What is the Graphite Pencil Hardness Scale?

What is the Graphite Pencil Hardness Scale and How Does it Work?

pencilsWhen drawing a range of shades is needed to create depth and light and dark.  To help to do this pencils come in different levels of hardness.  These are scaled according to a standard level.

There are two scales the US scale and the UK scale.

Photo by: Dvortygirl


The UK scale is measured in hardness and how black the lead in the pencil is.  This can be a range of H or Hard levels, or a range or black or B levels.  HB which is the pencil most often used in schools and in offices is the middle of bot of the ranges with mid hardness and also mid blackness.


As you go down the scale into the B’s the lead gets both softer and darker.

For most makes the range starts at 9H and goes all the way down to 9B.  Of course although this is standard there are variants between manufactures and also the quality of the lead in the pencils.

The F pencil is a firm pencil.

The harder the pencil the more filler they have.

The US Scale

The US scale is slightly different as they use a numbering scale for writing rather than a letter numbering scale.  This goes like this 1 = 2B, 2 = B, 212 = HB, 3 = H, 4 = 2H.  Most US pencils are painted in yellow.  They also use the letter numbering scale for drawing and art pencils though.

But What is Graphite?

Graphite is not a form of lead as some people believe as it is called lead in pencils.  It is a form of carbon.  It occurs both as a natural mineral and it is also man made.  

 Using The Pencils

In the video the artist gives a really great explanation of the range and how he uses them.  Of course everyone is different, however I admit that 2B is also my favorite as this is soft but not too soft and gives a good range of shading.

This artists only uses 4 strengths of pencil hardness.  With these you do not have to limit yourself to only four shades as within each pencil you can put stronger or weaker marks or build them up using various techniques.

When drawing if you are looking for a more realistic drawing you add more tones to it.  This gives greater depth and makes the image look more realistic.

Testing for Hardness

It is possible to get equipment to test for the hardness of the lead however as the pencils are already graded and numbered it is vary rare that most people do this.  Some would test for the differences between makes.

Which Pencils Are Best to Get?

It is best just to go for the best quality pencil you can get.  Often in stores you can test them for yourself to see how they feel.  If you can’t run to the whole range then just get them individually for those that you use most often.

The reason you want to get the better ranges is that it is false economy to get the cheaper ones.  I know I have tried it.

The trouble is there are differences in every aspect of the pencil.  Cheap pencils will break when using or sharpening much easier than quality ones.  This is because when they are made their cores are improperly centered which leads to breakages.

Also the tones of the cheap ranges are not as steady as again the quality in the graphite is not there.

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