Graphite Vs Charcoal – A Comprehensive Comparison Of Both Mediums

Charcoal or Graphite

Let’s take a closer look at the battle between graphite vs charcoal. Graphite pencils and charcoal are two of the most popular drawing mediums.

But how can the two mediums be compared? What is better for beginners? Which medium should you use for your next drawing?

Pencils and charcoal pencils can look very similar, but they are completely different media, which means they have different strengths and weaknesses.

Which one is more suitable for you and your art. Here you will find the answer.

What characterizes a graphite pencil?

Charcoal vs Graphite pencil
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Graphite is a form of carbon which, together with clay as a binder, forms the lead.

The more binding agent is in the mixture, the harder the lead is and the thinner the lines and lighter the tones will be.

Graphite pencils with less binder and more graphite are much softer, draw thicker lines and allow you to achieve much darker values.

The hardness of the pencil lead is indicated by a combination of letters and numbers. Most of the pencil sets range from 2H or HB to 6B. Theoretically the entire range goes from 8H to 8B but you don’t need 6H or 8H pencils to cover the entire spectrum of shades of grey.

Some artists even prefer to work with just two or three pencils in one drawing.

Graphite tends to work better on smooth paper and is more suitable for smaller drawings or quick sketches. Since you are working with a tool that has a very small tip it is difficult to cover many areas evenly.

A disadvantage of graphite is that it gives the drawing a distinctive shine, especially when you apply a lot of pressure for darker values. Also drawing a surface that you repeatedly touch with a pencil will lead to a shiny surface. As a result pencil drawings may be more difficult to photograph because the material reflects so much.

Let’s summarize the advantages and disadvantages of the graphite pencil:

Advantages and disadvantages of graphite pencils


  • Excellent library of resources available for artists starting to draw
  • Ideal for smaller drawings as you only work with a pointed pencil tip
  • Does not smear so easily and is not dirty, so it is easier to transport the work than charcoal drawings.


  • Not particularly suitable for drawings with extensive dimensions
  • Surface begins to shine easily
  • Slower to process than coal because it takes longer to cover the same space

What is charcoal?

Charcoal vs Graphite drawing
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Like graphite, charcoal also is a form of carbon.

Charcoal is available in soft, medium or hard consistency. Similar to graphite, the hardest coal provides the brightest values, while the softest coal produces the darkest values.

Charcoal is available in both stick and pen form. It is usually darker than the darkest graphite, so you will get an extremely wide spectrum of color values from the white of your background to the extremely dark area of your charcoal.

A neat quality of the stick-shaped charcoal is that you can achieve many different styles and marking widths by rotating the edges slightly.

Softer charcoal is easier to process because it is easy to rub off and provides a beautiful, smooth cover similar to oil paint.

Softer charcoal is also easier to remove, thus forgiving a lot of mistakes and making it more suitable for beginners. Charcoal generally works better on textured paper. Since you can rotate and turn a carbon stick as you wish, you can draw with the broader side and cover larger areas faster.

The drawback however is that charcoal has a tendency to smudge and is therefore harder to apply cleanly. Especially for beginners who tend to drag their fingers through the drawing.

It is also difficult to draw precise details because the drawing area of the tool is larger than that of a graphite pencil.

Let’s summarize the advantages and disadvantages of charcoal.

Advantages and disadvantages of charcoal


  • Better suited for larger drawings
  • Can achieve darker shades more easily
  • More intuitive and faster to work with


  • Need for increased care because the material greases quickly
  • Charcoal drawings are more difficult to carry

Graphite vs charcoal – Really a “vs”?

As you can see, the battle graphite vs charcoal is not a unanimous decision. Most artists will pick a favorite once they are familiar with both mediums. It depends on what kind of drawing you are planning.

Ultimately both mediums have advantages and disadvantages. One artist likes graphite better, the other prefers charcoal.

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