Graphite Pencils vs. Colored Pencils

Are you a drawing newbie trying to traverse the big world of pencils? Or a portrait-pro wondering if you should switch it up for your next project?

No matter what you are, when it comes to graphite pencils and colored pencils, let me tell you, they do not behave in the same ways. It’s certainly not as simple as “Well.. one is black and white and one is color… duh, Kayla.. ” 

They can both be used to achieve very different effects and moods, and like any comparison, there is a big list of pros and cons for each. As someone who has a good bit of experience in this department, I’d love to take you through them.


If you have chosen to stay away from this medium, it’s probably because of it’s lack of color. If that’s the case, you should definitely reconsider, because a drawing created with graphite pencils can have just as much visual interest as one created with colored pencils, all while giving you an entirely different mood you couldn’t achieve otherwise.

In fact, I believe you can produce much finer detail with graphite pencils. Graphite is harder and has much less give than it’s rival, so when sharpened you get a pointier tip, meaning you can really get in there and create a lot more detail, which we all know makes for a more realistic drawing.

That harder element of graphite also means a lot less sharpening, making the pencils last much longer than colored pencils. And of course, not having to constantly stop what you’re doing to sharpen your pencils = less pain in the butt and more beautiful, uninterrupted drawing time.

However, it’s very important to keep your project covered and not let your arm rub over it while drawing, because it has the tendency to get a little muddy in that instance. In general, it’s much more fragile than a drawing created with colored pencils, so do take care.

Also, if you’re looking to create an image that gives a fun and vibrant feeling… maybe sit the graphite pencils out for this one. But if you’re going for a quiet, dark and broody feeling then, by all means, graphite pencils are for you. Your finished creation will have a very mature and realistic look.

Pros: finer detail, more realistic, less sharpening

Cons: can get muddy if not covered, no color, can look amateur without blending (which is a con for both… more on this later)

Mood: realistic, quiet, dark and broody


Since most of us spent a large majority of our childhood coloring with crayons, colored pencils might seem like the next natural step up, which makes it very surprising that this is one of the more difficult mediums to conquer. I believe they are certainly more difficult than graphite pencils.

As humans, we just seem to find something with color more eye catching and visually appealing. And, if done well and blended correctly, a drawing created with colored pencils will probably hold a viewer’s attention longer than a drawing created with graphite pencils.

There are so many more layers involved in a colored pencil drawing. Just think about it… everything you look at in the world has some kind of hue that is a different color than the one that’s smacking you in the face. That green grass might have blue undertones. That woman’s hair is black, but can you see the purple underneath? And that brown, wooden table has a lot more orange in it than you may realize. There is a big, big world of color theory out there that I could get into, but I’ll just leave it as the reason that colored pencil drawings are much more visually deep and attention holding than drawings done in black and white.

The downside to this? Having all of those layers and extra work involved means you have about two times the opportunity for things to go wrong with your project. And unfortunately, because you’ve probably already gone over your paper with multiple colors and a colorless blending pencil, it’s going to be much harder to erase that mistake you just made (which is why I recommend not even using an eraser for colored pencil drawings).

However, going through all that may be worth it to you, because in the long run, your colored pencil drawing will pull your viewer into the world you’re trying to create much more than a graphite pencil drawing would.

Pros: color!, more visually interesting, pulls viewer in more and can hold their attention longer

Cons: much more work and opportunity for things to go wrong, more sharpening, can look amateur without blending (once again, a con for both, see my note on blending below)

Mood: fun, vibrant, immersive

So, do you know which pencils you’re going to use for your next project? I believe the best thing you can do is try both of them and see what works for you. Whichever you decide to go with, they both have every opportunity to be the perfect tools to transfer the beautiful images you have in your head to your paper.

“All art is but dirtying the paper delicately”*

A note on blending: While it is true that there are many realistic looking drawings done without blending, more often than not, a drawing looks more professional when blended. So whether you’re using a tortillion stump or a colorless blending pencil (for graphite and colored pencils respectively), I would recommend blending every time.

*Quote from John Ruskin

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