Review – Bic Xtra-Fun Pencils

Sometimes I’m a sucker for buying new things for the novelty, and I think that’s what Bic is counting on (except I think their target market is children) with the Xtra-Fun series of pencils. At first (and second) glance they appear to be regular #2 pencils in wacky, fun colors. But are they usable?

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For the most part these pencils are pretty standard: a “wooden” hexagonal body with general information stamped and inked into one of the facets (each pencil also appears to have a unique number stamped but not inked into it; I am unsure of its significance). The most obvious differences between them and regular pencils is the bright-colored paint on the outside with the inside dyed a different (usually mismatched) color, and that the standard metal eraser holder has been replaced with a much larger diameter plastic one. The body looks and feels at first like a regular wood pencil, but after sharpening and handling it for a bit I would say that if it isn’t a type of plastic it is a “flaked and formed” wood that uses a different process than most pencils to give it more plasticity.

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The performance of the lead is as expected, on the soft side of middle-of the road. Not much precision is possible, nor shading; it’s good for scantrons and notes. The eraser is of the white variety, and actually very decent, erasing most typical writing lines without seeming to disappear before your very eyes. In fact, the most disappointing thing about this pencil is its structural integrity. It bends very easily, and much more so than a regular pencil. Simply handling it will result in finding out how easily it bends, which is worrisome in general, but added to by the fact that when I was using these pencils I began to sharpen one, and the tip broke off every time I was just getting to a point, down until there was no more pencil to put in the sharpener. Thus, one of my pencils was rendered entirely useless, and I hadn’t really played with the plasticity of that one, so I would definitely call it a defect, and one that makes it hard to recommend these pencils, especially for children.

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I probably won’t be buying any pencils from this range again, but that would’ve still been the case had they been good pencils. But with such an easy to encounter (albeit not in the intended usage case) flaw that essentially ruins the pencil’s penciling ability, I have to say I wouldn’t be able to recommend them to anyone. The colors are also terrible but I suppose some have different (perhaps more X-treme) tastes than I, so I can’t particularly fault it there.

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Review – Alvin Isometric Graph Paper (8½ x 11)

One of the hardest things in art and design is getting perspective down. And while many organic things can be fudged to look fine, there are some times where a more precise and technical perspective must be used. That’s where isometric graph paper comes in (at least for 2-point perspective), with rulings that serve as guides for simple-but-precise shapes rotated at 45 degrees (or hexes). The particular brand I’m looking at today is Alvin.

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The paper comes in a pad of 30 sheets with a cardboard back and cardstock cover. The “spine” is simply glue that allows pages to be easily torn off. The paper itself is a pretty standard 20 lb weight that resists bleed-though on ballpoints and smaller felt tips. Rollerballs, larger felt tips, Sharpies, and the like will bleed, but not terribly. Show through is pretty bad, and the second side has no graph so I can’t recommend the back for use.

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The graph has a ¼ to ½ inch border around the edge with some basic information printed on it. The graph is just under 10 ½ inches by 8 ¾ inches, with lines coming from the border at 30, 90, and 120 degrees every quarter inch. The lines are a light blue and will not show up on simple scanner, and very faintly on more modern scanners when set to greyscale. Still, they can be easily removed and don’t photocopy well, meaning the drawing or diagram can stand on its own.

The grid is very helpful in creating simple outlines for 3D shapes and places, or hexes for board games and tile patterns. The paper is pretty unspectacular but it’ll get the job done. I have no clue about its archival properties, but since they aren’t advertised I’d say they’re minimal at best. They’re a fun thing to mess around with and a useful classroom tool, but they might be left behind for more serious art and design.

Review – Kutsuwa STAD Pencil Holder

Okay, I’m going to admit here that I don’t really know the name of this product as the only English I could find on the package was a URL, “made in China”, and STAD. But I do know it’s a pencil holder, so there is that. From my research I’ve found that this is a less-common or less-popular model (as in I couldn’t find it online at all). So I feel the need to say this is not a review of the “one-push” model.

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Pencil holders have been around for a while, and there are quite a few options to choose from. In fitting with my style, I got the cheapest one (okay it was given to me, but I think that sentence suits me. I haven’t been able to find a price on these, but I bet it isn’t much). After all, it’s just a metal tube to hold a stubby pencil; can it being cheap really hurt it very much?

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The item comes in a two pack with some labels that you can stick on the side when the pencils (or whatever you’re using) information is covered up or sharpened away. There are only two labels so use them wisely. The holders themselves are very simple: they are two pieces of aluminum, a straight barrel with a stop-bump followed by some threads with cuts in them that allow the second knurled cylinder, which is tapered on the inside, to screw on and force it to act like a collet, holding the pencil in place. The finish is smooth save the knurling and resists major scratching but is quite shiny and reflective.

The pencil is held quite securely inside the device. There is the tiniest amount of give even when tightened down as far I as think I could go before damaging either the pencil or the holder. It is easily enough to allow for comfortable writing or drawing and (fairly) easy sharpening. I’m sure one could throw it hard enough to knock the pencil out, but that isn’t a normal-use scenario. Being dropped from desk or hand height won’t hurt the holder or have the pencil fly out, but it might hurt the pencil. The grip works well enough, but it is a bit slippery, the length of the barrel is enough to allow one to rest it in the webbing between their thumb and forefinger on most hands, though it isn’t the most comfortable or ergonomic. It also seems a bit front heavy with the back of barrel empty when the pencil gets very short.

To be short, no, being cheap didn’t hurt this product very much. It doesn’t feel weighty or expensive, but it does do its job. It holds a pencil that would otherwise be very uncomfortable or hard to control in a way that makes it at least tolerable to work with. It’s simple to use, and easy to handle. And with how cheap it is, I would say it would certainly be worth looking at. It isn’t as nice as the more expensive ones, but if one isn’t very picky, like me, and if you happen to find one, get it.

Review – Staedtler AllXwrite

I’ve looked at a few all-graphite pencils in the past, but they were only sold in art supply stores and were thicker than the average pencil. The Staedlter AllXwrite is a #2 all-graphite pencil that is much more widely available. How does it hold up?

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The body of the pencil is unsurprisingly plain. It’s a standard hexagonal pencil design, all grey with silver lettering. The information printed on it is enough to get by. At the end of the pencil there is a standard metal eraser holder, and a fairly standard white eraser that works well.

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The graphite is quite hard, but still writes with the same pressure as a normal pencil. There is a coating on the outside to prevent major marks, but it is still possible to mark with it. Sharpening is easy, but wasteful, and if one adjusts their writing or drawing in such a way as to re-sharpen the pencil as they write with it, it requires none and will last for a very long time, far outstripping the eraser. Other than that, it’s a standard HB, suitable for taking tests or notes, and making lists and art.

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I like this pencil a lot. They’ll last forever and write well. I’ve flattened the ends of one of mine to make it easier to shade large areas. This, coupled with a few others at varying degrees of flatness leads to a ton of artistic options. While these pencils are a bit more fragile than wooden ones, I think that with normal use they will hold up just fine for someone interested in getting a long-lasting or quirky writing implement.