Small + mighty | the pencil

Small + mighty is a blog series that features one small but mighty important tool in my lettering arsenal.

It is only right that I start off a new tool focused blog series with my most tried and true, the OG, the never-let-me down, classic graphite pencil.

One of the things I hear most from people who want to begin lettering is that they are concerned that they don’t have the right tools. Well, kids, I am here to tell you that I use a pencil every day in my lettering career.

Now without completely making your eyes glaze over with in-depth pencil knowledge - you should know that pencils come in a variety of hardness and said hardness is measured either on a numerical scale or on the HB graphite scale.


The numerical scale references the hardness of the core (remember using a #2 pencil in school?) - so a higher number means a harder core which means that the mark left on the paper becomes finer as the number goes up. A lower number indicates a softer core, so more of a mark is left behind. Think about the difference between drawing a line with a colored pencil and an oil pastel - the pencil is harder so the line you draw is narrower and more precise, while the oil pastel is super soft and leaves behind a thicker, less precise line under the same pressure as the line drawn with a colored pencil.

The HB Graphite Scale is something you might be less familiar with - seeing as our trusty #2 pencil at school said only that - #2. The letter H after the number on a pencil indicates hardness, so a 9H is a harder pencil than a 2H. The letter B indicates blackness on a pencil, or how much dark lead is left behind as your write, so a 9B will leave behind a darker black mark than a 2B. There are more intricacies to this whole elaborate scale, but for those of you not completely enthralled by pencil anatomy, we’ll leave it at that. The cool kids at have this handy dandy little graphic that helps you see exactly what the eff I am talking about!


So, my personal pencil of choice is usually an HB (both hard and dark) or something in the lower end of the B side (usually no higher than a 6B) - this allows me to make both thick and thin lines with one stroke, the way one would with a calligraphy nib. It’s super fun and you should try it out! I recommend picking up a few different pencils so you can play around to find your ideal mate.