Home :: Pencil Hardness

Pencils are available in different grades, with letter and number codes to identify how hard or soft the lead is. A ‘normal’ pencil is HB, or in the American system, a #2.

Different Systems


In the UK, and (I think) most of Europe, pencils are always labelled with one scale – H for Hard, or B for soft, with a number to say how hard or soft. HB is the middle of the range, and by far the most common type. For sketching, though, a softer lead is usually preferred, often 2B or even 4B. For more technical drawing or very light lines, a harder lead works better, like a 2H. The scale goes up to 9 at each end – 9B to 9H, with the extreme ends of the scale being a bit too extreme for most uses.

Sometimes, you’ll also find an F pencil – Firm – between the HB and the H (the 1 is missed off).


The US usually follows the UK system for drawing pencils, but for office use commonly refers to HB as #2.


#1 is B, #2 is HB, #2 1/2 is F, #3 is H, and #4 is 2H.

This is why the UK system is used for drawing pencils – the US system doesn’t cover the sort of range used for sketching. I usually draw with 4B lead – well off the scale.


Tip Jar

Liked this post? Leave a tip - $1, or send multiple if you like!


3 thoughts on “Pencil Hardness

  1. One correction to check: The “H” and “B” designations for the European ssytem refer to hardness and blackness, not hard and soft. So pencils are graded by both their hardness and blackness. The pencils.com website does a fine job of explaining.

  2. Pingback: Mechanical Pencils :: PigPog

Comments are closed.