Is Graphite an Element? (+ 3 More Things to Know)

Graphite is an allotrope of the element carbon. Allotropes are different forms of an element that have distinct physical and chemical properties. In the case of carbon, other well-known allotropes include diamond and fullerenes. 1

Well, this was just a simple answer. But there are few more things to know about this topic which will make your concept super clear.

So let’s dive right into it.

Key Takeaways: Is Graphite an Element?

  • Graphite is an allotrope of carbon, which means it is a different structural form of the same element.
  • Graphite has a layered structure, while diamond has a three-dimensional lattice structure, and fullerene has a hollow, cage-like structure.
  • Graphite is soft, conducts electricity along its planes, and is chemically inert, while diamond is hard, does not conduct electricity, and is chemically inert as well.

Why is graphite considered an allotrope?

Graphite is considered an allotrope because it is one of the several different forms or arrangements in which an element can exist. Allotropes are different structural forms of the same element, possessing distinct physical and chemical properties. 2 3

In the case of carbon, which is the element present in graphite, it can exist in various allotropes. Graphite, diamond, and fullerene are some of the well-known allotropes of carbon. Each allotrope has a unique arrangement of carbon atoms, resulting in different properties. 4 5

Graphite is composed of carbon atoms arranged in layers or sheets that are densely packed in a hexagonal lattice structure. Within each layer, the carbon atoms are strongly bonded together in a flat, two-dimensional plane. 6

However, the layers are held together by relatively weak van der Waals forces, allowing them to slide over each other. 7 This layered structure gives graphite its characteristic properties, such as its lubricating properties and ability to conduct electricity along the planes.

In contrast, diamond, another allotrope of carbon, has a three-dimensional lattice structure where each carbon atom is bonded to four neighboring carbon atoms. This arrangement results in the exceptional hardness and transparency of diamond. 8

By understanding the different allotropes of an element like carbon, scientists can explore and utilize their distinct properties for various applications ranging from lubricants and electrodes (graphite) to gemstones and cutting tools (diamond).

How does graphite differ from other allotropes of the same element?

Graphite differs from other allotropes of carbon, such as diamond and fullerene, in several key ways:

  • Structure: Graphite has a layered structure, with carbon atoms arranged in flat, hexagonal sheets. These sheets are stacked on top of each other and held together by weak van der Waals forces. In contrast, diamond has a three-dimensional lattice structure where each carbon atom is bonded to four neighboring carbon atoms, resulting in a rigid, tetrahedral network. Fullerene, on the other hand, consists of carbon atoms arranged in hollow, cage-like structures. 9 10 11
  • Hardness: Graphite is relatively soft and has a greasy or slippery feel. It is often used as a lubricant due to its ability to reduce friction. In contrast, diamond is one of the hardest known substances, making it suitable for cutting, grinding, and drilling applications.
  • Electrical conductivity: Graphite is a good electrical conductor along the planes of its layered structure. This property is utilized in applications such as electrodes in batteries and electrical contacts. In contrast, diamond is an excellent insulator and does not conduct electricity. 12
  • Optical properties: Graphite is opaque and black, absorbing most light that falls on it. In contrast, diamond is transparent and can exhibit brilliance and dispersion of light, which gives it its characteristic sparkle.
  • Chemical reactivity: Graphite is relatively chemically inert and stable under normal conditions. It is resistant to most chemicals, including acids and bases. Diamond is also highly chemically inert. In contrast, fullerene molecules are more reactive due to their curved structure and the presence of double bonds.

These differences in structure and properties make each allotrope of carbon suitable for specific applications.

Further reading

Is Diamond an Element or a Compound?
Is Diamond a Mineral or a Rock?
Is Graphite a Mineral?
Why is Iron a Conductor?
What is the Most Reactive Element?

About author

Jay is an educator and has helped more than 100,000 students in their studies by providing simple and easy explanations on different science-related topics. He is a founder of Pediabay and is passionate about helping students through his easily digestible explanations.

Read more about our Editorial process.


  1. Hirsch, A. (2010, October 22). The era of carbon allotropes. Nature Materials, 9(11), 868–871.
  2. Allotropy | Definition, Examples, & Facts. (n.d.). Encyclopedia Britannica.
  3. Copisarow, M. (1921, August). A THEORY OF ALLOTROPY. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 43(8), 1870–1888.
  4. Allotropes of carbon – Wikipedia. (2015, October 22). Allotropes of Carbon – Wikipedia.
  9. Mateo-Alonso, A., Bonifazi, D., & Prato, M. (2006). Functionalization and applications of [60]fullerene. Carbon Nanotechnology, 155–189.
  10. Fullerenes
  11. Joseph Grieco, W. (1998, January 1). Fullerenes and carbon nanostructures formation in flames. Fullerenes and Carbon Nanostructures Formation in Flames.
  12. Material properties of diamond – Wikipedia. (2023, May 25). Material Properties of Diamond – Wikipedia.

Leave a Comment

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

Scroll to Top