One category of writing instruments that I haven’t addressed much here on the blog is the mechanical pencil. I’ve reviewed a few pencils in-depth, including the well-known fan favorites Rotring 600 and 800. While the Rotring duo represents 80% of my mechanical pencil usage, there are other great options out there, many at extremely inexpensive price points. As I mentioned in my recent Rotring 800 review, I like to use mechanical pencils when I’m taking notes in tight margins and annotating books/documents in pencil. the complastic lead isn’t as smeary as standard graphite, and comes available in a range of sizes (.3mm to 2.0mm) depending on just how small you want to write. .5mm pencils are my sweet spot.
So what do I look for in a mechanical pencil? Basically the same things I look for in a pen: grip comfort and balance to be sure, but with a mechanical pencil, like a multi pen or a retractable ballpoint, the quality of the mechanism becomes an issue as well. You will be clicking this thing tens of thousands of times throughout its lifespan, so it needs to be well-built and durable. If nothing else, the pencils that made my “Top Five” list have stood the test of time for a number of years. I have provided links to full reviews of each pencil, where possible.
Rotring 600. Arguably the most famous mechanical pencil on the market, and certainly one of the best made. If you’re a fan of classic industrial design, a Rotring 600 pencil should be in your collection, alongside a Lamy 2000 fountain pen. Purchase here.
Rotring 800. A slightly larger version of the Rotring 600 that also features a retractable “pipe” for more portable carry. While I love my Rotring 600, I probably prefer the 800 for everyday use since I don’t have to worry about bending the tip in my bag or pocket. I also find the slightly larger size of the Rotring 800 to be more comfortable for longer writing sessions. Purchase here.
Uni Kuru Toga “Roulette”. If I had to make a blind recommendation of “one” mechanical pencil, to someone whose preferences I didn’t know, hands-down that pencil would be the Kuru-Toga. The key selling point is Uni’s innovative mechanism that rotates the lead in order to keep the wear uniform on all sides and maintain a sharp point. Not only are the Kuru-Toga’s extremely inexpensive, but they have the Uni name standing behind them, so the quality is there. I really need to do a stand-alone review of this pencil. Purchase here.
Spoke Pencil. Wait, if you consider long-term durability important, how can I include the Spoke Pencil on this list, as Spoke is a relative newcomer to the stationery scene? Well, because the Spoke Pencil is built around the Pentel P20X mechanism, found in one of my childhood favorites, the Pentel Sharp. The Spoke pencil takes the “guts” of the humble Sharp and adds a futuristic machined body and textured metal grip, both of which you can customize to your preference (at least in Version 4). Prefer a weightier pencil? Opt for a brass or stainless steel grip. Looking for lightweight? Then aluminum or titanium would be your best options. Order directly from Spoke.
Sailor Imperial Black Multi Pen. I’m sure that I’ll horrify mechanical pencil purists by including a multi pen here, but I use this one all the time, including the mechanical pencil component. The Sailor pen is nicely balanced - importantly, it’s not slim - and would be a great option for those who like to use a mechanical pencil but also regularly need a ballpoint and don’t want to to carry multiple writing instruments. The one knock is availability. You’ll need to order this one directly from Japan. (Purchase here.)
Mechanical pencil brands attract hardcore devotees, and there is a plethora of options out there, so I’m sure people will disagree with my decision to put certain pencils into a “top five,” but please remember that the five listed above just represent my own personal experience and preferences. If there are others you think I should check out, let me know! One great thing about mechanical pencils is that you can find excellent inexpensive options on the shelf at your local office supply store, including the Pentel Sharp referenced above, the Pentel “Quicker Clicker” (a version of which I still own from high school - 20+ years later!), or even BIC’s “disposable” version (which can be refilled). If you prefer a heavier writing instrument or like the “machined pen” look, check out the Modern Fuel Mechanical Pencil and the Inventery Interchangeable Mechancial Pen and Pencil. On these latter two, I would recommend using the strongest lead you can find, as the increased weight of a metal pencil can lead to breakage. I have had good results with Pentel Ain Stein, even in the B or 2B hardness. Happy writing!
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