How to Evaluate Pencils for Fashion Drawing - dummies

How to Evaluate Pencils for Fashion Drawing

By Lisa Arnold, Marianne Egan

Why are some pencils so popular for fashion artists? Because folks have used them since kindergarten! They’re the comfort food of art supplies. You use pencils to begin your sketch, put the finishing touches on it, and add all sorts of details in between.

Many beginning artists don’t realize how many varieties of pencils they can choose from. Using different kinds of pencils for your drawings makes a tremendous difference, so check out the following sections to discover the various pencil properties.

Different pencil leads: Hard or soft, light or dark

The lead (which is actually made of ground-up graphite and a filler) is the center of the pencil. Graphite pencils come in a few grades, based on the hardness and darkness of the lead:

  • H: H stands for hard pencils. They’re commonly designated as 2H, 4H, 6H, or 8H, although different brands use different labeling. Some brands also include a 9H. What is consistent is that a higher number means a harder lead, which creates a lighter pencil line. You use an H pencil when you’re not planning on erasing the lines after you’re finished drawing or when you want your lines to be very light.

  • B: B stands for black pencils. They’re commonly designated as 2B, 4B, 6B, and 8B, with some brands including a 9B. For B pencils, higher numbers mean darker lines. B pencils come in handy when you want to add dark features, texture, or thick lines or when you’re using a darker paper and you need to be able to see your lines better.

  • HB: At the center point of the lead range is an HB pencil. This is the kind of pencil most artists use, because it’s not too dark and not too light. It’s great for beginners who are just discovering pencil types, as it’s great for everyday sketching when you’re not concerned about a drawing being light or dark.

An 8H pencil, for example, draws a line that’s very light. At the other end of the pencil spectrum is the 8B pencil, which is the cousin of a charcoal pencil and is very dark. Note that the scale isn’t standardized, so two brands with the same grade may not be equally dark.


Here’s a little fashion secret: Try to avoid 4H, 6H, and 8H pencils of any brand. The lines they make are often too light, and erasing can be tough because these pencils leave indentations in the paper.

Some favorite pencils

There are no good or bad pencils; there are just pencils that do what you want them to do! The pencils you prefer may differ from someone else’s, even if you draw similar types of art.

  • Faber-Castell graphite pencils: Smooth and even pencils, which range from 6H to 8B.

  • Prismacolor Turquoise drawing pencils: The Turquoise line of graphite pencils has a nice feel to it, doesn’t break easily, and ranges from 9H to 9B.

  • Raffiné Art Sketch 7000 Creative Mark pencils: Ranging from 6H to 8B, this brand is popular in art schools.

  • Prismacolor (formerly Sanford Design) Ebony pencils: If you’re looking for a powerful and bold line, this pencil is for you. The dark, wide lines and instant smoothness of this “jet black” graphite pencil are great for fashion attitude.

  • Mechanical pencils: A lot of artists love mechanical pencils on both smooth and textured papers. Mechanical pencils don’t come in a range of graphite types.

  • General’s charcoal pencils (extra soft): Reach for these pencils (make sure you sharpen them well) when you want to make a line that goes from thick to thin with just a slight smudge. Never use charcoal sticks; this is the only kind of charcoal pencil that works when it comes to fashion illustration.

Test different pencils to find your favorite ones. Try them on various types of paper as well. Hold the pencils in your hand and write a few words, and then draw some circles and straight lines. Notice how smooth the line is, along with how light or dark it is. Hold the pencil on its side to see how easy or difficult it is to color in a shape. Turning a pencil on its side can help you determine whether the pencil is good for shading.

Keep your pencil in tiptop shape

Both electric and manual pencil sharpeners have their merits. Electric ones are easy and fast.

Pencils have spines, which are made of the line of graphite inside. Try not to drop your pencils or treat them casually; otherwise, the spines inside can break. Breaks inside the spines, even though you can’t see them, make the pencils more difficult to sharpen.

Erasers for fashion drawing

Drawing pencils typically don’t come with erasers on them, so you need to purchase a separate eraser. Here are the two main types:

  • Art gum erasers: These are cheap, light brown, rectangular, and about an inch or so long. They’re great for erasing a large area.

  • Kneaded erasers: Kneaded erasers are great for pressing on your paper to remove smudges or just to lighten up the pencil lines. They’re also great to knead and shape into a sharp point if you need to erase a small area.