Duty Free Surprise

This year has started with some travel. One of the most unusual and delightful things I’ve done is to take a ferry from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Montevideo, Uruguay. And one of the surprises was an onboard duty free shop with a Caran d’Ache section!

Airport Duty Free shops today seem to mainly offer alcohol and fragrances, so it was very nice to see stationery and art supplies represented. I certainly wasn’t expecting this shop on the ferry.

Caran d’Ache Block Erasers

Caran d'Ache Block Erasers

Wow, it has been a decade since the last comparative eraser review at pencil talk. I think the reason is that erasers have generally reached an excellent quality level. There are of course differences, but synthetic erasers from the top manufacturers in Japan or Europe are usually excellent, and the motivation to review them is diminished.

The Technik is the lightest.

The Caran d’Ache block erasers are interesting because of the shared dimensions, but differing appearances and stated functions. Caran d’Ache is also regarded as a leader in art supplies, and these products come with a reputation to uphold.

The three erasers are:

Artist 0173.420. Description: “Graphite and charcoal extra soft plastic eraser.” Green.

Design 0172.420. Description: “Graphite and colour pencil eraser.” White.

Technik 0171.420. Description: “Non-abrasive pencil eraser, does not remove ink.” Slightly translucent.

Years ago I sometimes set up very complex erasure tests, and there is indeed a complex pencil/paper/eraser/environmental factors relationship, but I wanted to keep this simpler – these erasers tested with one pencil and one test paper. I though a Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood pencil (freshly sharpened in an El Casco) would be appropriate, and decided that the Biella Index Card would be a nice companion.

All three are much harder than erasers from Tombow, Seed, etc. They also produce fine granular residue, particularly the green Artist. The Technik probably did the best job at complete erasure, and the Design is the one that most veered towards aggregation of the residue in clumps.

Caran d'Ache Block Erasers

The erasers are good, but I don’t find them compelling when there are so many outstanding offerings available today. Of course, these are from Caran d’Ache.

Caran d’Ache edelweiss 341 pencil

Caran d'Ache edelweiss 341 pencil
The edelweiss 341 is the student line graphite pencil from Caran d’Ache.

The pencil varnish colours represent different lead degrees:

2H – Green
F – Blue
HB- Red
3B – Grey

Probably many of us would associate a scheme like this only with higher end products.

Caran d'Ache edelweiss 341 pencil

The pencils additionally bear the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logo.

They are hexagonal, with an unfinished cap – the only arguable compromise.

Caran d'Ache edelweiss 341 pencil

The pencil isn’t in the same quality league as the top offerings from Caran d’Ache, such as the Technograph 777. Also, the grading seems to differ by a two degrees or so from many other pencils – the HB seems like a 2H to me, while the 3B – well, it’s more my style.

The 341 is a good pencil, and very good relative to many student pencils. Those liking a soft dark lead are advised to try the 3B.

Caran d’Ache Swiss Flag pencil

Caran d'Ache Swiss Flag pencil

This pencil looks like it could be a marketing or novelty item. It lacks an imprinted name or model number. The pencil is made and sold by Caran d’Ache under their own name as part of a larger product campaign.

The graphic is striking – a red background, with white crosses. The matching ballpoint pen is sold as the ‘Swiss Flag’ pen in the ‘Essentially Swiss’ series, so I am calling this the Swiss Flag pencil. Let me know if you have a more correct name!

Caran d'Ache Swiss Flag pencil

This associated set is interesting in itself. There are many matching pen and pencil sets – with ‘pencil’ meaning ‘mechanical pencil’ – but I can’t think of another set where one can buy a ballpoint pen and matching woodcase pencil.

The pencil is round, with a silver coloured ferrule and white vinyl eraser.

Caran d'Ache Swiss Flag pencil

One pencil had a lead break while sharpening, but I couldn’t repeat that problem. The top photo shows an imperfect sharpening, with maybe a bit too much wood sharpened away. I would blame the sharpener, except that the sharpener continues to do fine with other pencils – and I tried more than one Swiss Flag pencil, more than once. So, I think the photo reflects my experoence.

The lead isn’t a standout, though not bad.

Overall, I think it is a nice, not too serious, fun pencil.

Caran d’Ache 351 pencil

Caran d'Ache 351 pencil

The offerings of Caran d’Ache continue to intrigue.

At first glance, the 351 resembles the Technograph 777. But wait – there is a ferrule and eraser attached.

And the bar code is back in black, imprinted on the pencil’s reverse side. No nice peel-off plastic as was done with the Technograph.

I tried the 351 (a 351-2 to be exact) next to an HB Technograph 777. I really had to do quite a bit of testing to try and convince myself of the Technograph’s superiority. I wasn’t completely successful. In the end I would say that these pencils are very similar – in that range where differences aren’t immediately clear.

Caran d'Ache 351 pencil

While I don’t have any official context, the 351 would seem to be an office or school pencil – but it writes as well as the high end version. Good stuff!

I don’t usually evaluate erasers on woodcase pencils, but I tried the white vinyl eraser on the 351, and it is a surprise, being quite good on a variety of types of paper.

Another point of interest is the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) logo on the pencil. This would make it one of the first retail pencils from a major manufacturer to carry this statement.

Overall, the 351 is a very impressive pencil.

Caran d’Ache Grafwood 775 pencil

Caran d'Ache Grafwood 775 pencil

The Caran d’Ache Grafwood pencil is intriguing.

The pencil is a rounded hexagonal shape, a millimetre or two wider than the Technograph.

Caran d'Ache Grafwood 775 pencil

It has a silver finish, with the very interesting feature of the finish colour corresponding to the lead degree – lighter pencils in a lighter silver, and darker pencils in a darker silver. Each pencil degree is slightly different. This is a great feature, and a huge advance over a degree marking (e.g. ‘B’), possibly hard to read, on the pencil. Of course, this comes at a price to the consumer.

These pencils remind me of Derwent’s offerings. I am remiss in not yet having written about a Derwent pencil here, though I regularly use them.

Caran d'Ache Grafwood 775 pencil

Derwent has a ‘Graphic’ line, and a ‘Sketching’ line. The Graphic pencil is hexagonal, in a typical pencil diameter. The Sketching pencil is round, slightly larger, with a larger graphite core. The idea is that the form factor supports rich lines and easy freehand drawing.

The Grafwood is similarly conceived – a larger diameter pencil (though hexagonal), for easy grip and sketching. Visually, it appears to have a larger than standard (i.e. 2mm) core, but I don’t really want to sacrifice one of the few I have just for dissection.

The lead seems to be at least of the same calibre as the Technograph, and possibly better.

Caran d'Ache Grafwood 775 pencil

At a 2B grade, the graphite seems to be much more solid and non-crumbling than the corresponding Derwent pencil, while giving just as dark a line.

I really like these pencils, and I encourage Caran d’Ache to seek more distribution for their products – I haven’t yet seen anything from their graphite pencil line that isn’t first rate.