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Pencils have three main components: a graphite core known as the "lead", a plastic or wooden body that encases the lead, and an eraser. Depending on how hard the lead is, the pencil makes different marks. A hard pencil lead leaves light, fine marks that are great for drawing precise details. A soft pencil lead leaves dark, heavy marks that are typically used for filling in large areas, or for shadows. Pencils in the middle of the spectrum are most suitable for writing, but as usual, it comes down to personal preference -- you have to play around to figure out what works for you.
Not all pencil leads are made equal. They vary in strength, smoothness, smudge resistance, and hardness. Some are relatively dark, while others are relatively light. Refer to the chart below for details.
Staedtler has long been a pillar in the stationery scene with its iconic logo, quality drawing instruments, and technical writing tools. Founded in 1835 by J.S. Staedtler, this German company developed a reputation throughout the world due to their impeccable pencils. Surprisingly, the rich tradition behind the Staedtler pencil started even before the founding of the company.
Fig 1. Palomino Blackwing 602 Wooden Pencils.
You may be familiar with the basics of the Blackwing story: introduced by Eberhard Faber during the 1930s, it was lauded by famous creatives like John Steinbeck and Chuck Jones. It claimed to write with “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed,” and featured an iconic eraser and ferrule design. After it was discontinued in 1998, its desirability grew to a fever pitch until single pencils were selling for as much as thirty dollars.
Only twelve years later, sixth-generation pencil manufacturer Charles Berolzheimer II revived the brand as the newly minted Palomino Blackwing. The cacophonous fan reaction was equal parts criticism and acclaim, but one thing soon became clear: it was a commercial success.
That’s the short version of the Blackwing tale. But as any historian knows, history is more than just a sequence of events. To truly understand the reputation and hype that grew around the Blackwing, read on.
Have you ever noticed that some pencils write with really light lines and some pencils come out smudgy and dark? This can be explained by what type of lead the pencil has. Leads range from hard, light-marking leads to soft, dark-marking leads in both wooden bodies and mechanical pencils.
Leads are usually classified by a 2 digit number + letter system. H stands for "Hardness" and B stands for "Blackness". The more H's you have, the harder the lead and the lighter the lines. The more B's you have, the softer the lead and the darker the lines. In the middle, you'll find the most common lead grade HB, which is equivalent to a #2 pencil and what is usually the included default lead in most mechanical pencils.
In order, the leads are (from hardest to softest):
9H | 8H | 7H | 6H | 5H | 4H | 3H | 2H | H | F | HB | B | 2B | 3B | 4B | 5B | 6B | 7B | 8B | 9B
Typically, leads ranging from 4H to 4B are easily available on the market.
JetPens carries a variety of lead grades in both mechanical pencil lead and wooden pencil format. Mechanical pencil leads, like the hugely-popular Pentel Stein Enhanced Silica lead line or the Uni-ball NanoDia leads , are generally available in grades ranging between 4H and 4B. Sturdier wooden pencils like the Uni-ball Hi-Uni line, have a significantly larger range of 10H-10B lead types available!
How do you pick which lead is right for you? If you want sharp, crisp lines and you write with a light hand, then a higher H value lead is good for you. If you write with a heavy hand, then you want a lead that won't break under pressure and so a higher B value is good for you. Higher H's can be brittle and are typically better for drafting purposes, and higher B's are good for shading. Keep in mind that softer or higher B leads leave more lead on the paper, and so are used up more quickly than higher H leads.
Do you have a favorite grade of lead to use?
September 20, 2009 - Posted by Elizabeth to Pencils
We sometimes have customers who ask us which of our mechanical pencils are "No. 2". Great question!
Pencil leads have different levels of hardness or softness for different uses. You can read more about this in our PenPedia article Picking the Perfect Pencil Lead Hardness. For mechanical pencil lead, the leads are labeled (from hardest to softest):
9H | 8H | 7H | 6H | 5H | 4H | 3H | 2H | H | F | HB | B | 2B | 3B | 4B | 5B | 6B | 7B | 8B | 9B.
The numbering system for wooden pencils actually refers to the same thing, but uses an American labeling system. For example, the equivalent lead hardness for the following wooden pencils are:
So using a mechanical pencil with HB leads should be equivalent to using a No 2. Pencil.