While in school, you undoubtedly heard a teacher request the class to only use Number 2 pencils at least once. It seems like schools were deadset on the Number 2 pencil. But what even is a Number 2 Pencil? If there is a 2, is there a Number 1 or a Number 3?
As a matter of fact, there are indeed Number 1 and 3 pencils. There are even Number 4 pencils!
But why do you never hear about these pencils? Why are Number 2 pencils seemingly more popular and widespread? Well, it all has to do with what each pencil is geared towards.
Don’t worry, we’ll cover the differences in these pencils, as well as why you probably haven’t heard of anything besides a Number 2.
Table of Contents
The Number 1 Pencil
There’s actually a pretty simple designation system for pencils. The numbers (which actually include things like 2.5 and 5 as well) denote the softness and “darkness” of the lead. The higher the number is, the harder the core of the pencil is, and the lighter its markings are.
This means that Number 1 pencils are the opposite of that: they have a very soft core and accumulate more graphite on paper, which leads to darker markings. They have to be sharper than other pencils since being soft means the lead whittles down fairly quickly.
Number 1 pencils are most frequently used for drawing, where being able to achieve different levels of darkness is important.
- Artist Quality/School Grade - School Grade
The Number 2 Pencil
As you can probably surmise by now, a Number 2 pencil has a harder core than a Number 1 pencil, and also has lighter markings, though it is still softer and darker than Number 3 and 4. Why is Number 2 the pencil everyone hears about in school? Well, it’s just the best middle-ground.
Number 1 pencils are so soft that they smudge easily and need to be sharpened all the time, so they aren’t great for everyday use, especially when it comes to writing. Number 3 and 4 pencils don’t need to be sharpened as often, but their marks are so light that some people have trouble reading them.
The Number 2 pencils simply strike the best middle ground of being dark enough to read easily while also being hard enough to not need sharpening that frequently. That’s why they are the most commonly used and the most familiar.
There’s actually another reason Number 2 pencils are so popular with schools, but we’ll talk about that later.
Number 3 and 4 Pencils
You’ve probably figured this out already, but these two pencil designations are even harder than the aforementioned pencils and make even lighter marks. Because they are so hard, they can have very fine tips and be used with great precision. But the light marks aren’t great for writing.
Furthermore, these hard, sharp pencils can actually pierce typical paper quite easily, tearing right through it. This is another reason they are not used for writing and you’ve probably never heard of them while you were in school.
These are specialist pencils, often only used by people in a select few careers, like engineering.
The Other Big Bonus to Number 2
Number 2 pencils are mostly used because they strike a happy medium between the different pencil grades, but there is actually another big reason they are so popular with schools. Do you remember all those Scantron bubble tests you had to take?
Well, the early machines used to read and grade those tests had problems accurately detecting marks from Number 3 and 4 pencils because the marks were too light. Number 1 pencils smudged too easily, which is bad when you need to fill in a bubble and stay within the lines.
On top of that, the composition of Number 2 pencil lead was easier to detect by machines because it had more electrical conductivity.
Number 1, 2, and 4 pencils exist, but they are either too soft and dark or too hard and light to be practical for your average user. This is why most people are familiar with a Number 2 pencil, but some people haven’t even heard of the other grades. But now you know!