Drawing versus writing pencils

I’ve been flirting again with pencils and the last few times I’ve gone back to them I’ve had sort of a thought progression repeat.

I start by using the Blackwing clones, and then try the Japanese drawing pencils – the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni and Tombow models – and discover I really like the Japanese pencils’ lead better. But there’s a problem.

They have fat leads and the Blackwing clones, and most other common pencils, have thin leads. It’s not much of a problem if you sharpen everything using a sharpener, but if you sharpen by hand and use a cylindrical point like I do it’s a problem.

As I wrote about a while back, using a pencil sharpener really wastes pencil lead. Like upwards of 80% of it. Why buy fine pencils with sweet writing lead if it’s all going to end up in a sharpener’s waste bin?

Writing with a cylindrically sharpened pencil while rotating it every word or so yields a reasonable point, and it lasts a looooong time between sharpenings. Like days. Several days. It’s also much more resistant to breakage, and it looks darn cool to boot.

Last but not least, what owner of a decent pocketknife wants to pass up a legitimate chance to use it? Sharpening a pencil by hand shows you are a rugged, self-contained individualist – a can-do person. Except on airplanes. NOT a good idea on an airplane. But I digress.

I found that by just exposing the graphite on a normal pencil I could write fine for the purposes I have. So, why not just sharpen the Japanese pencils cylindrically and move on with life? Because they are hugely fat. The Blackwing 602 clone’s lead is 2mm or so. The Tombow 3B and Mitsubishi Hi-Uni 4B are more like 3mm+. The Mitsubishi handwriting pencil is downright fat – 4mm, I’m guessing. Even the Hi-Uni 4B is like writing with a crayon on many papers after a short while.

Here’s several pencils I like to use, for different purposes. On one end we have the Papermate Mirado, from Sam’s club. Cheap, but I like it because it is darker than most HB pencils even if it is a bit scratchy. Next the two Blackwing clones. Tombow 3B, Hi-Uni 4B, and Mitsubishi Handwriting 4B.

As you can see, there’s a wide range of lead diameters. In the same order, narrow lead on the left.

This is well known, and artists probably like a thicker lead in a softer pencil. But it’s interesting that the two Blackwing clones, which are in the same hardness range as the Tombow and Mitsubishi models have significantly thinner lead. It could be that it’s a cost cutting move, but another theory is that the Blackwing clones are meant for writing, and the others are meant for drawing.

The question is whether that awesome Hi-Uni lead is available in a pencil in a 2mm diameter? I would probably go lighter than 4B, maybe 3B, or even 2B. John at PencilRevolution thinks the Hi-Uni HB is pretty close to the Palomino HB, which I find identical to Blackwing 602 clone. I suppose I’ll have to try all of them 😎

3 thoughts on “Drawing versus writing pencils

  1. Great post! I’m glad I’m not the only person with a fondness for the yellow Mirados. They used to rank among my favorite “light” HB before they moved production to Mexico and the leads got much softer (though still nice).

    Some pencils with a pretty thin and pretty dark lead that come to mind include General’s Kimberly series. The “B” is perfect for writing.

    Your sharpening method does look @#%ed cool! I have to try this today before I sharpen up. 🙂


    1. Hi John = I’ll have to try the Kimberly B out. It’s funny how often people comment on how the pencils are sharpened. Most people in an office don’t use pencils much, so you wouldn’t think they’d even notice.


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