Difference between HB and No. 2 Pencil

Key difference: Both, the HB and No. 2 pencil, are the same type of pencils. The term HB is widely used in England, whereas the term ‘No. 2’ is widely used in America.

A Pencil is a popular tool used for writing as well as drawing purposes. Pencils were discovered in England, 1565, where rods of graphite were used to mark sheep while counting, and by 1970, the rods with wooden covering i.e. pencils were developed.

Pencils are made of wood with a graphite core inside, which is actually the combination of clay and finely grounded graphite, mixed with water and pressed together at high temperatures to make thin pencil rods. This process was developed by Nicolas-Jacques Conté, a Frenchman, in 1795, and it is still the most widely used method by pencil manufactures. By this process, manufactures started to label pencils according to their hardness; they were distinguished into four numerical grades, wherein 1 was for being hardest and 4 was for being the softest. Terms such as ‘No. 2', 'No. 3', and 'No. 4’, were used depending on the nature of the lead. However, this grading system proved to be inconsistent and confusing, so it was upgraded and changed to the “HB” grading system.

The “HB” grading system was developed in the early 20th century in Europe. Terms such as HB, B, F and H are usually used and printed on the pencils. Here, the 'H' stands for ‘hard’ which is designated for hard leads, and 'B' stands for ‘black’ which is designated for softer leads. Also, any number in front of HB, or B, or H simply indicates the shade of the lead.

Although, both the grading systems depict and determine the nature and hardness of the lead used in the pencil, both the grading systems are widely used in different countries across the world based on their popularity. In most of the countries and many parts of Europe, the HB grading system is widely used, whereas the numerical grade system is popular in America.

The HB pencil and the No. 2 pencils are the same type of pencils, which are named according to the different grading systems. These pencils are one of the most popular in the lead hardness categories. They are standard and known for their general writing purposes. The term ‘HB’ is universal and is usually printed on all pencils, however, the term ‘No. 2’ is also widely used. The terms simply mean that the pencils are hard and black, and depict the hardness and the nature of the lead used. These pencils have a limited amount of clay in them, which give a medium line density while writing. The pencil lead is mediocre in shade which leaves a visible mark on the paper. Also, the pencils have a good tensile strength and give a smooth feel while writing. Being light in shade, these pencils are easy to erase, which makes it a favorite among the children who use it to improve their ‘penmanship’ in school.

Comparison between HB and Number 2 Pencil:


HB and No. 2 Pencil


The term ‘HB’ stands for the hard and black nature of the lead used in the pencil, whereas the term ‘No.2’ determines the hardness of the lead.

Grading system

The term ‘HB’ belongs to the HB grading system, whereas the term’No.2’ belongs to the numerical grading system.


It is a limited amount of clay, which makes the lead medium hard.


It is mediocre in shade.

Line density

It creates a very medium line density.


It is ideal for general writing.


It is used by children in school to improve on their penmanship.

Image Courtesy: apenchantforpaper.blogspot.com

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