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Pencils & Leads Explained

Pencils and leads never really made sense to me, other than the fact I knew it would create a dark line on anything it was pressed against and it was an essential school supply. When mechanical pencils were beginning to gain steam, the sizes were a mystery. All I knew is that I enjoyed the 0.7mm. Then I was admitted into the Art Institute of Seattle for photography and my mind was blown! Not only was it required to take drawing classes, but it also came with pre-ordered supplies that included a green metal-enclosed case with gold-labeled pencils that read "2h", "2b", and "H". I had no idea what to choose.

Now, I'm an interior design & architecture student and I use a lead holder with a "2b". Those numbers, I found out, stood for the pencil hardness range or lead hardness. Maybe you're like me and don't know what pencil to choose when confronted with all of the options or don't know what each hardness number means OR maybe you know all things pencils and in that case... why are you here!? Nevertheless, this post will be all about finding and choosing the best pencil for whatever need you may have.

The harder the lead, the more clay it contains whereas on the other hand, the softer the lead, the more graphite it contains. Lead holders are super cool because they come in a standard 2B option most of the time but also comes in a wide array of hardnesses and will contain a sharpener on the top of the unit (lead pointers) which comes in handy.

Whether your writing a note, creating a floorplan, or sketching for fun, having knowledge of pencil hardness can make a huge difference in the intended result. Take a look at the chart below and read the succinct description of what each pencil can offer.

9B -B

These pencils/leads are very soft. This is an ideal range for bold lines and shading. This lead/pencil is not great for drafting purposes.

HB, F, H, and 2H

These pencils/leads are best for finished drawings.


These pencils/leads are very hard and dense. This is an ideal range for guidelines and underlay work.

As I found out and I'm sure you can see, there's a certain type of pencil or lead for each of us and each of our projects. The best way to figure out which is the right one for you is to simply try them out. My personal favorites are 2B, HB, and 2H. Let me know your favorites as they come about!

Join me on my journey @noirandneutralsstudio on Instagram. With love, see y'all next time!

Are you an interior design or architecture student? Are you a design professional? Have something to add? Let's connect!


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