Pencils Buying Guide

Compare the different types of pencils available at Officeworks with our helpful Pencil Buying Guide. Discover which pencil is right for writing, drawing, colouring and more.

Types of Pencils

There are many different types of pencils available, and it can get confusing selecting the right one for your needs. Read on to understand the differences between each type.

Graphite & Lead Pencils

With varying lead grades and flexible graphite cores, these pencils are a staple for students, writers, artists and designers. Contrary to the name, there is no lead in these pencils - the core is actually made up of a mixture of graphite and clay. The ratio of graphite and clay determines the lead hardness of a pencil, i.e. how dark a line it produces. You can find a large range of these pencils at Officeworks.

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Mechanical Pencils

These pencils are durable and refillable, making them a popular choice for drafting, drawing and writing. They last longer than wooden pencils, produce consistent, precise lines and don’t need sharpening. However, the lead is more fragile and can snap or break with pressure. Lead diameters for mechanical pencils generally range from 0.3mm to 0.9mm, with the most common thicknesses being 0.5mm and 0.7mm.

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Coloured Pencils

The core in coloured pencils is made with a combination of colour pigments, minerals and waxes. Artist-grade coloured pencils have a higher concentration of high-quality pigments than coloured pencils for everyday use.

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Watercolour Pencils

Watercolour pencils have colour leads that are water soluble, producing an effect similar to watercolour paint. They can be used wet or dry. Once laid down on paper, the colour transforms into paint when you go over it with a wet or damp brush.

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Correction Pencils

These specialty pencils have a bright red lead and are generally more break resistant than standard pencils. They are popular with teachers and are commonly used to mark papers and make corrections.

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Learner pencils

These pencils are designed for those learning how to write and draw. They are larger and stronger than normal pencils, making them less prone to breaking. Learner pencils feature an ergonomic triangular design which promotes the correct writing grip and are more comfortable for young children to hold.

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Charcoal Pencils

Charcoal pencils are used by artists for shading, smudging and creating deep, dense tones. They are a mess-free alternative to using actual charcoal or charcoal sticks as they keep fingers and paper clean.

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How do you plan to use your pencil?

Different pencils have different features and functions. Find out which pencil is right for your needs.


HB pencils are most commonly used for writing, and are a staple in schools for exams and penmanship. Some people prefer writing with a 2B pencil as it has a darker lead for writing and calligraphy. If you’re using a mechanical pencil, go for 0.5mm or 0.7mm lead.

Drawing and Sketching

Artists rely on a wide range of lead grades for varying shades of darkness when sketching and drawing. Beginners usually start with a small range of different grades to experiment with results and work out what suits their style best. Officeworks offers a wide range of sketching pencils to suit all drawing and sketching needs.

Prefer using mechanical pencils? 0.3mm lead is better for detailed drawings and drafting, while 0.9mm lead can be used for sketching. 0.5mm and 0.7mm are suitable for general drawing.


B pencils are good for medium to dark shading, while H pencils are suitable for fine and light shading. This portrait shows the results from various H and B lead grades.

2B pencils are a good place to start. If you’re looking for really dark shading, go for 4B pencils or 6B pencils.


Choosing the right coloured pencils can help you achieve the right creative result. Look for pigment intensity, lightfastness (resistance to UV rays in sunlight), water resistance or solubility, and blendability. Coloured pencils range from basic ones for everyday use to professional-grade ones for serious artists, such as Caran d’Ache coloured pencils. For rich and vibrant colours, try pastel pencils or polychromos pencils.


Take drawings to the next level with watercolour pencils. You can draw with them and add water afterwards for a watercolour effect. You’ll need to use paper that can handle water to see the effects – you won’t get the blending and fading effects on regular paper.

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Things to Know

What is lead hardness?

Lead hardness is determined by the proportion of graphite and clay contained within a pencil. It indicates the pencil’s smoothness, pigmentation, smudge resistance and strength. Many pencil manufacturers use the European letter scale to grade lead hardness, ranging from H (hardness – indicating the level of clay) to B (blackness – indicating the level of graphite). You may also come across the letter ‘F’, which indicates that the pencil sharpens to a fine point. The more graphite (B), the softer and darker the lead, while the more clay (H), the harder and lighter the lead.

What does HB stand for?

HB simply stands for hard and black, and is one of the most commonly used pencils for writing. It is in the middle of the European letter scale for lead hardness. The American system for grading lead hardness uses numbers instead of letters. Under this system, the equivalent for a HB pencil is a #2 pencil.

What’s the difference between H and B pencils?

H pencils are smudge-resistant and produce light lines, making them ideal for outlines, light sketches and technical drawings. B pencils are favoured for expressive drawing, sketching and shading as they are dark, smooth to draw with and smudge easily. The bigger the number on a B pencil, the darker it will be, while the bigger the number on a H pencil, the lighter it will be. The HB pencil falls between soft and hard and makes a great all-around pencil for everyday tasks like writing.


  • Pencil Cases

    Keep your pencils organised – and take them on the go - with a pencil case.

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  • Mechanical Pencil Lead Refills

    Ensure your mechanical pencil is always ready for use with a steady supply of lead refills.

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  • Pencil Eraser Refills

    Always be ready to fix mistakes with eraser refills for your mechanical pencils.

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  • Pencil Sharpeners

    Keep your pencils sharp and ready for use with a pencil sharpener.

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  • Notebooks & Note Pads

    Jot down ideas, notes, lists, plans and more in a note book or note pad. Choose one that best suits your style.

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  • Sketch books

    Doodle, sketch and create your next masterpiece in a sketch book.

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