I've been on a writing instrument binge, inspired by Dave's Mechanical Pencils. This post is a presentation of my thoughts on the various pencils I have tried.
Before I start, I should mention that the type of lead you use is more important than the pencil you use. Pentel's Super Hi-Polymer 2B is what I use, and it is what I would recommend.
Now, onward to the reviews!
Set one: The Best
From left to right,
- Tul Mechanical Pencil: This is my current favorite, the pencil I use every day. It features a twist-out eraser, a clip that doesn't interfere with my hands, and a retractable tip. The body is rubberized, so the grip feel is wonderful. You can also grip it very near the tip, which I find more comfortable. The price is mid-range, and they can be found at Office Max (they are the house brand).
- Staedler Triplus Micro 774: The recently deposed king. It has most of the features of the Tul, but not the rubberized body. The twist-out eraser is truly exceptional. The triangular body his nice to hold, but it is annoying to turn the pencil if you need a fresh edge of lead. The price is low, and you will probably have to look on the internet to find them.
- Pentel Twist-Erase: I used this all through college, and for good reason. For me, erasers are the most important part of the pencil, and the eraser on this one is fabulous. The rest of the pencil is sort of meh - I don't care for the grip or the pointy tip. I ripped off the clip because it got in the way. The price is mid-range, and you can find them at most office supply stores.
- Uni Kuru Toga: This is the most unique pencil I have used. It has a little mechanism inside which automatically spins the lead when you write, so it lays down exceptionally thin, consistent lines. In terms of writing quality, it is unparalleled. But like greek heroes of old, it has a tragic flaw: the eraser is an awful tiny thing. And the mechanism only works if you press somewhat hard. I write very lightly, so this was an issue for me. The price is mid-range, and you can find them at some office supply stores (but more likely you'll have to get it online).
- Staedler 925 25: I don't have an explanation for why I like this pencil so much. It just feels good to use. The eraser is small, but quite good (Staedlers generally have excellent erasers). The clip sort of gets in the way, but isn't too obnoxious. The price is mid-range, and you can find them at some office supply stores (but more likely you'll have to get it online).
Set two: The "not quite as good"
- Pentel Forte Pro II: This is an excellent pencil, with a nice eraser and grip. Something about it just never compelled me, but I think most people would adore it. The price is mid-range, and you can find them at most office supply stores.
- Pentel Sharplet-2: Pretty good, but the tiny eraser is bothersome. Otherwise good. The price is low, but they are sort of hard to find.
- Modified Bic Matic, and...
- Regular Bic Matic: The one of the right is a standard Bic Matic, a very inexpensive pencil with a terrible eraser and crappy clutch. The one on the left is slightly modified; I moved the clip up about a centimeter, replaced the eraser with an excellent faber-castell refill, and threw in some Pentel Super-hi polymer lead. The result is a surprisingly excellent pencil, one which competes well with my favorite pencils. Food for thought. The price is very low, and they are sold everywhere.
- Faber-Castell Poly Super Grip: This pencil features an excellent twist-out eraser and comfortable triangular shape. It really is quite good, but I found the non-removable clip so aggravating that I stopped using it. The price is low, but they might be difficult to find.
Set three: other stuff
- Papermate Sharpwriter: A disposable pencil, with a fairly good eraser and twist-erase lead. These write well, but unfortunately the lead is nearly impossible to replace. Not recommended; the price is very low, and they are sold at most office supply stores.
- Papermate Silhouette: Because it is a side-button advance, I hate it. It is otherwise okay, but the eraser is sub-par. The price is mid-range, and they are sold at most office supply stores.
- Zebra M-301: A surprisingly good pencil, the Zebra is very small and well-built for the price. The knurled grip is not my favorite, and the eraser is unfortunately shoddy, but I can't help liking this pencil a lot. The price is low, and they are sold everywhere. Give it a try!
- Pentel EZ-2: This is an ultra-cheap office pen, which nevertheless manages to be pretty okay. It wins a lot of points for its eraser, but is otherwise pretty meh. The price is low, and you can find them at almost any office supply store.
- Pentel Graphgear 500: This is meant to be a proper drafting pencil, but it is surprisingly good for general writing. Built like a tank, and comfortable, it unfortunately loses points because its tiny eraser. The price is medium-high, and they are sort of hard to find.
Set three: even more stuff
- The Write Guys Pencil: These are crap.
- Zebra #2: Zebra's disposable pencil offering. This was the biggest surprise of my entire quest - they are great pencils! I love that they feel just like wooden pencils, and they have fairly good erasers to boot! Try them if you find them - you might just ditch everything else. The price is very low, and you can find them at almost any office supply store.
- Pentel Jolt: The gimmick here is that you can shake the pencil to erase the lead. I was uninspired, and it doesn't help that it has a terrible eraser. The price is mid-range, and you can find them at office supply stores.
- Pentel Champ: A hidden gem, if you can find them - they are discontinued (replaced with another version that has a terrible grip). The clip is very high up, which allows you to hold it at any orientation, and the eraser is quite good. Though superficially similar to the Forte, it is in my opinion a superior pencil. But they are impossible to find, so it doesn't really matter.
- Bic Velocity: Fairly good, though the grip bothers me. I would rate these much higher if the erasers weren't gummy and awful. The price is low, and you can find them at almost any office supply stores.
- The first three pencils pictured are the Pentel P200 series, with the P205 leading the pack, the P209 (0.9mm lead) in the yellow, and a clip-less P205 at the end. These are, in some ways, the quintessential mechanical pencil. They've been manufactured forever, and are built like a rock. Many people swear by them, but I do not. Objectively, I think every single pencil in the first two sets is better. I say this because Dave's review is absolutely glowing, and I disagree strongly with his assessment. The price is somewhat high, and they can be found at office supply stores.
- The Ticonderoga Black is the wooden pencil I used to use before I switched back to mechanical pencils. If not for the sharpening, I would probably still prefer it. The writing experience is in some ways superior to all mechanical pencils. I mention Ticonderogas in specific because they are better than other wooden pencils. Give them a try, you can find them almost everywhere.
- Pentel Graphgear 1000: Not pictured, but you can click the link to get a picture. These are fairly awesome pencils, with a retractable tip. Unfortunately, the grip feels slippery, and has a tiny eraser. But if you're looking for a flashy pencil, this just might be the ticket. The price is somewhat high, and they can be found at office supply stores.
- Pentel Sharp Kerry: I lost mine, and I miss it. There is no rational reason why it should be, but this pencil just feels right to use. Classy as hell, too. It unfortunately suffers from the same problem that so many other Pentels have: that damned tiny erase. It also has an obnoxious clip which gets in the way and cannot be removed. If not for those two annoyances, this would be my favorite pencil. But as it stands, it is sort of a novelty. The Kerry is expensive, and somewhat difficult to find.
I didn't test quite as many, but I have opinions.
- Pilot G2 with Mont Blanc refill: The Yin to the Yang which is my Tul Mechanical Pencil. Pilot G2's are ergonomically excellent pens, and with the Mont Blanc refill they blow away everything else. This is unquestionably the best pen in the world. I use a red G2 so that it is more identifiable. You can find Mont Blanc refills at office supply stores, and G2s everywhere. UPDATE 2015: I've stopped using Mont Blanc refills, as they seem to dry out after a couple months of use.
- Pilot G2: If you don't want to go all out, the G2 is quite an excellent pencil on its own. My only issue with them is that they sometimes skip ink. The Uni-ball 207 is a similar alternative, but I consider the Pilot superior.
- Pilot Precise V5: An excellent roller ball, and one you have probably used at some point in your life. I personally think they lay down too much ink, but I can't deny how nice they feel. The Uni-ball vision is a similar alternative, which is almost exactly the same (but with a pointed tip). The Pilot Precise V5 is extremely inexpensive and common.
- Parker Jotter: A classic ballpoint pen. These write better than most others I try, and it feels very nice to hold. Somewhat expensive, but good!
- Zebra F-301: The ballpoint version of the M-301. It is very small and comfy, and the cartridge is fairly good. Ballpoints are sometimes preferable to gel and roller ball pens, since they don't bleed through pages nearly as much. The price is very low, and they are can be found everywhere.