Review – QuanTum Computer Pencils

Recently, I’ve gotten my hands on a few inexpensive pencils from Thailand. And at 12 Bhat (34 cents) for 2 pencils and an eraser, the QuanTum Computer Pencils are fairly cheap and meant mainly for school work. But would they hold up?

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Most of the information printed on the package is in Thai, so the most I can get out of it is that it’s a pencil, but the information printed on the body itself is in English, which is nice for people like me. The bodies are a simple, wooden hexagonal design with one rounded end. The two in my package have silver and gold painted bodies up until the last ½”, where there is a slim band of white paint followed by black for the end. Printed (notably not stamped) on of the facets is enough of the pencil’s information to get you by.

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Out of the package, the tips of these pencils were poorly enough cut that I needed to sharpen them before being able to use them (the lead is centered, just poorly cut). The graphite itself is softer than “standard”, being a 2B, but it’s on the harder side of 2B. The very (tip) point wears off quickly but it takes some time to wear it down after that. Writing or drawing is fairly smooth and getting dark patches for test answers would be/is easy (I don’t have a scantron laying around to try it on, but it gets pretty dark). There is also a black “perfect for 2B” eraser included in a tiny card sleeve. This eraser is surprisingly good, especially with this pencil; it gets rid of almost any trace of writing besides the indent in the paper, and does so quite quickly. It is one of those that seems to evaporate when you use it, though, and there are quite a few “shavings” to sweep away (also the package says “dust free”, and I have no idea what that means).

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I’d call these certainly adequate for what they are trying to be: school test or general use pencils. They function perfectly well but have a few quality mishaps, and I personally am more of an HB to F kinda person for my art/writing. If you run across them they’ll likely get the job done, but there’s no real need to go out of your way (like to Thailand) to find them.

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.

Review – Caran d’Ache Sketcher (Non-Photo Blue Pencil)

Pencils are a nigh-indispensable tool for the artist. But usually, especially with ink work, they need to be erased, and that can be a hassle. It’s a lot of work, it risks ruining the drawing (or paper), it takes time, and it becomes harder to correct later. But oftentimes the final work is either a duplicate of the original, or more work is done over inked lines, meaning that using a pencil that simply doesn’t show up in the reproductions saves time and work by not needing to be erased. Non-photo blue pencils were used for this purpose as many image replication processes (mainly cameras and photocopiers that were used to duplicate artwork for printers) have a hard time transferring it, and they still retain a place with modern scanners that will be able to pick the color up, but do so in a way that the image can be easily edited to omit it. But is it really worth it to get a new different pencil like the Sketcher from Caran d’Ache?

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The pencil is as basic as one can get: made of wood and hexagonally faceted to limit rolling, one end is sharpened the other has a metal ferrule connecting the body to an eraser. The body is a pleasant blue color mirroring the color of the lead and on one facet neatly stamped and inked in white is all of the relevant information. It looks and feels very much like a standard #2 pencil.

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The eraser is well done; it erases cleanly and is dense enough to not float away far faster than the rest of the pencil. The lead is hard to place in hardness; it feels softer than a standard HB but it has a more waxy quality (characteristic of colored pencils) that makes it give a much harder line. So it writes somewhere harder than HB and wears somewhere below. The line it produces can go from very light to surprisingly dark, but even at its most dark, it is barely visible in scans and can be easily isolated and removed. But it is only a tool for pure ink drawings, and its use is limited in other senses. If one were to, for instance, lay a wash over it, it would be harder to isolate and almost impossible to be rid of on scans, and it resists being covered by lighter washes. And if one were to erase before laying down a wash they would find that the ink laid on top of the pencil is cut down severely, with the entire line becoming grey and having several holes that are almost white, basically where the ink adhered to the pencil and not the paper (this effect is present, but much less severe, with standard graphite pencils). A similar set of problems would be encountered by someone wishing to put color down. So using a pencil like this would necessitate an additional step between inking and coloring/washing where the inked drawing is reproduced and tweaked to eliminate the blue (and potentially other errors).

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I’ve also had a bit of an issue with the lead being soft enough to break inside the pencil. It hasn’t been severe, but it’s worth noting.

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So am I converted to the blue pencil? Not quite. I really like it, and for a specific type of work-flow it is perfect, but that work-flow isn’t mine. I color/wash my original drawings, and I don’t see that stopping unless I get big enough that I can hand it off to someone else. So the pencil has very little use inside my work environment. I do use it now and again, but it also wears down quite quickly, and having to use a sharpener just drives me back to my mechanical pencils. That being said, it is a well-made pencil that does its intended job superbly. If you need to reproduce or scan in original inked artwork and don’t want the hassle of erasing, I would say this is right up your alley.

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.

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.

Review – Sanford Peel-off Magic Rub

These days most pencils have their own erasers, but some still don’t, especially older models that have been in production for years and are still very good at their jobs. And even many of the new pencils don’t have enough eraser for the life of the pencil. Separate erasers are still a large market. But what if the eraser came in a more convenient package? The Sanford Peel-off Magic Rub intends to solve that problem.

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The main body is simple: it’s a tube of paper that is continuously wrapped around itself and sealed with a sticker. On the sticker is the main information for the product. There is a string attacked to break the sticker seal and allow for the paper to be peeled back when the product is used. The paper and eraser tip can also be sharpened, but I wouldn’t recommend this. The core of the utensil is a tube of Magic Rub, which is a very good white eraser. Sanford’s Magic Rub erasers are easy to use, resist drying out, remove quite a bit of graphite, and aren’t as hard on the paper as some other erasers. They aren’t the best erasers out there, but they are very good ones.

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And that’s really it. The entire “pencil” is slightly thicker and shorter than a standard pencil. But it fits in most of the same places and works very well. If you have a lot to erase, and don’t like the potential of breaking mechanisms with a mechanical eraser, I’d give this one a shot.

Review – Paper:Mate Sharpwriter

Papermate has been making pencils for a long time, and one of the simplest and least expensive mechanical pencils available is one that they make. These pencils are some of the cheapest on the market from a name brand, and always come in packages containing a large number. They are almost universally recognized as one of the lousiest pencils to use, but is that reputation deserved?

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Starting at the back, it’s got a small, pink eraser that does indeed erase (quite well, actually,) but, like most erasers at the back of pencils, it won’t last very long. Moving down from that, we have a basically straight and plain body, with a terrible “clip” near the eraser (it doesn’t actually clip on most things the thickness of shirt pockets). The basic information about the pencil is physically molded in the side, with no other features on the barrel. It looks slightly slippery but does grip with no problems.

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At the front of the pencil is the lead-advancing mechanism, which one must twist both to extend and retract the lead. This is inconvenient, but not more so than a top click. This twist mechanism is flimsy and easy to break if one goes too far, but not too noticeable when writing. The lead is technically refillable, but the pencil is almost treated as disposable, so it isn’t worth it.  The lead that comes with the pencil is fine: it’s a #2 and it works fine for most purposes, even erasing well with the eraser. There is also a “shock absorber” in the pencil (I believe it isn’t a special thing but inherent in the design) and it works!  You can press down quite hard and the lead will simply retract a few mm instead of breaking, but writing like this would be fatiguing and still cause the lead to break, since the spring is only absorbing force in one direction.

Is it a great pencil? No. Is it a bad pencil that will explode when you take it out? No. It works.  It’s a bit finicky at times, and I feel like I could break it with my bare hands and minimal effort, but under normal use conditions this isn’t a problem. The clip is the worst part, and if you need a good one I’d steer clear of the Sharpwriter. If you’re looking for the one pencil to have forever this is also far removed. But it is quite versatile and quite inexpensive. (Adam Savage of Mythbusters likes them: https://youtu.be/uN6vptYpo5I?t=2m15s) And if you lose pencils often, or are getting them for an office, I’d at least consider it.