If you want to regularly use your sketchbook, knowing what type of pencil is best for sketches can make a huge difference in both comfort and productivity. Using the right tools for the job, so to speak, means you’ll be able to learn and refine your drawing technique much quicker. It is also much more fun to sketch with the right kind of pencil instead of getting annoyed because the pencil you choose is not up for the job!
Clutch pencils, wooden pencils, mechanical pencils or graphite sticks, the variety of sketching pencils types makes choosing the best type of pencil for sketches not so straightforward as it seems. It will depend on your drawing style, the kind of results you want to accomplish and most importantly your personal preferences. So keep reading to know the answer to “what type of pencil is best for sketches” once and for all.
Choosing The Best Pencil Type For Sketching
Personal style and preference and the type of artwork you want to produce are key factors when choosing a sketching pen. However, there are quite a few objective factors you should look at before hitting the buy button.
Black and White, or Color?
Some pencil types only come in a single color, usually black or charcoal. Others come in all the colors of the rainbow. If you want to create monochrome art, a sketching pen make of graphite and clay will be your best option. Colored pencils are made of pigment and wax, and you can even use watercolor pencils to create mixed art watercolor sketches.
Composition Of Pencils For Sketching
If you are going the graphite pen route, the next thing to look at is the composition of the pencil. Pencils are made of clay and graphite, and the amount of clay determines the hardness of the pencil. A soft pen, with a lot of graphite and less clay, will give you a heavier stroke and softer lines, and will be easier to smudge.
A harder pen, on the other hand, will have a higher amount of clay. This will give you a lighter stroke that will drag more on the paper. Harder pencils need to be used more carefully, as the tip will break if too much pressure is applied. But on the other hand you will get cleaner, sharper strokes. And this leads neatly into…
Most artists will have a variety of pencils on different hardness grading to achieve different effects. The HB scale (stands for hardness/blackness scale) defines how hard a pencil is. A 9H (9 hard) pencil is the hardest, and will be used for light and incredibly fine lines, as it will barely draw on the paper. A 9B (9 Black) will be the opposite, with the highest level of graphite and will be used to create thick, dark lines that can be smudged. Color pencils use a different scale, but also come in different levels of softness or hardness. Watercolor pencils for example are much softer in general than regular color pencils.
In the United States the grading scale for pencils goes from one to four, you may remember when at school you were asked to use a number two pencil. This is a medium hardness pencil, useful for most types of drawing and more comfortable for a young artist than something too hard or too soft and smudge prone.
Types Of Pencils For Sketching
Once you have decided on whether you want to do monochrome sketching or full on color sketching and what grading you need, the next step is to choose the right type of pencil for you. There are many types of pencils, and knowing what type of pencil is best for sketches is like choosing the best tool from a drawer smack full of them.
Those are the most common sketching pencils, and most people are familiar with them since they were children. They are rated between 9B and 9H, and need to be sharpened in order to achieve a sharp tip. The softer the pencil, the more often you will need to sharpen it. Most people keep a collection of different wooden pencils with different grading, from very soft to medium-hard, for all types of sketching work. Overall, if you are wondering what type of pencil is best for sketches you can’t go wrong with wooden pencils, as they work for mostly anything.
If you like sketching with really fine, detailed lines, a mechanical pencil is a great choice. They are a mechanical stick which holds a graphite lead that needs to be replaced regularly as it’s used. They are perfect for very detailed work, as the graphite leads can be as thin as 0.3mm, and have a variety of hardness levels. However, they are not practical for larger sketches.
Clutch/Lead Holder Pencils
A lead holder pencil has graphite sticks in a variety of sizes, usually starting at around 2mm. Like with mechanical pencils, as you push the plunger on the back of the pencil the graphite stick makes its way to the pencil tip. They don’t need sharpening and you can change the graphite size and type, which makes them very convenient and long-lasting. With this sort of sketching pencil you’ll never find yourself having to sketch with a really short pencil, and your technique won’t be affected.
They can’t be sharpened for a really thin stroke (mechanical pencils are better for this) but you can chisel the point if you want a thicker, flatter stroke.
If you have a large sketchbook and are looking for thick, bold lines, large amounts of coverage and dark sketches, graphite sticks are the way to go. You can create different thickness lines depending on the pressure you apply and they can be found on a variety of hardness levels. Probably the best type of pencil for sketches that involve shadowing work.
Easier to handle than graphite sticks, charcoal pencils are similar to wooden pencils but much softer and deeply black. They come in light, medium and dark grades for different effects. If you are looking for a traditional charcoal feel for quick sketches, but don’t like the mess that graphite sticks can cause, you’ll love charcoal pencils. Often considered the best type of pencil for life studies and on-the-go sketches.
We have spoken at length about watercolor pencils before, but they are worth a mention. They behave similarly to regular colored pencils when dry, but you can also mix them with water to achieve either a watercolor effect, or a much more vibrant and intense color.
What Type Of Pencil Is Best For Sketches Then?
Overall, the best type of pencil for sketches will depend a lot on your personal preference. However, you can start here as a guideline:
- Wooden lead pencils are good all rounders, easy to use and very affordable
- Graphite sticks and charcoal pencils are great for traditional sketching techniques and shadowing work
- Clutch and mechanical pencils suit highly detailed work, such as miniatures
- Watercolor pencils are great for mixed media artwork, and detail work on color sketches
Most artists will use different tools depending on the style of sketch they are looking to create, so don’t feel limited and experiment until you find what works for you. Mixing different types of pencils can also give you great results, so don’t be afraid to try. Just make sure you choose a suitable sketchbook that can support your pencil choice and artwork style.