A mechanical pencil is any writer and artist’s best friend. It is ergonomic, easy to use, produces quality writing much more consistent than wooden pencils, it never needs any sharpening. With so many qualities, it’s no wonder that these writing instruments are among the most popular office products in the world.
If you find yourself reaching for a pencil often, you will more than likely benefit from buying a mechanic pencil. Carpenters, students, writers, artists, and so many more people already love them; why not join them?
To help you find the best mechanical pencil for you, we have put together this article. In it, you will find answers to all your questions, plus a buying guide to help you sort through the good and the bad products you can find online. Moreover, we have compiled a list of the top 10 pencils updated. Once you’re done reading through this article, we’re sure you’ll know which mechanical pencil fits your needs!
Mechanical Pencil or Wooden Pencil?
Everyone is bound to have a regular wooden pencil at home. But did you know that mechanical pencils were actually invented first? They date back to 1565 and were the invention of Conrad Gesner.
The 16th-century model looks much different from the pencils you can find at the store today, but the logic behind them is the same.
Nowadays, mechanical pencils work with a thin cylinder of lead (thin but not brittle!) inserted at the top of the pencil barrel. As you write, the lead wears out and you need to push it down. How you can do this varies from model to model, but one thing they all have in common is that you don’t need to sharpen the lead.
Wooden pencils, on the other hand, have a built-in cylinder of graphite. As you use it, the lead point becomes dull and produces thicker lines, so you need to constantly sharpen it for the line to be thin once more.
Advantages of Using a Mechanical Pencil
There are many advantages of using a mechanical pencil over a wooden one. While they’re nowhere near as popular, those who use them swear mechanical is the way to go.
For starters, you never need to sharpen a mechanical pencil’s lead. This gives you more time to work on your project, doesn’t allow your focus to be broken, and eliminates the mess that is sharpening.
Secondly, mechanical utensils give you a consistently perfect line. The width of the lines you are writing or drawing will always have the same width. This gives your project a more perfect and neat look.
Thirdly, these office supplies are reusable and can last you years. When you wear out an entire cylinder of lead, you can just refill the barrel with a new one. It cuts back on waste, they’re environmentally friendly and save you money in the long run.
Fourthly, mechanical pencils come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. They’re very versatile in this aspect, as you can buy one that adapts fully to your needs. There are companies out there, for example, only specializing in making mechanical pencils for sketching. Ultimately, you’re completely in charge of your office supplies.
Lastly, they are the most ergonomic writing instruments out there. They’re designed to make writing, sketching, and drawing comfortable for the user. Thus, they have a substantial weight that aids in creating perfect lines and you won’t be stuck with a shrinking pencil that makes your hand cramp up.
Who Should Get One?
Anyone who spends a lot of time writing should get a mechanical pencil.
Artists use them all the time in their arts, crafts, sketches, and drawings. The high-quality, well-defined lines and the ergonomic design of the pencil make them super useful.
Students are also enamored by these school supplies, given that they’re comfortable to write with and accepted into the vast majority of test and exam rooms.
Professional and amateur carpenters keep them at hand, too, because they’re more durable than wooden pencils. They’re perfect to work with outdoors and can be kept in damp places, for example in sheds.
How a Mechanical Pencil Works
Almost all mechanical pencils on the market nowadays can be split into three different categories: twist, shake, and push. They all work in different ways.
Twist: Most vintage mechanical pencils work with a twist mechanism. They extend and retract the pencil lead when you twist either the nose cone of the barrel or the very top of the pencil. Typically, they can only hold one lead at a time, but they let you extend and retract however much you want.
Shake: This kind of pencil allows you to move the lead up and down by simply shaking the barrel. When you do, a metal weight inside presses a button that triggers the retraction and extension of the lead. If you don’t get along with the twisting mechanism, there’s usually a push button there as well.
Push: This is by far the most common mechanism. All you need to do is push (and press) a button to adjust how much lead you want sticking out of the pencil. This button is usually at the top of the barrel, yet it can be at the side or even on the clip. Either way, using the push button is very easy.
How to Use a Mechanical Pencil?
Using a mechanical pencil is easy and straightforward. The only three things you will need to do are refilling the lead compartment, retracting the lead, and extending it. And, depending on the model you have, you either do it by twisting a cap, shaking the pencil, or pushing a button. Once you have those three motions down, there’s not much else to it.
Remember to never have too much lead sticking out of the pencil, or else the stick of lead may break.
Also, when you’re done using the pencil, it’s recommended that you retract the lead so that you don’t accidentally break the lead.
How to Refill a Mechanical Pencil?
Every model comes with specific instructions, but the vast majority work the same way.
First, remove the top part of the pencil. More often than not, you’ll be able to either pull out the cap or twist it open. This is where the eraser should be attached to. Once you’ve opened it up, insert a lead cylinder and close it back up.
Most pencils also come with the option to replace the eraser. If yours is one of these models, go ahead and pull out the rubber and just stick a new one in.
Occasionally, you’ll come across models that don’t have a detachable top part. In those situations, what you’ll want to do is push the button (the same one that retracts and extends the lead) and, at the same time, push the new lead in through the opening at the bottom of the pencil.
Mechanical Pencils Specifics
It’s always interesting—and useful—to know what’s inside your home office supplies. Once you understand how they work and what they’re made of, you can know what aspects of it work for you and which ones don’t. That way, finding your new favorite item is much easier.
What Is a Mechanical Pencil Made Out Of?
Mechanical pencils are made of a variety of materials. The cheapest models are fully made with hardened plastic, sometimes colorful, sometimes not. The fancier, more expensive pencils have a stainless steel or metallic barrel.
Besides that, some items also have a rubber grip to make it easier and more comfortable to write or sketch with them.
When it comes to the lead, they’re virtually all made of engineered, thin strengthened graphite. How thin or thick they totally depend on your mechanical pencil and taste: they’re usually between 0.3mm and 0.9mm in diameter. Art mechanical pencils, though—sometimes also known as clutch pencils—can be much thicker (up to 5.6mm in diameter).
Different Widths of Lead
There are about 15 different mechanical pencil lead widths, however, most of them are hard to find and usually only used for very specific technical tasks.
The bulk of pencil leads are either 0.3mm, 0.5mm, 0.7mm wide in diameter. Which one you choose depends on your personal preferences, namely if you want a thinner or thicker line.
Black, Gray, and Colored Lead
Artists will be pleased to know that there isn’t just black lead. Art supply companies sell colored and gray-scale leads. This gives you a lot more flexibility when working on your projects.
Shopping for Mechanical or Automatic Pencils: Buying Guide
Because there are thousands of different mechanical pencil models, it can become hard to choose the right one for your needs. Follow this buying guide to figure out which features to look. It will make buying one a whole lot easier.
Lead Type and Quality
The most important thing when getting a mechanical pencil is getting one that is compatible with high-quality lead.
First, decide how thick or how thin you want your writing to be. That will tell you which lead size to get: 0.3mm (thin), 0.5mm (medium), or 0.7mm (thick).
Second, find out just how good the lead that goes with the pencil is. Some people like lead that is very light in color, while others prefer darker, more pigmented lead.
Third, look into how available that kind of lead is. The rarer lead sizes are much harder to find and, as a result, much more expensive, too.
More often than not, you’ll see that one mechanical pencil doesn’t specifically require you to buy one specific brand of lead. However, it’s always best to check before investing in one.
The build quality is also something to keep in mind. Is it a sturdy model? Is the barrel too heavy or too light for you? You want a good balance between the two, but it also comes down to your personal preferences.
Cost and Versatility
When it comes to this, mechanical pencils come with all sorts of price tags. You’ll find some models for very cheap—between $3 and $7—and some for a lot more—upwards of $30.
Ask yourself how much you are willing to spend on a pencil. What kind of tasks will you use it for? If you’re planning on getting it for art projects, you may want to spend a little more. But if you just want it to write in your day-to-day or tests, you probably won’t need to shell out any more than a dozen of dollars.
It’s important to get a comfortable-to-use pencil, especially if you’ll spend hours writing with it (during a test, for example). Thus, look for “comfort features,” such as a rubber grip, a good barrel weight, and a barrel width you feel comfortable.
A tip that will help you determine exactly what you like is to look at your pencil set, fountain pen, or gel pens (ones you find comfortable to use) and find out how wide diameter-wise and how heavy they are.
From what we have described earlier in the article, what do you prefer: the twist, shake, or push model of the pencil? Figure out which of these is your favorite and look for a pencil with that kind of lead advancement mechanism.
Rough writers—you know the kind!—do well with pencils with lead cushioning. This protects the lead from breaking as easily. If you find yourself breaking many pencil leads, it’s time to upgrade to a model that has special cushioning.
There are extra features you may be interested in that we haven’t covered yet. Those include replaceable erasers and caps you can put on the pen when you’re done using it. While they’re by no means essential, they’re still nice features to have.
Materials and Aesthetics
Lastly, these mechanical office supplies come in a wide variety of colors and designs. If looks are something that matter to you—totally understandable!—keep an eye out for fun patterns and cool textures.
10 Best Mechanical Pencils Reviewed
The next time you start setting up your home office or decide to shop for school supplies, look into getting one of these mechanical pencils. They are the best of the best and are versatile enough that they’ll be perfect for a variety of tasks and projects.
We picked these specific products with a few things in mind. Firstly, we checked their specs and found out whether or not they have interesting and useful features. Then, we read hundreds of Amazon customer reviews in order to see what real paying customers have to say about these pencils. Lastly, we weighed whether or not they are Amazon best sellers — if they are, there’s a very big chance they’re quality products.
1) Paper Mate Clearpoint
Paper Mate mechanical pencils have a reputation for being affordable and reliable, and the Clearpoint model is no exception.
The rubber grip makes writing for long periods of time comfortable. It is textured to ensure the pencil stays in place in your hand and doesn’t slip down after some time.
On the side, you’ll find the push button used to advance lead. Because of where it’s placed, you won’t lose your grip when extending pencil lead.
If you make a mistake while writing, the jumbo-sized eraser at the top of the pencil is there to help you fix it. You can buy eraser refills separately and easily replace it yourself.
The lead used is HB, meaning the lead leaves similar lines in terms of color or darkness as a #2 pencil. This Paper Mate pencil only takes 0.7mm lead, which is on the thicker end of the scale.
- Very affordable and efficient
- The textured grip makes writing comfortable
- The side button is convenient and easy to use
- Some people don’t like how top-heavy this pencil is
2) Pentel Sharp Mechanical
Those looking for a fun and cool writing instrument have found their dream product in the Pentel Sharp mechanical pencil.
This model is available in a variety of colors, ranging from black to bright yellow. You are also given the choice between 0.5mm, 0.7mm, or 0.9mm lead size.
The tip measures 4mm in length, making it ideal to work with rulers and templates. They are also handy for sketching, doodling, drafting, and general use.
Another great feature is the eraser, which is located on the top portion of the pencil. Once you run out of it, you can purchase a refill and replace it.
Lastly, Pentel has made a commitment to be more environmentally friendly. Thus, this pencil is made from at least 50% recycled materials.
- The eraser works perfectly with the pencil lead
- The side button makes it easy to advance lead
- The metallic clip allows for easy storage
- There is no rubber grip, which can tire your hand
3) Uni-ball Kuru Toga Mechanical
Uni-ball has gotten ahead of the competition and completely revolutionized the mechanical pencil market with the Kuru Toga model.
The most fascinating feature about this pencil is its rotational mechanism. Every time you lift the pencil from the paper, the lead rotates on itself. As a result, every side of the tip of the lead is worn out at the same rate, which leads to more precise and neat writing.
The lead used in this model is also stronger than other pencil leads. It breaks less often because it’s been engineered to be sturdier and thanks to the rotational mechanism.
There is also an eraser at the top of the pencil, which is capped. This is also where the push lead advancement button is located.
Lastly, the lead size used in this pencil is 0.7mm and the darkness of its writing is comparable to that of a #2 pencil.
- Most precise and neat writing possible due to rotating lead
- Sturdy and durable pencil leads
- Looks elegant and is easy to store
- More on the expensive end
- There is no rubber grip
4) Zebra M-701 Stainless Steel
The Zebra M-701 has a distinctly professional look that blows all other pencils out of the water. Moreover, its precision and durability are also impressive.
The stainless steel design of these Zebra mechanical pencils isn’t just for shows. Besides making it look professional, it also makes it durable and long-lasting. This is especially important for those whose pencils are exposed to the elements. This Zebra design never rusts nor gets too beaten up. It is perfect for carpenters.
While there isn’t a rubber grip, the bottom of the barrel is made from textured knurled metal. This makes holding the pencil comfortable.
Its lead size is 0.7mm and compatible with Zebra’s lead refills. The eraser can also be substituted by one of the brand’s eraser refills.
Lastly, the metal clasp makes storing it an easy task. It’s designed to fit in any shirt pocket.
- The rugged design makes it sturdy and durable
- The textured metal grip makes writing comfortable
- Both the eraser and lead refills are easily replaceable
- The insides of the pencil are plastic, which has bothered some
5) Pentel Twist-Erase III
Once more, Pentel hits the mark by offering high-quality automatic pencils in a variety of colors and designs.
The tip of the pencil is designed with lead cushioning. This ensures minimum breakage of the lead inside, even if you apply a lot of force when writing.
When you make a mistake, you can use the built-in eraser to fix it. Twist the top of the pencil and watch as the super long eraser comes out.
Its weighted, balanced barrel is also a key feature of this Pentel pencil. Users say that it feels natural in their hand and makes writing for long periods of time easy.
You can choose which lead width you want with your pencil. There are three models available: 0.5mm, 0.7mm, and 0.9mm of sturdy black lead.
Lastly, the grip is made of rubber and offers comfort and stability while writing.
- The long eraser lasts a long time and can be replaced
- Pentel’s black lead is strong and produces dark lines
- The weighted barrel and grip make writing with it comfortable
- Some people report the lead advancement system jamming
6) rOtring Rapid PRO Pencil
Despite its odd-looking spelling, this rOtring mechanical pencil is the epitome of elegance and sleekness.
The black matte design gives this pencil a distinctive look, perfect to be showcased alongside your prettiest pen set. If black isn’t your favorite color, there is also a silver chrome design that looks like stainless steel.
The non-slip knurled metal grip and the weight of the barrel make this a perfect pencil choice for artists and sketchers. The lead slides smoothly along the paper and the barrel feels nice in your hand.
Under the push-press button, there is both an eraser and a sharpener. You won’t need the latter for day-to-day writing, but if you’re an artist, getting thin precise lines is essential.
Lastly, the cushion lead mechanism makes breaking lead a lot harder. This feature makes this pen perfect for those who apply more force than needed when writing.
- The lead cushion mechanism is convenient
- It is easy and comfortable to hold
- There are a lead sharpener and an eraser included
- It may be hard to find lead that fits the barrel
7) MUJI Polycarbonate Mechanical
This brand is known for making quality products that fit into a minimalistic aesthetic at a reasonably affordable price. Their polycarbonate pencil is proof of that.
This MUJI mechanical pencil has very basic features, but it gets the job done. The grip is made of rubber and, thanks to its ergonomic design, the pencil feels comfortable on your fingers and hand.
At the top of the pencil, there’s a capped eraser which, when worn out, can be replaced with a MUJI eraser refill. That is also where you’ll find the push lead advancement button.
Its polycarbonate side clamp allows you to easily store your MUJI pencil. You can fit it in any shirt pocket for convenience.
The lead size used here is 0.5mm and the writing is exceptionally dark, which is awesome for darker sketches, drawings, and writing.
- Ergonomic and comfortable design
- Minimalist look that is aesthetically pleasing
- MUJI pencil leads are darker than those made by other companies
- There aren’t any fancy features included
8) Rite in the Rain Pencil
Carpenters and outdoor workers: this is the pencil for you. The Rite in the Rain automatic pencil is sturdy and heavyweight — perfect for rough handling and for being exposed to the elements.
Its barrel is made from hardened resin. This makes it much more durable than plastic writing tools. Thus, it can withstand blunt forcers, such as being dropped to the floor or accidentally being hit with a heavy object.
The tip of the pencil extends along with the lead. This means the lead won’t break, twist, wobble, or fall out when you’re taking important notes.
The barrel stores several cylinders of lead at once. You’ll never be caught without any lead again. Moreover, you can get both red and black lead for all kinds of markings and writing you’ll need to do.
At the top of the pencil, you’ll also find an eraser you can use to fix your mistakes. Once you wear that one out, eraser refills are available, as are spare lead sticks (all manufactured by Rite in the Rain).
Lastly, the lead size used in this item is much thicker than usual: 1.1mm. Thus, you get much darker and bolder writing.
- Super durable even when faced with adverse weather conditions
- Thick lead that won’t break or be damaged
- Red and black lead available
- Not suitable for writing and doodling
9) Pilot 51015 G-2 Mechanical
The Pilot mechanical pens may have a simplistic design, but they’re reliable and work well.
This particular model has a rubber contoured comfortable grip, making writing for several hours less tiring. Since it is a lightweight pencil, it doesn’t cramp up your hand either.
You can use the eraser located at the top of the pencil to correct any mistakes in your writing. When you’re done using it, simply cap it. The plastic cap gives this item a polished, professional look.
The lead used by this Pilot pencil is either 0.7mm or 0.5mm, depending on the model you pick, and always HB, which is comparable to a #2 pencil.
Lastly, there is a black branded plastic clamp along the side. Thanks to it, you can secure your pencil to any shirt pocket.
- Affordable yet reliable in its quality writing
- The rubber contoured grip offers comfort
- Eraser refills are easy to find and very handy
- The eraser isn’t the best money can buy
10) BIC Xtra Sparkle Pencils
Who has never seen one of these BIC mechanical pencils? They’re super popular (in fact, the number one best seller automatic pencil), and for good reason!
What sticks out the most about these pencils is how affordable they are. On Amazon, a 24-pack costs only $8; that’s just 33 cents per pencil!
Despite its low price, this BIC product is reliable. It uses 0.9mm black lead that is HB, meaning they make darker pigmented lines.
The built-in eraser at the top of the pencil is quite useful, especially for students. Another thing to point out is how durable and shock-resistant the lead refills are.
- Number one budget-friendly pencil
- Straightforward design
- Strong lead that doesn’t break
- Doesn’t have any extra features
By now, you probably have some idea of which pencil to get. Nonetheless, here is a quick recap of what these items offer:
Budget-friendly: The BIC automatic pencil is the cheapest one available that doesn’t compromise on efficiency.
For artists and creatives: Pick the rOtring Rapid PRO for its writing width flexibility. Using its built-in sharpener, you can get thinner or thicker lines as desired.
Extra precision: No other pencil is as precise and consistent as the Uni-ball Kuru Toga. Its rotating lead stays sharp even as you use the pencil.
For carpenters and outdoor workers: Look no further than the Rite in the Rain pencil. It’s the only model built to withstand adverse weather conditions and being handled roughly.
Frequently Asked Questions About Mechanical Pencils
Q: What mechanical pencil lead is thickest?
The thickest lead measures 5.6mm in width, but they’re not at all common. Of the most available ones, 0.9mm is the thickest you’ll find.
Q: How long does a mechanical pencil last?
If you don’t drop yours too often or rough handle it too much, your pencil should last you several years. Plus, since you can refill it all the time, you’ll save a lot on writing supplies.
Q: When was the mechanical pencil invented?
The first automatic pencil was conceptualized, drawn, and built in 1865. The oldest pencil we still have preserved, however, dates back to the 1700s.
Q: Who invented the mechanical pencil?
Conrad Gasner, a Swiss physician, did.
Q: Can mechanical pencil lead poison you?
The name “lead” for the black material that leaves a mark on paper is misleading. There is actually no lead in them. Pencil lead is made of graphite, a crystallized form of carbon. So, no, pencil lead will not poison you.
Q: Can mechanical pencil lead kill you?
Rest assured, a pencil’s lead is completely safe and tested thousands of times before being sold.
Q: Is a mechanical pencil good for drawing?
Absolutely! If you do graphite drawings, automatic pencils are great for you.
Q: Are mechanical pencils allowed on AP tests?
Unfortunately, no: these pencils are not allowed on AP, SAT, or CAT tests. However, the vast majority of schools in the world allows them into test rooms during other regular tests during the school term.