Artists' Pencils & Charcoal

An Overview of Pencil Grading Scales

Colored pencils and charcoal can give you plenty of expressiveness while also allowing you to create precise details and a wide range of colors. There are a number of different options for these artistic tools, including hardness and brand. To find the right instruments for your craft, check out this helpful guide.

The types of pencils

Harder pencils provide lighter and thinner lines while softer pencils give you darker, thicker lines. Harder pencils are more smudge-resistant while you can blend softer ones with a finger or tortillon. From hardest to softest, the pencil grading scale goes:

  • 9H
  • 8H through 2H
  • H
  • F
  • HB
  • B
  • 2B through 8B
  • 9B
What are some of the most popular artists' pencils and charcoal brands?

When you buy artist-quality pencils and charcoals, there are several reputable brands to pick from, including:

  • Prismacolor: These are known for their massive color range and high quality. You can sharpen them down to a nub without breakage.
  • Derwent: This brand's colored pencils are very buildable and blendable.
  • Faber-Castell:This affordable brand provides basics that are great for experimentation.
  • Caran D'Ache: These high-end pencils are worth the price due to their specially formulated graphite. They are immensely versatile and responsive.
  • Staedtler: Staedtler provides sets with a complete range of hardness levels, which is very helpful when you are just starting to build your supply.
How many tools do you really need?

This will depend entirely on your own artistic style. Some people can create beautiful art with nothing more than a single 2B graphite pencil while others find that a 150-count box of colored pencils inspires their creativity. However, there are a few basic tools that almost any artist, from the beginner to the professional, will find useful.

Artists should have graphite pencils of varying hardness, black and white charcoal, and a colored sketch pencil set. The exact number of colors you need depends on your style. Some can get a full range of colors by blending with a basic 12-color set while other artists might want a big sketch pencil set with all shades of primary, dark, and pastel pencils and some sparkly metallic pencils.

This sets you up for a variety of tasks, including sketching an underlayer before painting, crafting quick charcoal portraits, and creating full-scale artistic masterpieces. It can also be helpful to grab charcoal erasers, pencil sharpeners, and other accompanying accessories.