There is always a lot to be said about the shading supplies in the Zentangle® community, actually about all supplies. Which is kind of an irony, as you really don’t need many supplies to tangle. However, which supplies you use does make a difference and they do bring a lot of joy!

Here are my experiences with shading supplies and recommendations for certain kinds and brands.

If you are a Zentangle enthusiast, you certainly know how important shading is. It is one of the eight steps of the Zentangle method. Shading makes your drawings come alive and many say that it’s one of the most daunting tasks. Indeed, it takes a lot of research and practice to be a shading master. However, you don’t need to master shading to enjoy Zentangle! And you don’t even need specific shading supplies – a regular graphite pencil will do, a kind that’s found in all school supplies. However, if you are teaching Zentangle or if you are at a point of your Zentangle journey where you think that you might try different shading supplies, I am happy to share my thoughts on the subject.

Graphite Pencils

I have been using many graphite pencils since I started drawing but I will reflect only on those that I’ve used most frequently. To start with the basics, let me just mention that, traditionally, graphite pencils are marked as H (hard lead, usually up to 6H, which is the hardest and the lightest), HB (hard black) and B (soft lead, usually up to 8B, which is the blackest and softest).

General’s Charcoal White

The mini black graphite pencil by General Pencil is a standard part of Zentangle’s supplies kit. It’s made with a HB lead and you can see it used in almost all instructional videos by Zentangle Inc. As I mentioned above, it’s perfectly good for shading your Zentangle art. You can see the mini black pencil on top in the photo below.

Zentangle Shading Supplies

The HB lead is not too dark but it’s quite easy to blend, especially if you are using a paper stump or tortillon. However, if you would choose to use a 6B pencil (not tested here), which is the blackest and softest, you would be able to get a much darker graphite trace on paper. These softest pencils also smudge really easily, so be careful how you place your hands and fingers after you apply them. 

Pencils on the photo were applied to Fabriano Tiepolo paper (used for Zentangle’s original paper tiles). The three on top were blended with a tortillon towards the left edge of the paper. I will mention the last pencil, Albrecht Dürer, a bit later. 

Matte Graphite Pencils

Some brands recently launched matte graphite pencils. 

Pitt Graphite Matte

One of my favorite, Faber-Castell, launched a collection of Pitt Graphite Matte pencils that go up to 14B. They are advertised as glare-free, which means that they produce less reflection on paper. If you are a CZT and you teach online, you probably know how valuable it is not to have to struggle with a light reflection under a bright lamp.

Cretacolor Nero

Cretacolor launched Nero pencils, which might not even technically qualify as graphite pencils because they are actually oil-based charcoal. They are produced in a range from extrahard, through hard, medium and soft, to extrasoft.
Performance-wise, I found Cretacolor Nero very similar to Pitt Graphite Matte. However, when I did the comparison for this blog post, I was actually surprised to see that it’s less shiny and even darker than Pitt Graphite Matte. Just look at the video below to see how the light from a strong daylight lamp is reflected from the three pencils mentioned above.
Play Video about Zentangle Shading Supplies

You can notice that the top pencil produces the most light reflection, while Nero is the most matte. However, bear in mind that this was filmed under a really strong light. That is not what you would normally notice on a photo of the drawing, especially if the artists take care about the photo quality.

Other Shading Supplies

On the bottom of the four pencils in the photo above, you will see the black Albrechr Dürer pencil. It is a Faber-Castell’s watercolor pencil, not a graphite pencil. It can’t be blended well with a paper stump (maybe just a little bit). I blended it with a water brush because water activates the pigments and enables blending. I often use different colors of watercolor pencils for shading. What I tend to do is using them on watercolor papers, especially if they have a more rough texture . An example of that is the cold-press paper or a hand-made paper. Namely, if you use such paper, it will be more difficult to blend the graphite pencil into the fibers of the paper. As a result, you might end up with not having a solid graphite trace that covers the surface well.

Another similar option is a water-soluble graphite pencil (or aquarelle graphite), which is available by most brands. It will be a bit lighter than the black watercolor pencil.

Last types of pencils that you might try using for shading are charcoal black or pastel pencils. In my experience, those are not the best options for standard Zentangle white paper tiles, because that white paper is very soft. Instead, I would use them on pastel paper or other kinds of paper, such as Paint On by Clairefontaine.


I believe that the perfect or the ultimate supply does not exist. What you might choose as your favorite supply will depend on your personal preferences. Another important thing is the specific match between the paper you use and different drawing / shading supplies. It takes a lot of time to get to know how your supplies interact with each other but it’s so much fun that you will enjoy exploring it.

If you are interested in reading more blog posts about supplies, you might check my posts about paper, pastel pencils, white pens, and pencils or a general post about my favorite supplies.

May, 2022

Written by Anica Gabrovec CZT

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