Faber Castell Graphite Pencils

August 21, 2023 | 15 Comments

A few weeks ago I received a lovely set of Faber Castell graphite pencils inside my Colour4Life box (see more here) and I know that a number of you have been waiting to hear about the Pitt Graphite Matt Pencils.

These pencils have been designed to reduce the silvery shine of traditional graphite pencils – the website states “the new graphite pencil from Faber-Castell guarantees extremely reduced reflection on the paper”. There are other solutions to achieve a matt black but these are typically more carbon/charcoal based (such as the Mars Lumograph Black pencil which I will discuss below) and therefore don’t always mix well with graphite if used in the one drawing.

Faber Castell describes this pencil as the first matt graphite (implying that they are not a ‘carbon pencil’) and for obvious reasons, they haven’t described the major formula. So it’s still a bit of a mystery but I have found them to feel more like a graphite pencil than a carbon/charcoal pencil. But more about that shortly.

The set I was given includes 8x Castell 9000 Graphite from B to 8B and 8 x Pitt Graphite Matt (PGM) from HB to 14B. I can confirm straight away that the PGMs are blacker (going all the way up to 14B!) and more matt than the 9000 Graphite.


I thought I would also do some swatches for some other pencils since I’ve been asked for comparisons with the PGMs

  • A charcoal pencil produces the blackest black and is totally matt but of course, charcoal is completely different to use than a graphite pencil. I included it on the page for comparison.
  • Three types of Blackwing (a popular brand with urban sketchers). I believe that the black one (called Matt) is similar to a 3B or 4B and the Pearl is about a 2B. I found them fairly comparable to the Castell 9000 but a little darker in value.
  • Staedtler Mars Lumograph Aquarell in 6B wasn’t as dark as the Blackwing or the 6B Castell 9000. Note: over the years the Mars Lumograph pencils have been the graphite pencils that I’ve used… but last week I couldn’t find any but this aquarelle version!
  • Staedtler Mars Lumograph Black pencils (which contain a high proportion of carbon) felt more like a carbon/charcoal pencil and the results were similar in blackness to the Pitt Graphite Matt pencils.

Shine vs Matt

It was then time to take a few photos to determine how shiny or matt each of the pencils was. Please note that it’s very hard to take a single photo that shows reflection on all the swatches in a row.

Castell 9000 graphite had the classic graphite shine/ silver reflection – for all grades of pencil (even though not shown in this photo).


The Pitt Graphite Matt still had a little shine (especially for the soft pencils in the areas of multiple layers) but it was much less than the traditional graphite.


The charcoal had zero shine (as expected) but the Lumograph and the Blackwings had a lot of shine – similar to the Castell 9000 pencils.


With the Mars Lumograph Black there was no shine for the softer grades but there was a little shine to the HB and 2B. This is to be expected with the high proportion of carbon in these pencils.

So if you are looking for a graphite pencil with minimal shine the Pitt Graphite Matt pencils are definitely worth looking at. Personally the shine doesn’t bother me although I do like the look of matt black.

How do these compare when sketching?

I did this quick rough sketch to compare an 8B Castell 9000 pencil with a Pitt Graphite Matt 14B.

The PGM was blacker and more matt while sketching the teapot but surprisingly I was able to get a strong black with the Castell 9000 while doing a swatch afterward.

But the main difference was in the feel of the pencils. The Castell 9000 was smooth and lovely to use while the Pitt Graphite Matt felt different – dragging across the surface of the paper (Alpha) and requiring a little more work.

Urban sketches using graphite pencils

I’ve never drawn much with graphite since I started sketching regularly in a sketchbook. I don’t like media that smudges (though I am recently becoming more comfortable with smudgy materials) and so I’m happier drawing with ink and creating sketches with strong black lines. But of course, I’m very aware of how versatile a pencil is – I’ve just never done a lot of pencil sketching.

The only graphite that I’ve used consistently in the past decade has been the Faber Castell Graphite Aquarell. I like using the water-soluble version of graphite as I can manipulate the line quality – softening it with water or achieving black marks by dipping the pencil lead into a bit of water. And they don’t seem to smudge as much.

Here are two examples of sketches done with Faber Castell Graphite Aquarell pencils

Addison Road Marrickville (done in honour of Flaf) in 2016


The Salute in Venice also done in 2016

My graphite sketches from last week

I will admit that after all my fun colour experiments in recent days/weeks/months I felt a little reluctant to do some graphite sketches. I just love colour so much! But I knew that once I started I would enjoy creating grayscale work.

The first attempt was this sketch of the Village Green using the Pitt Graphite Matt. (This is not the easiest scene to tackle as it doesn’t have an interesting combination of light and dark areas.) I was using this scene for some experimenting and found the PGMs a little hard to use.


A few days later I tried the same scene (at a different time of the day) with the Castell 9000 and I enjoyed it much more! The graphite just flowed across the surface of the page.

(If you are wondering, I started drawing in ink at first out of habit and then decided to use graphite).


The third example is using 2B and 6B Castell Graphite with an easier scene! I enjoyed doing this a lot.

Ah! It only took a few sketches and now I’m happy not to use colour.

In fact, I’m keen to do more pencil sketching… but I’m not sure exactly how I want to use graphite. So it was time to do a little research.

Pencil sketching inspiration

When I start thinking about doing some sketching with graphite pencils a few artists come to mind.

The first is Arthur Gupill and his classic book “Drawing and Sketching Pencil”. I absolutely love these precise and crisp pencil drawings using a chisel tip but when I sketch with graphite I want to work more loosely.


I also think about my urban sketching friend Matthew Brehm and some great conversations we have had in the past about how amazing pencils are. This is a page from his book “Sketching On Location”  and the fantastic chapter on Value.


And the third artist is John Blockley whose pencil drawings are the closest to what I want to achieve using graphite. Loose and expressive! This is a page from “John Blockley: A Retrospective” by Ann Blockley and I love this quote from the book ” I think of painting as explorative and experimental and therefore I think of drawing as fact-finding.”


I’m not exactly sure where my adventures with graphite will take me, but I’m very happy to be finally exploring this essential sketching medium!

I started last week excited to use the Pitt Graphite Matt pencils as the idea of matt black graphite sketches appeals to me. And although I do like the results these pencils create I’ve actually fallen in love with Castell 9000 pencils. I did not expect that! 🙂

I think that once I get a feel for sketching with graphite I will be able to feel more comfortable with the PGMs but at the moment the smoothness of traditional graphite is what I’m going to focus on!

Have you tried the Pitt Graphite Matt pencils – want do you think of them?

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  • Tina Koyama says:

    As a fellow lefty, I’ve found that the Matt pencils smudge a lot less than regular graphite, so that’s a benefit. But I don’t love them like I do regular graphite (especially Blackwings), which feels so much smoother and silkier. If you don’t care about graphite’s shine, there’s not much point in using Matt.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Tina. Yes good point about less smudging with the Matt graphite. I did notice that but forgot to mention it in this article!

  • This past year I sketched with pencil a LOT. Even though I worked my way through a variety of tools, I found myself mostly using 6B lead loaded into a lead holder and my trusty Blackwing Palomino pencils. Last spring I stumbled upon that 14B matte pencil and ordered one – like the Blackwing stuff, it’s not cheap. At first I wasn’t sure where/if it fit into my sketching practice, so it sat on my drawing table for a while. I love the idea of matte values, and as Tina pointed out (above), it seems not to smudge as readily as other soft pencils tend to do. It felt good for quick linear sketches with washes of watercolor on top too, but the matte qualities seemed wasted here, and besides, my Blackwing already handled that task with little complaint. The mixture of matte with the sheen of other pencils in the same study didn’t thrill me either, and I began to wonder if matte graphite was a solution in search of a problem. On a lark I decided to participate in an urban plein air event, and because of the industrial nature of the subject matter I brought along Lyra water-soluble graphite sticks instead of paint. Lyra marks can be shiny, but turn into a luscious matte once impregnated with washes of water (and the washes become relatively permanent too.) I will often find I need to finish up with a pencil to clarify details. But that can look weird due to the contrast of reflectivity. On the other hand, I discovered the matte 14B pencil paired extremely well with the Lyra sticks. Happily, I’ve mated those into a small “value study” kit that meets my need for a minimalist approach, and jibes with my personal visual aesthetic. Oh, and I guess others appreciated the look of that pairing as well: the plein air piece won the purchase award.

    • Patricia Wafer says:

      Thanks also for your interesting comments, Mark. I took a look at your blog – WOW! Lots of great sketching there!! More inspiration!

    • Liz Steel says:

      HI Mark – thanks so much for your comment and sharing your experiences! I’m a great fan of your work and love following your blog!

  • Patricia Wafer says:

    Thanks again, Liz for another great and very helpful post. My graphite pencil choice has always been Staedtler Lumograph drawing pencils. I did not know they made a Black one but I will give one a try. When I sketch with black and white on grey paper I use Derwent Colorsoft pencils and I have several sharpened because they are soft and lose a point quickly. But lately I have been more interested in plain old graphite sketching. And I will give the 9000 Castel a try next time I place a Dick Blick order.

    I have used some Wolf Carbon Pencils and they are ok and very black but I like my Staedtler Mars Lumograph graphite the best. Usually in a 4 B to 8 B range and 2 B for a pencil to grab for basic stuff in the studio. What is the softness of your Faber Castell watersoluble graphite pencil? I think I have a couple somewhere. I like the way you used them with limited areas where you applied water so you had both sharp lines and soft. I will give that go!

    I was not familiar with John Blockley which surprises me as I thought I knew a lot of UK watercolor painters. After seeing some of his work online I ordered the book you mentioned and our library has a couple I will take a look at also. I love his watercolors and the sketches.

  • Ginie Udy says:

    Very interesting post Liz. I have recently bought two Wolff carbon pencils after reading about them in Ed Whitney’s book The Complete Guide to Watercolour and a FC Graphite Aquarell I think after seeing Paul Wang use it. Plus a few Blackwings, also due to Paul’s inspiration.

    I’m finding as I completed your Lesson 7 Foundations over the weekend that I’m starting to see an appreciation of line (ink) and colour (paint) developing in my work and the John Blockley quote sums up this partnership beautifully for me.

    Plus I was thrilled to read your reference to him because last year when I started venturing out on my own struggling to really understand what watercolour was all about I unearthed two books of my mothers, recently deceased. One was Painting with Watercolours by John Blockley and I tried to work my way through it. I’m sure, like your classes, if I went back to it now, I’d understand so much more!

    Plus I saw in Kinokuniya one day (after reading about that store on your blog!) a beautiful book by his daughter Ann: Watercolour Workshop. They are an inspirational artistic family. And part of my own artistic explorations.

  • pamela thomson says:

    I haven’t used graphite at all since college and then we used what the teacher told us to. I never knew there were other choices or the difference between and reason for using each kind.
    But I must thank you for introducing me to John Blockley’s work. (I went to his website) It is lovely and really makes me want to try pencil. Thanks Liz….I’m taking your current foundations course.

  • Love your information and art work

  • Jamie C says:

    Smudging drives me bonkers so I kept wondering, but do they smudge less? Lol! I’m so glad you shared some of your favorite examples of pencil work. It always helps to have different artists to see. I love Guptill’s work. I wish I could be that precise but work as fast as you! Oh the dream!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Jamie – yes they do smudge less but as I’m mainly using the Castell 9000 at the moment in my sketchbook I do have a sense of how much less.

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