The difference between graphite and charcoal pencils is amazing

Do you know the difference between graphite and charcoal pencils? Some beginner artists assume they are basically the same but they are not. Graphite is a mineral that is used to make lead for pencils. It has a different consistency to charcoal such as being harder and finer, which makes it great for detailed drawing. Charcoal, on the other hand, is made from wood and has a much softer consistency. This makes it better for creating bold lines and adding shading. So which one should you use for your next art project? Let’s take a look!

How do Graphite and Charcoal pencils differ in terms of texture and use?

Graphite pencils are made of a mineral called graphite, which is a soft carbon. They have a smooth, fine texture that is ideal for detailed drawing. Charcoal pencils are made of wood that has been burned, so they have a much softer consistency. This makes them better for creating bold lines and adding shading.

How they are made translates into how they differ when used on paper or canvas. On paper, graphite pencils will produce a much finer line, while charcoal pencils will leave a thicker line. Graphite is also less likely to smudge than charcoal. When drawing on canvas, charcoal will give you a more bold look, while graphite will provide a softer look. Graphite tends to get a little lost on canvas, especially a larger-sized canvas.

The charcoal pencil will also give a rougher line compared to graphite pencils.

There are pros and cons to each type of pencil. Graphite pencils are less messy than charcoal, but they also produce a less dramatic effect. Charcoal pencils can be harder to control, but they can add more depth and dimension to your drawings. Ultimately, the decision of which pencil to use comes down to personal preference and the project you are working on.

Which one is better for drawing and sketching portraits or landscapes?

Graphite pencils are better for detailed work, while charcoal pencils are better for creating bolder, more expressive lines.

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If you’re working on a portrait or landscape drawing that requires a lot of detail, graphite will be your best bet. But if you want to add more drama and emotion to your drawing, charcoal is the way to go.

I have seen a few artists post drawings they have made using both types of media and I am amazed at how many use the wrong type of pencil for the artwork submitted for a critique.

One for example draw manga and comic book style characters using charcoal pencils and then asked why their drawing didn’t look right.

Another used a 2H pencil to add depth to a pencil portrait where either an 8B or soft charcoal pencil would have done the job much better.

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And I have seen artists submit gesture drawings using fine graphite pencils when a normal charcoal pencil would have given them a more fluid and suitable result.

When it comes to landscapes, if you are drawing value sketches or as an underdrawing for an oil painting I would use a charcoal pencil all the time.

If I am creating a watercolor painting of a landscape then I would use graphite pencils all the time.

What are the pros and cons of each type of pencil?

There are lots of pros and cons to both graphite pencils and charcoal pencils and this adds to the difference between graphite and charcoal pencils. Below I have listed the main pros and cons for each.

Graphite pencils


  • Graphite pencils are much cleaner than charcoal pencils allowing for a wider range of tones, from very light to very dark.
  • As graphite pencils are less messy than charcoal pencils, this makes them ideal for use in a more controlled setting, such as an office or classroom.
  • Graphite pencils also come in a very wide range of grades compared to charcoal pencils.
  • Graphite pencils are easier to erase or correct when you make mistakes.
  • Works well on most types of paper.


  • Graphite pencils can be more difficult to control than charcoal pencils when trying to obtain a range of line effects and shading if using one pencil.
  • Graphite pencils also require sharpening more often than charcoal pencils.
  • While it works on canvas, it can get lost unless it is used as an outline for a painting.

Great for:

  • Detailed sketches, pencil portraits, sketches for watercolors, flower drawings, and the like.

Charcoal pencils


  • Charcoal pencils provide a richer, darker black than graphite pencils. They also allow for more expressive drawings, as they can create softer lines and shadows.
  • Charcoal pencils are also less likely to smudge than graphite pencils.
  • Charcoal pencils, on the other hand, produce a darker and more intense line.
  • Charcoal pencils are also more forgiving than graphite pencils, meaning that they can be used to create softer and more smudged lines. This makes them ideal for use in sketching and gestural drawing.
  • Works best on specialized papers and not on plain paper.
  • Works well on primed and unprimed canvas.


  • Charcoal pencils are messier than graphite pencils and can be more difficult to control.
  • They also require a bit more pressure to produce a strong line, which can lead to hand fatigue.

Great for:

  • Gesture drawings, painting underdrawings, landscape sketches, still life drawings, thumbnail sketches.

So, what should you use for your next project?

Which one should you choose for your next art project – graphite or charcoal pencils?

If you want a detailed, precise drawing, go with a graphite pencil. If you’re looking for something with more impact or that will create shadows and depth, charcoal is the way to go. And if you can’t decide, try both and see which you like better because you can actually use both on the same artwork.

I have used both types of pencils in my mixed media artworks where I do all the fine line work with a graphite pencil and when it comes to adding ultra-dark shadows or lines I add a touch of a charcoal pencil.

The difference between graphite and charcoal pencils is amazing – wrap up!

So, the difference between graphite and charcoal pencils is that graphite pencils are made of graphite mixed with clay, whereas charcoal pencils are made of charred wood.

Graphite pencils are good for detailed drawings, while charcoal pencils are better for loose drawings needing shadows and depth. You can use both types of pencils on the same artwork to get the best of both worlds.

I hope you enjoyed this post and it answered your questions, if it did please feel free to share this post with your artist friends or anyone you know who wants to know the difference between graphite and charcoal pencils.


Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

Image by Elisabeth Rudolf from Pixabay

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