My two favorite mediums are charcoal and graphite, and am asking for some pros and cons between the two. I was thinking like a Venn Diagram type of pros and cons.

Here are some examples:

Charcoal Pros:

  • easily blendable.
  • can go very dark.

Charcoal Cons:

  • It blends very well, but also smears.

2 Answers 2


A short quote from this site:

Choosing Between Graphite and Charcoal

Charcoal and Graphite both bring different properties to your work. Beginners may find it useful to weigh up the pros and cons of using both drawing materials, before settling on one to start with.



  • Much easier to create broad, expressive marks, so may be more suitable for beginners working on a large scale.
  • It’s matt finish makes it much easier to layer and create the darkest blacks without any reflectivity.
  • Because it is less precise it encourages spontaneity, which makes it easier to build up drawings quickly.
  • Great for capturing quick composition ideas, or for use in Life Drawing classes when you need to be able to record things quickly.


  • It is much messier than Graphite to work with. Even if you use Charcoal pencils you will still find that they generate more dust than graphite.
  • Can be more difficult to transport charcoal as it is more fragile and messy.
  • It’s easy to disturb the dust charcoal generates and accidentally smudge or dirty your work. More fixative is required to protect your final work.



  • Graphite Pencils are perhaps the first drawing tools you’ll be introduced to as a beginner. They’re simple and easy to use, and most people are familiar with them outside an art setting.
  • Graphite isn’t as messy as charcoal, so it is less likely to smudge and much easier to protect (requiring very little, if any, fixative). This makes it more simple to work with for new artists.
  • Graphite is more durable and easier to transport than Charcoal, so would be easy to take out on drawing trips and classes.
  • If you’re working on a small scale then the precision tip of a pencil is more suitable for rendering small details.


  • Artists working on large scale drawings might find traditional pencils too small – it takes longer to cover an area with a pencil than it does a charcoal stick. For example, if you’re attending life drawing classes, you might find the precise nib of a pencil too restrictive.
  • If you’re building up layers of graphite they can quickly become reflective and shiny which can be unsightly in your finished piece.
  • The reflective surface can also be problematic when you come to photograph your work.
  • 1
    For clarification, the list refers to durability and ease of transport. Does that refer to the sticks of media or the drawing?
    – fixer1234
    Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 17:31

In my experience, the biggest difference between the two is controllability.


    With charcoal it is easy to set up a tonal sketch. Depending on the quality and type of paper, it can be manipulated easily, through smudging and erasing. Smudging is the only way to really achieve smooth tonal gradations. It is a quick medium, especially handy for approximating lines and broad gestures, and therefore ideal for model drawing, as contours and surfaces tend to change slightly during sessions, and quick blocking in of the composition and lighting is preferable over a detailed description.
    Charcoal also is much more inert than graphite, and can be mixed with oils and other paints without having to worry about it changing their properties (excepting, of course, the slight darkening and muddying of hue). That's why it's more often used as underdrawing for paintings.


    Graphite (in the form of a pencil), on the other hand, is great for precision. The harder material lends itself much better to being sharpened and maintaining that sharpness. Depending on the paper, precision and erasability can be better or worse, but will usually beat those of charcoal. Pencils can be used more easily with tools like rulers and compasses. Graphite also comes in a variety of tones, that can be used to achieve a broad tonal range in addition to hatching, which requires control and sharpness.

    Graphite also comes in blocks and even in powder. With the blocks some of the precision is sacrificed for increased coverage. I honestly haven't found a proper use for these over pencils or charcoal yet.
    Graphite powder has very specific uses, that I don't think are necessary to get into here (charcoal can also easily be ground to powder, so that specific form is not exclusive to graphite).

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