Nataraj Neon vs. Casemate Neon

Back to School season always gets me excited.  As a college student, I feel justified in purchasing extra notebooks, pencils, and erasers.  I peruse the aisles of the local Walmart or Target to see what's new and have found myself gravitating to the Ticonderogas or USA Golds.  There has been a lot of discussion recently in the Erasable Facebook group about Walmart's awesome deal on pencils from the Casemate line (97 cents for a dozen pencils and a sharpener).  A lot think that the canister of pencils is manufactured by Hindustan Pencil Company and are pretty much Nataraj pencils without the branding.  Even the sharpener that comes with the pencils says Nataraj. Now that back to school season is in full swing, I have seen the Casemate Neon pencils start to crop up.  There are two versions; the ones that are hexagonal and made in India and the ones that have a round barrel that are made in the Philippines.  DO NOT buy the round ones.  They are horrible and not worth your time.  What follows is a comparison of the Casemate (made in India) Neons and the Nataraj Neons. Upon opening the Casemate pencils, I immediately noticed that the production quality was not that great.  Chipped pencils and sloppy finish were on quite a few of the pencils.  The graphite cores seemed to be a tiny bit off center, but nothing drastic:

Hand sharpening was quite easy, but I noticed something interesting in the shavings-- the neon finish was separating from the wood of the pencil.  I do not have pictures, but the Nataraj pencils do not do this at all, so again I am left wondering if these are factory seconds or a few steps have been skipped in the manufacturing process to cut costs.

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Both pencils are almost identical save for the few production errors I have found in the Casemate brand.  The neon color on the Nataraj pencils is a bit more vibrant, but from a quick glance one would not be able to see much difference.  The ferrules on both pencils are the same black aluminum, but the Nataraj pencil has a cleaner look to it (Nataraj pencil is on the right in all of the pics below):

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Aesthetics aside, when it comes to writing, there is a noticeable difference.  I found that the Casemate pencil wrote a lot smoother than the Nataraj but laid down slightly lighter marks.  This observation does not seem to fit the experience, but I prefer this-- some may not.  I wonder if this is due to the fact that there might be some additives to the graphite in the Casemate pencil to cheapen the cost.  Both pencils were a delight to write with, but I found myself preferring the Casemate.

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As you can see from the bottom of the writing sample, both pencils have HORRIBLE erasers.  Do not use them.  You can, but don't expect good results.  They shading erased beautifully, but trying to erase text is an exercise in futility.  At 97 cents a 12 pack, the Casemate pencils are a steal, but remember HEXAGONAL only.  If you are interested in Nataraj Neons, head over to Caroline where one can pick up a dozen for about three and a half dollars.

Apsara Stenographer's Pencil

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The Apsara Stenographer's Pencil is manufactured by the Hindustan Pencil Company in India.  Hindustan also manufactures the better-known Nataraj brand as well.  I was a bit curious as to why this pencil was marketed as a "stenographer's pencil" since it seemed like an ordinary pencil to me.  With a round barrel and no ferrule, the Apsara is a very light pencil.  The finish on the pencil is a nice glossy turquoise with a white stripe at the top where the ferrule would naturally start and gold foil stamping. 20151228_082814_001

After sharpening the Apsara, I did not notice any smell at all so it is clear this pencil is not made of cedar.  I presume it is crafted from recycled wood of some sort.  When writing with this pencil it was very light in my hand and I found myself without the hand cramping that I am used to.  This factor, coupled with its strong graphite, explained why this is denoted as a stenographer's pencil.  I experienced no lead breakage ever and the smoothness of the graphite was on point for a pencil that cost 40 cents.  Even writing on super toothy card stock was a pleasant experience and the graphite barely smeared.  Erasing the pencil was also a breeze and took very little effort.

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I cannot recommend this pencil enough for individuals who write a lot.  Make this pencil a part of your rotation and you will not regret it.  They can be very easily obtained from Caroline over at CW Pencil Enterprise for a mere 40 cents.  Overall: 8.0/10