Graphite has a major drawback, it reflects light, giving your drawing an unwelcome sheen. It can ruin an otherwise perfectly good drawing. All is not lost however, there are ways to reduce the problem and even stop pencil shine from happening in the first place.
Pencil shine can be stopped by applying multiple layers of graphite very lightly, avoiding pencils over 3B, and not pressing down too hard. Spraying with a workable fixative removes most pencil shine. Alternatively, draw the darks with charcoal or a Mars Lumograph Black pencil.
There are even more ways to fix graphite shine, as we shall see. I’ll start with a quick overview of what graphite shine is, before listing 9 ways to solve the problem.
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What is Graphite Shine?
Graphite is a non-metallic mineral form of carbon. It is often called “lead” because it looks like lead.
Graphite pencils have a shiny sheen to them because the graphite particles are layered on top of one another in a way that makes them reflect light.
That’s a dilemma for an artist who wishes to draw strong blacks because it’s the darker (softer) grades that shine the most. Anything over 3B is a problem, in my experience.
The shine gets worse as you apply more pressure. The darks stop getting darker and become shinier, with a smooth burnished surface. The result? When your drawing is held at a certain angle, it resembles a film negative.
Not good, especially when you’ve put your heart into your work.
So what can you do? Well, most of the major problems can be remedied with a change of technique. Prevention is better than cure, right?
Let me explain.
1. Reduce Graphite Shine by Using Lighter Grades of Pencil
To stop pencil shine you need to use the harder grades of pencil. Personally, I seldom go as dark as a Derwent 3B.
N.B. Please be aware that each pencil brand creates its own grading system. A 3B Derwent pencil is not identical to a 3B Faber. It‘s not a universal system.
Confused about pencils? Read this: What Do Pencil Numbers Mean? Pencil Grades Explained + Charts
You are safe with ‘H‘ pencils. That’s because they contain far less graphite, which is shiny, and more clay binder, which is matt.
The ratios flip as you go through the ‘B’ scale. The clay is reduced and graphite gets purer.
One of the answers to this conundrum is to abandon the softer grades and construct your darks in a series of layers.
This is my way of drawing and I seldom have any serious issues with sheen.
I will shade an area using controlled diagonal hatching in one direction. I might use an HB or B. I will cover the entire chosen area in this way as neatly as possible.
Then I go in reverse with another layer in the opposite direction. Any irregularities are disguised and the tone gets progressively darker, as you go back and forth.
Remember, I go all the way across one go before I go all the way back in one go. That prevents those patchy shapes from appearing.
There will be a final layer where the tone remains the same. If you wish to go darker still. carry on with a darker grade of pencil. I typically progress to a 2B and that’s dark enough for me.
The shine is not absent, instead, it’s more of a satin finish. Very pleasant and not at all distracting.
2. Use Less Pressure to Stop Pencil Shine
It’s a beginner’s mistake and one we learn at school and don’t unlearn later on. Pressing down hard makes a bolder mark but at a cost.
As you press harder and harder, going back and forth, the graphite fills the paper grain and burnishes the surface.
When the surface texture has been destroyed it‘s hard to repair, and it limits your ability to create a rich dark tone. You can only go so far before the shine eliminates the contrast.
This could be your best chance: Repair Damaged Drawing Paper – 8 Ways to Rescue Your Artwork
3. Avoid Overworking the Pencil Drawing
When you realize that an area of your drawing has gone wrong it’s almost impossible not to try and fix the problem.
The obvious first fix is to erase the problem entirely. A kneadable eraser will remove most of the graphite. Depending on the darkness of the tone being erased, a noticeable shadow will remain, and this can matter.
If part of the ‘feel’ of your drawing is the crumbly, speckled texture of the pencil line, it can be hard to recreate. The redrawn line might be good, but the whiteness of the paper is lost, and that reduces the ‘zing’, for want of a better way to describe it.
The importance of this caveat is totally dependent on your drawing style, but it’s good to know that reworking an area doesn’t always work as expected.
Do not erase soft graphite with a plastic or rubber eraser without cleaning it first. A dirty, and oily eraser can leave eraser ‘skids‘ that are impossible to remove.
I have a habit of wiping the eraser over my jeans before I use it.
There is also the danger of flattening the tooth and wearing out the paper. I’ve done that enough times.
It’s easy to say in hindsight but getting fixated on correcting an area to the point of ruining the paper is pointless. You discover, later on, that the mistake was minor and made no difference to the final drawing. It was all heartache for nothing.
Read this for some great tips: How to Draw Texture in Pencil: 7 Tips for Fast Results
How to Make Black Without Graphite Shine
It’s all very well knowing why graphite shines but how do you make dark tones without a metallic sheen? It’s such a common problem among artists, I’ll show you a few ways to fix this issue.
4. Use Mechanical Pencils to Limit the Shine
When I discovered mechanical pencils it made a world of difference to me. I use 0.3mm Pentel Mechanical Pencil ‘leads’ and the darkest tone is 2B.
It doesn’t sound very dark but it’s darker than the equivalent 2B in the Derwent range, my usual choice.
As I described earlier the dark is obtained by cross-hatching in layers, and although there is a sheen, it’s not obtrusive.
Please check out: Can You Draw With Mechanical Pencils? Yes, and Here’s How
5. Use a Tinted Paper as a Darker Base
The first way to make darker tones without graphite shine is to use tinted paper. This will act as an underlayer for your drawing, and it will absorb the light that bounces off of the surface of the paper.
You can tint the paper yourself or buy a tinted stock. The Strathmore series is a good choice.
A good mid-grey paper will make the darks, darker still, without any extra effort. There is no need to beyond about 2B. Highlights must be added with white carbon.
This simple remedy will stop pencil shine for all intents and purposes.
6. Use Charcoal For the Darkest Areas
Charcoal is a very useful material for artists. It can be used in dark tonal areas to create depth and contrast. Artists often use it in the background to create a sense of atmosphere and mood.
Many artists use charcoal as a base and use harder graphite pencils for the mid and light tones. It takes some getting used to, and I’ll be honest I don’t like using charcoal myself, it’s so messy.
Don’t dismiss it without trying it yourself, you might be delighted with the results. In skilled hands, the results are stunning.
Charcoal is matt black and a substitute for soft graphite. Be careful how you combine them. Using a soft graphite pencil over deep charcoal can look odd. The only way to know how they mix is to play around with them.
Blending the two mediums seamlessly takes practice.
It’s important to remember that charcoal must be the bottom layer. You cannot apply charcoal or carbon pencils over soft graphite. It doesn’t stick.
Carbon and compressed charcoal pencils produce a stronger black than charcoal sticks. If your style is more dynamic, they will give your drawings more punch. They are, however, very hard to erase. They stain the surface permanently.
Use them with caution until you gain some confidence.
7. Use a Staedtler Mars Lumograph Black Pencil
If you’re like me, you’ll know the feeling when you see a new product and you’re itching to get your hands on it.
This could be your game-changer. Enter the new-ish kid on the block. A non-shiny black pencil range – WooHoo!
Lumograph black pencils are carbon-rich and blend with normal graphite pencils with ease. You use them as you would a normal ‘B’ pencil, they mix readily, and the transitions are smooth.
They are available individually, or in a set of 6, and they range from HB to 8B.
The darks are deep and rich, much darker than their standard Lumograph graphite counterparts. An HB graphite pencil is much softer than an HB black.
That’s okay, you have to get used to them to judge the gradient scale properly.
They are different mediums. They mix, but they are not the same. Carbon is much harsher on the eye, and carbon black has a different, less refined feel.
Carbon doesn’t blend quite so naturally, it needs more work, and it is harder to erase fully.
These are minor drawbacks when you consider the alternative problems of making matt blacks.
Read this for the best tips: Prevent Your Drawings From Smudging: The Ultimate Guide
How to Fix Pencil Shine
Preventing pencil shine is always going to be the preference, but what do you do when you’ve gone too far, have graphite shine, and can’t backtrack?
Your options are limited but you have two potential solutions.
8. Use a Workable Fixative
You can use a workable fixative in two ways, to seal a layer before applying another, or as a final coat to preserve the drawing.
It’s called ’workable’ because you can use it to add a layer of matt varnish and continue working over the top. It creates a slightly rough surface texture that acts as a tooth.
A light coat will reduce the shine. Multiple coats will reduce it further. The shine is gradually eliminated and the effect is to make your drawing appear darker.
In theory, and I haven’t put it to the test yet, it should be possible to spray and seal your shiny drawing with fixative, and lightly darken the blacks with a Lumograph black. Try it on a test strip and see if that works.
9. Use a Non-Reflective Glass
The other semi-solution that will reduce the shine is to use non-reflective framing glass. This will polarize some of the reflected light. Not a total fix but better than nothing.
If you use a fixative and also frame your drawing the non-reflective glass, you should see good results.
Ways to Stop Pencil Shine – Final Thoughts
In this article, we discussed how to both reduce and stop pencil shine.
We looked at how pencils work, the different types of pencils, and some easy ways to fix common problems with graphite shine.
Take my advice and experiment with a Mars Lumograph pencil in combination with a mechanical pencil and see how they change the way you draw.
One final tip before I finish this post. Invest in a battery eraser. They are cheap enough, the cheapest is only a few dollars, and repair tiny areas with precision. They can revitalize an otherwise ruined drawing.
You’ll thank me for that.
If you like the way I draw and want to try things for yourself, this is my basic kit:
- Pentel Mechanical Pencils 0.3mm
- Derwent Graphic Drawing Pencils
- Daler-Rowney Heavyweight Cartridge Paper
- Jakar Battery Eraser
- Tombo Mono Eraser Pen
- Faber Castell Putty Eraser
- Blu Tack
- French Box Easel
Want an alternative to Amazon? Check out ARTEZA Art Supplies
When you’re ready to sell your work, you must read this!
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