Pencil Grades: Which Should You Chose?


People have used graphite to express their creativity and bring ideas to life for many centuries. The more graphite content relative to clay in the lead, the softer and darker the lead will be. Grading the lead is therefore important for writers as well as artists.

Grading lead hardness can be done through systems – European and American. The European system makes use of a combination of numbers and letters. For example, if the grade includes the letter ‘B’, it means that the lead is softer or has a greater amount of graphite content. The higher up the corresponding number, the softer the lead and darker the marks produced by the lead will be. Similarly, when the letter ‘H’ is present, it means that there is a higher clay content in the lead, but
the H leads become lighter as the corresponding number goes higher up the scale.

The European grading system is more comprehensive than the American system, so we will be referencing it for the remainder of the article.

Let us begin to understand what each grade means. This will help you chose the best possible option for your next art project.

1. H Grades:

H leads give cleaner lines and are also smudge resistant, making them perfect for outlining, technical drawings, painting with watercolours after the sketch and light sketches.

The only flip side is that as you move up the scale, the harder the leads will get and they tend to be scratchy. So make sure you practice and experiment before you begin on your actual art project.

2. HB:

The HB grade lies in the middle of the spectrum. HB is dark enough to be read clearly with minimal smudging and is therefore used mostly for writing.

3. B Grade:

B grades smudge easily, are smooth to write and draw with. But they are easily erasable. As you go higher up the scale with these pencils, artists can take advantage of the brush- like expressions that can result while using this grade of pencils. Animators in particular love using 10B on the animator paper as it writes so smoothly – like butter, creating quick, heavy lines without friction.

4. F Grade:

The F grade also lies in the middle of the spectrum. The letter ‘F’ stands for ‘fine’. The lead with ‘F’ grade contains a limited amount of graphite and more amount of clay. It has a hard lead but gives a lighter shade when used.

Explore your options of pencils and experiment with lines and such with all grades of pencils so that you have an idea of what your final sketch will look like. So make your pick and enjoy creating!

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