This week, I take a look at a pencil that is produced under the umbrella of my favorite brand Hindustan-- the Sivo Glitter pencil. These pencils were originally brought to my attention by CW Pencils when they offered a free 5-pack for ordering. I wasn't sure what to expect for a 30 cent pencil, but after some time with it I was pleasantly surprised. The Sivo Glitter pencils have my favorite color scheme-- neon. Added to the pencils are a gold glitter that seems to be mixed into the paint so there is no worry of it flaking off while using the pencil. The pencils are HB and are true to grade. HB pencils are a bit too light for my liking as I prefer a 2B, but the point retention for the Sivo Glitter is right on par with more expensive HB art pencils and the like. The pencil itself is made of what I think may be basswood but I can't be sure. I was surprised since a lot of Indian pencils are made from Jelutong. Wood type aside, the Sivo Glitter sharpens beautifully. The cores on all pencils I received were centered nicely. The end of the pencil is dipped in a glittery gold like the flecks spread throughout the barrel lacquer. I will say this though-- this pencil is very light and for those of you that prefer a heavier hand feel, I'd counter balance with an eraser top or pencil cap. At 30 cents a pencil, these are definitely worth picking up. While I am not in love with them like I am with my Neon Casemates, I do love them. CW Pencil Enterprise has them in stock.
We take for granted that most of our trusty pens come with pen caps to protect the point of the pen and prevent the pen from getting ink on our shirts or pants, but what about pencils? Pencils have a point that needs far more protection than any pen tip (besides FPs of course) and I can't count the times that graphite has transferred to other things in my pencil case. It's a mess. When searching for the perfect pencil cap I had a few things in mind. First, it had to be cheap. Yes, the ten dollar pencil cap from Palomino is great, but I lose things. It would be far less disappointing to lose something that costs far less. Also, I want something that is lightweight and does not add much bulk to the pencil. Nothing is worse than adding weight to your pencil case because of a bunch of pencil caps. Finally, I want something that is moderately adjustable. Even though the standard pencil is the same size most of the time, some have more layers of paint which add a bit of girth to the pencil thus facilitating an adjustable cap. With all of those qualities in mind, I have searched and finally found the one pencil cap that checks all of the boxes: the Kutsuwa Stad.
The Kutsuwa Stad pencil caps are made of a lightweight aluminum and come in either all silver or the multi-colors that I am reviewing here. The packaging on these pencils caps is basic, but the bag is resealable (there is a sticky flap on the bottom) so it's a great way to keep the ones you are not using together. In addition to the six pencil caps, you get a mini sheet of labels. I am not sure what they say in Japanese, but I assume it is a label to write your name on. On the side of each cap is a slit that provides the flex you need to adjust to different pencil barrel size. I will say be careful with this part-- I sliced my finger on one as the edges can be pretty sharp. These sharp edges also may dig into the lacquer on your pencil, so take care not to squeeze them as you slide them on the point of the pencil.
Once the cap is on your pencil, a slight squeeze is all you need to make sure it is secure. These caps do not add much length to the pencil you are using and allow the pencil with cap to fit in most pencil cases. What's also great is you can put the cap on the other end of the pencil while you are writing (unless you are using a Blackwing of course!) which adds a nice counter balance to ferrule-less pencils. At around three or so dollars for a six pack, you really can't go wrong with picking a few of these up. The Kutsuwa Stad not only does its job well, but they make your pencils look great as well.
Normally here at the Weekly Pencil, I talk about, well, pencils. As I began to use more and more pencil, I found that there were times when I wanted to highlight something I had written, but had no idea which highlighter I should use. For a while, I kind of just used whatever was within reach with varying results. It wasn't until I started to attend college that I began to have a need for a highlighter that worked properly for my needs and was vibrant enough to be useful. I'm not going to lie-- this task was daunting. I did eventually find my dream highlighter, but it took time and frustration. That's when it occurred to me-- what if I wrote a blog post about my experiences with different highlighters so you DON'T have to go through the aggravation like I did. Now, here we are. I review several highlighters so you don't have to. You're welcome.
Before I get started I want to define some terms. There are three different kinds of highlighters I am going to talk about in this piece. The dry, wet/marker-type, and the gel. Dry highlighters can be described as crayon-like or, for the harder ones, colored pencil. They tend to lay on top of the paper and often smudge pencil, but do a fine job with printer ink and pen ink. They need sharpening like regular pencils. The wet/marker type are the highlighters that most of you probably use on a semi-regular basis. They tend to get absorbed into the paper you are highlighting and some wet highlighters do a good job of not smearing pencil markings. Wet highlighters can either be water based or alcohol based. The alcohol based highlighters tend to work much better than the water based since they have a shorter drying time and work on a variety of papers. Water based highlighters can tear up the paper if you apply too many layers and take forever to dry. The only plus to water based highlighter usage is that they are cheaper. *note: while these statements are, in fact, true, there are some exceptions to the assertion that alcohol is better than water; it depends on the quality of the marker itself. Finally, gel highlighters are unique in that they offer a smudge-free, non-bleedthrough experience. These type of highlighters work best on thin paper such as paper found in the Bible or Quran or on surfaces that are non-porous. These highlighters come with some drawbacks though. They are not precise and often have a very large, round tip. Also, some can be incredibly waxy to the point of being unusable. I would like to note that sometimes people conflate dry and gel highlighters, but for the purposes of this overview, I will put them into two separate categories: dry (sharpenable) and gel (everything else sans wet). Now, on to the reviews!
The Kutsuwa HiLiNE is a pencil highlighter made in Japan that comes with a pencil sharpener cap. When I first recieved this highlighter I was sketptical. I figured the sharpener would be garbage and the pencil itself would not be able to offer up the vibrancy that I often look for in highlighters. I was TOTALLY wrong. First, the included sharpener works beautifully and provides a good counter weight to the pencil as you use it. Also, the small diameter of the core (3.9 mm) allows one to make precise marks and annotations. I would liken this to the Caran d'Ache Couleurs Fluos highlighter pencil. Same bright pigment and while not as creamy as the C'dA the HiLiNE offers a very velvety highlighting experience. Final Grade: A-
The Cd'A highlighter pencil is my dream come true. Housed in a chunky hexagonal body is a fat creamy core that offers a superb highlighting experience. The C'dA was the first highlighter pencil I used and set the bar for all others to follow. It is the closest experience to using a standard wet highlighter that I have found. The Couleurs Fluos lays down a smooth creamy line that does not smudge pen or printer ink. I will say that this is the wrong highlighter to use for highlighting pencil as it smears and mixes with the graphite on the paper. At $3.50 it may seem a bit expensive, but an entire pencil lasted me a semester (four months). The Couleurs Fluos comes in four different colors, but I found that the yellow and pink are most vibrant. Final Grade: A+
The Yoobi highlighter pencil hits all the aesthetic points on my scale: natural wood barrel, hexagonal, and jumbo. That's where my love affair ends. Let not beat around the bush here: this pencil sucks. In order for the highlighting to be visible, one has to push down extremely hard in order to get the pigment to find its way into the paper. This experience is a stark contrast to that of the Caran d'Ache and Kutsuwa offerings. When one is able to get the highlighter pencil to lay down enough pigment to be effective, the color is muted and not at all vibrant. The highlighting experience itself is marred by a very scratchy feedback. While the Yoobi is a bit thicker than the C'dA jumbo, its core is about half the size. Also, the Yoobi appears to be made of basswood so it has a lighter feel in the hand. For some this is a bonus, but for me it only decreases my opinion of the pencil. The good thing is that these are super cheap. A five pack will cost you as much as one C'dA pencil. If you have $3.50 that you are wiling to waste or light on fire, pick these up. Otherwise it's a hard pass. Final Grade: D
The Staedtler Textsurfer Gel was a pleasant surprise for me. I have used gel highlighters in the past and have been extremely disappointed. For one, they require of very light hand and for someone like myself who is very heavy-handed, this can be a problem. Also, the gel highlighters I have used in the past have left a ton of chunks on the paper which then transfers to the opposite page and makes the two pages stick together. Not good. The Staedtler resolves a few of these issues. For one, it is not as clumpy as others I have used in the past. The feedback one gets when they use it is best described as that of using a gluestick. Super, super smooth and sticky feeling. The yellow pigment the Staedtler leaves on the paper is super bright and does not smudge or smear any kind of ink or graphite it goes over. The one drawback though is that it is extremely hard to be precise with it (and all of the gel highlighters I've reviewed as a matter of fact). It has a very blunt rounded tip that unless you wear it down to a point, you will not be able to highlight small lines of text accurately which is kind of silly since these are advertised at bible highlighters. Either way, they do a great job, just don't expect precision. Final Grade: B+
The Ohto Rouge has a different design than the Staedtler and Monami gel highlighters I reviewed. It has a flatter shape to its core and comes to a dull point at the end. While not as bad as the round tipped highlighters, the Ohto still doesn't offer the precision one needs to highlight small text. One noticeable issue I had with the Ohto is that it gave me a similar experience that I had with other gel highlighters of the past-- it left small chunks on the paper. The Ohto was also much softer than the other two as well which not only adds to that chunky residue, but decreases the lifespan of the highlighter itself. These drawbacks are a shame because I really like the flatter shape of not only the core but the barrel as well. Final Grade: C
Monami Essenti Stick
The Monami Essenti Stick is very similar to the Staedtler Textsurfer. In fact, if I were blindfolded I would not be able to tell the difference between the two. Even the color that is laid down by both is similar. One cool feature of this highlighter though is that there is a window on the barrel that lets you see how much of the gel stick is left over. Also, the Monami is a dollar cheaper than the Staedtler, so I'd pick this one up instead of the Textsurfer. Final Grade: A- (for extra features and price)
The Tombow Kei Coat highlighter has a great design; it has a chisel tip and a fine point tip. This becomes incredibly handy during highlighting and annotating since you can quickly jot down notes with the fine point. It is a smaller highlighter pen that is made of solid plastic and has a good hand feel. The chisel tip is just the right size to accommodate small print, but for handwritten stuff I find that I need two swipes to compeletely cover my text. The one drawback to this highlighter is its pigment. Compared to others I have tested, the Tombow feels a bit washed out. Not a complete dealbreaker as the highlighter still does its job, but not for me. Final Grade: B
Let me preface this by saying that I have used the Zebra H-301 before-- quite extensively actually. The only reason I ordered a new one was because I could not find my original one. The H-301 comes with one refill which is nice, but you do go through the refills quite quickly. The design of the newer H-301 I ordered was exactly the same except for the cap which seemed to randomly pop off. Legit. I went into my office one morning and found the uncapped highlighter on the floor. I don't know if this is a fluke or if this is the new design, but it's horrible. Luckily, I did my testing already because the tip was completely dried out and required a bit of finesse and moisture to get it right again. And lets talk about that. The performance was not consistent at all. There were times when the Zebra worked flawlessly but then other times where it seemed to skip over the paper and required a few swipes to get a solid line. This is disappointing since I talked the H-301 up a bit on the latest episode of RSVP. I'd be willing to buy another to give it a second chance, but be aware: you may be disappointed as well. Final Grade: C-
The Stabilo Boss is a classic and has had the same iconic design since its incarnation in 1972. Its design, while a bit awkward in the hand at first, is perfect and allows for precision usage. The brightness of the Boss is perfect-- not too bright that it is obnoxious, but just bright enough to make what you have highlighted readable. One feature of the Boss that I especially like is the fact that it can be uncapped for up to four hours without drying out. This is big since as a student I often find myself capping and uncapping highlighters as I use them. In this case, I can leave the cap off for my entire study session and not be worried about it drying out. Also, these are refillable so those that are focused on cutting down plastic waste, Stabilo has got you covered. I couldn't ask for more in a highlighter. Final Grade: A+
Not unlike the Stabilo Boss, the Textsurfer Classic has a unique flat design. That's not where the innovation ends though-- the Textsurfer features an "automatic pressure equalization system" that prevents the ink from leaking while on board an aircraft. While this feature is not at all useful for me, those that travel may find this of use. The barrel has a nice design and has ridges at the top where you would put your pointer finger; this allows for a better grip as your hand does not slip like it sometimes does with the Stabilo Boss. The pigment is SUPER bright and more regular yellow than a neon yellow. Some may find this irritating, but I like the super pop of color. The Textsurfer is on the wetter side so be careful not to leave it on the paper for too long as it will bleed through. Overall, I like this marker and have made it a part of my daily carry. Final Grade: A
The Zebra Mildliner is just that-- mild. The Mildliner still has that glow of a neon highlighter, but it is muted just enough as to not be jarring on the eyse as a regular highlighter might be. The Mildliners are extremely popular with the journaling and studying crowd since they come in a variety of unique colors such as grey and brown. The Mildliner has both a chisel and fine point tip which proves to be especially useful when annotating. There are fifteen different colors of the Mildliner and are worth owning if you like a wide range of colors. Final Grade: B
The Beetle Tip is a very unique highlighter because of the fact that there are two colors in one pen. The tip of the highlighter is divided in two and provides two chisel tips. This is great in theory, but if you do not hold it just the right way both colors will transfer to the paper. This is frustrating and a deal breaker for me. Oftentimes I am going back and forth between pencil and highlighter and the angle I have to hold the Beetle Tip is very slanted and not at all natural. The color the Beetle lays down is average, but nothing to write home about. I'd try one of these for the novelty purposes, but don't purchase if you are looking for utility since you have to work harder than you should to get this highlighter to do its thing. Final Grade: C
The Preppy really took me by surprise. The Preppy works extremely well and lays down the perfect shade of neon yellow. It feels great in the hand and has the same design as their Preppy fountain pens. They are also refilliable which is a huge bonus. I like the clear look of the Preppy and the cool cap design that has a spring inside of it which allows the tip to fit snugly and airtight thus making it free from drying out. I really don't have anything negative to say about the Preppy. It's chisel tip is a bit more narrow than I like, but at this point I am grasping at straws trying to find a flaw in this pen. Just buy it. Final Grade: A
Let's get this out of the way. This highlighter is garbage. DO NOT buy this. You will be disappointed and angry. First, the color of the ink is bad and not at all the normal neon you are used to in a highlighter. Second, its "erasable" feature requires you to almost destroy your paper to get the highlighter off the page. Finally, can we talk about the horrible 90s tribal design on the barrel?? Pilot really dropped the ball here and could have hit it out of the park, but instead they offered up a sub-par piece of junk. If you want a ticket to the land of disappointment, buy this highlighter. Final Grade: F
It's not often that I open a product I have been sent to review and gasp audibly. When I got the box in the mail I was immediately drawn to the artwork on the outside. Whimsical characters drawn by artist Geoff Gouveia are riding through countless bees and honey harvesting paraphernalia on what appears to be a Yak. Upon opening the box, you will find a small booklet which contains a lovely short story that introduces the characters on the box artwork and alludes to the use of a "maroon notebook." These small details in the story actually make you feel as though you, too, are holding a maroon notebook that has the potential to contain your very own ideas about honey (the short story is also written by Gouveia). The presentation of this limited edition product is phenomenal and the story just adds the perfect touch. Don't skip it. Take a few minutes and read it.
After I read the booklet, I put it aside and got my first peek at the Raspberry Honey Confidant. It is beautiful. It's not so much maroon as it is an actual raspberryish/cranberry color. At first glance you see small things embossed on the front and back covers, but when taking a closer look, you find that they are BEES embossed on the cover (this small detail inspired my gasp). When you open the notebook, you are greeted with the same artwork you found on the box. There is a cloth bookmark like every Confidant has and this one is a mauveish color. The paper inside the book is dot grid and there have been no changes to its quality. I threw a bunch of pens and pencils at it and the paper was receptive to all. The paper in the Confidant is a bit toothier than other papers I normally use, but it's not so toothy it is a deal breaker. The amount of feedback the paper give me when I write in pencil is just right.
Besides this Confidant, I only own one other and that is the classic. I have used to pretty extensively to jot down notes and project ideas for school as well as blog post planning. The Raspberry Honey is different. It's special and I'm not quite sure what I will pen on its pages. No matter what I do decide to fill it with, I am sure I will enjoy using it and carrying it around.If any of you are on the fence about picking up a limited edition Confidant, hop off. Now is the time to pick one up. I have a feeling this one is not going to last.
The wonderful folks over at Baron Fig have provided me with a sample of their new pencil subscription offering the Prismatic. The following opinions are my own and are in no way influenced by any items that have been given to me. Baron Fig is a designer stationery company based out of New York City. Some of you may know them from their extremely successful Kickstarter for the Confidant journal which raised $156k in 30 days. Baron Fig first started offering pencils with the Archer and now have a subscription service that provides a quarterly delivery of limited edition pencils. So. Enough of this history lesson-- how do the Prismatics perform??
When I first opened the package I was immediately pleased. I love the design of the cardboard tube these pencils come in. The bold colored 3D geometric shapes that wrapped around the tube reminded me of the 1980s and 90s-- a time I miss dearly. According to the print on the tube, these pencils are made in Portugal, so they are made by Viarco, a company that has been making pencils in Portugal for the past 110 years. After removing the pencils from the cardboard tube, I did what I always do-- check the cores. Each and every core on these pencils is centered. The finish on the pencils is great, but I do have one gripe. The yellow pencil has a bit of an issue with its coverage on the barrel. I am sure this is because yellow is a lighter color and they didn't want to overcoat the pencil, but in some spots you can see the wood through the paint underneath. Also, the white printing on the side of the yellow pencil, while perfectly executed, is hard to see since its backdrop is a bright yellow. Again, not a deal breaker, but there are just little aesthetic things I like to look out for. Yellow is my favorite color, so I am just glad they made a yellow pencil. Once I sharpened a few of these up, I immediately noticed that there was not crumbling or lead breakage like the Snakes and Ladders edition.
The Prismatic performed wonderfully in all tests thrown at it. Unless I put tremendous pressure on the tip of the pencil, there was not one breakage. As far as how the graphite from the Prismatic performed on paper, I'd have to say this: it depends. Full disclosure: I do not like Viarco pencils. There is nothing inherently wrong with the company or anything, I just don't like the tactile experience they provide. The best way to describe it is that their pencils offer a lot of feedback when writing. They are noisy and a bit scratchy feeling. When I tested this pencil out, I wrote on my standard review paper the Campus Kokuyo paper which is a smooth toothless paper. When I switched over to writing in a Confidant from Baron Fig, this pencil performed beautifully. So, if Baron Fig is going for a product line where each product compliments the other, they have nailed it. When I compared the Prismatic to the regular Archer offering, there was no discernible difference between the two pencils. This leads me to believe that the issues with the Snakes and Ladders pencils were an anomaly and not at all what Baron Fig usually sells. The fault there is not on Baron Fig, but on the manufacturer. Point retention is great and the marks the Prismatic puts down erase cleanly and easily.
I am glad to see those issues resolved in this edition. Finally, I like that Baron Fig is branching out regarding colors. I initially did not care much for Baron Fig products because they exuded a certain masculinity about them (I'm not necessarily gendering stationery here, but initially I felt that the promotion and style of their products were especially marketed for men. This is a tricky situation, so I'll leave it at that.). I am glad to see that Baron Fig has shed that and is producing a wider range of products and colors/styles. Overall, I think that the Prismatic is a pencil that is not only great looking, but performs as it is intended to. I suggest that to get the most enjoyment out of the pencil, you should use it on Baron Fig paper, but it is not necessary. Just be aware of the scratchiness that may happen with using a less toothy paper. If you are a fan of bright colors and want a pencil that write like it is supposed to, I see no reason why you shouldn't pick up a dozen (or more) of the Prismatics..
This review is something that I have been wanting to do for a while. I don't often find myself using jumbo pencils a whole lot and because of that, I really do not know how they perform. I spent the better part of a week with ten wonderful pencils and would love to share my observations. Spoiler: Musgrave has cornered the market in jumbo pencils.
1. Musgrave Cub ($0.60)
The Cub is what is called a "mini" jumbo pencil. It is in between a giant jumbo and a regular number two pencil. I like this size a lot as it doesn't have that clunky hand feel some traditional sized jumbo pencils give you when you write. In fact, if I wasn't paying attention, I would think that I was writing with a regular size pencil. The Cub is on the darker side when compared to other offerings from Musgrave and if I were to put a grade on it, I'd say it is close to a B. The graphite is nice and smooth and I did not have any problems with grit or scratchiness. This is no Tombow, but it's not garbage either. The Cub is made from Jelutong wood (for the uninitiated: Jelutong is a species mainly grown in the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia. This is for another post, but there is some controversy around using rainforest wood, but for now it is what it is). The eraser should not be used under any circumstances. It will tear your paper and a hole in your heart. Musgrave clearly needs to up their eraser game.
2. Caran d'Ache Black Wood ($3.50)
The Black Wood comes at a pretty steep price, but you get what you pay for. The graphite is super smooth and writes almost like the jumbo highlighter pencils Cd'A produces. It is a traditional jumbo pencil, but unlike most jumbos, it is hexagonal. This is a win for me since I tend to really dislike round pencils and prefer that sharper edge feel when I write. Writing with the Black Wood is a pleasure and offsets the almost four dollar price tag. Because of its dark, creamy graphite, the point retention is average to poor and the markings it makes are not always easy to erase. The weight of the Black Wood is also a bonus as it does not feel too light or flimsy. I was unable to find out what kind of wood the pencil is made of, but it is (obviously) dyed black. If I were to take a guess, I'd say basswood.
3. Musgrave Finger Fitter ($1.00)
Besides the fact that I snicker whenever I see the title of this pencil, the Finger Fitter performs OK for what it is-- a triangular jumbo pencil. The Finger Fitter is made out of basswood and the graphite is right in the middle when it comes to darkness (about HB). The triangular shape of the pencil, while I thought would be beneficial, is not (at least for me). Yes, it may help children learn how to hold their pencils properly, but for a 36-year-old pencil holder it is limiting. Point retention is average and all graphite markings erase cleanly from the paper. Again, do not use the provided eraser as it will destroy the paper you are writing on.
4. Musgrave Choo-Choo ($0.75)
The Choo-Choo is my favorite jumbo pencil when it comes to aesthetics. It is a darker yellow pencil with blue foil stamping of a train and has a wonderful brushed gold ferrule and a bright pink eraser. When writing with the pencil, you do not feel as good as you feel when you are looking at it. It is a bit scratchy and because it is made of (what looks like) jelutong, it is light and hollow sounding. The graphite is dark enough for me and erases ok, but the weight of the pencil is off putting. While I am not in love with the way the pencil feels and writes, I love the way it looks so much that I carry one around with me if not for usage, but used as a conversation starter.
5. Musgrave My-Pal 2020 ($0.25)
The My-Pal is a mini jumbo pencil as it is a few millimeters larger than a standard sized pencil. The pencil itself is jet black with white stamping and aesthetically reminds me of the the General's Layout. Dark like the Layout it is not and lays down HB graphite lines. The erasability of those lines is a tiny bit better than average. Point retention is average and the pencil offers a medium amount of feedback when writing. The My-Pal is made of jelutong wood. As much as I gave it a chance, this pencil is meh for me and since there are a plethora of jumbos and mini jumbos to use, I don't foresee it making it into my regular rotation.
6. Musgrave TOT ($0.40)
The TOT is one of the older offerings from Musgrave and has been produced, with its same stamping, for decades. Made from jelutong, this pencil is very light in the hand and is quite noisy when writing with it. The graphite, while the same darkness as most of Musgrave's other jumbo offerings, feels a bit smoother. You have two color choices for the TOT: blue or red. Both colors have a shiny look to them and from far away you would think they were sparkling. I like the look of this pencil and it is currently in my pencil case when I am feeling in a jumbo kind of mood. At forty cents, one really cannot go wrong with picking a few of these up.
7. Moon Try-Rex ($0.60)
Let me first say that I love the Try-Rex. The shape of this pencil is quite unique and is really hard to explain. It is a beveled triangle shape and has a wonderful hand feel. The Try-Rex is a tiny bit scratchy, but lays down HB graphite and erases like a charm. I love this pencil so much because it really helps with my hand fatigue. I grip the pencil tightly and press hard on the paper, and I guess due to the unique shape the Try-Rex takes the pressure off of the right points. The eraser on this pencil is no Hinodewashi, but it is better than Musgrave's offerings and can be used in a pinch. The wood the Try-Rex is made of has a slight cedar smell, but is not as dark as regular cedar, so I am not sure what it is made of, but it has a nice heft to it.
8. General's Big Bear ($1.30)
The General's Big Bear is the winner of this pencil comparison piece. The Big Bear is a mini jumbo pencil and writes like a dream. I really never expect less from General's but compared to Musgraves and Moons, this pencil writes like a Blackwing. The graphite it lays down is nice a smooth and erases OK. The provided eraser works, but is very dusty and mine was a bit hard. I am not sure if this is because of the formulation of the rubber or from exposure to air. Either way, you can use it in a pinch, but do not count on it for big lines of text. This pencil is the only pencil on the list that is made of incense cedar. Because of its cedar composition, the Big Bear has a nice heft to it which only helps you enjoy the experience of writing with it. Look wise the Big Bear is adorable with a gold foil imprint of a smiling bear on the barrel. Buy a bunch of these. You won't regret it.
9. Koh-I-Noor Magnum ($2.00)
Made in the Czech Republic, the Magnum is hexagonal jumbo pencil made from basswood. While it lays down a nice HB line, it is VERY loud when writing with it. The noise is probably due to the way the feedback from the paper resonates through the lighter basswood. The point retention on this pencil is great and easily erased. The hex on the Magnum is a bit sharper than the hex on the Black Wood which may be a deal breaker for some (not me!). The gold foil stamping on the pencil is solidly executed and is not sloppy like some Musgraves can be. Sadly there is a giant barcode on one of the sides of the pencil towards the top, so you have to look at that for the entire life of the pencil. It may not matter much to some, but to me its frustratingly annoying. Playing around with this pencil made me discover that it is the best out of the other eight for shading and sketching since it lays down just enough graphite on the paper to achieve your desired darkness.
***For those that pay attention to details: disregard the natural wood 2b pencil in the header picture. I am not sure how it made it into the group pic, but it is not a jumbo as its core is standard sized***
So for all of you that know me a little bit, you know that I HATE WOPEX pencils. For the uninitiated, WOPEX pencils are not made of just wood, but instead made up of a wood/plastic composite that uses 70 percent wood and the rest is plastic. From the Staedtler website: "Granulates of all components are processed in a special manufacturing procedure. The pencil materials are melted at temperatures between 130 and 180°C, aligned by means of a tool and then moulded to a pencil shape. The initial outcome is an endless pencil strand which is cooled prior to cutting to the appropriate pencil length and then stamped and sharpened." So, ok. It's not a wooden pencil like a Blackwing or a Ticonderoga, but it's a pencil nonetheless, so it should do just job just as good, right? WRONG. I have a few problems with the WOPEX. I dislike sharpening the thing. It's smooth sharpening, but gunks up my Classroom Friendly sharpener and dulls blades on others. I felt bad for this little pencil. My strong dislike for this pencil came from a first experience with it, so really, I had not used a WOPEX for any length of time. I figured I'd give it a second shot and if anything, find some justifiable reasons for hatred other than "it eats my sharpeners." Sharpening the WOPEX was the same experience as I had previously-- it was nice and smooth although I cringed at what it was probably doing to the blade. I spent an entire day writing with it and my bubbling cauldron of hatred seemed to simmer a bit. Yes, I still did not like the thing, but I was beginning to understand why.
One of the biggest reasons I use analog tools is because I like the tactile feel of things and the experience as a whole. The WOPEX does not deliver on that. When I write, I do not get the feedback like I do with a traditional wood pencil. The WOPEX is also a bit heavier than the standard pencil and its finish is very rubbery feeling. The graphite in the WOPEX actually isn't that bad. The point retention is great and if you are writing on toothy paper, the WOPEX really shines. Its graphite is a bit lighter than I like, but that is something you sometimes have to sacrifice for point retention. I was pleasantly surprised this week when I was using the WOPEX. Sharpening was a chore and the eraser on the pencil is garbage (not as bad as Musgrave though), but I gave it a chance. Perhaps that is the lesson here. Don't let your first experience with something be your only experience. I still don't love the WOPEX, but I don't hate it either. It does what a pencil should do-- write. A lot of times us reviewers have a limited amount of time with a product due to the fact we want to publish content on a regular basis. I think what this experience taught me was that I need to revisit some of my earlier reviews and see if things have changed. Reviewing something is entirely subjective, so thing can and will change. So yeah. WOPEX. Sorta OK?
The Musgrave round-up is first in a series of reviews I will do about all pencils (that are currently obtainable) in a specific brand. I often wonder if pencil companies that brand pencils with different names really have differences within each pencil. Besides aesthetics, do these different pencils have different cores? To test this out, I will take each pencil and write one full college ruled page and compare how each pencil feels while writing and how well it performs when it comes to erasing, smearing, and darkness. Before we get to the actual reviews, let's talk about Musgrave as a company first.
Musgrave has been making pencils in Shelbyville, Tennessee since 1916. Supplied by Tennessee red cedar and a system of recycling cedar rail fences for more modern wire, Musgrave had all the resources it needed. Musgrave not only bartered with farmers for the old cedar, but their crew installed the new wire and pole fencing that would be replacing that cedar. Since the cedar rails had been outdoors for an extended period of time, they were already weathered and in perfection condition. The cedar was cut into pencil slats that were sent from Tennessee to German manufacturers like Faber. In 1919, the Tennessee red cedar had been depleted and a new source needed to found. Luckily, a wood with similar characteristics from California, California Incense Cedar was shipped it. This new wood was fast growing, plentiful, and renewable. Musgrave held on as a company through the Great Depression and during World War II and still operates today in Shelbyville. One the few pencil manufacturers left in the United States, Musgrave is an example of how ingenuity and dedication to one's product can last the test of time.
The pencils I will be talking about today are the ones that are easily available for purchase. There are other pencils in their lineup that I would have liked to try, but I am still waiting for a response from the company about how I can acquire those. I will update accordingly if that ever comes through. All pencils reviewed today were purchased via CW Pencil Enterprise. Please note that I am not comparing these pencils against each other-- that would be unrealistic as these pencils have a variety of purposes. Instead, I have used each pencil for a period of time and have provided some feedback and thoughts on how each performed.
The Bugle has a very simple design. It has a round, unpainted barrel with a thin clear overcoat with the word "BUGLE" and 1816 stamped in white. There are also two little bugles stamped on the pencil which make it completely adorable. There is no eraser and the pencil is very light in your hand. Based on the smell test, I do not think this pencil is made of cedar, but I could be mistaken. Writing with the Bugle produced a very loud scratchy sound, but not a scratchy feel. I felt it was a bit light for a number 2 pencil and because of this lightness it was very easy to erase. Point retention is amazing and I was able to fill an entire sheet of college ruled notebook paper before I had to sharpen again.
I would recommend this pencil for a few reasons. Aesthetically speaking, this pencil is great. I really like the bugles stamped into the side and I am a sucker for natural looking pencils. I personally don't like round barreled pencils, but that's just me. Also, the Bugle has wonderful point retention even though it is a bit lighter than I like for a number 2 pencil. As a furious note taker, I find myself having to sharpen a lot. This was not the case with the Bugle as it seemed to just keep going and going.
Harvest #2 ($0.35)
At first glance, the Harvest is your typical looking yellow school pencil. Upon further inspection, you can see that it is so much more than that. I have to admit, I am in love with the design of this pencil. It has a nice sharp hexagonal barrel (some hate this; I love it) and a thick coat of yellow lacquer. The typography of the word Harvest is wonderful and the other gold foil stamping has a nice, retro look to it. The Harvest advertises that it has "bonded lead" which means the core is glued right onto the barrel. This increases strength and decreases breakage. The ferrule of this pencil is great as well with a crimson brown stripe in the middle of it. It holds a bright pink eraser (that performs very meh). It appears the Harvest is made with white ash as it is much lighter in color than the other pencils in Musgrave's line-up.
Sadly, the core of my pencil was a bit off-center so it sharpened unevenly, but not so much so that it impacted its performance. The Harvest wrote as dark as a number two pencil should and had average point retention. I was able to fill up an entire notebook page, but towards the end I found myself rotating the pencil a lot to get a sharper edge to write with. Don't let my off center core dissuade you from picking up this pencil. It is beautiful! I would recommend not using the supplied eraser as it is pretty bad and feels as though you might rip your paper while using it.
Test Scoring 100 ($0.40)
The Test Scoring pencil produces a love/hate sentiment among users. Some like the sharp hex edge and shiny graphite lay down while other abhor it. Say what you will, but the Test Scoring pencil looks pretty rad. I like that there is "100" on the side of it almost encouraging you to do your best. The graphite composition of the Test Scoring pencil is artificial and is actually called electro-graphite. The reason this formulation is used is because it puts down a more reflective mark so the grading machines can pick up on it. It writes nice and dark and has a smooth feel while writing. Of course because of this darkness, point retention suffers. This may be fine for grade schoolers, but for post grads taking tests, sometimes pencil sharpening is not allowed so I'd bring a dozen or so pre-sharpened just in case.
The eraser is shit. Seriously, it almost ripped my paper, I wouldn't dare use this eraser on a Scantron for fear of ripping a hole right through the sheet. I wouldn't recommend this pencil for heavy note taking since it dulls pretty quickly and smears a great deal. I do enjoy the sharp hex it offers, but I can't see myself ever using this outside of its intended purpose. This pencil would be perfect for jotting down short notes or lists.
Ceres 909 ($0.40)
The Ceres is another one of Musgrave's standard yellow school pencil offerings. It has the usual stamping of the Musgrave brand and then the word "Ceres" in a font that I know I've seen before, but I can't remember what it's called. It has a standard number two pencil kind of darkness and I'd place it somewhere in between the Bugle and the Harvest as far as darkness is concerned. Writing with the Ceres can be a mixed bag; at times it wrote pretty well with very little feedback, but at other times it was very scratchy. It was almost as if there were some kind of little chunks of something within the graphite because the scratchiness would go away after writing for a little bit.
The graphite it does lay down is easily erased, but not by its own eraser. I mean you could erase it with the built-in eraser, but it is very rough on the paper. Also, the eraser disintegrates, but does not create any dust and instead kind of tears off in chunks. I wouldn't say that this pencil is trash, but if it were in a pencil cup with others I would not reach for it unless I had to. It certainly is better that the garbage most offices order from Staples or WB Mason, but marginally. Musgrave really needs to work on their eraser game.
News 600 ($0.40)
The News 600 is not your standard writing pencil. You will have frustrating results if you try to use it for note taking-- just don't. It is super dark and soft; I'd say it would be around a 4B or so and it has a larger than normal core. Be careful with handling this pencil as pencils with larger cores can break if the pencil is dropped. Having a broken core inside a pencil will render it pretty much useless since when you sharpen it, the point will simply fall right out of the pencil. I would only recommend this pencil to be used by artists or if you are doing a newspaper crossword puzzle.
Musgrave is one the oldest pencil manufacturers still making pencils in the US. They offer a pretty large line up of pencils, but their main business seems to be in novelty pencils. I would say that for the cost of each pencil, you get what you pay for. If Musgrave made some small improvements like improving their erasers and moving back to using California cedar, they would be a contender for one of my favorite pencil companies. I love, love, love a sharp hex and Musgrave seems to be the only place that can offer that. Too bad small, easily remedied things make me not want to carry much of their stuff in my daily rotation. I mean, I love the Bugle, but it's a round pencil, so unless I was all out of hexagonals I will not use it. One final thing for Musgrave: please update your logo. It's bad. Please.
These days, it seems as though everyone is getting in on the subscription business. The latest entry into the arena is CW Pencil Enterprise. The quarterly subscription service is $120 for a year, but it is paid in four installments. This model is unique in the stationery subscription service model since it allows you to cancel mid subscription. Also, for those that have a hard time coming up with a large chunk of money at once, $30 at a time makes it easier. According to the description on the website, the pencil box is guaranteed to contain:
- At least 3 pencils
- At least 1 pencil accessory (sharpener, eraser, extender, etc)
- A wild card item (notebook, pencil case, more accessories)
- Exclusive ephemera
- Whatever else we are excited about
Now that the details are out of the way, let's get to the contents of the box. I will list each item and its fair market value. Afterwords, I will talk a bit about my thoughts on the subscription service itself.
General's SEMI-HEX #1 - $0.67
Papermate MONGOL 480 #2 - $0.17
Caran d'Ache Technograph - $3.00
Koh-i-Noor Original Magic FX - $3.00
Stationers Inc. Reporters Notebook - $1.98
Faber Castell Double Hole Sharpener - $4.95
Doppel-Laufer Universal Eraser - $0.37
Exclusive Postcard/Pamphlet - $2.00
Shipping/Materials - $10.00
Now let me state the obvious and get it out of the way here: the value of the items in the box does not equal $30. BUT. You are not just paying for items in a box. You have to factor in materials and labor to pack the box as well as shipping costs. You are paying for the thoughtful, intentional selection of pencil paraphernalia. You are paying for an experience. Also, this is the first subscription box from CW, so I am sure there are exciting things in the works. I'd like to revisit the whole cost/value issue after a year's worth of boxes. I would like to see more exclusive stuff like enamel pins, patches, stickers,etc. And as far as themes go, I'd love to see a Japanese box, a vintage (with actual vintage items inside) box, and (well this is Dee specific) an all things neon box. My final verdict on the subscription: BUY IT. This little collection of items are things that I would not have tried out otherwise and love how everything stays related to the theme. Nowhere else can you find a personal pencil curator to satisfy your pencilly needs.
***NOTE: I paid for this subscription with my own monies***
This post seems to be the antithesis to what I preach all day: "The only good pencil is a wooden pencil! Wooden pencils for life!" Even though 95 percent of my pencil usage is in the form of wood cased pencils, there is still room for a good mechanical. I actually have quite a few mechanical pencils and enjoy using them from time to time. For testing purposes I am using a Tombow MONO graph 0.5mm mechanical pencil and writing on standard printer paper.
Pentel AIN Stein ($3.30 for 40 pcs.)
The Pentel Ain STEIN lead was nice and smooth and had a moderate darkness. Point retention with this lead was moderate. The case it comes in is nice and sleek and the lid stays attached. You twist it to expose a hole where you can get the lead out. STEIN stands for "Strongest Technology by Enhanced SiO2 Integrated Network" (whatever that means). It has an "enhanced reinforced silica core" which claims to make it smooth, strong, and smudge free. Lefties rejoice!
Uni Kuru Toga ($3.30 for 20 pcs.)
The Uni Kuru Toga lead was smooth with a moderate darkness and point retention was a bit better than average. I believe it probably has to do with its special formulation. The Kuru Toga lead has a "soft outer layer around a hard inner core" and they claim that one can easily shape the lead into a point. It comes in a round, cylindrical case with a removable lid. While it is round, there is a small nub on the lid that makes it so it doesn't roll off of a table or desk. This is important to note since the Kuru Toga mechanical pencils do just that. The pencil rotates the lead ever so slightly each time you lift the point off the paper. If you don't have a Kuru Toga pencil, you should buy one!
Pilot Neox ($3.55 for 40 pcs.)
The Pilot Neox lead is nice and smooth ad a bit darker than most other HB lead grades I have tried out. When writing with this lead, it glides across the paper effortlessly. Point retention is on the low average side. Pilot claims this lead contains "high quality graphite with few impurities, and the bond between the carbon atoms is strong than ever." Pilot makes some bold claims here stating that their lead uses lubricating properties of graphite crystal to ensure a smooth writing experience. The canister has a sliding mechanism up to that opens to allow you to pour out the lead.
Uni NanoDia ($3.30 for 40 pcs.)
The Uni NanoDia Low-Wear lead glides easily over the paper as you write and feels very strong and durable. Point retention is very strong considering it is so smooth. The Uni NanoDia Low-Wear Pencil Leads are infused with nano-diamond pieces to create an unusually strong and high-quality lead. The canister has a sliding mechanism in its lid that allows you to dump lead out. I really like the overall design of this container.
Zebra DelGuard ($3.25 for 40 pcs.)
The Zebra DelGuard is moderately dark, but felt kind of scratchy which was disappointing as I usually enjoy Zebra's products. Point retention was average. The case features a clever mechanism that opens a trap door and pushes out leads automatically when you use the slider on the side of the case.
The Pentel Ain STEIN Hard and Soft ($3.30 for 40 pcs.)
I was really excited to see if there was much discernible difference between the soft and hard versions of the Ain STEIN leads. Much to my delight, there was. The soft is a dream to write with as it slides right across the paper and legitimately feels like you are writing with a stick of butter (ok, maybe not that soft). What was interesting was that it seemed lighter than the regular Ain STEIN and hard versions. Perhaps this had to do with how it was laid down on the paper. On the other hand the hard version was semi-scratchy as to be expected, but was slightly darker. Obviously the point retention on the soft was poor and the hard was excellent.
Rotring TIKKY ($3.00 for 12 pcs.)
The Rotring TIKKY lead was beyond disappointing. It was very soft and point retention was awful. What made me ever more frustrated was that you only got TWELVE leads for $3.00! Also, the opening mechanism up to was really hard to fiddle with. The canister is an ugly brown. Avoid this at all costs.
Tombow MONO Graph ($3.25 for 40 pcs.)
The Tombow MONO Graph leads are one of my favorites on this list. They have a hard feeling to them when you write and the lead is nice and strong. Point retention is slightly better than average. These high-quality leads offer smooth writing, crisp lines, and great break resistance. The case features an innovative cap design: sliding it one way allows a single lead to come out a time, and sliding it the other way allows several leads to come out at a time.
Hi-Uni Hi-Density GRCT ($4.95 for 40 pcs.)
I really couldn't find much in the way of a description for the GRCT leads, but I did wander across this great vintage commercial for them:
The Hi-Uni GRCT had the most "pencily" feel out of all the lead I tried. It was also the truest to an HB. Point retention was right in the middle. The case has a sliding mechanism on top that allows you to dump the lead out.
Tombow MONO WX ($3.30 for 40 pcs.)
The Tombow Mono-WX lead was nice and smooth and laid down a medium line. Its point retention was better than average which was surprising considering how smooth it wrote. Also, it felt very strong for a smoother lead which was nice. The top of the unique dispenser opens to the right to dispense a single piece of lead at a time, or can be pushed to the left to extract multiple lead pieces at a time.
Lamy ($4.30 for 12 pcs.)
Another huge disappointment here. I couldn't really find any description about these leads anywhere. They come in an ugly, plain case and have a lid that comes completely off which is annoying because it is small and slippery and can easily be lost. The lead itself is super hard and light. It has a great point retention, but for $4.30 for 12 leads, this is horribly expensive for what you actually get. Avoid.
Staedtler Mars ($2.00 for 12 pcs.)
Staedtler's Mars Micro Carbon lead glides smoothly across paper, producing dark lines. It is kinda flexible and pretty break-resistant. Point retention is a bit below average. According the Staedtler, the lead is also environmentally friendly, composed of more than 90% natural raw materials. Plus, it is produced using unique ecologically-responsible manufacturing processes without PVC or softening agents. The design of the canister is a bit odd and it has a very tiny top that is difficult to remove. You also only get 12 leads and while it is still expensive at $2.00, it is not as sinful as Lamy or Rotring.
Overall, it was fun trying out many different leads. While I didn't rank each one, I have a top three: Tombow MONO graph, Pilot Neox Graphite, and the Pilot Ain STEIN soft. All of these leads were purchased by myself from JetPens and I was not compensated for my opinions at all.