Somewhere in between the notes application on your phone and the box of Ticonderogas in the back-to-school section lies the mechanical pencil. If you carry a notebook (which we recommend), you’ll need a reliable, EDC-worthy writing utensil to go along with it. Pens are one option, but if you like the feeling of lead on paper and the freedom to erase without carrying Wite-Out, a mechanical pencil is your best option. Whether you plan on losing one every week, or you’re keeping it in a glass case on your solid oak desk, you have choices, but it’s easy to go wrong and wind up with something you’ll never use. These are our favorites.
Best Overall: We can’t say enough about this pencil. Several of us in the office carry it everywhere. The complete metal construction gives the pencil weight and balance. Its hexagonal shape is comfortable and prevents it from rolling around on your desk. Everything about the 600 fits together smoothly and tightly. They actually have an 800 line that’s a little pricier, as well as the 800+ which has a built-in stylus — but we still prefer the 600’s simplicity.
Best Budget: If you like different colors and don’t mind different lead thicknesses, the Draft-Matic is great. The .3mm is a bright yellow and there’s also black, blue and maroon offerings at 0.5mm, 0.7mm and 0.9mm respectively. The rough metal grip is similar to the Rotring, though maybe a little sharper, and the body is made of a hard plastic. That being said, it’s a high-quality plastic that feels almost like smooth rubber to the touch and ages nicely.
Autopoint Twinpoint All-American
Most Versatile: Twist one end, black lead, twist the other, red. That’s what the Twinpoint does differently. We recommend the 9mm black/9mm red, but with almost every combination of lead colors and thicknesses available, you aren’t short on options with this pencil from Autopoint.
Most Elegant: The smooth body of this German-made pencil is its most remarkable feature. Unlike the Rotring, the Lamy is made from polycarbonate makrolon (read: high-end plastic) but it is brushed in such a way that it feels more like hardwood to the touch. As with other Lamy writing utensils, the pocket clip is spring loaded, which is a nice touch and a step above the traditional style.
Weight, balance and touch are the most important effects that a pencil’s material has on its use. Heavier pencils can reduce writing fatigue by allowing for a looser grip. They also tend to feel more balanced as you write, with a smoother motion, rather than the jerkiness that sometimes accompanies a lightweight utensil. Lastly, like the cold bottom of your MacBook, a metal pencil can be cool to the touch and will heat up more slowly than a rubber grip. On the other hand, metal pencils are more expensive and, frankly, heavier, which is not a feature everyone wants.
Real aficionados geek out over a pencil’s advance precision. For the layman, advance is how a pencil produces lead. A more precise advance means that lead comes out evenly and with a consistent click. Often, but not always, more expensive pencils have better precision. Different pencils also produce lead at different rates, meaning with each click, the pencil advances a specific length of lead. The Staedtler, for example, advances 0.7mm per click.
Lead width and hardness are really what we’re talking about here. Most mechanical pencils will take lead of any hardness, and many of the higher-end options have a rotating indicator so that you know which type of lead you have loaded. Width, however, is another matter. Each pencil has a specific lead width, and putting the wrong kind into the pencil can damage the advance mechanism or clog the barrel. When you’re buying a pencil, know that as the lead gets wider, the feel becomes softer and the line work becomes broader. For most people, this is a preference acquired quickly, but if you’re not sure, a 0.5mm or 0.7mm lead is a good place to start.