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 – Tombow Mono Zero Erasers

A few years ago I was aiding my brother in the search for a good separate eraser to go with lead holders (that often don’t have their own erasers), and that lead me to review the Sanford Peel-Off Magic Rub, which is essentially a Magic Rub eraser in the same body Sanford uses for their Peel-Off China Markers. And to me that was the answer. I knew there were mechanical erasers, but they were mostly cheap little things, or not available in the stores I frequented. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I found the potential simple, high-quality solution of the Tombow Mono Zero mechanical erasers and I got them as fast as I could. Are they up to the task?

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The body is super simple, being a cylinder about the size of a pencil and a little over 3½” long. It comes in 2 different colors: silver for the round eraser, and black for the rectangular one (it’s made of plastic either way). At the front there is a step-down to the “lead-pipe” of sorts. This “pipe” being cylindrical for the round and flattened for the rectangular is the only other main physical difference between the two. The (lead/eraser) pipe is a nice, stiff metal that cleanly guides the eraser as it extends. On the back, there is a non-removable, simple push-click mechanism with an integrated clip. The clip is good but not superb at clipping, while having the advantage of being very structurally sound (something most plastic integrated clips are not). On the top of this mechanism is a sticker with the eraser’s sizes: 2.3mm in diameter for the round “small” and 2.5mm x .5mm for the rectangular “slightly less small”.

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Performance is good; the click mechanism is sound and has a satisfying feel, retracting and reloading are simple and both done from the front end (reducing the number of failure points but also making disassembly functionally impossible). The erasers are of the white variety and erase very well. They aren’t the absolute best I’ve seen and they won’t get rid of every single mark, but they are both quite tiny and precise, making them very useful in those fine detail areas other eraser wouldn’t even be able to get to.

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They are very good erasers, but more as a set to complement others than on their own. For writing, pocket and backpack sketchbooks, or those who do a lot of detail work, they will be fantastic, especially if one gets both to use in different situations. But for general use, they obviously don’t have the huge, quick-erasing capabilities of a standard eraser, and I’d imagine that in most people’s use cases they’d augment and not replace one. Still, I am one of those people who like to write and do finer-detail drawings more often than other types and they have earned a place in my pencil bag that I don’t see them moving out of any time soon. So if you’re looking for a fine mechanical eraser to easily carry around, fit in with your pencils, or do detailed work, I’d say take a look at these.

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 – Lihit Lab Pen(cil) Case

I might be a little bit late for the back-to-school season, but I do have a pencil case I wanted to talk about. Most pencil cases tend to be of the “dump everything in and fish it out” variety, even if the only hold a few pencils. The rarer breed is the organizational pencil case (that isn’t attached to some other “organizer”). One of the simplest, least expensive, and easiest to get a hold of versions of this is the Lihit Lab Pen Case (I can’t find a certain model name {maybe Teffa?} or number that seems to fit {maybe A7551-24?}). Is it worth it?

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The outside of the case looks pretty standard (mine’s black, but there are lots of available colors), the back is blank and the front has two almost-useless pockets with a small rubber “designed for arrangement” badge. The (double) zipper is roughly in the center of the bag (and it even has the same logo as the front badge on it) and it feels very sturdy and secure, though it has no “brand-name” on it. The hinge is made of a double layer of the same fabric as the rest of the case and shows no sign of wear from several months of use. The whole package comes in at about 8”x4½”.

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The inside is a brown version of the same color polyester fabric (regardless of outside color). On the inside of the front there are two roughly inch-wide bands to hold in pens, and on the back inside there is a simple mesh covering about half the area (to hold other items). There is also a center divider/organizational area that is strangely attached to the inside of the back half and not in the middle. I suppose that would have interfered with the hinge, but its placement near the back (really it just favoring one side) can be a problem at times. The front of this divider has another inch-wide band (higher up this time) and a thin pocket (not mesh) at the bottom, and the back has three mesh pockets, the top two being slightly larger than the bottom one.

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So the configuration of the whole case is to hold pens in the front and other art/office supply things in the back. This works pretty well, especially since the back can hold either. I have 24 pens or pen-like things in mine* and 10 (or so, paper clips are counted as one thing) other things including an eraser, Swiss Army Knife, stapler, pencil sharpener, notepad etc. It fits everything nicely and is very flexible with its organization. I was surprised with what I could fit in it (almost everything I wanted), and I’ve been carrying it around wherever I need pen(cil)s for months now and it shows no sign of stressing the material or really any wear whatsoever.

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My concluding thoughts could just be “it is the pencil case I use, and I don’t see that changing soon”. And that would be true, I really like this case, it is perfect for my exact usage scenario, but due to its popularity and the number of photos of it I see online, it looks like it could fit quite a few usage cases. It’s inexpensive relative to other cases its size (it probably helps that there is no packaging needed, but it does come with a cute little card that folds out as a representation of how to use the case), it’s durable, flexible (both in the physical and organizational sense), and it’s attractive. I’d definitely recommend it as an upgrade to the regular zipper bag most people use.

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* Pencil Case Full Contents List

    • 2 Pentel Pocket Brushes
    • Pigma Brush
    • 2 Tombow Duos (N95, N60)
    • Liquid Accent Highlighter
    • Sharpie Twin Tip
    • Autopoint All American in Blue (Caran d’Ache Sketcher Non-Photo Blue Pencil)
    • Pigma Graphic 1
    • Pigma Micron Technical Pens (005, 01, 02, 03, 05, 08)
    • Le Pen 0.03 (003) Technical Pen
    • Tombow Mono Zero Eraser (Round 2.3, Rectangular 2.5×5)
    • Scotch Tape Roll
    • Pad of Generic Sticky Notes (3”x2”)
    • Twist Ties x2
    • Paper Clips x5 (Insulated)
    • 4 inch Ruler
    • Pentel .5 HB lead
    • Pentel Graphgear 500 .5
    • Swingline Tot 50 Mini Stapler
    • Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser (With Plastic Case)
    • Victorinox Super Tinker**
    • Zebra F-301 (Black, Blue, Green, Red)
    • Paper:Mate Liquid Paper Correction Pen (Signo Angelic White Gel Pen)
    • Kum Pencil Sharpener

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Last two photos from Jetpens.com (http://www.jetpens.com/Lihit-Lab-Teffa-Pen-Case-Book-Style-Black/pd/7665) I just had to include a photo of the "booklet" and originally couldn't find mine.

Last two photos from Jetpens.com (http://www.jetpens.com/Lihit-Lab-Teffa-Pen-Case-Book-Style-Black/pd/7665) I just had to include a photo of the “booklet” and originally couldn’t find mine.

Review – OHTO Sharp Pencil APS-350ES

I like tiny, pocket-sized things. Especially writing utensils, like the Fisher Space Pen Stowaway, the cheap touch screen styluses, and now the subject of this review, the OHTO mini Sharp Pencil. All of these happen to be the same size. So the OHTO is cool both in that it matches many other small items you can buy, but it also might be the smallest mechanical pencil I have ever seen, being a little over 4 inches long and less than 3/16ths of an inch in diameter. But at that size will it still work well? Let’s take a look.

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The design is meant to mimic a wooden pencil. The outside of the pencil is actually made of wood and has a hexagonal design. Mine is in green, with silver printed information on one facet. The tip is sharpened like a wood pencil until about halfway when it is replaced by a metal cone that leads to a very short lead pipe. On the back there is a clip that is a separate piece of metal bent around and friction fit. Beyond that is the click mechanism that is really only usable when the eraser holder is installed. The eraser holder is quite a simple piece of metal that keeps the lead in the feeder, depresses the click mechanism, and holds a very small eraser. The wire-thin piece of metal attaching this piece to the body seems rather flimsy and easy to remove, but I have had no problems with it shaking loose: it simply doesn’t have enough mass. Likewise I have encountered no problems with the quality of any of the components.

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The lead seems to be HB. I don’t have the package (which is rather understated and nice by the way) with me so I don’t know what it is exactly, but I have no complaints. It writes well, and can be sufficiently dark. The eraser also works surprisingly well for its size, with very little being used to rub away quite a bit, but I wouldn’t say it’s a great eraser. The click mechanism is satisfying and the lead is held very securely in place when one is using the pencil. The clip is also very good for the size, easily holding it in place while not damaging anything.

In the end, for on-the-go sketching or writing I would certainly recommend this product. I also wouldn’t recommend it at all for stationary or desk-related activities. It is very small, and while that makes it portable, it isn’t the most comfortable of writing implements. It will hold up very well in a bag or a pocket, and it looks quite neat in my opinion. I’d just say be careful of the back end being knocked loose and stock up on some extra erasers and lead (it only comes with one of each) as one will likely run through them pretty quickly.

Review – Dixon “My First” Ticonderoga

I’m not gonna lie; I find reviewing wood pencils difficult. I just don’t see enough difference in them to make it seem worth my while to look at each specific one. Ones like the My First Ticonderoga are easier, but still the discussion of them ends up being brief. That being said, let’s take a look.

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The pencil is almost solid yellow, with green accents on the information on the “barrel” and the metal eraser holder. It is a little more broken up by the eraser’s pink and the wood of the sharpened end. The eraser works well enough, and is quite large since the pencils size is increased. The body is half again to double the circumference of a standard pencil, making it much more comfortable to hold, in my opinion, but harder to store. It is completely round, making rolling quite easy, but its larger mass makes it less prone to ending up on the floor.

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The lead is standard fare for #2. It works well enough for drawing and writing, providing a medium line that can be both quite dark and quite light, though the largeness of the lead skews it to dark. Personally I haven’t used it much for that, but I have used it for marking wood in lieu of a carpenter’s pencil, a job at which this excels.

It’s a good pencil, both for kids and those who don’t want to or can’t hold the smaller standard pencils of today. The quality control isn’t the finest. I’ve found some wood and paint blemishes but these are quite minor and don’t affect the writing ability at all. The set I got also came with a plastic pencil sharpener that does what it’s supposed to, but is nothing special. They’re just a simple, good option for someone who wants a larger pencil.

Review – Pentel Sharplet-2 .9mm

Recently I was gifted several mechanical pencils from someone who is a fan of larger lead sizes, and they were attempting to convert me. I have to say I’m not convinced, but the pencils themselves were ones I hadn’t had previous experience with. That isn’t really surprising, considering the vast array of mechanical pencils on the market from companies like Pentel, such as the gift I’m looking at today: the Pentel Sharplet-2 in .9mm.

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The pencil has a very classic and simple design that’s been around the block. At the back there is a plastic, cylindrical cover for the eraser, which is the standard tiny variety and placed over the lead tube. This back bit also serves as the click-advance mechanism. The barrel is the same diameter as the back cover, and consistent all the way down. The clip is one piece of metal that is friction fit around the barrel; it is a little stiff but keeps the pencil where you clip it. The only other features of the barrel are the brand and model information (that is engraved in as well as painted on, making it harder to wear away than on most writing implements), and about an inch of tiny ridges on the “section” (there is no separate section so that is for you to decide) for grip. The plastic cone that screws on the front is straight and unspectacular, ending in a metal pipe that makes the pencil more drafting-friendly.

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The leads pencils normally come with are all pretty standard, straddling the line between super dark and super light. The wider leads, just by virtue of being larger, require less pressure to write darker, and write (or sketch) in general with a wider and darker line. There are no real problems or tricks one has to get used to when writing. The eraser is similarly plain. It erases well, but can have trouble getting rid of darker or thicker lines like all erasers of its size that come packed in with mechanical pencils. The pencil does come in different versions for lead sizes; these are color coded for easy identification (it looks like there is some variation in the eraser color, as well).

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Pentel makes a solid pencil, and this is no exception. The design is simple, comfortable, and durable. It’s really a no-frills pencil. Everything is basic and has a function, it’s easy to disassemble and parts could be easily replaced (though it isn’t expensive enough to justify the hassle of that, it certainly isn’t a disposable pencil, though). The mechanism is satisfying to use, the grip is not slippery, the clip holds, and the retro styling makes it look kinda trendy (not that I care). If you want a simple, solid pencil or want to buy a set with easily distinguishable lead sizes, these would fit the bill.