Graphite Grading Scale Explained

Most of us who love to draw had our first experience drawing with #2 (HB) pencils. However, it is exciting to learn that pencils come in a full range of values as well as varying densities. This can expand your experience as an artist ten-fold.

Graphite is such a wonderful tool in art. Graphite was first discovered in Cumbria in Northern England at the beginning of the sixteenth century. There is an American and a European (Hardtmuth scale) grading scale, but most artists stick to the more robust European scale. Graphite pencils area mixture of graphite and high clay. Below I will discuss the letter and number grading scale. I have also added a chart below for a better visual understanding of the grading scale.

Letter Scale

B: Bold, High Graphite, Soft Texture
H: Hard, High Clay Content, Hard texture
F: Firm, Falls Between B/H
HB: 50:50 Graphite/Clay

Number Scale

2-9: Lightest to Darkest

9H: The Lightest/Hardest/More Clay
9B: The Darkest/Softest/ More Graphite



It is important as an artist to get to know your tools. I am always reminding my students as well as I often mention this in my YouTube Videos and blog posts. I bring it up often because I find it imperative to explore the whole range your tools can offer you and it helps you be a better artist. Yes, you can always use limited tools and many artists do. But have you ever heard the saying:

 “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist” ~ Pablo Picasso

By learning the full capacity of your tools, it can help you pick and choose the most effective tools to use to get the desired results that you want. Plus, who does not love to play with art supplies?


If you would like to learn more about other graphite tools, such as which easers I use, blending tools, and more, check out this post: Graphite Tools Everyone Needs, or if you would like to acquire better graphite blending skills, check out this post: 8 Ways to Blend Graphite

Also, the graphite pencils I favor as an artist is Derwent Graphic Pencils (24 Set), I love the hexagonal barrel for better gripping as well as the thickness of the pencil. And for fun, I will suggest Derwent’s Graphitints (24 Set) which are graphite pencils infused with color and are also water-soluble. They are a joy to explore! 

⊳View All The Art Materials I Love

Post You May Also Like…


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *