There are many "pencil" brushes for Photoshop, both shipped with the software and distributed over the web. None (that I have tried) show the specific behavior of a real pencil.

A real pencil of about medium hardness, if you brush it over the paper only very lightly, creates a grey line – no matter how often you draw over the same part of the paper! If you hold the pencil lightly and keep going over the same part of the paper over and over again, you will create a silvery, light grey area. You will never achieve black.

At the same time, when you press the same pencil harder, your can create a dark line. How dark the line gets, depends on the hardness of the pencil, but always a light pressure does not result in dark color, even if you keep going over the same part of the paper forever.

The reason for this is that if you press lightly, the graphite will never be rubbed into the fine "valleys" of the paper structure. With a light pressure, you will always only color the "tips" of the paper grain. If you want to color the whole paper, you need to press and "level" the paper grain (or rub the graphite into the "valleys").

In Photoshop, on the other hand, all "pencil" brushes lead to a black area or line when you keep drawing over the same area for some time.

I have tried fiddling with the brush settings for quite some time now, but I don't know how to emulate this specific effect of a real pencil on paper. There is the background-foreground jitter, but that will create a light grey line on a dark area, if I go with light pressure over a darker color, which is something a real pencil wouldn't do. A real pencil does not lighten dark pencil lines when you draw lightly over darker areas.

So how can I emulate the effect I describe in Photoshop?

I have Photoshop CS5.1, but would even be willing to upgrade to a current subscription-based version or change to a different software, if what I want is possible there.

  • Can't you set the foreground colour to a silvery grey? Then it will never become black.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jul 15, 2018 at 21:51
  • I'm with Billy on this one. I don't think I quite get the problem you are having... I think your only issue simulating a pencil is that you are not using the right color. If black color and brushing on top of one area leads to too dark of a color, then what if you set your color to gray instead? That darker area might still happen anyways if the brush tool Blend mode is not set to Normal and same applies to layers, so be aware of that. — If you are super into traditional look and feel, you may want to try Corel Painter instead.
    – Joonas
    Jul 15, 2018 at 22:28
  • @BillyKerr + Joonas: But my real pencil does get very dark when I press. Darker than the grey area I get from light pressure. Did you read my explanation about paper texture?
    – user124745
    Jul 16, 2018 at 10:18
  • I don't get it to be honest.
    – Joonas
    Jul 16, 2018 at 11:13
  • I got a feeling that there is some misunderstanding on my part or there's something very wrong with your brush settings. I've always gone with the basic hard round brush and been happy with it.. Could also be thst you are pickier about the ye olde traditional look than I am. Reading your description multiple times I also realized you never mentioned pen pressure or anything. Are you using a mouse and not the stylus of a drawing tablet? Or are you using a drawing tablet, but the pen pressure is not working?
    – Joonas
    Jul 16, 2018 at 11:23

1 Answer 1


Before buying anything try the legacy Photoshop one more time:

enter image description here

Here is a charcoal like brush in airbrush mode with low flood rate.

The top line is one stroke, 2nd is two strokes, 3rd is three strokes etc...

In the bottom there's exessive rubbing back and forth

The clou is the adjustment layer which turns 50% grey to black and darker greayshades back to lighter to simulate the silverish glow of tightly packed grapphite.

You can draw back and forth and see in real time how the blackness at first increases and then turns to grey gradient.

If the valley of the curves layer has little width in the bottom, you get tolerance, how much new drawing over black is allowed before the lightening starts

enter image description here

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