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Charcoal vs Graphite Pencils - What’s The Difference?

Charcoal vs Graphite Pencils 


Charcoal and graphite pencils are two of the most popular drawing mediums, used by both students and professional artists. But which one should you use and why? And what makes them so different? Both feature a range of benefits, but your choice will ultimately depend on your unique drawing style. We’ve outlined everything you need to know about charcoal vs graphite pencils. Read on to learn more!



  • What are charcoal pencils?
  • What are graphite pencils?
  • What are the pros and cons of each pencil?
  • How to use charcoal pencils
  • How to use graphite pencils  


Charcoal vs graphite pencils

What are charcoal pencils?  

Before we discuss the main differences of charcoal vs graphite pencils, we need to look at what each one is first. Charcoal pencils are made of compressed charcoal,which is coated in a wooden case to prevent breakage and to give you better precision. These pencils can be easily sharpened to a fine point and come in a range of grades – from extra soft, to medium and hard. 

What are graphite pencils?

Graphite pencils, also known as lead pencils, are made of graphite (which is actually a form of carbon). These pencils come in a wide range of grades, ranging from 9H to 8B. 

What are the pros and cons of each pencil?

Charcoal pencils



Creates rich and bold strokes

Drawings can smudge easily 

Can add levels of depth to drawings

They can be a bit harder to control (especially for beginners)

Can create soft lines and shadows

They work best on specialised art papers

Graphite pencils



Good for creating sharp and precise lines 

Require more sharpening than charcoal pencils

Easy to use

Needs more pressure to create depth in drawings 

Come in a wide range of grades

Can be difficult to control if you’re trying to create a range of effects or lots of shading

Easily erasable if you make a mistake



So, which pencil should I use?

  • Graphite pencils are good for: Detailed and precise drawings. So if you’re looking to create architectural artworks, flower drawings, portraits or sketches for watercolours, these are your go-to.
  • Charcoal pencils are good for: Shading, smudging and for creating depth. This means they can be used for an array of drawings and sketches, including still life drawings and landscape sketches.


How to use charcoal pencils

While charcoal pencils might seem intimidating to budding artists, they’re not as hard as you think! Follow these tips to get started:

  • Choose a pencil grade: Soft charcoal pencils are great for blending and making crisp lines, while hard pencils are good for lighter, cleaner edges.
  • Apply pressure: The more pressure you apply, the darker and more solid your line will appear. Try switching between light and hard pressure to see what effects you can create.
    • Use a kneadable eraser: To add highlights to your drawing, use an art eraser to gently swipe over your drawing. 
  • Seal your drawing: Charcoal is easy to smudge and dust off. Use a fixing spray on your drawing to ensure the charcoal stays in place. 



How to use graphite pencils

Again, using graphite pencils is a lot easier than you think! Use these tips to get started:

  • Choose a pencil grade: Graphite pencils range from 9H to 8B where the ‘H’ represents hard and the ‘B’ is used to explain the blackness of the pencil. The numbers on these pencils describe the intensity of hardness and blackness of these pencils.
  • Change how you hold the pencil: The way you hold your pencil can impact what your artwork looks like. To create light, loose sketches, hold your pencil towards the end. For more precise, hard lines, hold the pencil closer to the tip for more control.
  • Apply pressure: Similar to charcoal pencils, the more pressure you apply, the darker the lines will be. 



We’re here for your artistic needs

So now you know the differences between charcoal vs graphite pencils, it’s time to stock up on art supplies so you can create your next masterpiece. At Art to Art, we have everything you need, from sketch pads and visual art diaries, to graphic pencil sets, pencil sharpeners and colour pencils. Shop our wide range of drawing supplies today and get free shipping over $100 and same-day dispatch.


Charcoal vs graphite pencils FAQs 


Can you use charcoal and graphite pencils together?

Yes, you can use the two together in a drawing. In fact, if you use both together you can add new layers to the drawing. The charcoal can add depth and blackness while the graphite can add reflective dimensions to your artwork.

Why do artists use charcoal?

Many artists favour charcoal as their drawing medium because of its unique, dark black strokes. It’s also very easy to create shadows and smudge the charcoal. 

What is special about graphite pencils?

Graphite pencils are popular because they come in such a wide range of grades, which means they can be used to create a variety of effects. These art pencils are also very easy to erase and can be used on any surface. 

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