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Best Pencils for Drawing Comics

July 13, 2021

Wherein I interview myself, with much unnecessary snark, about the analog wood and mechanical graphite pencils I use to draw my comics. Let’s begin!

Pencils for Pity Party Page 4.
Pity Party – Page 4 Pencils. They’re a mess, but they’re my mess.

First of all, do you still draw comics with pencils? That’s weird.

You’re weird for thinking it’s weird. I use a variety of pencils, both mechanical and wood, with graphite, and non-photo blue drawing leads.

Non-photo blue? What’s that?

Non-photo blue, also called non-repo blue, is a shade of blue that is not picked up by most black and white copiers, scanners, and cameras. Lines sketched using non-photo blue do not need to be erased after inking, and that is awesome for black and white line art.

I use it primarily for comic lettering, for no other reason than that’s just what I do.

No erasing? That sounds terrifying. Is this dark magic?

That’s a strange thing to say, and no, it’s just a very light blue.

Although, if copying, scanning or photographing an image in colour, the non-photo blue will show up. 

I knew there’d be a trick! LIAR!

Relax, it’s not complicated.

If you scan as a black and white bitmap, where the scanner detects black and white pixels only, non-photo blue is too light to be detected.

If you scan in greyscale, non-photo blue will appear as a light grey line. Adjust the brightness and contrast of the image (either on the scanner itself, or in your favourite photo editor) until the light grey lines disappear.

If you scan in colour, non-photo blue can be separated out using your favourite photo editor. One method involves replacing the blue channel with the red channel. Another method is to apply a black and white threshold filter to the line art (this is what I do). This is a lot like scanning in black and white, but with more flexibility.

I nodded off. Are we still talking about pencils for comics?

Stay with me, one more thing. You can buy non-photo blue wood pencils, such as Prismacolor, or Staedtler. You can also buy non-photo blue drawing leads for your favourite mechanical pencil, such as Prismacolor Turquoise.

Technically you could even use a very light blue pen, but this is a post about pencils.

So that’s enough about non-photo blue pencils. What other pencils do you use to draw comics?

This is a list of my drawing and writing pencils.

Pentel 120 A3 / A315 with Pentel Super Hi-Polymer H lead. I use this mechanical pencil for thumbnails and idea sketching.

Staedtler Mars 780 with Prismacolor Turquoise Non Photo Blue drawing leads. This is an old mechanical pencil, used almost exclusively for comic lettering.

Eagle Turquoise 10 S with Turquoise HB drawing leads. Another really old mechanical pencil, used mostly for penciling comics. HB is a nice weight of graphite for comics, primarily because it won’t leave an impression in the paper like harder drawing leads, and it still erases easily enough.

Palomino Blackwing. Beautiful wood pencil. Smells like heaven. I use it for writing, and sometimes sketching. It’s a soft lead, so I don’t thumbnail with it much, because it smudges.

Mitsubishi 9850. Another beautiful wood pencil. I use it for writing, and sometimes sketching.

I’ve had enough. Any last words?

When making comics, use any pencil you want. Or don’t use any pencils. There is no right way, just make something with tools you like. If you don’t have tools you like, use whatever you have on hand. Or experiment with tools you don’t like, it’s all good.

Just make something, and have fun!

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