Carbon and Ebony pencils

Carbon and Ebony pencils

The lead pencil’s main ingredients haven’t changed much since Conté and Hardmuth figured out how to blend and bake clay and graphite approximately two hundred years ago.

Yet a few pencils acknowledge getting a bit of help from mixing in some charcoal, and some others are a bit more mysterious. Of course there are also pencils that clearly identify their marking ingredient, whether graphite, charcoal, or chalk. Here are a few pencils labelled “Carbon” or “Ebony”.

Carbon and Ebony pencils

Maybe you use one or more of them? If so, maybe you can share a little about why you like the pencil.

Carbon and Ebony pencils

The Sanford Ebony Design 14420 is described on the packaging: “Thick, jet black lead produces expressive images with a matte finish.” To me, “jet black” is an exaggeration. The pencil has an oversized graphite core, and seems to be a typical pencil, but with a soft grade that keeps a point quite well.

General’s Layout/Ebony pencil 555 is described on the General pencil website as being “extra smooth, extra black graphite.” It also appears to be an oversize core pencil in a soft grade.

Both are nice pencils, but the “ebony” designation seems to be more a term meant to connote this pencil style, rather than referring to any specific formula. Pencils available in a wide range of grades usually use larger cores for the softer pencils anyway, so the uniqueness isn’t so clear.

They also reminded me of oversize core pencils from Japan – both Tombow and Mitsubishi offer 4B and 6B pencils with oversize cores. Derwent and Caran d’Ache are also known for oversize core drawing pencils.

Lyra Rembrandt Carbon 308/3 is one of a few very interesting specialty pencils found in the Lyra “Art Specials” set. The Carbon 308/3 is apparently a charcoal and grease pencil – but you could have fooled me. It doesn’t have that crunchiness or light weight of compressed charcoal. On the other hand, it does leave a dark matte finish. I think it’s very interesting, and suspect it is a graphite/charcoal blend.

General’s Carbon Sketch 595 is, according to General, “The perfect combination of charcoal and graphite.” It also has a metal cap. I found it to leave an intense dark black line while again not having that charcoal compacting aspect. Anyone wanting a deep black, matte line should investigate this pencil.

The Lyra 309 is apparently “carbon without grease”. Here I’m wondering if the translation was in error. While the 308 was labelled carbon, the 309 is not, and seems more like just a charcoal pencil.

Wolff’s carbon Royal Sovereign 2B is another very interesting mixed ingredient pencil. Perpendicular to paper, it seems to squeak when it moves!

Staedtler’s 7B, 8B, and EE pencils also seem to fit in this category.

There are no doubt other examples.

21 Replies to “Carbon and Ebony pencils”

  1. I’ve tried the Sanford Ebony, and General’s Layout 555. I like them both but I like Sanford’s Ebony a little better because the graphite feels a little smoother to me. However General’s Layout 555 graphite seems to make a little bit of a darker line. They both hold a point rather well. I’ve also tried General’s sketch and wash (another pencil that’s fits in this category) but not that much. Artists use General’s sketch and wash for doing doing, well, sketching and graphite washes.

    I haven’t used them in awhile, but what I was using them for line drawings. Specifically cartoons, I find that Sanford Ebony’s lines have a lot of character to them. I’ve also read on other blogs that animators like using the Sanford Ebony as well.

    One thing has come up with Sanford, Sanford is shipping all their production off to China, and Mexico so I don’t know how much longer their USA made pencils will be available, and their quailty might soon change. For right now though it seems like all the stores still have them, probably because not very many people use them though.

  2. I’d put Derwent’s Onyx pencils in this category. They’re wide core pencils that are a bit darker than a normal 9B but not as soft or smudgy.

    Derwent’s “jet black” description is a bit exaggerated. They aren’t as black as charcoal or Wolff’s carbon pencils but they do fill large, very dark areas of a drawing more quickly and cleanly than a 9B.

    On a different note but still with Derwent they’ve put out a pair of extenders all I’ve seen of them is the Derwent website reference here

  3. I found one Faber-Castell brand called “Pitt Oil Base,” at Pearl Arts & Crafts. They have a standard sized core and range from hard to extra-soft. They start out fairly darker than regular graphite pencils, and the extra-soft range gets as dark as a regular hard charcol pencil. Is the Lyra Rembrandt Carbon still around? It sounds interesting as I’ve been looking for a good alternative to the infamus blaisdell layout pencil…

  4. A trio of Mikes! Thanks for the knowledgeable comments!

    mike, the General Sketch and Wash is what I’d classify as water soluble – maybe we’ll look at those pencils at some point.

    Michael, the Onyx sounds like a most interesting pencil. I’m hoping it will turn up locally. And thanks for the tip on a very interesting extender.

    Yet Another Mike, thanks for mentioning the “Pitt Oil Base”, they sound interesting. The Lyra Rembrandt Carbon is definitely around – try a Google search for “Rembrandt Carbon Pencils”.

  5. I can’t wait to get some of those Derwent pencil extenders, for none of the ones I have work with my wider pencils. I wonder if the Cretacolor and Koh-I-Noor Nero leads might also be charcoal and grease formulas.

  6. I’m a huge fan of Sanford Ebony and use it for about 90% of my drawing and sketching. It’s great for casual sketching and also for more finished pieces. True, “jet black” isn’t really accurate, but you can get an astonishing range of values out of this pencil. General’s Layout is very similar, but I have a slight preference for the Sanford. Maybe I’m just a sucker for that nice pewter color.

    I’ve tried Wolff’s carbon pencil. The deep black is very nice, but that noise it makes gives me chills. I’d rather use a regular charcoal pencil.

  7. I’ll echo the appreciation for the General’s 555. I’ve found these to write very compatibly well on the Rite-in-the-Rain paper, which has an unusually waxy surface. The 555 has just the right “bite,” without smearing.
    Another pencil to add to this list is the Sanford’s “Draughting” 02237. This is a longtime favourite, with thick graphite and a prominently dark mark- somewhere between the less-flexible 555 and the sketch-style Ebony.

  8. Dear pencilheads
    I came across your website in search of terminology as I am translating a book on drawing from German to English. Do any of you have a glossary with descriptions by any chance?

    You probably know the story below (from Snowsquare blog), but in addition to the story, I was told some years ago by a student of mine that the real meaning of a karandash is the leftover core of a tree after peeling off the veneers by turning it on a cutting blade (imagine a giant pencil sharpener). It probably has several other meanings.

    Happy drawing

    Image: Caran d’Ache

    Swiss pencil-maker, Caran d’Ache, was founded in Geneva in 1924. The brand is so famous that readers may be excused for believing that the Russian word for pencil, Karandash (????????) was derived from it. The opposite is, in fact, the truth – though the full story is slightly more complicated.

    According to the Caran d’Ache website:
    The name Caran d’Ache has an interesting history. The company’s founder, Arnold Schweitzer, admired the work of a famous French caricaturist of the Belle Époque, Emmanuel Poiré (1859-1909). Poiré was born in Moscow, the grandson of an officer in Napoleon’s Grande Armée. While his first work glorified the Napoleonic era, he went on to create “stories without words” and as a contributor to newspapers like “Lundi du Figaro”, he is sometimes hailed as one of the fathers of the comic.

    Poiré signed his work Caran d’Ache, a French transliteration of the Russian word for pencil – karandash. A slightly modified replica of his signature became the company’s logo for Fine Arts products.

  9. I also am a big fan of the Sanford Ebony, and find it much smoother than the General Layout pencil. The Sanford’s matte finish makes it an excellent choice for working black-on-black with the glossy finish B grade pencils. You can judge for yourself how well that combination works by having a look at a drawing in which I used that method: . I have not yet tried the General Carbon Sketch, which sounds intriguing in penciladmin’s description. I’ll check it out as soon as I can.

  10. Groschak-
    I haven’t used the Ebony in about 20 years, and memory may be failing, but just recently picked one up, and it isn’t nearly as black or soft as I remember it being. Anyone else with that experience?

  11. I have this oil based pencil, it was like it was half-charcoal, it wasn’t a pastel and it wasn’t graphite. I’ve finally figured out it was a charcoal pencil, and a dark one in the DERWENT kit. Is a oil based pencil the same thing as tinted charcoal. What brands sell tinted charcoal? What are the best quality brands?

  12. Does the sanford ebony has the graphite shine?, i want a dark pencil without the shine

  13. Carbon and graphite are true black without the shine. Any graphite will have shine.(light relfecting off of it) Ebony goes as dark as any other 8b, 9b pencil. Its really smooth, goes on the paper softly, and doesn’t have hard spots in it. I think faber castell 9000 series are a wonderful set. I like to use faber castell black color pencil with my drawings for the darkest areas. Its true black and lets light reflect off it. I use carbon and charcoal for places that light doesnt touch or where there is very limited light-like the shadows. Light does not reflect off of carbon/charcoal. Carbon and charcoal will not stick onto graphite but graphite will stick onto carbon/charcoal. Wolf’s carbon 2b is a good pencil I think. It will blend closest to a graphite blend.

  14. Another option if you want/need true black, which I don’t think occurs to ppl, is to use a black coloured pencil, an obvious choice being the black prismacolor, which is like all the prismacolor pencils, nice and soft. If you want something that can be erased then prisma’s colerase would be a good choice, although they are more erasable than a proper coloured pencil they are nothing like as erasable as charcoal or graphite, but do offer a modicum of control.

  15. I have used coloured black pencil (Derwent’s only), General’s 595, Wolff’s carbon, Conte carbon, pastel black pencils, many brands of oil-based pencils, many brands of charcoal pencils, and almost all the graphite pencils you can name.

    In terms of blackness, the pastels beat everything else hands down. However, they are also the most smudgy. Next smudgy are the charcoals. The charcoals are almost as smudgy as pastels but not as black.

    In my experience, General’s 595 is very black, no sheen (that’s the proper word for it) and is the one I use when I want the blackest of blacks. Usually I only use it for the pupil of the eyes.

    To keep it really simple, you can simply use Staedtler’s 8B pencils for the blackest black. It’s supposed to be a graphite but I can find no sheen in it at all. I have also tried General’s “new” 9B pencils and I could find no difference between the Staedtler 8B and General’s 9B. In fact there is also a brand from Portugal, called Viarco, which produces an oil based carbon pencil, which I have also tried, and which I found to be no different from the Stedtler 8B or General’s 9B.

    I must emphasise that ONLY the 8B of Staedtler has no sheen, all grades from 7B down are sheeny. Staedtler’s 6B is the worst, avoid it.

    Finally I must tell you that the paper on which you work is far more important than the pencils you use. Same pencils on different papers give dramatically different results. You’re probably better off spending 30% of your research time on pencils and 70% on paper than the other way round. I found this out after years of trying pencils. And now I’m beginning the quest anew for papers.

  16. When I was a student the Ebony pencil was a dream come true…dark, dark rich blacks and fine light lines. The pencil held a point well, and was exquisite in every way. Then one day these pencils disappeared from the shelves and was replaced by a weak impostor. Sigh.

  17. I have done a lot of drawing in pencil, graphite sticks, charcoal and pen & ink. In the world of pencil I absolutely love the Ebony. Like others have mentioned it gives deep blacks as well as lighter values. And what I really like is that it can hold a fine line for a good while. I am now teaching drawing in an adult program linked to a university. I’ll introduce participants to a variety of pencils and other drawing tool but my main pencil will be the Ebony.

  18. Recently, copyin’ a Sargent charcoal-sketch with graphite, of course, it lacked the depth-of-value his charcoal obtained. Naturally, I threw some compressed-charcoal into the mix, however, amongst my very old stuff’s some Wolff’s Carbon Pencils (Be aware, though, they like 30 yrs old!!). And my sincere hope, carbon’d obtain those deep-values graphite failed to. Well, the tones created actually Lighter, not darker ‘n soft-graphite!!. . . And here’s the rub: The pencil had “HH” one it – Never heard o’ such a grade!! So, anyone aware wha’ HH indicates? I’m thinkin’ perhaps 2H, as in two Hs (Although if Wolff’s actually went there, pretty artsy-farty!!). And one final query Re: a grade I read about here “EE”?!. . .

  19. Two points confound me:
    Pair of lead-grades I’m unfamiliar with:
    HH & EE?!. . .
    And Gratitude for any elaboration. . .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *