Review – Pentel GraphGear 1000

My favorite mechanical pencil is the Pentel GraphGear 500, but its MSRP is a bit close to my usual ceiling budget for new pencils, so I was reluctant to pick up its “big brother” the GraphGear 1000, until I saw one for a good deal. There are a lot of upgrades and features the 1000 has that the 500 does not, but is it worth the extra price (it usually costs)?

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If I was to give an example of an over-engineered pencil, the GraphGear 1000 would be that pencil. The body starts out pretty simple, with the back half being mainly cylindrical and having all the necessary information printed on it. The front half has the (grip) section that is very lightly knurled and has 24 embedded rubber ovals to increase comfort and grip. The “cone” in front of the section that steps and tapers down to the “lead pipe” screws off, allowing the section to be removed and reoriented. A small cutout at the end of the section (near the middle of the pencil) can then be oriented over a scale of hardnesses that are printed (stickered) around the inside barrel to show the correct hardness of the pencil (mine was preset at HB). Then the cone can be screwed back down to lock in the selection. (Otherwise the inner barrel is a smooth black plastic with a matte finish that isn’t really intended to be seen).

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The lead pipe usually featured on “drafting” pencils is curiously absent when one first inspects the item. It can be found by pressing the clicking mechanism on the end, at which point it pops out and is locked in place via a locking mechanism on the clip. Further clicking of the mechanism will extend the lead (or, by holding it down, allow the lead to be retracted) and pushing the top of the spring-loaded clip will release the simple locking mechanism and cause the lead pipe to quickly hide away in the cone again. The clicking mechanism cap can be removed to reveal an eraser, which can be removed to reveal lead storage. Both are friction fit with nice tolerances. And the mechanism’s cap has the lead size (.5mm for mine) printed on the top for easy reading when in a pencil cup.

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How well does all of this work? Very. Everything is solid, most of the important parts being made out of metal, giving it quite a heft when compared to the 500. The clicking and locking mechanisms are smooth, quick, solid, and satisfying to use. There is no play at all when using the pencil, and it tucks away perfectly (when the lead is retracted). The HB lead it comes with is standard. It’s bordering on the hard side of HB, but it’s still pretty smooth, and from using the same variety in other pencils for quite some time I can say it is reasonably break-resistant for the .5 size. The grip is surprisingly comfortable and the rubber ovals hardly noticeable (in fact they might not be necessary, or may even make it a bit more slippery than I would prefer). The clip does a very good job of clipping (mostly because of the cutout and spring present for the locking mechanism), and it slides off with very little damage from its well-polished edges (my model has a chromed-out clip for extra smoothness and flair I guess) and it being the locking mechanism means the lead pipe will retract as soon as it’s clipped on to something, preventing damage. The eraser is the same as the one on the 500, and it does a decent job getting rid of marks while being firm enough to not disappear completely.

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With that multitude of features and solidness of performance is it worth the price? Assuredly. But do you really need all of those features? Probably not. This is a great pencil and I’m really glad I was able to get one (even more glad it was at what I consider to be a really good price) but it just won’t be replacing the 500 for me (at least at the moment: only time will tell). I’m not really sure what it is about it, since it’s got a nice weight, a satisfying feel, good writing capability, and it isn’t ugly (though my model {the PG1015} is a silver color with chrome clip and button and I wouldn’t call it the most handsome pencil in my collection) but it’s just not right for me. Still, it is an astounding pencil at a very good price and if the features I’ve talked about interest you, or you want to move up in the world of mechanical pencils either as a hobby or an artist I can heartily recommend this as an excellent next step.

Comparison – Wite Out Quick Dry/Extra Coverage/Super Smooth

Previously I’ve compared the two major brands of correction fluid: Liquid Paper and Wite Out. Back then I didn’t take a look at the fact that Wite Out comes in a few different kinds (but there is one that is basically “regular”), so I’ll attempt to rectify that this time. Now, the various “flavors” of Wite Out do go in and out of production, with the majors being “quick dry” (regular) and “extra coverage”. I also have a bottle of “super smooth” that I picked up second hand and surprisingly still works (it’s old enough to have the previous graphic design) but that type is currently out of production. How do they compare?

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Quick Dry – The standard of correction fluids and one that I’ve looked at before. Quick Dry is fairly “standard” in properties; it dries shiny and little warm in hue (yellow-ish). It is a bit finicky and tacky, sometimes making it difficult to get a smooth finish with multiple strokes. It covers regular pen, pencil and stray marks well (though it sometimes leaves a divot where the ink “repelled” it. But on darker lines like those made by Sharpies it only minimizes the effect.

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Extra Coverage – The other currently (easily) available Wite Out, Extra Coverage is smoother, dries matte, and is colder (and much more white) in hue. From my experience it layers well, always being fairly flat, even minimizing visible strokes. It covers pens and permanent markers with ease (though it’s still got that weird divot displacement thing going on) but doesn’t blend in as well with the paper. And, though I did no super thorough testing, it actually seems to dry faster than the “quick dry” or at least not remain tacky as long, but that could be because my “quick dry” bottles are older.

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Super Smooth – Being no longer available I have no idea what a “brand new” bottle of Super Smooth would be like, but I would hope it’s better than what I’ve got here. The bottle is old enough that it has a brush (not a sponge) applicator, and that’s not an asset since this particular type is very fond of clumping up. It’s visually similar to “quick dry” but more matte, and it doesn’t cover nearly as well (it just makes things look kinda hazy) forcing one to reapply it, causing many clumps and visible brush strokes. It dries much slower than the other two as well (maybe that’s why it lasted this long) and while it may be “smoother” in the technical sense I don’t see that as much of a positive either in the abstract or the comparison.

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If I had to pick a winner it would be “extra coverage” as the only flaw I see in it is that it doesn’t quite match the color of the average sheet of paper. The “regular” “quick dry” is still a good product but one I will be using less often now. It depends on whether or not you want the correction to blend in or completely cover up the mistake. But if there is one thing to take away from this, it’s that I now understand why “super smooth” was discontinued.

 

Review – Swingline Tot (Mini) Stapler

I’ve been using an old Swingline CUB stapler at my desk for years now. The combination of small size and standard staples makes it perfect for me, a person who doesn’t have to staple often. I also have the super small Tot-50 stapler in my pencil case, and while the size is good it does use a different type of staple to most other staplers. But now Swingline has a middle ground even between those two with the Tot, a stapler that is just about as small as you can get while still using regular sized staples. But how useful could that be?

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The Tot is about 2½” in total length, 1¾” tall, and 1¼” wide. These measurements are a bit larger than they could have been due to the rounding of the stapler body; there are no sharp edges on it. At the back there is a curved piece of metal sticking out to serve as a staple remover. It works fairly well, though unlike the standard “jaw” type it does have the tendency to fling used staples across the room. On the top and bottom of the main body there are relatively comfortable divots in which to place your fingers when stapling. And the entire thing is a sort of teardrop shape, narrow in the back and widening near the front before suddenly dropping off.

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Underneath is a small rubber “plate” (for lack of a better word) covering with a handy mark representing staples stamped into it (in the previously mentioned divot), though if I didn’t know they were supposed to be staples I wouldn’t have figured it out. Peeling this back from the nice little nail nick (it’s held in place with tabs in slots) reveals a small storage compartment with enough space for a regular block of standard sized staples, and enough space for (someone with smaller) fingers to get in and grab it. Below these staples is the general information about the product, save for the brand name which is proudly displayed on top. This rubber piece is fully removable, though it is a bit finicky to get it past the staple remover on the back both when getting it on and off. I can also say, from a spill on my desk, that the rubber seals well enough to be water resistant (but I wouldn’t count on it).

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As with most Swingline products stapling is as easy as can be. There’s a surprisingly good amount of leverage in this design and it connects pages cleanly and neatly together. Its use of regular sized staples and a mouth about as wide as your standard desk stapler means that it will basically perform the same function, with its only limiting factor being capacity (and durability since it is made of mostly plastic and most staplers are metal). My only general complaint is the top; it’s quite easy to open and hinges back far enough to make loading a breeze, but the tab that holds it in place when it’s supposed to be locked down is very weak and I’ve found it to pop open with slight provocation, or even without provocation at times. And that’s slightly worrying: I don’t want staples everywhere. But the spring holding it down is fairly strong, and if kept on the desk or in a case this shouldn’t be a problem.

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So, if you’re not one that staples often, have limited desk space, or want to carry a stapler with you but not special staples (but maybe with a bag or case) this little guy will work great. It’s small, easy to use, and gets the job done. It isn’t as durable as the larger versions (or its metal predecessor the Tot-50), but with care it will work for a long time (but maybe not as long as my CUB) and for how inexpensive they can be I’d say they’re definitely worth it (and they come with a box of staples, which is cool).

Review – INC Soft Scripts Mechanical Pencils

Pencils for the office, school, or just someone who loses their pencils a lot can get pricey, fortunately there are a lot of inexpensive options out there. But are they even worth it to try? Sure, there are a lot of inexpensive pencils, but if they don’t “pencil” there is no reason to even consider them. INC Soft Scripts are one such pencil on the less expensive side of the aisle. How well do they work?

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The design here is pretty stereotypical, with the barrel being a thin, featureless tube of black plastic that tapers at one end to a plastic lead pipe. Near this end is a rubber grip in one of a few (5 in my case) colors that is narrower in the middle and has ridges toward the end, both ostensibly to help with grip, and they succeed in being barely noticeable. On the back end is a colored plastic push-advance mechanism (that matches the grip) with integrated pocket clip and eraser holder. This bit can be removed to expose the lead-holding tube that contains 2 extra leads (for a total of 3 per pencil). The clip is nothing spectacular, with most of the necessary information on it, and fairly brittle. But I feel the entire end piece would fling off before it broke.

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Performance is what one would expect. The HB lead is middle-of-the-road, leaning toward soft, but there’s nothing particularly off about it. I personally don’t use a .7mm size but it is a fairly standard size and makes breaking less of a problem. The eraser is one of the little white ones that will get the erasing done pretty well, but will seem to disappear almost immediately. The clip is serviceable but I wouldn’t recommend using it. And, finally, the mechanism is quite solid and workable; pushing lead out and holding it in place when commanded to do so.

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They’re easily usable, but far from spectacular, pencils, with their main benefits being the rubber grip (if you happen to like those) and the fact that they are the ones at the store (if indeed they are the ones at the store). There’s nothing really there to recommend them on, but no reason to tell you to stay away, either. They will perform fine for office, school, car, or other tasks where pencils should be inexpensive because of the frequency with which they are broken or lost. In comparison to others at a similar, price it would really come down to personal preference.

Review – Crayola Crayons (120 Crayon Box Part 2 – Purples, Blues, and Greens)

This is part 2 of my review of every single color in the Crayola 120 crayon box. I’m going to be taking a look at some purples, the blues, and some greens. In case anyone was wondering, the colors are roughly sorted so that they flow as smoothly as possible from one color to the next, although this is trumped by the wrapper color. So even if I think it’s more red, if it has a purple wrapper it went in the purple section. And now, let’s begin.

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Plum – Plum is a nice, deep purple that evokes the fruit to an extent. It is a bit less red than the plums I’ve typically seen, and it isn’t as dark as others, but it is a recognizable version, suitable for royal robes and flowers, that covers quite nicely.

Vivid Violet – I’m not sure what makes this violet any more “vivid” than the others, but it is a nice, decent covering color, that is very similar to “plum” and has a similar enough use range to even be used as a highlighting color.

Violet (Purple) – It seems strange to me to have two names for this color and only this color, but it is a classic. It covers decently and is the classic purple color, suitable for most purple applications (not skin, as I learned when I was in kindergarten).

Orchid – As a type of flower that has many color variations, I would say that at least this color is similar to parts of various orchid flowers. It is a redish-blue-purple, if that makes sense. It’s lighter than other purples, but with streaks of blue seeming to come through and making the whole thing a cool, nice color suitable for use in most flowers.

Wisteria – Much more on the nose, wisteria does capture a much better picture of the flower it is emulating, as well as crayon could do. The color is a gentle light purple with visible streaks of blue running though it. It captures almost perfectly the look of many wisteria flowers, but unfortunately, even though it covers well, it wouldn’t be used for much else.

Purple Mountains Majesty – This crayon color may win my award for least favorite name. I have no idea what “purple mountains majesty” even is really, or how it would be represented in color form. I guess this would be it, and it is a pale, lilac-esque purple with alright coverage. I couldn’t think of an real uses beyond flowers, even mountains in the distance are typically different purple shades, but this could work.

Blue Violet – Is essentially a bluer version of red violet, or, I suppose more accurately, a bluer version of the regular violet color. It very much feels like the color with more blue added, making it darker and cooler. It’s fine at covering but has what appear to be streaks of darker and lighter color running though it, making it a very interesting color to look at, but not one with many uses.

Purple Heart – Doesn’t particularly look like the badge. But it is a nice dark-ish purple color. It’s quite on the blue side, making it very pleasant to look at but, like many, difficult to find a place to use. It also covers about as well as most other purples.

Royal Purple – The last true purple on the list, Royal Purple doesn’t disappoint. It’s a nice, deep, fairly well-covering purple, that I would take over the standard violet most any day. Sadly, its uses might be regulated to the adornment of Kings and Queens.

Outer Space – An interesting and close to-apt-color name. “Outer Space” is really a dark blue, a little darker and blacker than Prussian Blue. It has a black and purple space-like quality to it, and it covers well enough to be a good night sky. Most other uses would simply be a Prussian replacement.

Midnight Blue – I’m not quite sure, but I think this would have been a more apt name for “outer space”. As it stands, it is a nice blue, and a dark one, but it isn’t very dark, and certainly not a midnight-y color. I do like it, it covers pretty well and it looks like a nice denim color (a color that will be coming up soon) and it would have a wide variety of uses since it is so close to the color of jeans.

Navy Blue – I’ve seen better navy blues than this one, but it is pretty apt. It’s a darker, but less saturated blue. It doesn’t quite evoke the standard navy “deep sea” color, but it does a pretty good job for a crayon. It covers sporadically and seems to have stripes of lighter and darker color. Still it would make a good color for jeans, flowers, and water from pools to oceans.

Indigo – This color looks quite strange. In comparison to the other colors here this one seems to jump off of the page; it’s almost watercolor-like. It is a very smooth, well, indigo color, but it tends to have spots where the crayon stopped moving. It covers well, and is quite dark, lending it to lots of uses from flowers to bodies of water.

Denim – Denim is a very good name for this color. It looks like a pair of raw, unworn denim jeans. It covers well, and has a similar paint-like effect to “indigo”. It is not only perfect for jeans, but it could also easily match the basic dark blue color that many vehicles come in.

Blue – Another classic color, the blue here is pretty standard, though I suppose that’s to be expected from the color that basically set what ‘blue’ is for the world of elementary school. The color is nice, middle-of-the-road, and it covers well enough (though probably the worst out of the blues). It works well for anything from shirts to oceans to cartoon dogs.

Cerulean – Cerulean is one of the few colors that isn’t named after anything in particular (not even a town in Pokemon). Here it is depiceted as a thick, light blue, like the color of a Caribbean sea (or those pictures of clear freshwater lakes). It covers very well and is a great color to use in a situation where you want the blue to “pop” off the page.

Blue Bell – I’m not sure if this really qualifies as an ice cream color, but I’d like to think it is. Blue Bell is a nice, gentle, well-covering blue with a hint of a darker purple. It’s a good color for skies, clouds, mountain ranges, and foaming water.

Cornflower – I don’t think this color replicates its namesake as well as it could, but the radiance flowers display is hard to replicate. This is a light, well-covering blue that leans to the white side of things, making it good for skies, clouds, and of course, cornflowers.

Blue Green – A fitting, name, if not the best descriptor, “Blue Green” is a slightly greenish blue, as opposed to a bluish green suggested by the name. It’s a nice sea and tropical color, the kind that many summer items are made of. It covers decently but is a bit splotchy.

Pacific Blue – Having recently visited the Pacific Ocean, I can say that this is not the color I saw there. But the color of the ocean changes by the season, and this color fits the bill. It covers well enough, with only small granules of white space. And its darkish/slightly stormy look makes it perfect for oceans both in the summer and fall, as well as the stormy sky.

Manatee – The best way to describe this color is grey, with a blue tinge. It does resemble the skin of the animal, but not too a tee. It covers quite well, and is a fairly unintrusive hue. It can easily find a use for animals such as rhinos, elephants, and of course manatees; as well as sidewalk and swimming pool pavement.

Cadet Blue – Besides reminding me of a Modest Mouse song, “cadet blue” is a good color. It is quite grey, but not as grey as the previous manatee. It’s got a little more blue in it that shines though just enough. It covers very well, but has a bit of a splotchy-fibrous look to it. It would work great for a cadet’s uniform, faded jeans, or sea creatures.

Turquoise Blue – I don’t know why Crayola took their opportunity to create a turquoise and made it “turquoise blue”. It seems a bit of a waste, but it does look like a bluer, lighter version of the stone. It covers well, but it isn’t that spectacular. It would work for coloring turquoise-like stones, jade-like stones, greenish bodies of water, and clothing.

Sky Blue – Another very good color name, this blue is indeed a very close approximation of the color of the sky (or at least what color it looks like it is). It’s pretty much the stereotypical light blue color people think of as sky blue (very similar to Crayola’s other sky blue in pencil form). It covers well enough (and the non-covered areas blend in easily since it’s so light) and it would work well to color water in dishes, fighter jets, babies’ clothes, and of course the sky.

Wild Berry Yonder – An interesting take on a color name “wild berry over there” is only slightly better than “purple mountains majesty” in being a bad name. And I wouldn’t imagine the color this name represented being blue, but it is. A muddy sky blue as I would call it, it is a blue that has had grey rather than pure white mixed in. It does cover decently and would work for coloring dirty jeans, muddy water, or a dusty sky.

Periwinkle – Another one of those flower colors that because of the varying nature of flowers is unable to be 100% accurate, “periwinkle” is also a standard color, which the crayon does not deviate from. It’s a light blue with a touch of purple and yellow (which doesn’t really make sense but sure). It doesn’t cover as well as other blues but it works, and it’s a good ice, cloud, clothing, or flower color.

Aquamarine – Another nice blue color that covers very well. “Aquamarine” is a slightly green blue that looks like a warm tropical ocean or lake. It’s light and smooth in texture, giving it a pleasant look. It’s another fun summer color but unfortunately it doesn’t have many uses.

Robin’s Egg Blue – Looking like a slightly darker shade of the last color, this one is indeed very similar to the eggs of a robin (again, allowing for natural variation). It’s another well-covering, very pleasant looking, somewhat useless color. It is vibrant and wants to jump off the page, but it also looks more oily, like a pastel if that’s what you want.

Sea Green – While it might look like some sea, “sea green” does not represent a sea I would want to go near. This bluish green (or greenish blue, it’s kinda blurring the line) covers pretty good, but is lighter and harder to see (no pun intended). It works well for underwater foliage, plants in direct sunlight, and limes.

Caribbean Green – A similar motif, but not quite the same style, “Caribbean green” is slightly more blue than “sea green”, looking like a slightly greener and darker “aquamarine”. It’s a good water color, but its coverage isn’t as much as some of the others in this set. It would work well for underwater plants and tropical bodies of water.

And that’s part 2, looking at the second group of 30 colors from the 120 Crayola crayon box, next time it’ll be another 30.

Review – Sharpie China Marker

A ‘china marker’ or ‘grease pencil’ is essentially a hard, fat crayon that is used mostly for temporarily marking nonporous surfaces like glass, plastic laminate, tile, etc. They are an item that used to be pretty popular but have since waned as newer products like dry erase markers for temporary work on board or laminate, and permanent markers for less temporary weather resistance have come on the scene. Yet they still can be very useful when working with glass or porcelain. This being the case I was not surprised to see some in the hardware store, but I was slightly surprised to see that they were ‘Sharpie’ brand. Do they hold up in comparison?

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The short answer would be “yes”. The Sharpie brand here is just an addition to an older, very standard design by Sanford. The body is just a version of their “Peel-Off” design. I have a fairly old (by surviving china marker standards, since using them destroys them) one that is almost identical in most ways. The body is tightly wrapped brown-ish paper that is sealed with a black, perforated coating. On this coating is all of the relevant information of the product, and beneath it is a small white string. Pulling on this string will create a tear in the coating that can then be used to tear off enough of the inside material to expose the tip if it is worn down. The tip begins exposed with a roughly conical spiral of the paper that provides a nice template when tearing off a bit later. While I do suppose that the item could be sharpened, it would be pretty wasteful and difficult which is why a system like this was developed.

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As for writing, I have a black version, and it behaves very similarly to a fat crayon. Line width and coverage are dependant highly on how much pressure is applied, but it almost never is a true “line” in that it doesn’t fill in the whole space when writing. It writes well on nonporous surfaces and often on porous ones, being again about as smooth as a crayon. For what it’s intended to write on it is relatively weather-and handle-proof (it can smear) but can be removed with a paper towel and some elbow grease. Nonporous surfaces are a bit more tricky, but in general there is a way to clean it off.

There are only two types of grease pencil/china markers: the mechanical version, and peel-off versions, this one being the latter. It is very hard to mess up a peel-off grease pencil, but it is also hard to innovate in that field. This shows neither. It was competently made, but not entirely ingenious. It lacks any innovation or improvement over the pervious generations, but it does mark what it was meant to mark (china) and more. The price and availability are also quite reasonable. If you desire to acquire a china marker, and don’t mind the fact that the “greasy” (waxy) tip is exposed, then this one will do everything you want it to.

Review – Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser

Interesting tidbit with this review; I was ordering a replacement for this products (because spoiler: I liked it) and I ended up with something that I wasn’t expecting. While my original Mars Plastic eraser came in a humble card sleeve (as most still do) my new ones came in a fancy plastic swivel case. So this review will really be two parts. One for the eraser itself, and another for the upgraded container they can come in.

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The eraser is a standard seeming white plastic/rubber rectangular prism that measures about 2½ x ¾ x ½ inches and is marked in a regular pattern subtly with the Staedtler logo on two sides; the four smaller sides are essentially flat. Since it is an eraser there isn’t much more to say about the looks, but how does it work? Well, I really like it. I go back and forth between hard and soft (kneaded rubber) erasers. I’ve currently moved back to the hard erasers because I can see when their ability to erase starts to be diminished more clearly (by being shorter rather than slightly darker). In my experience it has erased almost every pencil line I’ve asked it to, and it is better than the ones usually found at the store (save Magic Rub), but comparing higher end erasers is very difficult. They all do their jobs well and it’s mostly a matter of personal preference (and sometime pencil choice) as anything else, but that’s where a fancy plastic case might stand out and make a difference.

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The case is slightly larger in every dimension (duh) than the eraser. The top and bottom are made to resemble the traditional card-wrapped eraser, with a white bit extending from the blue eraser identification part. A larger Staedtler logo covers the pivot on one side in this white area. On this white end attached to the pivot on the inside is a cut-out box that is about an inch on one side and an inch and a quarter on the other. This box has eight small ridges on the inside to grip the eraser, and it pivots 180 degrees from having the eraser tucked inside the rest of the case to being fully exposed. It can go farther, but at risk of breaking the back of the case. This allows for easy dispensing of the eraser with one hand and provides a nice sturdy handle when erasing. It also protects the eraser from getting gunky or gunking up other things (the inside does get a bit dirty/gunky sometimes, though). I’m a fan of the case (but being nitpicky the two smallest ends are rounded off and the eraser will not want to stand up on them).

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So in the end the Staedtler Mars Plastic is a good, but not exceptional, eraser. It’s not like it erases every pencil line in one stroke, or is virtually crumb-less, but it does get most pencil lines with relatively few crumbs. It works well, and I really like the case for the convenience and protection it provides. I’ve been using it (and flipping it open compulsively) for a bit and it doesn’t show any signs of breaking soon. Though it does make the eraser a considerable bit larger and limits use of about half of it. It’s a nice change of pace and experiment if one wants to spice up their eraser life.