Explore the Complete Pencil Guide: History, Types, and Uses

Known as one of history's most long-trusted and go-to writing instruments, the pencil and its versatility have come a long way since its invention. The simple functioning instrument can be found everywhere and is most likely the first tool most modern-day humans use to learn how to write.

Over the centuries, pencils have evolved into the sleek, efficient, handheld design we use today. To better understand the pencil's evolution, let's jump into history and discover all the different types and forms it has evolved into!

The History of the Pencil

The History of the Pencil

The modern pencil was invented in the late 16th century by a group of shepherds in Cumberland, England, when they had spontaneously found a source of graphite in the ground and realized that it could be used to write!

They began to play around with the form and shape of the graphite until they eventually pressed them into a stick-like form. To hold the graphite without getting their hands covered in the material, they inserted them into hollow wooden sticks, creating the first pencil.

The early batches of pencils were not accessible to all as they were expensive and weak. Only wealthy artists and scholars could get their hands on the tool.

In the late 18th century, specifically in 1795, pencils became publicly available and affordable. This was partly possible due to the discovery of high-quality graphite sources in Germany and Austria.

Common Uses of Pencils

Schools & Education

Pencils are used for writing, drawing, and note-taking, benefiting children learning to write and students taking exams.

Art Studios & Creative Spaces

Pencils are favored in early creative project stages for their erasability, aiding in drafting and planning sketches.

Offices and Workplaces

Pencils are used for writing on forms, rough surfaces, note-taking, planning prototypes, reports, and mock-ups.

Construction Sites

Builders, architects, and engineers use pencils for measurements, marking cuts, and drawing plans.


Pencils are used in homes for tasks like writing grocery lists and noting important information.
Common Uses of Pencils

Different Types of Pencils

Pencils have evolved to meet diverse needs and will continue to change and improve alongside human development. The market has innovated and varied its selection, providing a pencil for everyone's needs. As technology advances and new materials are discovered, we can expect future pencils to be even more versatile and efficient.

1. Graphite and Solid Graphite Pencils

  • Invented in 1564 when a large graphite deposit was discovered in England
  • Versatile for day-to-day needs, including writing, sketching, and drawing
  • Graphite graded using the B and H scale; B (soft) leads create darker lines, while H (hard) leads create lighter lines
  • Solid graphite pencils, popular among artists for smooth and velvety application, can be sharpened to a fine point for detailed work
Graphite Pencils

2. Colored Pencils

  • Invented by Faber-Castell in 1908, with roots dating back to Johann von Goethe in the 1820s
  • Composed of a wax or oil-based binder mixed with pigments
  • Used for drawing, sketching, coloring, and crafting, offering a range of color options and blending possibilities
  • Highly portable and suitable for various creative and practical purposes
color pencil set

3. Grease Pencils

  • Wax-based writing tool encased within paper or wood
  • Moisture-resistant and durable, suitable for various surfaces like porcelain, textiles, glass, and metal
  • It can be used wet or dry for different effects, such as regular colored pencils or watercolor paint
  • Can be easily wiped off non-porous surfaces, making them ideal for temporary markings
Grease Pencil

4. Watercolor Pencils

  • Similar to colored pencils but with water-soluble pigment
  • Can be used wet or dry for different effects, such as regular colored pencils or watercolor paint
  • Great for blending, layering, and creating gradients of color
  • Often used by illustrators, graphic designers, and artists seeking the control of pencils with the fluidity of watercolor
watercolor pencil

5. Carbon Pencils

  • The blend of graphite and charcoal for dark and sharp lines without graphite shine
  • Less messy than pure charcoal and easier to sharpen
  • Ideal for sketching, drawing, and layout designing
  • Popular among fine artists for achieving rich darks and smooth gradients in their work
Carbon Pencils

6. Mechanical Pencils

  • Invented by Sampson Mordan and John Isaac Hawkins in 1822 to reduce lead waste
  • Graphite stick placed in a metal tube, extending outwards as needed
  • Popular among drawers, drafters, and writers for consistent lines and clear sketches
  • Available in various lead sizes (e.g., 0.5 mm, 0.7 mm, and 0.9 mm), catering to different preferences and needs
Metal Mechanical Pencil

7. Glitter and Highlight Pencils

  • A fun twist on classic No.2 pencils
  • Glitter pencils add shimmer to marks and come in various colors, ideal for craft projects and decorative work
  • Highlighter pencils have a translucent effect, similar to classic highlighters, and are used for emphasizing text or adding a pop of color
  • Perfect for students, artists, and anyone looking to add some flair to their writing tools
highlighter pencil
Su - Interwell Founder
Hi, I'm Su, the author of this post. I founded Interwell Stationery and have served over 1000+ clients since 2003. Feel free to contact us for custom stationery supplies, manufacturing support, and the latest trends in the industry.

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