A prospective student emailed a question: can he use a black colored pencil for one of my drawing classes instead of graphite? 

We had a bit of a back and forth about it, but in all honesty I was going from what I know about both, not having tested them side by side. Today’s exercise did confirm what I believed but with a little less of a difference than I thought they’d have. But read on to see my assessments of each aspect tested.


Tutorial: Graphite vs Colored Pencil – pros, cons, and tips

The left side of the sketch is in graphite, mostly 6B; the right side in black Polychromos pencil!

Watch the video below and scroll to the end to leave comments or questions — or click HERE to watch it on YouTube and leave comments over there. I read both dutifully!

Line weights

Graphite comes in various hardnesses; the harder the pencil the lighter, and those pencils can also get very very sharp. Great for tiny light details. Softer pencils make heavier lines.

Colored Pencil only has the one pencil, and typically a manufacturer uses the same hardness for all their pencils. Making different weights is done by the sharpness of the pencil as well as the amount of pressure used.


Graphite can get dark but when compared directly with colored pencils, it’s more of a deep grey. Colored pencil can be deep black; but I can’t speak for cheap pencils, those may not be really really black—many of them release little pigment.


Graphite is quite erasable; unless it gets really overworked (layer upon layer with blending solutions) it can often be erased mostly to the white of the paper. 

Colored Pencil is less erasable, leaving more pigment adhered to the surface of the paper. Electric erasers can sometimes lift more than others can but also may destroy the paper. Both are paper-dependent; some papers will erase better than others, so test it out.


Graphite is so soft that it smudges very easily! That means it blends well, sometimes even when you don’t want it to. Protect your work with glassine under your hand – if you don’t have that, use the shiny side of freezer paper against the graphite to keep it from smudging.

Colored pencil smudges less, but only by a degree. Once blending solution is “set” (ie has dried completely) it’s less likely to smudge, too. 


Graphite is reflective – making it hard to photograph sometimes. It gets a sheen to it that catches light. Colored Pencil is less reflective.


Graphite can work on any smooth paper – even computer paper! I still do like a little texture myself; Stonehenge is what I like for all kinds of pencil work. Some swear by hot press watercolor paper, but I haven’t had as much success there.

Colored pencil likes some tooth – not necessarily “texture” (like a cold press watercolor paper or something). I have a picture in my mind of a microscopic look at the paper’s surface scraping pigment off the pencil, and whether or not that’ss the way it works, it’s what makes me like a paper with a little grippiness to it for colored pencil.


Graphite pencils are typically less expensive than Colored Pencil, but a lot of that depends on brands as well as whether you buy a set or not; sets bring down the price. 

Got questions?

Let me know if anything’s unclear – or if you disagree! I know plenty of artists who like different papers, pencil brands, techniques….that’s what makes the art world go round!


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1 Comment

  1. Gab

    Love this side by side review!


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