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Conté Evolution Wood-Free Pencil

The Conté Evolution Pencil.
Photo: The Conté Evolution on another plastic object – a Rite in the Rain notebook.

This is a review of a type of pencil I hadn’t heard of until recently. Woodchuck has mentioned that there are pencil manufacturers who have rejected wood for pencil casings. Rather, they use a synthetic casing, or perhaps recycled denim.

There aren’t really that many new things in the world of pencils, and this seemed like it might be one.

Finding them wasn’t easy, and I wound up ordering a box from the U.K.

The cardboard box is quite different – a cartoon of a purple alien chewing on a pencil. There are also photos of the pencil on three sides of the box. I like this. It’s like a jam jar with a photo of a plump raspberry – there’s no doubt what’s inside.

The back of the box says:

Wood-free pencil. Stronger lead.
No splintering (synthetic lead resin).

The packaging looks like it might belong in an office supply store, targeting the same consumers as Dixon. It does look a step up from a no-name pencil. I also see the “BIC” logo – I had no idea Conté was part of this conglomerate. I had recently associated the firm with art supplies.

The pencils are a dark turquoise green, with gold stamping:

evolution 650 France HB/no2 Conté

They look – to my surprise – like pencils, and the synthetic resin looks like wood from all but the closest view. What is odd is the lead – or whatever it is. It’s shiny – sparkly shiny, and doesn’t look like any lead I’ve ever seen.

After several pages of writing, I notice that the lead seems remarkably durable, and quite smudge proof. (I had been using a Palomino earlier today, which both smudges and needs regular sharpening.) Anyhow, although it didn’t need it, curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to see how it would sharpen. It’s unusual – as if slicing a film of plastic. There is indeed no splintering, and one could likely sharpen away the whole pencil in one exhausting bout into a single elongated shaving.

Sharpening also revealed an important attribute – a noxious chemical aroma was released that stayed around for at least an hour. Some cedar pencils have a pleasant aroma – but these are definitely the opposite. It made writing quite unpleasant.

One plus – the pencils are quite flexible, much more than their woodcase brethren.

So is the “Evolution” an evolution? They have some merits as writing implements, particularly the lead. But so do many woodcase pencils. Their flexibility and break resistance might make them good for travel. In the end, I don’t like the idea of breathing in whatever it is they produce when sharpened, and I’m suspicious of the unidentified materials used to manufacture them.

35 comments to Conté Evolution Wood-Free Pencil

  • Interesting post.

    The Evolution is nothing new and has been produced by BIC/Conte for a number years. It’s an extruded plastic pencil using the same basic technology originally developed by Empire Pencil Company here in the US. Sanford shut the plastic extrusion plant down in the US in the mid-late 90s as they found it more efficient to concentrate on wood cased.

    The differences with the graphite are that with an extruded pencil you are getting a graphite-plastic composite material vs. a graphite-clay composite that is then kiln dried to harden the leads. Generally the plastic pencil will leave a lighter mark than a wood cased pencil due to this difference in composition unless you use a harder grade in the wood cased. If you want to sharpen your Palomino less frequently you can always go to an H or 2H which wears at a slower rate.

    FYI – Conte has been owned by BIC for quite a long time.

  • WoodChuck,
    Thank you for the excellent information, especially on the graphite differences! In speculating that they were “new”, I (wrongly) presumed this was the case since I’ve never seen one for sale at a stationer or art supply store.

    I don’t mind sharpening pencils when I’m at a desk or at home, so I think I’ll stick with the HB grade in the Palomino. In fact, I was enjoying using a 2B this morning. About your ebay store – why don’t you open it up to sell outside the U.S.? Just an idea – I don’t know what you would have to do behind the scenes.

  • conteuser

    I use this pencil for some time now and I never noticed any chemical smell coming out of it when I sharpen it.

  • dasmarians

    This pencils are sell in Argentina for a long time ago, They are the most cheap in market, they are bad, nice but bad, the write with this is very poor and you have to push them on the paper to really mark anithing also this pencils are fabricated in Brazil by BIC.
    For me nothing are best like a good cedar WOOD pencil.

  • I happen to really like these pencils, and bought a bunch in Paris some months ago. Unfortunately, for the life of me, I cannot find anyone who sells them in the USA, or that will sell across the Atlantic. I’d love to know who sold these to you from the UK, and if they’ll sell to a US customer.

    Many thanks in advance.

  • Hi abraham – sorry, but it’s been a couple of years, and I don’t recall the source.

    Bic makes a number of interesting products that don’t seem to be exported. I would like to get some of their Criterium brand mechanical and woodcase pencils myself.

  • We can supply from UK – no order too small! For BIC Evolution search on our code OP-694732 – http://www.officepointfivestar.com/sales/acatalog/ It says “discontinued – email for availability” – but we can still get them in as of February 2008

  • Felipe

    Those ones have been around for a long time in latin america, I remember using them in Mexico in the 90s, the difference is that the Latam version has an eraser, and the metallic thingy is replaced by a plastic one. I didn’t like it much because of the “synthetic lead”; it loses its sharpness very quickly, and after that, it lasts very long, the other thing is that the non wood material makes it hard to sharpen it with a knife (when outside or away from a sharpener).

    Here they are specially aimed at little kids, since the sharpening residue is always an issue (i remember having my backpack full of little wood and lead pieces because the sharpeners got open and dumped the contents), and in these resin ones you sharpen it and end up with a large piece of the material, instead of little pieces of wood.

  • Felipe

    BTW, I just compared two Evolutions, one a Conte 650 and a Bic 655, and the only difference besides the numbering is that the 655 has an eraser w/ purple plastic ferrule, while ther 650 doesnt.

  • memex

    I had a chance to try some of the “Bic version” of this pencil at work (marked: BIC Evolution 650 HB/n° 2 France) and found that the lead was quite mediocre, and in need of frequent sharpening.

    Anyway, many compliments for the weblog penciladmin, you’re doing an awesome work!

  • Felipe

    memex,

    that’s exactly what i said before, the lead becomes round very easily, but it takes a long time to finish it.

  • A note from a VERY satisfied U.S. customer, recommending Harvey Webb, of Office Point Five Star Sales’ (see Harvey’s comment above) service. He’s great, prompt, and very courteous.

    I’m a bookbinder, archivist, and writer- and I happen to love these pencils. They’re especially good for those who tend to push hard on the paper. They sharpen very well, and keep their point- albeit just slightly on the blunt side. It might be the equivalent of writing with a “broad point.” High marks from me- for their durability, handling, “portability” (they don’t chip in a coat pocket), and overall look.

  • Thanks for sharing this impressive endorsement. It is always good to hear about quality professional retailers.

  • Since the readers of this blog seem to be pencil aficionados, I have a small supply of the original EPCON plastic pencils — I was one of the inventors of the process, I developed the “plastic” composition used.

    If you would send me a self-addressed, stamped envelope, I would be happy to send you one of the pencils from my collection.

    My address is:

    Irv Arons
    4 Harvard Street
    Peabody, MA 01960

    the email address is: iarons@erols.com

    and the blog with the description of how we developed the “plastic pencil”, along with some pictures of some of the pencils in my collection is at:

    http://adlittlechronicles.blogspot.com

    Irv Arons

  • Irv, thank you for this kind and generous offer. I am sure you will be hearing from a few people interested in pencil history!

    Are today’s extruded plastic pencils (like the Conté) using the EPCON technology?

  • That’s a good question.

    As you probably know, the patent that we got was assigned to Hasbro (who owned Empire Pencil).

    However, it’s 18 or 19 year life is up, so I guess anyone could be practicing what we taught in the patent.

    Irv Arons

  • By the way, I noticed the links to the patents weren’t working, so I’ve now fixed them. If you click on the links, it should take you to the two patents we got.

    Irv Arons

  • mathilde

    Interesting conversation !

    Part time studying anatomic drawing here in The Netherlands, I love the Evolution pencil. And it is so agreable handling the pencil because it is just slightly flexible. My teacher showed himself surprised when he used it teaching me something: ” that’s a very nice pencil, where did you get it?”
    That’s how I found this page on the web.

    I bought a box of 50 or so, HB, in the Office Center. It is a world wide chain for office supplies. Rather cheap even, with an eraser on the top, very practical. A swift turn around and you can keep concentrated on your drawing.
    They are now sold under the brandname BIC, instead of Conte.

    I guess it depends on where you use the pencil for.
    Drawing architecture will be different from drawing portrets or writing with it.
    Depends also on the kind of paper you use, to apply it on.

    I would be interested in buying the other versions in 2B 4B 6B and 2H.
    No idea where to get them.

    Mathilde

  • [...] flexibel. – Möglicherweise gibt es Parallelen zum BIC/Conté evolution 650, der bei pencil talk detalliert vorgestellt [...]

  • sachin mutha

    Hi irv , well good info on plastic pencils but i have done some research on the plastic pencils, the ones made by conte (evolution) and very light to write and the sharpening is also a bit hard . I have seen the plastic pencil factory they now make pencils from recycled polymer ( actualy speaking thermocole scrap EPS ) and other polymers . the pencil is much better than conte pencils in terms of writing and sharpening .if you guys want to know more please send me a mail on my email (smutha9@gmail.com).

  • We don’t stock these any longer (July 2010) but can still get them in as a special, single boxes of 12 or larger quantities, with or without eraser. Worldwide shipping. Email for availability

  • Xavier

    Dear Penciladmin,

    First of all congratulations on your site and your outstanding dedication to the cause of
    the pencil. Your work is terrific and I thoroughly enjoy the perusal of your comments and studies.

    Regarding the Conté Evolution which is now the BIC Evolution, it is still pretty much a part of the BIC catalogue, in particular the BIC Ecolution line available at http://www.bicecolutions.com/en/

    For those of your readers who are interested in purchasing them, I suggest typing in “conte evolution” at Google.fr and you’ll get any number of office supply sites that will have them for sale.

    Regards,
    Xavier

  • Hello,
    For years we bought jumbo plastic pencils made by Berol. Our woodcarving customers would carve different faces and images on them. They were 10MM diameter and the plastic core carved very cleanly without chipping out like a cedar pencil.

    I would like to find a manufacturer of those sort of pencils. If any of you could supply some sources, I would appreciate it very much as would many of my customers who have been without the pencils for years.

    Thanks in advance for whatever help you can provide.

    Best regards,

    Larry Yudis, Owner
    The Woodcraft Shop
    2724 State St
    Bettendorf, IA 52722
    http://www.thewoodcraftshop.com

  • FRANK ZENG

    Dear Sirs,

    plastic wood free pencils have been produced in China more than 15years beside “Conte” and “Bic” whose technology now is too old and not too much improved compared with China producers.since America and Mexico and Turkey were anti-dumping to China pencils,many producers in China closed.but,we still producing and now exproting goodquantity to brazil. and now both HB graphite pencils and colored pencils’squality are improved too much if you’d like to pay good prices.manyimorters were and are buying cheap quality which made badreputation to plastic pencils.if you’re intersted in plastic pencils,i’d like to send any samples to you for studying again,i’msure some of you will change idea to plastic pencils.pls contac me by : e-mail:ywfrank@163.com; cnbesfrank@gmail.com Skype: frankzeng8485 Msn:frankzeng510@hotmail.com

  • faisal

    Hi irv , well good info on plastic pencils but i have done some research on the plastic pencils, the ones made by conte (evolution) and very light to write and the sharpening is also a bit hard . I have seen the plastic pencil factory they now make pencils from recycled polymer ( actualy speaking thermocole scrap EPS ) and other polymers . the pencil is much better than conte pencils in terms of writing and sharpening .if you guys want to know more please send me a mail on my email

  • faisal

    Hi irv , well good info on plastic pencils but i have done some research on the plastic pencils, the ones made by conte (evolution) and very light to write and the sharpening is also a bit hard . I have seen the plastic pencil factory they now make pencils from recycled polymer ( actualy speaking thermocole scrap EPS ) and other polymers . the pencil is much better than conte pencils in terms of writing and sharpening .if you guys want to know more please send me a mail on my email : faisal_naqvi@yahoo.co.uk

  • The world has moved since 2008 today we produce 300,000 pencils a day which are wood free They are polymer based through a triple needle extrusion process.

    In the past threre were issues of the darkness of the pencils which are no more existent and for writing good quality polymer mixed with graphite is what makes these pencils on par or better than good old cedar wooden pencils

  • Frank Zeng

    Yeh,that’s something happening and technology for wood free pencils leads and woodpart and paiting had been improved constinuously in past 2-3 years.and it’s really becoming Environmental Eco-Friendly pencils with good prosperous coming year.

  • Frank Zeng

    wood free pencils market in Southern America expanded to big market already.i’d like to find capable serious partner to produce these pencils with most advanced formulor to genueine enviromental products.that’s no too much meaning to ask formula only if sesiously wanting to be mutual partner.extrusion lines improved but still not too much automatically.if packing is automatically by machines,the production capacity of extrusion line will be 500gross per 24hours.if got good skilled wroker,one person can handle 2 lines at the sametime,if technecian style,he is able to handle 4 production lines if he’d like to handle machines like working-hard chinese.anyone interested in this matter,you may contact skype:frankzeng8485.

  • Our machines produce 70000 pencils on a normal operation day and touch 120,000 per day from a single line.

    We do not ask partners but buyers for our extrusion line where we provide the complete technology for the compound of the extrusion of polymer pencil, wood skype : care.india

  • As I’ve just posted on the WOPEX site (also a plastic pencil), I’ve decided to sell some of my supply of EPCON pencils to interested viewers:

    If anyone is interested, I have several dozen of the original Epcon plastic pencils, made by Empire to help celebrate ADL’s centennial in 1986. (Read about the ADL/Epcon story at: http://adlittlechronicles.blogspot.com/2008/07/epcon-plastic-pencil.html)

    I would be willing to send them, while the supply lasts, at $5.00/dozen plus postage (which should be about $2.25 US, tbd for other countries).

    Send me an email at iarons(at)erols.com

    Irv Arons

  • Frank zeng

    if any party which is capable to cooperate to produce. woodfree eco pe
    ncil will be. welcome to contact seriously,if only asking formula pls dont disturb,

  • Faisal Naqvi

    Thank you for the excellent information, especially on the graphite differences! In speculating that they were “new”, I (wrongly) presumed this was the case since I’ve never seen one for sale at a stationer or art supply store.
    I don’t mind sharpening pencils when I’m at a desk or at home, so I think I’ll stick with the HB grade in the Palomino. In fact, I was enjoying using a 2B this morning. About your ebay store – why don’t you open it up to sell outside the U.S.? Just an idea – I don’t know what you would have to do behind the scenes.

    faisal_naqvi@yahoo.co.uk

  • [...] of this pencil have been reviewed at pencil talk and Lexikaliker. Unsurprisingly the BIC ecolutions evolution BLACK seems to be very similar to [...]

  • Sorry for the huge review, but I’m really loving the new Zune, and hope this, as well as the excellent reviews some other people have written, will help you decide if it’s the right choice for you.

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