Graphite Vs. Charcoal: Which Drawing Material Is Best For You?

two drawing sample images using graphite and charcoal

When choosing the right drawing materials, the options can be overwhelming. Should you use graphite or charcoal? What are the benefits of each?

This post will compare and contrast graphite vs. charcoal to make an informed decision about which one is best for you!

Graphite Vs. Charcoal Comparison Table   



Texture & Consistency

Smooth and define lines

Dusty and Smudgy



Dar Gray





Drawings, Sketchings

Sketchings, Shadings




Color Selection

Wide range of colors

Usually black


Lasts longer because of its durable materials

Prone to wear and tear






May fade over time


Non-toxic safe for kids

May contain lead

What is Graphite?

pencils on the white surface

Graphite is a form of carbon and is traditionally used in the art of drawing. It comes in pencil form, with the hardness ranging from 9B (very soft) to 9H (very hard). The higher the number, the harder and darker the lead is.

Graphite has a smooth texture that allows you to create delicate lines and strokes. Also, it's easy to blend and smudge, making it a great choice for shading effects.

Pros Cons
  • Great for beginners
  • Less messy than charcoal
  • More durable
  • Perfect for doing small drawing details
  • Available in more colors than just black and white
  • Lasts longer
  • Less expensive
  • Good enough for artists working on large scale drawings
  • Not recommended for building up layers as they are more reflective than charcoal




    What is Charcoal?

    Charcoal is another form of carbon, but unlike graphite, it is made from burning wood. It comes in sticks and pencils with the hardness ranging from 2B (soft) to 6H (hard).

    Although charcoal can produce a darker mark than graphite, it has a rougher texture that makes it difficult to blend and smudge. This makes it suitable for drawing bold lines and creating dramatic shading effects.

    a set of charcoal pencils
    Pros Cons
    • Easier to use for creating bold lines or effects
    • Builds up layers quicker
    • Less reflective than graphite
    • Adds more drama and contrast to your charcoal drawings
    • Messier than graphite
    • Not as easy to erase as graphite
    • Needs to be sharpened more often

      Graphite Vs. Charcoal: The Drawing Materials Showdown

      Consistency: It's a Tie!

      a portrait of a bird using graphite

      Graphite vs. Charcoal - Image by Dragos Pepina Art

      Charcoal can be smudged and blended to create soft edges, while graphite pencils produce more defined lines. Depending on the drawing tool you're utilizing, it might be extremely smooth or exceedingly rough.

      Charcoal is considerably more dusty, crumbly, and scratchy in certain situations. However, some artists prefer charcoal because of the darker shade it can produce than graphite.

      Texture: It's a Tie!

      a sample of graphite and charcoal drawing

      When it comes to texture, graphite, and charcoal are quite different. However, it depends on what kind of look you are going for. Graphite is better if you are looking for more precision in your work. But if you want more of a rustic look, charcoal is the way to go.

      It comes down to personal preference when it comes to texture. Some artists prefer the smoother look of graphite, while others like the rougher texture of charcoal.

      Safety: Graphite

      A set of graphite pencils

      Graphite is considered non-toxic and safe for use. Pencil is the main example of graphite that your kids can use.

      On the other hand, charcoal may contain toxins that can be harmful if inhaled. However, some charcoal drawing products claim toxic-free. But if you want to avoid taking the risk, go for graphite.

      Durability: Graphite

      a pencil

      When it comes to durability, graphite stands out. It is made of harder material and will resist wear and tear better than charcoal.

      In contrast, charcoal is softer and can easily be smudged or broken. Graphite is the better choice if you want a drawing material that will last longer.

      Application Coverage: It’s a Tie!

      a side-by-side portrait of a woman using graphite and charcoal

      Graphite vs. Charcoal - Image by Vin Art, PaulArTv

      The graphite pencils can be used for various purposes, such as drawing, sketching and even writing. Charcoal can also be used for these purposes, but it is not as versatile as graphite. However, one advantage of charcoal over graphite is that it can be used for shading.

      Both drawing materials have advantages, depending on what you want to use them for.

      Ease of Use: Graphite

      a woman painting a cat

      Graphite is much easier to use than charcoal. It does not require any special tools or techniques to get started. All you need is a pencil and paper for basic drawing and sketching. But if you want to add life to your masterpiece, you may also use other art mediums for added color.

      On the other hand, charcoal can be a bit more difficult to use. It can be messy and smudge easily. Also, charcoal needs to be sharpened more often, which can be annoying.

      The video below shows how these mediums are used in drawing and sketching.

      Cost: Graphite

      a dollar sign, pencils, and charcoal pencil

      When it comes to cost, graphite is the clear winner. Pencils are relatively cheap and easy to find. On the other hand, charcoal can be a bit more expensive and are not readily available. However, choosing the best one depends not only on the cost but also on the quality.

      Lifespan: Graphite

      Graphite is a much more stable drawing material than charcoal, so it won't break down or decompose as easily over time.

      Charcoal can smudge and rub off easily, which only lasts for a short time. While graphite is more resistant to smudging and rubbing off.

      Graphite Vs. Charcoal FAQ

      a portrait of a cat using charcoal

      Where can I use a graphite pencil for?

      Graphite pencils are one of the most versatile tools in any artist's toolkit. They can be used for various purposes, from sketching initial ideas to adding fine details to a finished piece.

      Graphite pencils are perfect for creating light and dark lines, making them ideal for shading and crosshatching. They can also be used for blending and creating gradients.

      Where can I use a charcoal pencil for?

      Charcoal pencils are versatile tools for various drawing techniques. They can be used to create both light and dark effects, depending on the type of paper you are using.

      Charcoal pencils can also be blended to create different shades or smudged to create a softer look. In addition, charcoal pencils can create texture and add depth to your drawings.

      What are charcoal pencil types? 

      There are a few different charcoal pencils, each with its benefits:

      • Willow Charcoal: This type of charcoal is made from burning willow wood. It produces a soft, dark line and is perfect for creating gradients and blending.
      • Vine Charcoal: It is made from burning grapevines. It is perfect for detailed drawings because it produces a very fine line.
      • Compressed Charcoal: It is made from charred wood pressed into a solid block. It is ideal for creating bold, dark lines and shading large areas.
      • Powdered charcoal: Made from the charred wood ground into a fine powder. It can be used to create very dark lines and shading.

      What are the types of graphite pencils?

      There are some graphite drawing tools, but the most common are colored graphite pencils and synthetic graphite. Colored graphite pencils are made with graphite mixed with other pigments to create a range of colors.

      While synthetic graphite is made from a mixture of graphite and clay. It is a very smooth drawing material that produces dark, rich lines.

      What type of artists typically use graphite?

      Many artists use graphite in their work, including traditional artists who sketch or do preliminary drawings and modern artists who create graphite sculptures or mixed media pieces.

      Which is good for beginners, and which is ideal for professionals?

      When it comes to graphite and charcoal, there are many different types and uses. However, graphite is considered a better choice for beginners, as it is gentler on the hands and provides sharper, cleaner lines.

      On the other hand, charcoal may be preferable for more experienced artists who like to work with bolder strokes and darker hues. While graphite can create rich tones, its shading capabilities are less extreme than charcoal.


      Ultimately, choosing which medium to use for art depends on the desired result and the artist’s preference. Graphite is great for creating delicate lines, blending, and creating shading effects, while charcoal is better for bold lines and dramatic shading.

      Both mediums can be used in a range of techniques to achieve different effects, so it is important to experiment with both and decide which works best for your artwork. 

      Choose graphite if:

      • You want a more precise drawing tool.
      • You want a smoother texture.
      • You want your drawings to last longer.
      • Your budget is tight.
      • You want wider color selections.

      Choose charcoal if:

      • You want a drawing tool with a rougher texture.
      • You don't mind your drawings not lasting as long.
      • You want a rustic look on your artwork.
      • You have a budget.
      • You want darker shades for blending.

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