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As I hope you know, pencil "lead" is really graphite.
As you also probably know, pencil "lead" comes in a range of soft to hard. This range is measured from 8B (really soft and dark) to 8H (really hard and light), with HB in the middle. In case you don't know, HB is the equivalent of that #2 pencil with which you had to fill out those Scantron TM sheets in high school. There are what I call "traditional" pencils (you know, a stick of wood with a sliver of graphite in the middle and an eraser on the end). There are "art" pencils, the main difference being that they don't have an eraser on the end. There are also a variety of mechanical pencils, sometimes called "lead holders." These things are essentially tubes with gripping things inside that hold a replaceable piece of graphite. They come in different sizes to hold different widths of "lead". Cometimes they come ith an eraser on the end, sometimes they don't.
The trick for the penciler is to find the pencil that works best for how you want to draw. A soft pencil will give you a dark line, will go blunt fast, and will smear easily. A hard pencil will give you a light line, will stay sharp longer, and is less smear-able. A thin mechanical pencil will give you a line of consistent width, all the time. A thick piece of graphite can be used to produce lines of varying widths, like a chisel-tip pen.
I have found that anything harder than 2H is a bit too faint to see. As you push harder to make it darker you wind up carving a line into the page and that makes it difficult to erase and to work over. Some people like a soft, dark, traditional pencil because they like to use it like a brush, shifting between thick and thin lines. A pencil too dark is difficult to completely erase, however.
For artists who like using a "traditional" pencil, the issue comes up of the sharpness of a point. Some like to have an electric sharpener at their workstation and sharpen frequently. There are sandpaper pads that can be bought at an art supply store to keep a point sharp or to give it a pen-like chisel point. Some like to use a blunt point to keep from concentrating too much on details, but keep a sharp pencil handy for when details are necessary.
There are pencils with blue “leads” that do not show up when reproduced. These “non-repro” or “non-photo” blue pencils are about as hard and light as a 3H or 4H pencil. The advantage is that they don’t require any erasing after being inked over. Some artists, however, have found that they have a “waxy” feel and ink does not sit well on it. It’s been said that the Eberhard-Faber Col-Erase blue pencil has the advantage of being non-reproducible without the waxy feel, and can be inked over.
The best thing to do is to try a variety of pencils on a variety of papers and find what works best for you and your inker.
Of course sometimes you will make mistakes. As someone once said, that’s why they put erasers on the ends of pencils. The trouble is, those erasers sometimes don’t work too well for our purposes. They can tear up the paper you’re using, and if the oils on your fingers get on them, they will just smear your drawings.
Pink Pearl erasers are OK, but still have the potential to damage the paper and smear the graphite.
White plastic erasers are safe for your paper, and can be bought in mechanical pencil form or in peel-away pencil form, both of which are good for working on small areas of your page.
Kneaded erasers can be molded into whatever shape you need, but don’t erase the graphite quite as well as others.
Gum erasers cover big areas, are safe to the paper, and crumble as you use them.
Next - Penciling: Tools: Straightedges and More
Cartoonists Materials FAQ
Comic Art Tool Talk
Dandy Don's Cartooning College: Cartooning tools and art supplies for comics
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Or you can search for more books on how to draw comic books on Amazon.com:
Pg.1: Definition and History of Comics
Pg.2: Comics Today
Pg.3: Terms of the Trade
Writing: Story and Plot
Penciling: Tools: Short Answers
Penciling: Tools: Furniture and Paper
Penciling: Tools: Pencils and Erasers
Penciling: Tools: Straightedges and More
Penciling: Creating Characters
Penciling: Character Sheets
Penciling: Props and Vehicles
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