What Is An HB Pencil?


Have you ever looked at the two letters HB inscribed on your pencil and wondered, what is HB pencil? These letters are seen everywhere, across various brands, so what do they mean?

The letters HB on a pencil stand for “Hard” and “Black,” meaning that the graphite is hard the color is dark, and the pencil is medium-hard. You will sometimes also see a number, which tells you more about how hard or black the pencil is, but not on an HB pencil.

Let’s learn a bit more about what an HB pencil is and why you might want to choose one.

What Is An HB Pencil?

An HB pencil is a medium-hard pencil, and this is the kind that is commonly used for many different applications because it represents a good middle ground. It is hard enough to create clear lines, and it is dark enough to be visible and easy to read.

Many pencil manufacturers use the letter “H” to tell you that the pencil is hard, and the HB scale to tell you how dark the graphite is. You may also see the term “F” for firm, which indicates that you can get a very sharp point with this kind of pencil.

It can be helpful to understand the different aspects of how pencils are rated because this gives you greater insight into what kind of pencil you are using, and what it is suitable for

If you are going to be doing any drawing work, this kind of understanding will be critical, because you will need to choose pencils that are suitable for the work.

For example, you might choose soft, dark pencils where you want heavy, smudgy shading, and fine, light ones for outlines or brighter parts of the drawing. Understanding the scale will help you to select your pencil with care.

Is The HB Scale Used In The US?

The HB markings are commonly used outside the US, but most of the US uses a numbering system for pencils instead. As a rough guide, an HB is usually a #2 in the US, but there is no fixed guideline that stipulates this because the industry standards are vague.

You will therefore find that the #2 pencil from one brand is not the same as the #2 pencil from another brand and that different manufacturers use different standards. They should be the same within a brand (a #2 will be the same as another #2), but will likely differ if you buy from different companies.

Even the HB standard is not fixed and has no set parameters, and may differ depending on your location and the general preferences there. As an example of this, HB pencils in Japan tend to be softer and darker, because there is a preference for soft, dark pencils in Japan. In another country, the HB could be lighter and harder.

You may therefore need to do quite a bit of experimentation to work out what the best brand is and what level of hardness/darkness is correct for your needs. Once you have found a good brand, make a note of it for future reference, because the lack of standardization can make it difficult to find otherwise.

How Does The Scale Work?

If you want more details on how the HB scale works, the low numbers when combined with a B indicate that the pencil is quite light, while high numbers indicate that it is dark. A high number combined with an H means that the pencil is light and hard. For example:

NumberLead Type
9H – HVery light, very hard from 9H onward, getting softer and darker toward 2H and H.
F A little darker and softer than H.
HB A little darker and softer than F.
B Darker and softer than HB.
2B – 9B Getting gradually softer and darker, until you reach 9B: the darkest, softest pencil, appearing almost black on the paper.

As you can see, it makes a big difference what number and letter you choose, so make sure you select with care when you decide which pencil you need. Bear in mind that the softer the core (the higher the B number), the more the pencil will smudge. Hard pencils do not smudge easily.

Are HB Pencils The Best?

Many people consider HB pencils the best because they represent a good middle ground. They create a nice, firm mark that is easy to read, but they are not so soft that they will snap and smudge, nor so hard that they are brittle or difficult to make out on the paper.

As mentioned, “HB” is not a fixed standard that every manufacturer adheres to, but choosing an HB is often a good idea if you want the pencil to be multipurpose or you aren’t sure what kind of pencil you need. This will provide you with a middle ground writing tool that should perform well in most conditions. You can then decide whether you need a darker or lighter pencil.

If you cannot get HB pencils and you want something that’s somewhere in the middle, a B or an F should work reasonably well. A 2B is starting to get quite soft and may smudge too easily, while the early Hs may be too faint. On the whole, hard is a little better than soft for things like writing documents, and may remain readable for longer.

However, for drawing or situations when you want strong, dark, dramatic lines, soft will usually be the better option. Stay close to the middle of the range, and only use something like a 4B or higher if you are drawing.


An HB pencil is simply one that is neither very hard nor very soft. You can generally get hold of HB pencils easily in stores and craft stores, and they are sometimes known as #2 pencils in the United States. They have a whole range of purposes and are excellent for taking notes.

Related Content

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.