Pencil Hardness

Pencil Hardness

Use Pencil Hardness to Your Advantage

When starting the preliminary drawings for any project it is best to keep the lines light and sketchy. A 2H pencil hardness is ideal for this.


This is one thing I have definitely learned over the years that has greatly impacted my design and the process of which I work. When I was in high school there was a fellow artist’s work that I admired for the skill and and overall style his pieces possessed.


While watching him work one day I noticed he only used two or maybe three different pencils on his pieces: a 2B pencil and an Ebony pencil. These pencils are on the softer side of the spectrum when it comes to pencil hardness.


Tip: Pencil hardness ranges from: 9H-9B with the H end of the spectrum being the harder and the B obviously the softer. For a little reference your standard school pencil is HB.

pencils-sketching-pencil-hardness scale

He did his preliminary sketches using a mechanical pencil with 2B lead. I used this technique for quite a while as I had always heard that ” A 2B pencil is great for any job.” While this is true at some point in the process I have come to realize that the softer leads are best suited for cleaning up and redefining the lighter sketchy lines that need to be bolded


The softer leads, like 2B, are darker and while they are soft they don’t erase well if you put any amount of pressure on the paper. At the same time the harder pencil leads can leave indents in your paper which will spoil any other lines should you want to erase them later.


Boy outline ink drawing color clownMy “Rules” to get the most out of the different pencils


Do all preliminary and rough sketches with a 2H lead or lighter using light pressure(they go all the way to 9H although you may not see too many around this hardness
After you have sketched everything out and settled on a final composition , Go over your sketch redefining the really sketchy areas and give them an even bolder line using your softer leads.


Tip:Once I get all my proportions right and are happy with the composition using a 2H lead I go over the lines with a 2B pencil. If after that I still want more contrast I’ll go with an even softer lead like a 7B.


That’s really it. It’s not rocket science! The pencil hardness directly effects how your picture will look and can even add some depth should you choose to keep the lighter lines after outlining with your softer lead. If nothing else it will help keep your composition and paper free from lines that won’t fully erase because of the soft lead that has been ingrained into the paper too early. Always work from light to dark when planning your compositions and doing preliminary sketches.


If you plan to outline your sketches using pens, the softer leads will not allow the ink to flow as freely as if you used a harder lead and may even gunk up the pen with graphite rendering it useless!


Don’t Risk It!


As for my high school friend his work did look great, however he did take big risks using ebony and 2B pencils for his planning. If you’re not very skilled yet or even if you are its still more sensible to use a lighter/harder lead for sketching.


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