Tips for using Mechanical Pencils for your artwork

Back when I was in school, nobody really used mechanical pencils for anything. However, they are a very practical choice for drawing, especially when you're doing the layout or sketching phases. A useful benefit of these pencils is that you only need to get new lead when they run out; you can keep your favorite pencil for as long as you want. Additionally, there are several different lead options out there, each with a different thickness.

Availability

Mechanical pencils and their lead refills can usually be found in the office supply section of your local grocery or convenience store. The catch though is that most stores only carry the most common design and lead size, so you may want to be careful when you make your selection. More options can be found online or at art supply stores.

Strengths

One of the biggest benefits of a mechanical pencil is that their tips are always sharp, and so their lines are always crisp. Thus a good mechanical pencil is an excellent choice for clear and clean line art. Even better, the lines from mechanical pencils are often darker and more striking than those from typical pencils as well, making for easier scanning (though you should still scan using the "color" setting for the best result).

Weaknesses

Unfortunately, mechanical pencils aren't as versatile as normal pencils; for example, they are not very good for shading or producing grayscales. Instead, you should use cross-hatch patterns to shade or color with these, and that's a good deal harder. The other two drawbacks have to do with the lead the pencils use. It can be hard to find enough refills of the size lead your pencil uses. That was certainly a problem when I was in school anyway; with the internet's global marketplace it's probably not as big an issue today, but it's still one to consider as a normal pencil can't substitute for a mechanical one. The other issue is that when the lead becomes small enough it has a good chance of snapping, and when this happens, it typically veers off sharply and mars what you're working on.

Tips

  • Always hold your mechanical pencil the same way you would if you were writing something (ie, a soft angle).
  • Only press the tip down gently. Lighter marks are easier to erase, and too much pressure on the tip can make the lead snap.
  • Keep an eye on the amount of lead remaining, and replace it once it starts getting too small. Small pieces are more likely to snap than long ones. If you're not sure how much lead is left, lightly press against just the lead with your finger -- small pieces will be loose, but longer ones will stay firmly in place.
  • Use short, brisk movements instead of dragging the tip to draw when using one of these. This is more natural to the way our hands work and it's also much easier to keep things going where you want them if you draw them in increments.
  • Most mechanical pencils have an attached eraser. This is often poorly anchored and rather unless for actual use, so keep a normal eraser handy and use that instead. In some cases the attached eraser will even produce a colored smudge that can't be erased!