Marco Natural 6000 pencil

A few years ago, pencil industry blog Timberlines suggested that there were about 300 pencil factories in the world, with 200 of those located in China. Who knows what the number is today? And of the 100 factories outside China, many use either slats or raw pencils from China for their production. It goes further – many western brands are supposedly produced in China, even if the fact is hidden. Industry figures inside and outside China confirm this. It seems that if we created a measurement such as “pencil production hours”, China would be well in the lead.

So what pencils are made in China? This gets harder to say. There are the novelty, OEM, and contracted overseas brands. But brands from China are fewer. The China First Pencil Co. is the name brand from China that we first saw. Here is another. Marco kindly contacted me and sent some product samples.

The Marco Natural 6000 is pencil in the natural finish style, hexagonal with silver ferrule and red eraser. The exposure of the natural woodgrain certainly struck me as attractive.

Marco Natural 6000 pencil

Markings are minimal:

Natural 6000 HB=2 Marco

Marco Natural 6000 pencil

The packaging is attractive and goes very well with the theme.

Marco Natural 6000 pencil

There is a very interesting statement on the box: “They are made of Premium quality Cedar-Lite wood and sharpen smoothly.”

What is “Cedar-Lite”? The best answer I get is “Hunan Fir”, possibly treated. In other words, not cedar, though having a pattern which is similar enough.

The Chinese company which manufactures this product has a California office! More here.

I understand that the branding of cedar may be hard to compete with, but this name is somewhat misleading. The pencil sharpens very well, and the wood can stand on it’s own merits.

Marco Natural 6000 pencil

The lead is good. Not the smoothest, yet not scartchy. Unfortunately, the eraser is essentially non-functional.

Marco Natural 6000 pencil

Overall, the pencils are good. But “Cedar-Lite”?

Marco Natural 6000 pencil

LAMY plus pencils

LAMY plus pencils

First unveiled at the 2010 Paperworld show and reviewed at Lexikaliker, a few LAMY plus pencils have washed up on this side of the Atlantic.

LAMY plus pencils

From LAMY, a firm renowned for their design capabilities, we have two-tone grey and silver triangular pencils.

LAMY plus pencils

The “plus” is a slightly oversize 8.5mm diameter pencil with an oversize 4mm core. The silver side has the familiar LAMY logo. It comes in HB and B grades.

The “4plus” is a jumbo 10mm diameter pencil with a huge 6.25mm core. It comes only in B, and varies slightly from the plus in having the cap completely finished.

LAMY plus pencils

The “Made in Germany” pencils have an amazing appearance and with dark, rich graphite cores, offer a great writing experience. The only minor thing I’ll note is that the HB and B leads did seem very similar to me.

LAMY plus pencils

This is a great boost for the pencil industry. To have a company with the stature of LAMY enter this market with a high end product bodes well. Just when many companies are leaving the field, we have a very savvy new entrant.

My thanks to Gunther from Lexikaliker for sending me these samples.

Pencils from Thailand

z

Some pencils from Thailand. Unfamiliar brands like Nanmee, Quantum, Horse, and MasterArt. Also a Staedtler!

Commonalities include colourful finishes and reddish (dyed?) wood.

z

My thanks to Gunther from Lexikaliker for kindly sending these pencils to me!

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

Let’s take a brief trip into the almost departed world of drafting by pencil. Before computer aided design (CAD), precision drawings were made by hand. Architects, draftspeople, engineers, and others, used lead pencils alongside other tools to create plans for everything from small industrial parts to immense cities.

The observations made here are probably trivialities to those familiar with the tools. Yet as an “obsolete” technology, the capabilities of drafting film and film pencils may be unknown to those of us who never experienced these products first hand, and I thought it would be enjoyable to share some discoveries.

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

I’ve been fortunate to be able to assemble some vintage supplies.

– Staedtler Mars Dynagraph 100 50 woodcase pencils in grade N3.

– Staedtler Mars Dynagraph 0.5mm (255 05) and 0.7mm (255 07) mechanical pencil leads in grade N2.

– Mylar polyester drafting film.

The lead refills and drafting film were purchased at retail about two weeks ago! The pencils came from eBay.

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

Some further notes.

The grades – N0 through N6. An old Staedtler catalogue online at leadholder.com suggests these comparisons:

N0 = HB
N2 = H
N4 = 5H

Adding information from this fascinating chart at Lowell Bueprint, we can complete the chart this way:

N0 = HB
N1 = F
N2 = H
N3 = 3H
N4 = 5H
N5 = 7H

Both the pencils and the leads have an additional logo, “profilm”. Though I own many Staedtler pencils, I have not seen this additional graphic before. This site, for example, suggests that this is an early 1980s Staedtler trademark, now abandoned.

The pencils are explicitly marked “For use on drafting film.”

The film is something I’ve been seeking for some while. I was quite happy to discover a local retailer who was willing to cut a small piece for me off of a roll. Mylar is Dupont’s trademarked name for polyester film. There are other brands, but Mylar seems to be a bit of a standard.

The photos below generally show the Mylar on top of graph paper – either 2mm vellum, or a Moleskine notebook. This is for contrast – it had to be placed on some sort of surface. The Mylar does not have any lines. It does have a milky translucence, and feels quite strong to the touch.

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

Observation no. 1: The erasure of Dynagraph pencil lines on Mylar is remarkable. To my own eye in direct sunlight, it seemed close to perfection. The macro setting of the camera brings one back to earth, but still, I have to say that the erasure properties of the N3 Dynagraph pencil/Mylar film/Mars plastic eraser trio well surpass the paper and pencil experience. Even the typical paper indentation that one can usually discern is absent, presumably due to the film’s strength.

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

Observation no. 2: The specialty lead is truly non-smearing! To the right is the misbehaving Staedtler Mars Lumograph 2H. Light finger movement causes considerable smudging. The Dynagraph leaves a nearly immutable line.

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

Observation no. 3: Pencil grades, even the very hard grades that behave like rocks on paper, are much more vivid on film. A 3H looks like a 3B. Take the extreme Mitsubishi Hi-Uni 10H:

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

It is near useless, fainter than the printed lines, in a notebook:

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

Yet makes a valid mark on the drafting film:

Staedtler Mars Dynagraph pencils and leads

So film certainly gives an invigorated life to those 2H through 10H pencils which are very challenging to use on paper.

To summarize these basic observations about film pencils on film: Perfect erasure, no smearing, and lines appear significantly darker.

The computer isn’t going away, but I’m wondering if these properties might not be valuable to artists. And I haven’t yet noted that this “paper” is supposed to last centuries and maintain stability.

I can’t find a Mylar sketchbook for sale, but did find that David Hockney was aware of this medium. If you use this medium or are aware of other artists who use it, please leave a comment.

And while this post is engaged in a bit of a “rediscovery” of the past, let’s acknowledge those who’ve never forgotten these skills: twenty-first century architects who still work with pencil. These two have mentioned their continued use of pencils at this blog:

Otto-Walker Architects, Park City, Utah

J Mark Nelson LLC, Colorado Springs, Colorado

These products may have peaked in popularity in the 1980s, but the Dynagraph and Mylar duo still seem capable of getting a precision job done.

P.S. Please see “Zeitreise” at Lexikaliker, which shows some vintage advertisements for Duralar (the predecessor name of Dynagraph) pencils on Mylar.