Types of Pencils and Pencil Lead: Finding the Best Pencil for Writing

What types of pencils are the best for writing? How do you choose the ideal lead type, and what thickness is best for mechanical pencils? This post will discuss pencil types and outline the coded system used for denoting how hard or soft the graphite in the pencil is. We’ll also share a chart of mechanical pencil lead types to help you choose the best size for your needs.


 

Pencil vs. Pens: Which Do You Prefer?

Which writing utensil do you reach for first? Pens or pencils? Regardless of which writing utensil you prefer, there are pros and cons to both pens and pencils.

Pencil Icon

Why pencils are better than pens

How many times have you been filling out a form only to misspell something? Having to scratch out a letter or a word on a document makes the whole page look haphazard and messy.

  • Pencils have erasers
  • There are more uses for pencils
  • Pencils are more environmentally-friendly (pens are a single-use plastic)
  • Pencils don’t leak ink
  • Pencils won’t run out of ink unexpectedly
  • If you break a pencil in two, you have two pencils
  • Pencils are better for shading, making them ideal for art projects and sketching

Pen Icon


Why pens are better than pencils

Do you ever get tired of always having to sharpen a pencil? Depending on the pen, handwriting is a lot more comfortable with a pen—it’s smooth as opposed to scratchy, and the markings are much more visible.

  • You don’t have to sharpen pens
  • Pens leave darker markings
  • Marks made with ink last longer on paper than marks made with graphite
  • Pens don’t leave pencil lead markings behind in pencil cases
  • Pens seem more adult


🖋 While this guide will focus on pencil types, we also love pens! If you’re looking for a great pen, here’s our
Guide to the Best Pens.


 

Types of Pencils: What’s the Best Pencil For Writing?

Let’s first discuss the different types of pencils available based on shape and common uses. If you want to learn more about pencil classifications based on lead type (ex. HB, 8B, or 2B), we’ll cover that next, followed by common mechanical pencil lead sizes.

When it comes to writing, the two best options are a traditional wood pencil or a mechanical pencil. Which you choose depends on your own personal preferences.

Wood Pencil Icon

Traditional Wood Pencil

A wooden pencil is classic, and it’s instantly recognizable ✏️. Wooden pencils have been mass-produced around the world since 1662 and in the United States itself since 1812.

The shell of wooden pencils is made of a variety of different woods, and the core of the pencil is made from graphite. While we call the core of wooden pencils ‘lead,’ it’s actually made from graphite and clay, the ratio of which determines how soft or hard the pencil lead is, how smoothly the pencil will write, and how dark or light the marks made with the pencil will be.

Traditional wood pencils come equipped with a small pink eraser on top. This is convenient, but if you use an eraser often, it’s common to wear through the eraser before using up the pencil. Eraser pencil toppers can help with this issue, but it still may prove an inconvenience.

When sharpened regularly, a classic HB pencil is a great writing tool; it’s simple, efficient, and lasts a long time. It’s also ideal for drawing, as you can sharpen it in various ways to achieve different effects.

Mechanical Pencil

Mechanical Pencil

Mechanical pencils don’t need sharpening. They house long lead pieces that are fed through the mechanical pencil as needed, either by clicking the top or side of the mechanical pencil. They are ideal for writing consistent and accurate lines since the lead is always the same size.

Mechanical pencil types are classified based on their lead size. Common lead sizes include 0.5mm and 0.7mm, with the thinnest mechanical pencil lead coming in at 0.2mm. The lead (graphite) comes in different levels of hardness, though you don’t have as many options as with wood pencils since the delicate lead is prone to breaking before it’s added to the mechanical pencil.

The small eraser on the top of the pencil can often be replaced, and the lead can be refilled as needed, which means you can use the pencil as long as the plastic or metal housing stays intact.

It can be frustrating to load the delicate lead pieces into a mechanical pencil, and they can jam, but they do make for an amazing writing tool. A quality mechanical pencil can last years, and you can choose the exact right lead size for your writing preferences.

✒️ Blue Summit Supplies carries a variety of mechanical pencils, including 0.5mm, 0.7mm, and 0.9mm.

Pencil-Crayons

Pencil Crayon

Pencil crayons are wax or oil-based as opposed to being filled with graphite. The filling is combined with pigments and binding agents that help various colors stick to paper. They come in a range of colors and are often purchased in sets for drawing.

Pencil crayons are not ideal for writing since the “lead” inside is much thicker than traditional graphite. They are best used for decorative purposes, art projects, or underlining important text.

Carpenter Pencil

Carpenter Pencil

Carpenter pencils are less common, but you may have seen their curious shape around. These pencils are wide and flat with a matching wide and flat lead inside.

Since the pencil has two flat sides, it won’t roll away when set on uneven surfaces, so it is commonly used by—you guessed it—carpenters. These types of pencils are also used by various types of builders and designers since the lead is strong and can make markings on a wide variety of surfaces, including wood, concrete, or stone. Special sharpeners are available, but they are typically sharpened manually with a knife.

Even though carpenter pencils provide an easy grip, they are not ideal for writing since the lead is very thick.

✏️ Add carpenter pencils directly to your next Blue Summit Supplies order: Dixon Carpenter's Flat Pencil, Red, 12 Pack.


 

Types of Pencil Lead

The type of graphite inside a pencil varies, and there's a naming system for each that denotes how hard or soft the lead is.

Good lead pencils range from hard to soft, including 2B, B, HB, F, and H. HB is the most common pencil lead for writing. Extra soft graphite is used for artwork and drawings, and extra hard graphite is used for precision and technical drawings.

Pencil Name
How it Writes

8B, 7B, and 6B

  • Extremely soft
  • Extremely black
  • Ideal for drawing and adding depth

5B, 4B, and 3B

  • Very soft
  • Very black
  • Ideal for drawing

2B

  • Used for writing
  • Very soft
  • Black

B

  • Used for writing
  • Soft
  • Black

HB

  • Most common lead size
  • Ideal for writing
  • Medium soft

F

  • Used for writing
  • Medium soft

H

  • Used for writing
  • Hard

2H, 3H, 4H, 5H, and 6H

  • Used for technical drawings
  • Precise
  • Very hard, increasing from 2H to 6H

 


 

Mechanical Pencil Lead Size Chart

There are a number of different mechanical pencil lead types based on lead thickness and how hard or soft the graphite is. The hardness of the lead is denoted by a coded system, but for the most part, HB is most commonly used. You may also find lead refills with a 2B, B, F, or H rating.

When choosing mechanical pencil lead refills, you need to pay the most attention to the size of the lead, which should match the type of mechanical pencil you have. The best mechanical pencil lead depends on your writing preferences. Some people prefer a thicker, more intense line, while others prefer a smoother, thin line when writing. The most common sizes for writing are 0.3mm, 0.5mm, 0.7mm, and 0.9mm.

Lead Size
How it Writes

0.2mm

  • Very thin lines
  • The thinnest mechanical lead available
  • Uncommon
  • Write legibly in very tight spaces
  • Add thin details to drawings
  • Breaks easily

0.3mm

  • Very thin lines
  • Common lead size
  • Write legibly in very tight spaces
  • Add thin details to drawings

0.4mm

  • Thin lines
  • Adds variety in line size for artists
  • Less common lead size

0.5mm

  • Medium lines
  • Ideal for writing
  • Balances precision and strength
  • Common lead size

0.7mm

  • Medium lines
  • Ideal for writing
  • Durable
  • Can apply pressure when writing
  • Common lead size

0.9mm

  • Bold lines
  • Ideal for writing for long periods of time
  • Durable
  • Can apply pressure when writing
  • Less likely to break
  • Common lead size

1.15mm

  • Large lead
  • Ideal for sketching and brainstorming
  • Less common lead size

1.3mm

  • Large lead
  • Ideal for sketching and brainstorming
  • Less common lead size

2.0mm

  • Large lead
  • Most common of the large lead sizes
  • Colored pencil lead available

3.2mm

  • Very large lead
  • Considered a lead holder
  • Lead can be sharpened
  • Ideal for sketching and filling space

4.0mm

  • Very large lead
  • Considered a lead holder
  • Lead can be sharpened
  • Ideal for sketching and filling space

5.2mm

  • Very large lead
  • Considered a lead holder
  • Lead can be sharpened
  • Ideal for sketching and filling space

5.6mm

  • Very large lead
  • Considered a lead holder
  • Lead can be sharpened
  • Ideal for sketching and filling space
  • The largest lead available

 


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jordan's passion for travel led her to design a career as a remote content marketer. Nearing 1000 published articles, she's spent the past decade using her interdisciplinary education to research and write content for a wide variety of industries. Working remotely, Jordan spends half of the year exploring different corners of the world. At home, she's content exploring fictional lands—Spark an immediate and detailed conversation by mentioning Game of Thrones, Red Rising, Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings.

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