What Is An F Pencil?
Updated: May 27, 2020
In school, I never really understood the letters on graphite pencils but for a long time, I haven't even heard about F pencils. I am happy to present the answer to you today so you understand the blackness scale completely after this article.
What is an F pencil?
The letter F on a graphite pencil stands for fine and is located on the blackness scale between HB and H. On the numeric scale "HB" in considered #2, H is considered #3 and F can, therefore, be referred to as #2.5.
We'll clear up all questions around the whole blackness scale and F pencils in today's article. The best areas in drawing to use an F pencil for, their advantages and disadvantages. All of this in the following paragraphs.
I. The Pencil Blackness Scale
At first, let's talk about the entire blackness scale, so you understand it. Without having the blackness scale in front of your eyes or knowing it completely, it's difficult to really understand what an F pencil is. Take a look at the image below.
We will divide the blackness scale for graphite pencils into three main parts. We will talk about the H scale, the B scale and about the middle pencils like B, HB, F, and H. Let's directly dive into the H scale, what it means and what these pencils are good for.
1. The H Scale
When I'm talking about the H scale right now in this article I'm especially referring to the H pencils with higher numbers. So, what I mean by that is that I won't include the simple H pencil in the H scale. We'll include that one in the last part of this section of the article.
The range we're talking about is 2H to 10H and I don't even think there's something above that. I have never seen a 12H pencil in my life and even 8H and 10H are very rarely used in any drawing area.
The letter H on graphite pencils literally means "hardness". The higher the number before the H the harder the lead inside the pencil actually is. Lead gets harder the more binders you put into the graphite mixture.
Every common lead pencil consists of graphite mixed with a few so-called binders like wax, gum or clay. These binders are responsible for the graphite sticking to the surface and not smudging that easily.
The more binders are contained in a pencil, the better your marks will stick to the surface. This, on the other hand, means that harder pencils are more difficult to erase and to smudge.
Harder pencils are therefore mostly used in architectural drawings or in very complex drafting sketches of an engineer, for example.
What H pencils are not that great for is shading. Actually, harder pencils should almost never be used to shade anything in a drawing. There are certain shading techniques that work perfectly fine with harder graphite but I would never recommend it.
In realistic drawings from life, such as still life drawings or portrait drawings H pencils can definitely be useful. Especially when you start your artwork with a rough and light sketch a hard pencil is well suited for that task.
A pencil on the H scale will enable you to draw very fine and precise lines in analytical drawing or drafting. In life drawings, a harder pencil is perfectly suited for a rough and light initial sketch. These lines often need to be refined and erased, so the soft lines of a hard pencil often work best in those cases.
The higher H pencils are not often used in drawing because there's almost no advantage in using a 10H pencil instead of a 2H pencil. Both will achieve the same goals for the same purposes in the same drawings.
Only rarely a very ambitioned drafting expert uses such a hard pencil. Of course, the higher the number in front of the H, the easier it will be for you to draw very light lines on your surface. Experiment for yourself with different tools to get a feeling for them.
2. The B Scale
On the other side of the HB border on the blackness scale, are the soft or "black" B pencils. In this case, I also want to say that the basic B pencil will not be included here because it will be mentioned and dealt with in the third part here.
From 2B to 10B almost everything gets used very often in various drawing areas. Whether it's life drawing, fictional drawing or drawing for design purposes. A soft B pencil is almost everywhere usable in contrast to very hard H pencils.
As you may have already guessed correctly, the letter B on a lead pencil stands for "blackness" and the higher the number in front of the letter B the softer the pencil is and the easier it gets to create darker marks on the drawing surface.
Binders, in this case, get fewer the higher the number is in front of the B. A 10B pencil, therefore, contains a lot fewer binders than a 2B pencil. This means that you can smudge darker and softer pencils on the B scale a lot better than harder ones.
This makes soft B pencils perfectly suited for shading purposes. You're able to smudge and blend it perfectly fine with a blending stump, any kind of cloth or even your finger.
Even if you have no intention to smudge your dark marks on the paper at all you can use B pencils for shading. You just need to adjust the pressure you exert on your pencil to create different values, different gray tones.
If you use the same amount of pressure on a 4H pencil as on a 4B pencil you will also notice that the softer one is easier to erase thanks to the fewer binders it contains in its lead core.
3. The Middle Section And The F Pencil
Now we'll finally talk about the hardness, softness or blackness gradations that can be found in the middle section of the scale. This means we'll now look at the pencils B, HB, F, and H.
These four symbolize the mid-section for me personally! Some artists may tell you something else but basically the information I'll give you now doesn't differ from opinion to opinion. Mostly this information is simply consisting of dry facts.
The pencils here are useful in any area we've already talked about. Of course, shading is better with very dark B pencils and precise mechanical drafting is easier with very hard H pencils but basically all of this is also possible with an HB pencil.
The F pencil is simply a slightly harder version of the HB pencil. It is able to be sharpened to be very fine at the tip.
They contain a medium-high number of binders in their lead core which makes them not too hard to erase or to smudge but not too easy as well. That's why they are the most common pencils that can be found everywhere.
In offices, schools or at home these medium-soft pencils can be seen and used. Mostly you use them to write. They are easy to handle, erasable if you do any spelling errors, and also very affordable of course.
II. Usage Options Of An F Pencil
What do you use an F pencil now for and do its usage option differ in any way from the other three middle pencils B, HB, and H? Why is there
What is an F pencil used for?
F pencils are optimal tools to use for writing just as HB pencils are. Since the tip of an F pencil is slightly pointier and harder than the tip of an HB pencil, you can also use the F pencil for any kind of precise freehand drawing.
If you are thinking about freehand drawing you're maybe thinking about simply doodling around in your school exercise book. Actually, freehand drawing is every kind of drawing you can do without using any other tool except for your pencil and your drawing surface.
If you want to learn more about freehand drawing check out this article I've written and published on the Mac H. - Creative website.
When you don't really care about using as much of the value range as possible in your drawing you can use an F pencil for it. If you merely want to insert basic shading techniques in your artwork such as hatching or circulism, you can also just use F.
That also applies to all of the four mid-section pencils. If you use B, HB, F or H for your basic freehand sketches doesn't matter. You're dealing with pretty much the same tool in any case.
Don't spend too much time thinking about what pencil to use and just start drawing!
III. Related Questions
1. What Blackness Do Mechanical Pencils Have?
It isn't stated in the form of the letters H, B, and F but in the numbers 1 to 4. #1 equals B, #2 equals HB, #3 equals H, and #4 equals 2H. You can also find mechanical pencils with the blackness #2.5 that equals the letter F on a regular wooden graphite pencil.
2. Is An F Pencil Lighter Than An H?
An F pencil is not lighter than an H pencil. The F pencil is one step beneath the H pencil on the blackness scale. On the numeric scale, H is referred to as number 3, HB is number 2 and since F is in between these two it is considered number 2.5.
3. What Is The Softest Pencil?
The softest pencil available for purchase is a 10B pencil. However, it is almost never used in drawing because it contains too few binders. That makes the 10B pencil and also the 9B and 8B ones very powdery and unhandy.