A Question About Pencils

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A Question About Pencils

Post by Harry » Sat Feb 16, 2019 12:11 am

Hi. I am fairly new to sketching in pencil but I have done a bit in ink.
I am just bewildered by the number of pencil types, brands and price range. I finally settled on a 32 piece kit from eBay. Having got it I realize that most of the products I will probably never use. But we live and learn.

Anyway, my question regarding graphite pencils is this: No, I have 2 questions.

1. Is there any really difference in the quality of one pencil brand over another? It seems to me that both the cheap brands and the premium brands do the same thing; make a grey mark on the paper. What do I get if I pay the extra?

2. This is really question 3, oh well. What is a carbon pencil? I wanted a refill for my 2mm clutch pencil and the refills are all carbon, not graphite. I don't understand this.

thanks in advance to anyone who can help me out with these queries.


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Re: A Question About Pencils

Post by mdmattin » Sat Feb 16, 2019 12:59 am

Hi Harry,
Welcome to the Sketching Forum!

About pencils - there are differences in quality for different brands and price ranges. However, you can certainly make a great drawing with an ordinary office type pencil. The differences will become more apparent as you develop your skills and your own style. I find that there are certain pencils that work really well for specific kinds of work that I do, and I am happy to pay a premium for a fine tool.

There are other pencils that I hate, but someone else might love. Your 32 piece kit offers a good opportunity to sample different kinds and get a feel for which pencils work for which sorts of tasks.

Carbon pencils usually use charcoal instead of, or combined with, graphite, and make a blacker, less shiny line. They may be powdery, like natural charcoal, or contain a binder to reduce smudging and allow it to hold a point better. One of my favorite pencils is the Cretacolor Nero #1 extra soft, which seem to be made of charcoal and an oil-based binder, and can produce a line anywhere from spiderweb thin and light gray to bold and inky black. Not the cheapest pencil, but like I say, a fine tool.

There are graphite refills for 2mm clutch pencils - I just found a set of Koh-i-noor 4190 online, from various vendors and hardnesses.

I hope to see your sketches soon!

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Andre Jute
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Re: A Question About Pencils

Post by Andre Jute » Sat Feb 16, 2019 1:54 am

Better pencils make a darker mark and are smoother to write with, break less frequently, erase more cleanly, etc. But some of the finest draughtsmen the world has ever seen worked with only a 2B cheap office/school type pencil.

On the other hand, your kit will allow you to explore various kinds of pencils, and in the end refine your toolkit down to many fewer than 30-odd pencils, probably only a handful, at which time you can buy the best quality of only a few types of pencils from open stock ("open stock" is the racks from which art stores sell single pencils rather than sets of pencils). The point about the Nero pencil Matthew mentioned, for instance, is that it is available in five grades of hardness, and that just about nothing else makes a blacker mark than the extra-soft version. Cretacolor, its maker, also offers, almost uniquely, several other oil pencil equivalents of the normal sketching pencils: sanguine, charcoal (that's the Nero), sepia, white chalk, and so on. The best brand for the smudgier normal (non-oil) type of sketching pencil is Conte a Paris.

For 2mm graphite leads, in the first instance, look up Koh-i-Noor: they invented the pencil; also try Cretacolor and Gioconda (the brand name under which KiN sells 5.6mm leads and other types too. On attractive side issue you ill come across is the KiH and Cretacolor all-graphite pencil which is a thick stick of graphite with no wood, only a thin layer of varnish to keep your fingers clean.

Welcome to the forum. I look forward to your art.
Andre Jute

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Re: A Question About Pencils

Post by Classic » Sun Apr 07, 2019 3:41 pm

To add my own experience, cheap pencils aren't always bad.

Quality pencils are homogeneous, made from better wood. Their lead is better centered and this helps to trim them with less danger to break the lead. I find sometimes very cheap pencils with their lead very badly centered. Their wood is usually very bad too. I avoid them.

Pencil leads are made from a mixture of graphite and clay. The proportions of these two components make the grade of the lead (harder pencils contain more clay). Sometimes, you can find that very cheap pencils aren't homogeneous, you can find small hard grains like sand grains. Good pencils (not always expensive) are usually very homogeneous. Grades are always the same, year after year (there was once a lot of Faber Castell pencils that were wrongly marked, however this is very rare to happen).

I know well the pencils of the series 9000 by Faber Castell (dark green vernish). My father, architect, used them for decades. This 9000 series are technical/professional grade pencils. Even their cheaper office pencils are good, I think. I'm confident to Staedtler and Koh-I-Noor too. In the past I did use Conté office and technical drawing pencils and liked them. I know they produce fine art pencils too. Cretacolor is a very interesting brand, with many "special" types of pencils, other than the classic graphite pencils. Anyway, for the basic drawing and sketch study you can use legacy graphite pencils or 2mm leads (I used a 2mm lead holder in drawing school). Their 5.6mm leads are very interesting too, although harder to find.

Another thing: I did a few comparisons with HB and B pencils from Faber Castell, Staedtler and Koh-I-Noor, and I think that Faber Castell pencils are 1/2 to 1 grade harder than the other brands.

The thin leads (0.3, 0.5 and 0.7mm) are more and more used. I guess their leads contain synthetic materials. Cheap brands are usually too smooth. For hard leads (H, 2H, 3H etc) you have to look in the more expensive brands.

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Re: A Question About Pencils

Post by gunterkoenigsmann » Mon Apr 08, 2019 11:18 am

Things drawn using very soft pencils from Koh-I-Noor used to look black instead of graphitr-like and shiny. Also the size of the graphite-flakes can change between pencils. ...and sometimes the graphite is poorly centered and/or thin with some pencil brands. Faber-Castell makes some expensive pencils out of pear wood that is harder than the ordinary wood used for pencils and you can feel a difference - even if it in my case rarely does compensate for the extra cost. And some graphite pencil cores are really inhomogenous containing too big pieces of clay. Having said that: Extremely cheap pencils don't really need to be worse than expensive ones and in a "how do I draw my own superhero" book I have once read that there is no bad or good pen, pencil or similar, just one that matches your current task better or less.
Do it. Now.

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Re: A Question About Pencils

Post by sketchjo » Tue Jan 28, 2020 11:10 am

I used this article when i was choosing my pencils. I ended up buying the Tombow ones which i was really pleased with https://9mousai.com/best-graphite-pencils/

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