What graphite pencil do you use?

November 27, 2019 | 21 Comments

I don’t use graphite pencils very much, but if I did, I would choose to use a watersoluble pencil – such as the Faber Castell Aquarelle Graphite pencil in either 2B or 4B. This is what the above sketch was done with.

If I had to pick a normal graphite pencil, I would probably reach for a Palomino Blackwing Pearl, or a big oversized lead! I love all of the Palomino Blackwings – smooth and dark lead. The chunky silver lead holder in the above photo was one of my treasured tools as an architect, and I used it a lot for quick sketches when I first started sketching. You can read more about my use of pencil here.

BTW the sketch in this photo was done in May 2016, the day I heard about the tragic passing away of my sketching friend Florian Afflerbach. You can read more about that here.


Click here to see more of my graphite aquarelle sketches.

Basically, I don’t know a lot about graphite pencils since I so rarely use them.

So I would love to hear from you – what pencil do you use and what do you use it for?

Thanks in advance for your comments – it makes this article a really valuable resource when lots of people share.


  • I have a ton of pencils, I seem to collect them. From water soluble to multi colored. I use a hub or 2h to sketch as I like the light lines to paint over. I put an eraser on the end . I find that water soluble pencils are great as the lines wash away as I paint but they do turn yellow a little green.. I want to use pencil more but find that fountain pens with platinum Carbon black ink is my fav.. I also find that pencil sketches rub off on the facing page..
    Thanks for the article.. sad about Hong Kong Symposium…

  • Arlene Lennox says:

    I mostly use a Platinum mini mechanical pencil because it fits well in my minimalist sketch kit.

  • Cookie Ballou says:

    I prefer drawing in pencil over using a pen (love my microns and fountain pens for writing though). Doing my drawing in pencil first gives me opportunity to add watercolor over lines that barely show, or lets me decide if I want to add ink and wash. I’ve used Zebra mechanical pencils for years, . 05, .03, but recently I’ve been on the hunt for a really good pencil that delivers a crisp, light very fine line. I prefer small sketchbooks, but I still love adding detail. Haven’t found one yet that I really love.

  • Linda Barnhill says:

    Around home I use a GrahpGear mechanical pencil. For travel I use several inexpensive mechanical pencils in which I put different size lead and mark them with the size. This way if lost it, I don’t feel so bad. I also like to add a hard carbon pencil, for strong darks, when drawing with graphite. A Carbon Sketch pencil when moistened with a damp brush will leave a tone.

  • Carmel Campbell says:

    First of all ,,,,your sketch is so good. You should sketch in pencil more often, I tend to pick up a .5 mechanical pencil when I need to work in pencil. This is mostly for portraits, I have an array of pencils …thick leads, Blackwing and water soluble that I have used at one time or another, When I use pencil I tend to reach for an eraser so I lose the spontaneity of the sketch.

  • Gerda Wolzak-van Hummel says:

    I use a mechanical pencil with 0.5 HB lead, which is used for a setup of watercolour landscapes in my Fabriano sketchbook. Love this book and especially the watercolour paper in it. I don’t use this paper with pen or fountain pen; isn’t smooth enough. I use only HB, 2B and 4B of the aquarelle graphite pencils FC; 6&8HB smear too much for my use of these pencils.

  • Denise Robotham says:

    I use the Faber-Castell Aquarelle 4B for most of my drawing. I have recently discovered and fallen in love with the Uni Kuru Toga Slide Pipe Mechanical Pencil 0.5mm for fine work and writing with. Every time you take the pressure of the pencil it rotates the lead slightly and so stays completely sharp. With a Pentel B lead in it you can get surprisingly dark shadows. They make cheaper versions, but the little pipe that the lead comes down stays out and stabs holes in the back pocket of my bag or my hand when digging around in there! So I prefer the “pocket safe” version. In the UK Cult Pens stock them for around ÂŁ12 GBP inc. shipping. My other favourites are two ancient Staedtler Mars 2mm clutch pencils with 2B and 4B leads, which I was given when I was at art school in the early seventies.

  • Yvonne Carpenter says:

    I like pencil setup, otherwise I am all over the place and the result does not please me. Having said that, on Foundations course, I learned to do “minimum setup” with pencil, which has been invaluable on speeding up my sketches. I cannot see well the lines when using your preferred pencil color of ochre, so I adopted light blue. It worked better for me, but when I lay down the watercolor, depending on the color usedi, it will mix with the blue and give me green or purple instead of my desired color! Therefore, I decided to use the caran d’ache technalo graphite pencils which are water soluble and do not affect my watercolor. AND, I do not have to erase my pencil lines! (Very rarely do I erase pencil lines when using water soluble graphite pencils for line setup). And I really like how the sketch looks when it is done!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Yvonne – thanks for sharing. Hmmm, light blue lines. I should try that! And also the caran d’ache technalo graphite pencils – thanks for the ideas 🙂

  • I like using 3B or 4B pencils as the softness lets me shade quickly and you can get really dark darks.
    And normally for further shading I’d use a waterbrush filled with diluted black fountain pen ink, but the idea of water soluble graphite is intriguing to me, might have to give it a try sometime.

  • Cora Brown says:

    I avoid graphite pencils for sketchbook work because they rub off unless I spray the page with Krylon Workable Fixative. Watercolor and Prismacolor pencils are Ok in a sketchbook. If I need to sketch lightly to establish a complex scene, I’ll use a watercolor pencil in a color that is going to blend into the background when I add ink and watercolor. My graphite pencil collection is still surprisingly large. General Sketch ‘n Wash is my favorite water soluble graphite for pencil-only sketches. I use this in my local museum which only allows pencil sketching. Palomino Blackwing 602 Is my favorite for everyday work. They sharpen easily, hold a good point and have an eraser that extends.

  • Skint Student says:

    I don’t like smudge so I wish I’d learned about the Faber-Castell Graphite Aquarelle sooner. I use them under watercolour work…

    Caran d’Ache do some too (Technalo) which I utterly love but don’t use my 2 enough. Their 3B is gorgeous but so dark it is more like the F-C 8 or 9B! Haven’t tried their coloured Technalo.

    Have invested in a new tin of the Faber-Castell Graphite Matt- 6 pack. But only for my graphite sketchbook.

    I typically use my blue pacer because it’s essentially smudge free (Pilot Colour Eno 0.7 blue lead). I hate the purple because I break its leads way too easily.

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