If you’ve ever gone shopping for pencils you’ve likely noticed that each has a different grade; 2B, HB, 4H, etc..
These are what are known as the ‘Degrees of Hardness’ of the graphite which affect the darkness, line, feel and thus the general application of the lead.
The softest degrees are those in the B range, which stands for ‘Black’. These often produce darkest and thickest lines and are generally considered to be suitable for artistic drawing, though the harder degrees in this range may also be good for general writing.
The range of B pencils begins at 9B, which is the softest, up to B. Then there is also HB (Hard Black), which is one degree harder than B and then F (Firm), which is again a degree harder.
These grades don’t have numbers and are right in the middle of the overall hardness scale. Generally, graphite grades around the middle are considered ideal for writing as they can produce fairly sharp lines while also being relatively dark.
Finally that brings us to the H range (Hard), which starts at H and goes up to 9H which is typically the hardest graphite degree. The hardest graphites are good for technical drawing as they easily produce a fine, sharp and light line. So that’s the basic rundown of pencil lead hardness. But beyond the pencil hardness, the quality and formulation of the graphite can also alter how the pencil feels to use.
For example, the Staedtler Mars Lumograph drawing pencil is often considered to feel smoother and have more flexible line weight when compared to the iconic Staedtler Tradition of the same hardness, which is intended for general writing.
As to what you should use? It depends on what you're needing it for. Of course, it’s always worth trying a few pencils out to find the best for your own purpose, but generally speaking if you're doing writing - go for the H range, if you're drawing it'll be harder to choose but start with a 2B and go from there.
You can always ask our friendly team for help if you need it ◡̈
Written by Luke Consani, resident pen/pencil enthusiast.