Understanding the degree of hardness of pencils

Graphite pencils have 16 degrees of hardness. This is confusing for drawing beginners. Which pencil is right for me?

What the abbreviations on the pencils mean

The degree of hardness of a pencil is printed on the pencil. The degrees of hardness of pencils are roughly divided into four groups:

  • B stands for "black". These pencils are soft.
  • H stands for "hard".
  • HB stands for "hard black", which means "medium hard".
  • F stands for "firm".

Sometimes the alphabetic characters are preceded by numbers. They make an even more precise statement about the degree of hardness or colour intensity of the pencil. The higher the number, the harder, softer or blacker the pencil is.

By the way: Lead has never been contained in graphite pencils. They consist of a mixture of clay and graphite.

Writing and drawing with graphite pencils

The hardness grades B, HB and F are the most relaxed. The soft B pencils are ideal for children who are just learning to write. With soft and especially thick graphite pencils beginners can write very easily. Anyone with more experience in writing and drawing will usually choose a pencil with the medium degree of hardness HB; some feel most comfortable with the degree of hardness F.

People who want to express themselves artistically use soft pencils of hardness grades 2B to 8B. You can make expressive drawings with them, which are very rich in contrast.

Hard pencils are good for technical drawing. They are excellent with hardness grades H, 2H to 6H. Because they do not lubricate, you can work with them very accurately. Their lines are more grey than black. Do not impress them on too much, otherwise the pen will dig pressure marks into the paper.