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Knurly: the Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

The Rotring 600 is a cult classic, a metal mechanical drafting pencil with legions of fans. The pencil (and a product line that includes a fountain pen) doesn’t seek to appeal to everyone, and focuses on a technical look rendered in heavyweight brass.

Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

With a hexagonal body and round knurled grip, the pencils have a very solid, sturdy look and feel, with an engineering aesthetic.

The Rotring company was acquired in 1998, and is now but a brand in the Newell Rubbermaid conglomerate. Rotring once made staples of drafting and design, starting with the Tintenkuli, a needle-nosed fountain pen that we would today call a technical pen.

The official Rotring site shows the company’s historic highlights. There are so many that the 600 line doesn’t even get a mention!

The 600 series may arguably be most famous for the fountain pen – yet mechanical pencil users also delight in this drafting pencil.

Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

There seem to be a few varieties around. The oldest versions have the body marked “rotring 600 / [lead diameter]“. Later versions are marked with just the lead diameter. There are also variants with a gold sleeve, and the non-drafting Newton 600 series. I am not aware of a complete taxonomy – if you know of one, please share.

Today, the 600 series pencils seem to be marketed only in Japan. I am not sure of the status of the other writing implements.

More than one source says Parker (itself also now a Newell Rubbermaid brand) is the manufacturer.

I have two 0.7mm pencils, one recently purchased (2008) from Japan, and one from about 2000 from a US vendor. They have some minor differences.

Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

The packaging has certainly shrunk over time – the new pencil has a small cardboard box and Japanese language instructions. The older packaging has a cardboard box containing a plastic display, and instructions in English and French. Both boxes mention the same Hamburg address.

Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

Internally, the newer pencil has a metal casing around the lead tube. On a scale, it outweighs the older pencil 22.7 to 21.7 grams. That’s the only difference of note that I could find.

Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

A more subtle variation that may interest some, is that the older pencil’s clip is marked “Japan”.

Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

So what’s so special? It isn’t the the only metal pencil, or the heaviest, or the most extremely technical in appearance. Comparing it side by side with some other well regarded pencils, what I notice is that it is the slimmest – at a similar weight to larger pencils, it keeps traditional proportions. It is definitely the most dense and solid feeling pencil, and subjectively seems to be the best made. There is nothing wrong with the products from Staedtler and Ohto, and I may prefer their round shape. But they just don’t have the Rotring’s solid feel. I’ve picked up several thin lead drafting style pencils over the last couple of years (probably due to certain online influences :-), and I’m thinking the money would have been better spent on higher quality, though fewer, pencils such as the Rotring 600.

Knurly!

If you’re curious about the thin lead drafting style of mechanical pencil, you could do far worse than trying a classic such as the Rotring 600.

63 comments to Knurly: the Rotring 600 mechanical pencil

  • Kevin

    I notice the “old” version above shows a plastic white sheath over the clutch area. My R600 from 1991 does not have this white plastic sheath, there is simply an exposed substantial copper coloured spring which butts up against a small white plastic collar which supports the 3 jawed clutch. The section on this 1991 R600 is totally different to either of the two shown in the photo above. The modern section will not fit these very old Rotring 600′s. Just more grist for the mill.

  • KEVIN

    I now notice the photo I was referring to in my previous post comparing two RR600′s is no longer showing??. Also I just bought a series 1 (old stock??) with the full lettering and this does have the white plastic sheath at the section. This is strange – I now have two series 1 RR600′s that have entirely different internals at the grip section and the two sections are not compatible with each other – very strange.

  • sudeva

    One thing that I’ve noticed about the new Japanese-made ones vs. the older German-made ones: the knurling on the grip of the Japanese ones is pokier and sharper. Like the diamonds are really coming to a point, whereas the points on the knurling of the German ones are duller. A different experience as far as grip goes, if a subtle one.

  • Peter

    I first came across the 600 series by accident, coming from an artistic background as oppossed to technical, as have found this to be the best all round pencil i have used by far.
    I have found this to be great for sketching and detail when needed.

    Having damaged the tip on this, i was devasted to find it went out of production, until ebay came to the rescue and purched 4 x 600 series pencils, paying over $100 each, (yeah call me nuts).
    On reading the specifications outlined above and inspecting what i have bought i am pleased to say they are the original german made models.

    Nothing against the Japanese, as i also purchased 4 x Promecha Otho, another great tool for all my drawing needs.
    Enjoy.

  • King

    I first purchased the KOH-I-NOOR Rapidomatic 5640 Version of this mechanical pencil in 0.5mm back in the early 80′s when I was going to engineering school. Since then, I have purchased several of the Rotring versions, since I think Rotring took over KOH-I-NOOR’s line. I have the pencils in 0.3, 0.5, 0.7 & 0.9, as well as the ballpoints, the 3-way multi-pen/pencil, and the fountain pen. All of them are Rotring except my original 0.5, which is now showing through the flat black finish to the brass core. There is no red rubber band on the top section on my original pencil, and the internal guts are the metal tube style. The clip has KOH-I-NOOR imprinted on it, and there is a lead hardness selector at the top of the pencil, much like the one tha Rotring has on the 600 series.

    Anyway, really love these pencils, have broken a few by dropping them on their tip and bending it so badly the leads crack on the way out and don’t function any more.

  • ken woodham

    I was given a rotring promotional pen 5mm: the device which holds the lead is missing: where can I get such a device or is there hope of finding one? Who repairs such a pencil? thanks ken

  • Jonny

    Hi, I recently purchased one of these (black) from jetpens.com, and I am greatly enjoying it. However, I dropped it yesterday and the guide pipe bent a little. It still works, as the lead does not break coming out, but I would like to look into a new endpiece. Do you think it would be possible to find a separate end-piece ONLY for a reasonable price? Thanks!

  • Jay Fei

    Dear Jonny,

    There is a japanese stationary which is called ???.

    I remember that they once sold the head part of the automatic pencil.

    You can take a try there.

    This company may accept the international small amount order.

    But I am not sure whether they have the stocks or not this moment.

    Their website is below:

    http://bundoki.com/

  • Emily

    Jonny, you can actually get replacement grip + guide pieces from JetPens now!

  • Malcolm

    I am very interested in getting myself some Rotring 600 2mm pencils for drawing purposes. I would love to hear some advice from other artists in this regard. I also wanted to enquire why the Japanese made rotring pencils are cheaper than the ones in the UK by quite a substancial amount. Any feedback would be great!!

  • Hello. I needed to inquire a little something…is the following a wordpress blog page as we are thinking about shifting over to WP. Moreover did you make this template by yourself? Cheers.

  • Heya this is a good article. I’m going to email this to my associates. I stumbled on this while browsing on aol I’ll be sure to come back. thanks for sharing.

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