I am curious what people would consider a basic / standard pencil type to have in their toolbox for pencil sketching.

There are a ton of variants I see with different hardness/softness etc and I don't plan to do anything advanced just want to sketch things out but I feel like while a regular pencil is just fine maybe there is a common type that may be more appropriate to learn with.

If your answer is 'use a regular pencil until you feel it's holding you back' that's fine too, just looking for a little guidance.

Trying to understand how to see things differently (mainly perspective) as coming from a technical and CAD background everything I try to sketch comes out reflecting that.

Edit: If it makes a difference I am used to drawing lines firmly on paper. So based on my understanding a harder pencil may be more appropriate? Or maybe a softer one to teach myself to not try and stab the paper?

  • There are people with better drawing experience that should answer but you are just looking for something to start with? A standard HB2 should give you an idea of what you need to be doing to start. When you start doing things like blending and shading you might consider adding more pencils to the repertoire.
    – Matt
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 13:47
  • Yea just to start with. I'm more interested in outlining then blending/shading so maybe I'll be good with regular old pencils.
    – Kozbot
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 16:51
  • You may prefer outlining (contour drawing) but as an exercise take a soft pencil (2B or softer) and a kneaded eraser (the stretchy grey rubber ones) and try drawing only using tones, no lines. Don't worry about details or edges, just try to capture the shapes of light and dark. It may help to expand your technique.
    – rebusB
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 0:59

7 Answers 7


I am not an expert but here is what I gathered from my experience.

Pencil have different hardness rated as follow:

Harder (very light strokes) 7H -> ... -> 2H -> HB -> 2B -> ... -> 7B Softer (dark strokes)

  • Start with a 2B or HB to "draw" (contour, shape, ...)
  • Then add a 4B or 6B for your first shadings (I would go with 6B to widen the range of shade you can achieve). Do the lighter tones with your "first" pencil and the darker with this new one.
  • If you want "real black" instead of the grey provided by graphite pencil you can add a charcoal pencil.
  • completed with 3B, 4B, 5B etc. depending where you think there is a value (grey level) you can't achieve with what you have.
  • I like this multi-step answer. I am also partial to the 2B. It is probably the pencil type I have purchased and used the most. All of mine are little stumps right now. I also fine that the softer pencils (in the B range) are easier to erase than harder ones if you make a mistake, so they are great for getting started!
    – EmRoBeau
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 13:05

A must have in my toolbox is 2B, as you may tend for more "tech" way of drawing i would add an HB to that. In addition to that i'm carrying a one softer pencil 4B-5B. To summerize - my toolbox = HB, 2B, 4B/5B. To feel shadows i usually use 8B allthough i never carry them with me because the graphite inside easly "break" and they are very annoying to use afterwards ;-)


I recommend getting a small range of hardnesses, specifically:

  • 4B
  • 2B
  • HB/#2
  • 2H
  • 4H

Make sure they're all the same brand, so that you have consistency of scale.

I recommend a range, but this small one, because it's important to introduce yourself to the effect of hardness on the mark a pencil makes. Harder graphite (higher H) makes lighter marks, and the lead doesn't smudge as easily. Softer graphite (higher B for black) makes darker marks that can smudge more easily.

If you're used to drawing firmly, like I am, you might be inclined to use the 4H pencils, because it will help keep your marks lighter despite your heavy hand. However, the harder lead also means that if you press harder you're going to leave impressions in the paper that can't erase. Essentially lines of compression, almost like scratches.

The B range are harder to erase completely, but they don't usually gouge your paper, even if you draw more firmly.

The HB/#2 pencil is probably what you, or most beginners, are familiar with using, as it's the standard technical/academic/office pencil. Padding it out with a couple pencil on either side of the scale gives you a taste of what the hardness levels can do, and lets you experiment without investing money in the entire range.


For a beginner, I would recommend a generic, cheap mechanical pencil, like a Bic brand mechanical pencil. They produce a reliable and mostly consistent line without need of sharpening. Because the line is usually the same, it is easier for the beginner to practice replicating a mark they like over and over again. The stability of the tool makes it easier to practice your mark, focusing on the skill, rather than the medium. Mechanical pencil leads are often quite soft, making it much easier to make and remove fine marks without careful and frequent sharpening. Mechanical pencils do not require sharpening, and so do not regularly interrupt the drawing process. Mechanical pencil leads are fragile, and helps to teach gentleness of hand, encouraging the beginner to learn how to position the pencil such to put force into a line without damaging the tool. With practice in a mechanical pencil, it is easy to adapt one's hand to all other varieties of more variable dry drawing media, such as standard pencils, wax pencils, watercolor pencils, bricks, sticks, lead holders, charcoal, chalk, and many others. Skill with a mechanical pencil remains useful long into experienced work, both as a tool for finished work, and more importantly as a tool for impromptu sketching and planning. Finally, mechanical pencils are cheap, widely available, easily maintained, portable, and a single one could last you a lifetime if you never lose it.

  • 1
    I disagree that the line is always the same. Because of the thin lead of .5/.7 mm mechanical pencils, the tips can become very angled, very quickly. This makes the lines vary quite a bit if you rotate the pencil at all. You can actually use this to your advantage, using some scrap paper to intentionally wear the point and quick make a sharp point to make either fine details or wider lines, depending on how you hold the pencil, or flatten it to get a more consistent line once it's become too sharp.
    – user24
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 2:26
  • 1
    That said, I do love mechanical pencils and I've used them more than anything else when sketching, because of their convenience.
    – user24
    Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 2:30

I'll share my experience and opinions. When I was a beginner, I didn't know much about paper types and pencil grades. I would use a normal pencil that I would use in school. It was probably or HB. And I used a thin paper. I didn't know about paper weight (GSM) thing.

But when I made a few drawings, I did better than I had imagined, but in a few days I started noticing problems.

First, the paper was getting distorted (you could notice by checking the back side of paper), because I used too much pressure to create darker shades. And then I had experience of getting irritated because drawing hairs in portraits seemed boring. It would look more time consuming to me, then it actually should take, because with a hard and lighter pencil, it's not easily possible to create the look and feel you want, especially the darker areas. You have to do some hard work. At that moment, I would often ask myself it it's really boring?

Further, I faced the problem of blending/blur. I couldn't easily do it because the pencil was hard and there wasn't enough graphite to smudge or get blur effect. Again, this would sometimes overwhelm me.

And if by mistake I would apply too much pressure to create darker lines, and later I would realize I need to erase it as it's gone wrong, I wasn't so easy to erase it with my non expensive eraser.

So if I have to give an advice to beginners now, I'd tell you following things:

  1. Go for a softer (darker) pencil. Anything between B and 5B should be fine. You can easily create lighter and darker shades. Further you won't need that much pressure. When you're beginner, you don't want to apply too much pressure. If you feel you also need a separate pencil for outlines or rough lines, you can buy maybe H or HB.
  2. A softer (dark) pencil is a bit easy to blend (especially when you apply the graphite gently and then smudge it)
  3. Not always, but sometimes, when you start working with a less than suitable tool for something for which you have a little more expectations and capabilities, you might feel you're doing bad work. But that's not always true. It's a really good thing to see and experience basic things on your own, but sometimes, a little guidance can help you stay positive.

Note that HB isn't a bad pencil or less than any other pencil. Like every other, it has its own value. Once you're experienced, you can even create good sketches with HB too.


There are numerous type of pencils , for the lighter shadingn 2B, for little darker, 4B, at last 6B when you want put black effect.

  • Welcome to AC.SE. So you are suggesting the OP acquire multiple pencils to get started then?
    – Matt
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 13:49

I use a flat carpenters pencil. They are HB and are thin one way and thick the other way. They are cheap, won't break in your pocket, and can be easily sharpened with a reasonably sharp pen knife.

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