Finding the right pencil lead

Who knew there were so many brands and types of mechanical pencil lead. At least 3 major brands, with perhaps 3 lines each, and this is just looking at Hi density, long wearing, with silica, and more. At a few bucks each (ok, maybe 6 in some cases) it’s hard not to order them all and try them out. So instead I ordered 3, and decided if I couldn’t tell the difference I’d end it there.

The three brands I tried were Tombow, Pentel Stein, and Hi-Uni, all in HB, B, and 2B. They all come packaged in very nice plastic containers, with nice closures designed to keep you from dumping all the lead out on the floor. Definitely a far cry from the usual box we find in a US store.

I could tell the difference between them in writing feel, but I’m not sure I could tell them apart on the page once I’d forgotten what I’d written where. I did not test the longevity of them, as a single lead can write several pages even in the large A4 size journal I’m using.

Pentel Stein was my least favorite, although if I was a student I might feel differently. It felt the hardest, and wrote slightly fainter than the other two, I think. How adding silica to a lead and making it more wear resistant is different than simply choosing a harder lead, I can’t tell you. Perhaps there isn’t any difference, it’s just not hard enough to be a full grade harder. Regardless, it felt a bit scratchy.

The Tombow was fairly pleasant, and seemed a bit darker. I could live with this lead easily.

The HI-Uni was the smoothest of the bunch. Buttery is a word that comes to mind, Rich. Dark. Wears quickly. I noticed I was hitting the clicker button more with that lead.

There was not a lot of smear difference between them.

Really, I think it comes down to how they feel to you. If I was back in school, taking math and engineering classes, I would probably start with the Hi-Uni, but end up with the Stein. Eventually the wear rate of the softer, albeit more luxurious lead would drive me to go after the harder stuff. Then again, I might just end up with B, or HB in the Uni instead.

At $4 or so a pop, it’s blessedly cheap to experiment.

5 thoughts on “Finding the right pencil lead

  1. Thank you for the review and comparison! I didn’t realize there were so many leads until I bought a Uni Kuru Toga or 2–WOW! I have the Uni Stein–but now I’m going to try the others as well!


  2. I’ve just recently began trying out the Tombow Mono 100, which seems to be a very nice traditional style pencil. So maybe I’ll give their leads a try out in the Kuru Toga.

    Thanks for the review, and no, I didn’t quite realise the vast choice of mechanical pencil leads existed either!


    1. Hi John, the Stein wasn’t bad, just not as buttery as the Uni. If I was back in engineering school I think the Stein might be my first choice because it would last longer.


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