From what I've read, carbon pencils give a more matte-like texture than graphite, and are a drier media - similar to charcoal. Graphite can become reflective when photographed and scanned so I'm surprised that carbon pencils aren't more popular.

  • Do carbon pencils need to be blended differently for a smooth gradation of tone (like willow charcoal does), or is it more similar to graphite shading?

  • Are carbon pencils messy, or can a precise line be achieved with it?

  • Are there any disadvantages to drawing with Carbon instead of Graphite?

If it's not too much trouble, imagery for comparison is very welcome!

2 Answers 2


I find that Carbon Pencils tend to dry out and break easily while I work. If I use carbon, I try buy one which is oil based; they tend to have strong tonal values without the shininess of graphite. You can make a very sharp line with a neatly sharpened pencil. I sometimes wet it with some linseed oil, or saliva, if it looks a bit dry.

Graphite is used as a lubricant in some industrial processes. So it applies more smoothly but I find the shine is annoying at times. You should consider the grade of your graphite as well. The ratio of graphite mixed with clay will affect the shininess in some pencil brands. The Staedtler Black Red 7B is an example that doesn't have a shiny gloss compared to other brands.


Carbon pencils are made of clay and lamp black (sometimes mixed with graphite or charcoal, according to Wikipedia).

Their darks are indeed much deeper and more matte, and they blend and smudge well. However, they are hard to erase. I think this is why they aren't as popular a medium as the more lenient graphite and charcoal.

Below is a quick test I made to show some of the similarities and differences between the three mentioned pencil types:

enter image description here

(From top to bottom: 2B carbon pencil, 2H carbon pencil, 2B graphite pencil, willow charcoal.
From left to right: tortillon smudge, finger smudge, kneaded eraser.
Used paper: Daler Rowney Drawing Paper, 160g/m2.
Click image for larger version.)

As you can see, it's mostly the erased part that differs dramatically: the carbon has only slightly faded, whereas the graphite and charcoal are a lot lighter. This is the major drawback of using carbon.

Precise lines can be achieved with carbon pencils.
You might have to sharpen the carbon pencils a little more often than regular graphite pencils to maintain a similar precision, but it's not that different.

  • 1
    One other difference, unless that's just an artifact of how you applied them: charcoal looks like it has denser, more complete coverage.
    – fixer1234
    Mar 15, 2023 at 23:36

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