With the wide array of mechanical pencils available to the average consumer, choosing just the right one might seem like a daunting task. There’s the cheap plastic variety, ones with claw holders, ones made of metal, ones made of plastic and metal, ones with interchangeable mechanisms for switching lead sizes and ones without. Where do you even begin?
Your friendly neighborhood pencil peddlers are here to demystify that for you.
Choosing your ideal mechanical pencil really comes down to just three criteria:
- graphite, or “lead” size,
- graphite hardness and,
- pencil material.
The size of a graphite mechanical pencil insert is measured in millimeters, and standard sizes include .5, .7, or .9 mm in diameter. Smaller sizes produce a sharper, finer point good for detail work while inserts larger in diameter are better for thicker, bolder lines. You can go all the way down to .2 mm for an incredibly fine point. Artist Sherry Camhy describes the benefits of the eternally fine point only a mechanical pencil can give you in an article for the Artists’s Network:
“No standard pencil, no matter how well sharpened, can compete with the point of a 0.2mm lead. With mechanical pencils, small details such as the pupil of an eye are easily conquered.”
Some mechanical pencils, especially the cheaper plastic variety, only allow you to use one size of graphite at a time, and you can only refill that pencil with that one diameter of graphite. That means either picking one and sticking with it for everything, or buying multiple diameters of pencil and switching between them. Some higher end mechanical pencils (*cough cough* like ours *cough*) have an interchangeable mechanism that lets you use different sizes of graphite insert.
You might be familiar with the concept of graphite hardness from filling in bubbles on your STAR test. The yellow #2 pencils given out to the students were supposed to be the best for darkening the ubiquitous test bubbles because they were softer, allowing them to smudge in the circle more quickly and smoothly without stabbing through the paper.
Mechanical pencil inserts have a range of softness and hardness, just as they do diameter. And just like a finer point can be better for detail drawing, a softer pencil lead can be better for shading in shadows or creating smoother lines.
Graphite hardnesses for drawing pencils range from 9H to 9B—with 9H being the hardest and 9B the softest—while HB graphite is right in the middle of the spectrum. So, you wanted something that would give you a tack-fine point while drawing detail, you might choose a .2mm 9H graphite insert. The ‘H’ stands for ‘hard’, while the ‘B’ stands for ‘black’, as softer graphite will produce a darker line. ‘HB’ stands for, you guessed it, ‘hard black.’
Graphite on the harder end of the spectrum is also good for drafting and cartography work, which also requires a large amount of fine lines and minimal smudging or blurring. A mechanical pencil designed for art would work just fine here, too. Again, this gives pencils like ours with an interchangeable mechanism the advantage. You can swap the lead for different stages of the job instead of having multiple pencils to work with.
Again, there are layers here. On one hand you have the mass-produced plastics, and on the other you have high-quality, durable metal. Grade school students often opt for the cheaper variety, but professionals in fields like art and architecture need their pencils to hold up to daily use. They usually go for pencils made at least partially of metal.
In some pencils, the outer casing is made of metal and the inner mechanism is still plastic, or at least includes some plastic parts. We make ours entirely out of metal, including the internal interchangeable mechanism. Metal pencils stand up better to wear and tear over time, and to being accidentally dropped.
Our pencils come in bronze, titanium, stainless steel, and copper, and are tested for ideal hand balance before they’re assigned a serial number and leave our factory for their new homes. The only parts not made of metal are the eraser and o-ring, and you have the option to purchase a metal eraser cap for an all-metal look.
There you have it! All the information you need to start choosing the right mechanical pencil for your needs. Start by paying our shop a visit and browsing through the high-quality pieces we’ve got to offer! You won’t be disappointed.