Graphite, charcoal, and other pencil types seem all the same from the outside. It’s true. But when you want to look inside the material types of every pencil variation, things start to seem a lot different than they initially were.
Although the main goal of both charcoal and graphite pencil is nearly the same, there are some variations in both of them. Whether you use pencils for drawing, sketching pencils before painting, architectural artwork, or anything else, choosing the right pencil can prove to be quite beneficial in the long run.
We’ll look at, in this guide, some main features of both of these two pencil types. But before that, we’re going to learn about some basics about each. Finally, we’ll discuss the differences so that you have an easier time choosing the right one for your task. Knowing all these will enable you to have a clear, better understanding of pencils in general, too.
Graphite and Charcoal – A primer
We’ll first talk briefly about both of these pencils. Afterward, we’ll dive into the differences between them. The reason we’re putting the definition first is to help you understand the pencils, their structures, and mechanisms clearly.
Graphite is a natural substance that’s formed of highly pressurized carbon atoms. It’s strong yet very brittle. In the natural form, it’s unusable in pencil leads. Thus, the lead of the pencils is made from a mixture of clay and powdered graphite.
When you press a graphite lead on a piece of paper, some carbon atoms leave on the paper and that’s how the markings are created. Now, you’ve noticed graphite pencils have something written on them like – HB, 2B, and so. This signifies the amount of graphite that’s going to be left on the paper as you rub the lead on it.
The variation in the mixture of graphite and clay determines how hard or soft the lead will be. If the amount of clay is less and the amount of graphite is more in the clay, the pencil will create bold, thicker, and black markings. And if it’s the opposite – meaning, less graphite and more clay, then the pencil’s color will be lighter.
Charcoal isn’t used as much as graphite pencils and there are some logical reasons behind this. This variation isn’t suitable for everyone because the color and shading are messy and unstable. If the artist isn’t skilled at handling a charcoal pen, he’s bound to miscalculate the amount of shading required.
Differences between graphite and charcoal
We’ve talked about the basics of both graphite and charcoal. Without further ado, let’s dive into their differences now.
Since graphite pencils are made from a combination of clay and graphite, many levels of mixture variations can be made from this. When you see the letter ‘B’ printed on a graphite pencil, it means the pencil’s lead is on the softer side. This is made possible by increasing the amount of graphite and reducing clay in the mix.
Also, you’ll notice ‘H’ written in some pencils too. It stands for the level of hardness in a lead, a.k.a. The clay-graphite mixture. H pencils have a less amount of graphite and an increase in the amount of clay in the lead mixture. By changing the mixture in this way it’s possible to create a pencil lead that’s hard and long-lasting.
On the other hand, charcoal pencils don’t have such a vast use case like it’s with graphite pencils. These are usually used only for drawing and shading works. Graphite has more cases – it can be used for nearly everything related to writing or drawing something on paper.
Charcoal pencils are graded by their blackness, which is signified with the letter ‘B’. The lowest charcoal pencil you’ll see is HB, it’s the least black. The code goes up to 6B, which is the darkest charcoal black pencil.
Graphite can be used for almost everything. It’s the most common pencil you’ll ever find. The reason behind its popularity is quite simple – it’s cheap and readily available. Since the cost of production isn’t expensive, the final product isn’t costly either.
Graphite pencils are used for drawing, writing, technical artwork, and shading. However, for shading, graphite isn’t the best tool. But since it’s easily available, pencil users prefer using it all the time until there are good alternatives available.
Another good feature of graphite pencils is their ability to create super detailed artwork. There are several graphite graded pencils available and depending on your specific use case, you’re unlikely to find a pencil not suitable for that.
If you need light strokes and thin lines, you’re better off choosing an H-graded pencil. And if you need thick, dark black strokes then B-graded pencils will suit you better. Graphite is easy to handle, doesn’t make much mess, and creates clean lines on paper. Also, if you make a mistake, it’s easily erasable.
Now let’s talk about charcoal. They’ve been popular for a long time. What they excel at are shading works. The level of shading possible with a charcoal pencil isn’t possible with a graphite one. Well, not possible with the same level of ease to be honest.
Charcoal is mainly used for detailed artwork shading, creating shading plans before starting an artwork, and so on. Charcoal comes from several plant variations and all of them are different in their abilities. However, the difference is mostly in their thicknesses, which is vital while creating detailed shades.
Ease of use
Both are easy to use if you take enough time to learn about the shades and their principles. Charcoal, although it’s soft and easy to make a bad shade mistakenly, can easily be erased with a brush. Graphite isn’t like that and needs an eraser to be removed. If the lead is bolder, you might rub off the paper while erasing.
Considering overall ease of use, graphite is best for all experience levels. Charcoal isn’t complex to use but if you can get some experience with it first, then shading with it will be much more effective.
Now you know the differences between these two. The differences might or might not be important to you if you don’t need to do a lot of shading. But knowing there are differences and you can get better pencils for your various drawing works can be a good idea.