With so many different types of pencils available, it can be hard to know which one to pick for your drawings. 2B? 6B? H? What the heck? Choosing a pencil can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to.
2b pencils are good for drawing your initial sketches because they are hard enough to create crisp lines that are easy to erase, yet soft enough to create lines that are dark enough to be seen. Any pencils within the 2H to 4B range can be great choices that are just the right hardness for sketches.
Drawing pencils range from hardest to softest. The harder the lead, the lighter it will appear on your paper. The softer the lead, the darker it will appear on your page.
As far as numbers and letters go, drawing pencils range from 9H at the hardest and lightest to 9B at the softest and darkest. At either end of the spectrum, you’re going to find extremely hard or extremely soft pencils.
Personally, I don’t tend to use the extremes very often.
When choosing a hard drawing pencil, I don’t usually go above 5H. Even 5H is too light for my taste.
When choosing a soft drawing pencil, I don’t usually go above 8B. Yes, 8B is only one away from the extreme of 9B, but I don’t tend to use my 8B for typical drawing anyways. I almost exclusively use my 8B for dark shading, which I do a LOT of.
So, when choosing a drawing pencil, I typically stay within the range of 5H and 6B.
I find these pencils to be in the sweet spot of hard and soft, though you can tell by the picture that I have a special fondness for 6B pencils.
Yep, even though it’s more on the softer side, I just love the texture of 6B pencils. Also, I can be a lazy artist at times and forget to switch my pencils when I should. I like using my 6B as a universal, all around drawing pencil because of its ability to make clean lines, while also being good for shading.
Let’s put aside my love for the 6B pencil for now and talk about why the 2B is also a good choice.
The 2B pencil is almost smack dab in the middle of the pencil hardness scale, while leaning a tad more on the softness side.
If you’re like me and tend to find H pencils to be a bit too hard, the 2B pencil is a great pencil to settle on. The lines are dark enough to be easily seen without pushing too hard on your paper. Yet, the lead is hard enough that lines are crisp, clean, and precise.
Looking at the example again, you’ll see that the 2B falls into the Goldilocks position of not being too hard or too soft. Even going one step over to 4B leaves you with more grainy lines, which is typical of softer pencils.
If you’re now on the 2B pencil train and want a high quality option, definitely check out the Faber-Castell line. I LOVE Faber-Castell pencils. They’re high quality without being too expensive and are just so nice to use.
A lot of their products are vegan too, which is always a great perk.
When to Choose H Pencils Over B Pencils
Despite my love of B pencils, there are times when I delve into the H pencils. There are also artists who love their H pencils with the same fervor that I love my 6B. Pencil love is a unique and beautiful thing.
Personally, I use my H pencils when I need to sketch very lightly.
Maybe I’m creating a sketch for a watercolor painting and I don’t want to leave any pencil marks behind after erasing them.
Or, maybe I’m creating a sketch that I’m uncertain about and want to experiment with a little more before making darker, more permanent lines on my paper.
Something that I’m extremely careful about when using my H pencils is to embrace their lightness and avoid the temptation of pushing harder to get darker pencil lines. If you need darker lines than an H pencil will give you, switch to a B pencil.
If you push too hard with an H pencil, it could possibly leave indentations in your paper. Not good. The whole point of using a light pencil that doesn’t leave permanent marks on your paper has been negated if indentations are left behind.
Personally, I struggle to draw lightly with my H pencils. I don’t know what it is, but it’s one of my drawing weaknesses.
If you have the self-control that I don’t have though, an H pencil can be a great choice for really light sketches that are easier to erase and cover up than B pencils.
Practice and Choose the Pencil That’s Right for You
At the end of the day, every new art tool you use will take some patience and practice to get used to. Once you get familiar with your drawing pencils, you may find that certain pencils work best for you for certain reasons. That’s great! Embrace that!
I love to use my 6B for everything. Is that great for every artist? Heck no! It’s what works for me though.
Take some time to experiment with all different types of drawing pencils. As you do so, take note of which pencils you feel the most comfortable with for various purposes.
Similar to how I fell in love with the 6B pencil, you may fall in love with a different pencil! Or, you may develop a taste for a wider range of pencils.
At the end of the day, guidelines about which pencils to use are only guidelines. Use those guidelines as a starting point and start playing around with pencils in the 2H to 4B range. Then, make your own decisions about your preferences for your drawing pencils based on your needs and your art.
And, most importantly, have fun drawing!
Diana has been an artist for over 26 years and has training in drawing, painting, digital drawing and graphic design. Diana’s latest obsession is digitally drawing with Procreate and creating t-shirt designs with Canva. Diana has experience selling her art across a number of platforms and loves helping other artists learn how to make money from their art as well.