You might think that there isn’t too much to know or consider when choosing or using a pencil. Aside from the fact they come in different tone values. However there are a couple of different pencils to consider when lettering. The following video gives an in-depth look at different pencils you can use for lettering, and what the pros and cons of each are.
The below information summarises the content of the video. So you can watch the video, read the info below or take advantage of both, whichever you’d prefer!
In the video I highlight two of the most common pencils used in lettering. A mechanical pencil, and a clutch pencil (also known as a lead-holder pencil).
Mechanical pencils are great for fine detail. They have fine tips, so are helpful if you are trying to letter small detail such as the inside of the letter ‘A’. Mechanical pencils can have varying lead types such as HB, 2B etc so are versatile when creating outlines, and solid dark lines also. Clutch pencils / lead-holder pencils aren’t too different to mechanical pencils in appearance. They both have plastic casing, and you can replace the lead inside when it starts to get short. Clutch pencils also allow you to change the tone of lead across the HB scale. The major difference between them is the thickness of the lead. A mechanical pencil lead is incredibly thin and quite delicate. Whereas a clutch pencil has a thicker less fragile lead. The lead of a clutch pencil is of a similar thickness to that of a regular wooden pencil. It is still delicate to some extent though, if you dropped it off of a table, the chances are the lead would break in a couple of places.
Clutch pencils often come with a sharpener inbuilt into the end of them, but they don’t always give a precise point to the lead after sharpening. This isn’t a big challenge to overcome though as you can easily purchase one that will do the job. I purchased a tiny Faber Castell sharpener to use with my clutch pencil, and it set me back less than $2.50 / £2.00. So obtaining a quality sharpener to use with a clutch pencil is quite affordable. Unfortunately you can’t use a regular pencil sharpener with a clutch pencil as the lead is too narrow.
Once you have a nice sharp point on a clutch pencil it’s possible to create some really thin detailed lines, like you can with a mechanical pencil. However if you tilt the pencil you can also create thicker lines. So if for example you were drawing a ‘C’ you could create thin lines for the ends of the ‘C’, and a thicker part for the body of the ‘C’ just by tilting the pencil.
So overall a clutch pencil offers a little more than a mechanical pencil if you’re looking to draw more than just detail.
After comparing a mechanical pencil to a clutch pencil in the video I introduce a solid graphite pencil. Graphite pencils aren’t often used in the lettering world, they tend to be more suitable for looser drawing. Graphite pencils are usually made completely of lead, often with just a thin coating of paint on the outside. They usually consist of soft lead, and produce quite a dark tone with the right amount of pressure. It’s possible to sharpen a graphite pencil to a sharp tip, similarly to a mechanical pencil or clutch pencil. However a graphite pencil will not stay sharp for long at all, due to the soft consistency of the lead. So a graphite pencil would not be great to use for outlining lettering, unless you want to keep sharpening it every few lines. A graphite pencil can be useful though, if you’re wanting to create thicker lines with dark tones.
Finally in the video I compared a regular pencil to a mechanical pencil and clutch pencil. When using a knife to sharpen a regular wooden pencil, it’s possible to get quite a long point and sharp tip. This does take a bit of practice mind you! So it’s possible to create thin lines with a regular pencil. If you use a small piece of sandpaper in a fine – medium coarseness, it’s also possible to flatten part of the tip of the pencil so similarly to a clutch pencil you can create both thin and thicker lines. It’s a little more difficult to use sandpaper with a clutch pencil, as there’s a chance the lead will break, but also the plastic casing gets in the way of the sandpaper.
Four different pencils that all do slightly different things, all have there uses and all can be applied to hand lettering in one way or another. It’s probably a good idea to experiment with them all, and keep in mind their pros and cons, when creating different styles of lettering.