Pilot Opt 0.5 Mechanical Pencil

If you haven’t guessed yet, I recently got an order of goodies from Jet Pens. I’ll be posting reviews of each tool over the next few days so stay tuned, if you’re a pen/pencil junkie like me.

The Pilot Opt 0.5 mechanical pencil in “stardust blue” is a standard plastic-bodied mechanical pencil. It has a wider barrel and rubber grip for more comfortable writing, a standard click end to extend the lead (Oh, and I just discovered its also a shake pencil! Duh!!!) , a small eraser under a translucent grey cap and a spring loaded clip to attach it to notebook or pocket. There were two leads included and they write with silky smoothness. Its nicely weighted and reasonably priced at $3.

What really makes this pen stand out is the metallic, midnight blue case dappled with a sprinkling of silver “stars.”  It makes the pencil look like you’re holding the cosmos in your hand.

This pencil has earned favored nation status and is carried with me everywhere while my other tools languish in drawers and cups.

[Tested on Moleskine blank notebook hence the slightly yellowish cast to the paper]


Uni Watercolor Pencil Set

I have an unhealthy obsession with watercolor sets and watercolor pencils despite the fact that I have had absolutely no training in the proper technique of watercolor painting. Mostly, I just like to dip my brush into the colors and pool it onto the paper in little squares of translucent sunshiny puddles. I keep buying sets thinking that somehow, the next set with imbue me with the knowledge and inspiration to make beautiful little paintings.

So, my most recent purchase is not surprisingly another set of watercolor pencils. This set is from Uni-Ball and is listed as set #2 with 12 golf-pencil-sized pencils, a sharpener, a miniature water brush, a sharpener and a clear cap which I suspect is to be used as an extender when the pencils get too short. The set comes in a lovely clear plastic case which snaps shut. The box measure 4.5″ tall x5.25″ wide x5/8″ deep and would easily fit into a travel kit.


[Colors are from left to right: Pompeiian Red, Burnt Ochre, Gold Ochre, Dark Sepia, Moss Green, Night Green, Light Cobalt Blue, Dark Phthaloblue, Rose Carmine, Dark Orange, Canary Yellow and Light Lemon]

I am no expert but I’ve played around with lots of different sets of watercolors from Windsor & Newton and Van Gogh to Reeves and Crayola. This set certainly had more complex colors that a lot of the cheaper sets I’ve purchased. Some of the colors did pool in a salty/grainy sort-of way when an excessive amount of water is added but when used with a damp brush the colors were fairly smooth in color. As pencils, the lead is soft and easy to apply to paper. I absolutely love the moss green, night green, Pompeiian red and rose carmine colors. The dark sepia is a fairly good substitute for a hard black color and would probably make a good color for mixing. At $15 for a 12-color set with brush, its a pretty good deal and worth the investment.

[This test was conducted on a simple 3×5 card.]


Quote of the day…

thick pencil lettering

Several years ago, I checked a book out from the library about journaling and tucked inside the book was a slip of paper with this quote written on it. I returned the book but I saved the scrap of paper. It turns out to be a quote from Socrates (So-crates, for those of us who grew up with Bill + Ted’s Most Excellent Adventures). Smart man.

(Note: I did this lettering using a Foray flat lead pencil. Wow.)


Flat Lead Pencils

striker one pencil

I’ve been attending a watercolor lettering workshop this week (which has been a blast, by the way, I will post photos by the end of the week). Towards the end of the day today, the whole mess of lettering nerds got all excited about a flat lead mechanical pencil similar to a carpenter’s pencil. The hunt was on. Where do you find one of these mysterious little creatures? How much would they cost?

I hunted around on Google for about 30 minutes trying to determine the exact combination of descriptors to find this imminently coveted graphite implement. What I did manage to track down was the Striker Mechanical Carpenter’s Pencil with Duralead, available from Hechinger (“the world’s most unusual hardware store”) for $3.69 US including three replacement leads.

This wasn’t exactly the pencil that was discovered in our lettering workshop was I continued to hunt. I knew the manufacturer was Foray, the brand most closely associated with off-brand writing instruments at the big box office supply stores so I finally went straight to the Office Depot site and just searched page-by-page through their pencils. Voila! The reason that I couldn’t find it was that Office Depot lists the pencil as “Foray™ Super Size Lead Mechanical Pencils, 0.9 mm” and at no time indicates that it has a slightly flattened lead design. So, there you have it. A set of three of these pencils costs about $7 US.

foray super size pencils


Personalized Pencils


While I’m on the subject of pencils, I came across Explicitly Yours Pencils which graciously offers a multitude of hexagonal pencils for customization. In fact, the type geek in me squealed in delight at the array of font choices they offer. And the minimum order is one dozen pencils at the scant cost of $6 per dozen. How can I possibly say no? Now if I could just choose a color… and a font!

pencil fonts


My new fence

pencil fence

As a pencil geek of the highest order – I’m pretty sure that anyday now I’ll be crowned the Grand Poo Bah of Pencil Nerds – I knew as soon as I saw this found this that I needed to start building my own pencil-enclosed fortress. Today.  But where do I find such big pencils? And how the heck do you sharpen them?


I (heart) pencils


Bob knows me well enough to know that I love pencils. I love vintage pencils even more. So when he found this Koh-i-noor box of minty fresh half-pencils, it their original box with a wooden holder, he knew he had hit the garage sale jackpot. One dollar never bought so much happiness.

There were eleven pencils in the box:

Three standard pencils; 2H, HB, F
Technicrayons in white and teal blue
Three Aviator colored pencils
Three Mephisto colored pencils

They all have pristine points so I don’t know if I actually want to test them to see how soft or hard the leads are, the colors they create, if they’re waxy or chalky, smeary or crisp, etc. I put more photos of the pencils in my School Supplies set on flickr.

If anyone knows anything about these pencils, I’d love more details.


Pentech Liquid Graphite Lie


In my search for “the right pencil for the right occasion,” I gambled on the Pentech “Never needs sharpening” liquid graphite pencil. Let’s start by saying that there’s a reason I’ve never heard any of the Comrades at Pencil Revolution talking about these beast.

To begin, its not really a graphite pencil. As best as I can tell, the Pentech is a roller ball loaded with a dark grey ink encased in a wood pencil casing. In every test I tried, the line kept breaking with little blotchy spots. Its not terribly noticeable unless you write as microscopically small as I do. Any skips in my writing can cause whole letters to disappear. As a leftie, smearing is a big issue for me. The Pentech did not seem to smear at all which is probably its biggest selling point. I expected the eraser cap on the top of the pencil to be a joke but I was amazed to discover that the eraser worked exceptionally well. Traditional Pink Pearls and white plastic erasers were also able to erase the ink (liquid graphite).


If you use your writing implement for sketching and writing, I would not recommend it at all. If you’re looking for a pencil you don’t have to sharpen or you’re particularly prone to smudging your own work, then you might want to try it. Overall, I was terribly disappointed in this “pencil”. If you’re looking for a smudge-proof pencil, I would recommend the Sanford Noblot.

I have three of the Pentechs I will generously send to anyone who might be interested. It’s just not the pencil for me. Just send me an email if you’re interested in trying one.

Update: It seems that the original yellow pencil design has been discontinued and replaced with the Liquaphite Liquid Graphite Mechanical Pencil. Pencil Things is selling them for $3.99 per 2-pack (with refill and replacement erasers) They also have a similar review of the quality that I list.


Strange mystery of the Noblot pencil


Following my discovery of (and subsequent obsession with) pencils, I discovered the Sanford NoBlot pencil. It proudly lists “a bottle of ink in every pencil” in silver foil stamped letters on every pencil. How exciting! I found a dozen of these pencil wonders and immediately put them on my Amazon wishlist. Lo and behold, about a week before Christmas, an Amazon box arrived (one of those standard book-sized boxes) and inside was a small paperboard box with a dozen NoBlot pencils inside. I was practically giddy.

To this day, I have no idea who bought these for me but I want them to know that, following a long cruddy week at work, a box of yummy wonderful pencils completely made my day. The only other mini-event in December that filled me with as much “I love the world” feeling as this little box of NoBlots was a ride across my office campus in a golf cart with one of the building maintenance guys. I felt like royalty! (Okay, I’m also getting off-topic. Sorry.)

In my not-so-scientific testing of the Noblot, I discovered that it sharpens nicely, writes smoothly and does not smear (with a little spit and some effort I can get it to smear but I really had to try). I’m left-handed so smearing as I write has always been an issue for me. All through grade school, the heel of my left hand seemed to be permanently blackened by graphite.

As with most pencils, the Staedtler Mars plastic eraser was able to remove almost all traces of writing. Though, once I started erasing, I noticed that when the Noblot lead (graphite, whatever) was erased, it left a slightly bluish residue. This strange phenomena struck me to do some research about it.


The most concise information I could find about the Noblot was on the Dick Blick art supply web site. According to Dick Blick: “This permanent, soluble pencil is a must for restoring old signs. … Simply outline old letters and designs. Then, paint background colors directly over your marks. (We recommend waterbase paints.) The pencil will bleed through for a precise line to follow.” I have yet to try out their claims but its seems to be an interesting discovery. I like the historical uses for this unique little pencil.

I found more information about copying and indelible pencils and learned quite a bit. The bit in the middle of the article about the chemical make-up of copying and indelible pencils can be skipped as there is more layman information further down the article. I discovered that copying/indelible pencils were originally developed in 1870s and were used frequently as the ball point pen of their day. The copying/indelible pencil was originally developed for copying and carbon copy paper. Since the only writing instruments at the time were dip pens and messy fountain pens (the technology had not yet been perfected), the indelible pencil also made a perfect portable writing instrument. It was difficult to erase indelible pencil without leaving a mark so it was used regularly until the ball point pen was developed.

In my opinion, the Noblot is a cool little pencil and a great bit of history. I recommend picking up a dozen before they are nothing but a memory.

A dozen of Noblot pencils cost a little over $7US.