uses a different grading scale. Most manufacturers use the HB scale, where “H” stands for hardness and “B” for blackness. A standard number 2 pencil corresponds to HB on this scale.
Use Conté pencils. Also called Conté crayons, are mixtures of pigments, clay, and graphite. Because they have pigments, they come in a range of earthen colors and are used for sketching or finished art pieces.
These are harder than charcoal, so they can produce finer lines while also being used for shading. Conté pencils are firm, yet waxy. They are similar to pastel sticks except harder and less oily.
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Buy a set of pencils. Getting a whole set is a bit more of an investment, but you’ll have the whole range of leads to use to experiment. This allows you to experience a range of shading and to better accustom yourself to the lead grade scale, should you need to buy individual pencils.
Pencil sets are handy for those who are already serious about drawing, too. In many art supply stores or online shops, a beginning set of pencils can cost little more than a single mechanical pencil.
You’ll need to sharpen and replace these pencils over time, all the while keeping the ones you do have encased, if drawing on the go, due to their fragility. You’ll also need to be mindful of the lead grade of each pencil you pick up, which can be a distraction.
The amount of options and the freedom to experiment can be too much for a beginner, so consider simplifying the process by buying a single, versatile implement such as a .5 mm mechanical pencil.
Test out the pencils. The only way to find a pencil that works for you is to put it in your hand and use it. Art is subjective, so different people find comfort and results in different brands and types of pencils.
Choose a pencil that feels good in your hand, leaves the kind of mark you want, and provides the kind of effect you want. Even though the pencil manufacturers follow the rating scale, they still have their own internal standards on lead quality.
A B5 pencil from one manufacturer may be darker than a B5 from another.
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Faber-Castell is a German brand known for high-quality art supplies, and the Faber-Castell 9000 Graphite Sketch pencils are no exception. The brand makes sets with a variety of grades included or you can purchase single packs of pencils in each grade. Known for their consistency and durability, they sharpen easily and don’t often break. Plus, Faber-Castell’s handy tin makes the pencils highly portable. It’s no wonder they are an artist favorite, no matter the style or skill level.
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Choose an appropriate surface. The chemical makeup of the kind of pencil you choose determines how well it works on different types of paper and board. Your ability to experiment is unlimited, but keep in mind that using a combination is difficult and changes the effects of your drawings.
For colored pencils, for instance, it’s helpful to choose a surface that isn’t too smooth so that the lead sticks evenly. Examples include Stonehenge paper, illustration board, and suede board. Smooth bristol paper or pads can be used for graphite drawings.
Charcoal works with plain paper but can be held and smudged better with newsprint or charcoal paper.
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Learn the pencil rating scale. Pencils are assigned numbers or letters based on their lead, which is a mixture of graphite and a filler such as clay. The graphite creates marks on paper while more filler makes the lead harder, leaving lighter marks due to having less graphite.
 Pencils are graded first on a scale from no number to nine. The greater the number, the more the pencil mark skews towards lightness. Pencils are then graded on a letter scale. H stands for hardness, and B stands for blackness.
 American-made pencils have their own numeric system, more often associated with school than art. A #2 pencil, for instance, is the equivalent of an HB pencil, dark enough to be legible but hard enough to not smear.
 Japanese pencils use the European scale of number followed by H or B, but due to the thin, dark lines required to make the characters in the Japanese language, the pencils leave darker marks than their equivalent European counterparts.
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The Prismacolor Ebony Graphite pencil, which has a 2B grading, is a beautiful choice for rich, velvety lines. Easily blendable and soft, while they won’t create jet black lines—they get close for graphite. You’ll need to sharpen often due to their softness, and many swear by them for shading that is difficult to achieve without using charcoal.
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Give colored pencils a try. Colored pencils are similar to graphite pencils, except they include wax and pigmentation. Their versatility, ease of use, and resistance to smudging makes them popular with animators.
 Artist-grade colored pencils contain more pigment and better resist light and water. Lower-grade colored pencils, in addition to being available and inexpensive in sets, leave behind no mess, so they’re ideal for children.
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