Sunday, April 23, 2017

Mechanical pencil lead

When I buy lead for my mechanical pencils I just get Rotring. Why? Because I am a Rotring fan and second because is widely available where I live. The most common brands are Rotring and Faber Castell. And because when it comes to products for me Rotring tops Faber Castell I just go with the first choice.
But I am curious what is the difference between products. I used in the old days other unknown brands, and the big difference that was very easy to see was the fact that cheaper brands offered brittle lead, that would break with a small amount of force.
So I am curious how will a lead produce or branded by a reputable company stand against a cheap no name.

So I rounded up HB and 2B lead that I have laying around.
Rotring HB, 2B
Faber Castell HB
Koh I Noor 2B
No name brands Micro 2B, Daco 2B, Turbo 2B

The first difference you see is the price. While Rotring, Faber Castell and UNI are priced similar at around 0.8 euro for pack of 12 x 60 mm leads, the no names are around 0.25 euro for a pack of 20 x 60 mm. Even though the value is negligible the price difference is high.
So what do you get for more money?
First and most important is consistency. The cheaper brands Mirco in particular was  CRAP. It managed to take a part out of my beloved Rotring Tikky III 0.5 mm. The thickness was larger and clogged the pencil. Luckily I have a Staedtler Mars Micro that comes with a metal pin for clearing jams. The jam was big that I needed pliers to push the lead out. While I managed to get rid of the jam I also got rid of a rubber ring that sits inside the sleeve that has the role of guiding and keeping the lead snug.
I have to say that I did not had any clogs in the last 10 years or so. Even Rotring removed the unclogging pin since the second iteration of the Rotring Tikky because things like this just don’t happen any more.

Ok let’s get passed this unpleasant experience.

First thing you look in a pencil is the line it puts down. How visible it is, how resistant to smudging is, and does it erase easy or it lets an ugly smudge.

The UNI HB lead offered a less darker line, while Rotring HB and 2B offered similar darkness line (but I felt the 2B to be smoother while writing).
Faber Castell HB was somewhere between the Rotring and the UNI. The Koh I Noor puts down the darkest line. All the no brand names offer decent to good lines.

In a smudging test several finger passes over the paper Rotring performed the worse, the line is almost gone, while surprisingly the 2B Koh I Noor offered the best result. Water smudging same result.
Eraser tests: Rotring Tikky, Faber Castell Dust Free, Faber Castell PVC Free, Stabilo Supereme
The leads did not put too much resistance to erasing. The best results: Rotring followed by Faber Castell and UNI. The worst Koh I Noor.

All the no name brands have brittle leads, that break more easily under pressure. But it should not be a big deal if you have a light hand.

The result for best everyday writing lead are
2 Faber Castell
3 Rotring

1 Koh I Noor
2 Rotring
3 No name brand Turbo

The best performing eraser
1 Faber Castell Dust Free - good eraser and not so much debree
2 Rotring Tikky
3 Stabilo Supreme

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