Pencil Leads

Please Note: This Page Is In Progress

This means, among other things, that:

  • Some of the content is not fleshed out, so you should not read more into things than exactly what is there.
  • Some sections might have things marked as “TODOs” (e.g., questions or things that must be done). These TODOs should not be taken to be representative of truth in any respect, and indicate areas that need more research and thought. If you have particular knowledge in things related to these, you can help! (Please see: contribution guidelines).
  • There probably will not be any section that pulls everything together in an easily understandable way.

This does not mean that:

  • I am not firmly convinced of the veracity of all the content currently published. If I am not sure of something, I don’t push it to the website. (This doesn’t mean that I won’t ever change my positions if I come to learn that I am in error, but that I strive, as much as possible, to only push content to the website if I am absolutely certain that it is true).
  • This page cannot be helpful to you in its present form. If you are aware of the limitations of the current state, you may find this page helpful long before I officially publish it.

Lead Grade

  • Higher softness is better: darker line, writes more smoothly, takes less pressure to deposit graphite on the page. Disadvantages: Smudges easier (especially bad if you’re a lefty)
  • Lead comparison: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73gZFjIAHtw

Lead Width

  • While it is true that wider leads are smoother (ever try pushing a needle across a piece of paper?), if we posit that lead softness is the main determiner of smoothness, then the net effect is probably small enough that advantages of thinner lead should not be sacrificed for very marginal gains in smoothness -> the lead width should be as large as possible while taking into account the following considerations:

    • Smaller lead width is better in terms of darkness: the same amount of pressure over a smaller area will lead to a greater force, and more graphite on the page. Because anything under 2B is dark without very much force, I don’t believe this is a factor of much importance for everyday usability (but obviously darker is still better).
    • Thin lead enables much smaller handwriting, saving graphite in the long run, and reducing travel distance
    • Thin lead can do more detailed work for technical drawing and sketching (greater flexibility)
    • Some people feel that writing with thin lead looks “more precise” and “cleaner”. (Others disagree, of course).
  • If you never need to write smaller or do technical work past a certain level of precision, additional decreases in width become unnecessary and the smoothness for general writing is more important. For most people, either 0.5mm and 0.7mm should give you best results. (For me, 0.5mm is best since it is the broadest width that gives me an acceptable level of precision for my handwriting size and use cases). Certain folks may find the precision of 0.3mm (or even 0.2mm) useful.

    • Important to note that 4B lead is currently only available in 0.5mm, so folks who think 0.7mm would work better for them theoretically should probably still opt for 0.5mm at this time because the softer lead grade determines smoothness more than lead width.

Sizing Comparisons: 0.3mm to 0.9mm

The visuals below are helpful (the photos aren’t mine: just linked – follow the links for proper credit). You can find a reasonable introduction to lead sizes here.


                       Figure 1: A comparison of 0.35mm, 0.5mm, and 0.7mm lead. Picture courtesy of Dave’s Mechanical Pencils.

Figure 1: A comparison of 0.35mm, 0.5mm, and 0.7mm lead. Picture courtesy of Dave’s Mechanical Pencils.


                       Figure 2: A comparison of some small lead sizes. Picture courtesy of JetPens.

Figure 2: A comparison of some small lead sizes. Picture courtesy of JetPens.


                       Figure 3: A comparison of commonly used lead sizes. Picture courtesy of Amazon.

Figure 3: A comparison of commonly used lead sizes. Picture courtesy of Amazon.

My Pick



comments powered by Disqus