This has been a post I’ve been planning for a long time. I wanted to compare and test all seven of the Blackwing Editions that have been released thus far against one another. The rub was that I didn’t start my subscription until the second edition, No. 1138. So, thankfully, a kind knitter on Ravelry sent me a brand new No. 725 in order to complete the collection. Then I destroyed it by sharpening it for the test. So, here we go.
I sharpened a fresh Blackwing from each edition to start the test, even if I had one I’d been using to make everything consistent. I used the same sharpener — a brand new Stabilo Swan, mostly because it has a good German blade and its gorgeous. Thanks to Wonderfair in Lawrence, KS for stocking such a cool sharpener! The photos are each of the pencils sharepened, in the order they were released: No, 725 (Sunburst/Newport), No. 211 (John Muir), No. 1138 (Mélîes), No. 24 (Steinbeck), No. 56 (DiMaggio), No. 344 (Dorothea Lange), and No. 530 (Gold Rush).
The No. 56 makes my favorite shavings!
The No. 530 looks amazing and its really golden next to its perfect curl of shavings.
I went through each of the Blackwing Editions and noted the descriptions listed on the Blackwing 602 site regarding the type of graphite used in the edition to help establish if I could tell a notable difference in the performance of each pencil.
The No. 1138 is the only edition listed with the soft graphite and was definitely the darkest lead. Alternately, the first edition released, the No. 725 was the only one with the “balanced graphite” core. All the rest of the editions have used either the firm or extra firm core.
While both the No. 530 and the No. 24 list the “extra firm” graphite, I think the No. 24 graphite seems a bit firmer but it could just be me.
Regarding overall finishes on the pencils, I like the look of the No. 56 ($25 per dozen) the best. I just love those stripes. But the No. 530 ($25 per dozen) metallic gold is quickly moving up the ranks. In a blindfold test though, the pencil that felt best in my hands was the No. 24. The finish of the the Steinbeck is one of the best I’ve ever felt. The lacquer on it is impeccable. Unfortunately, the Steinbeck No.24 is almost impossible to find anymore. The red metallic ferrule on the No. 344 ($25 per dozen) is so cool. It also looks good if you switch out the eraser with a different color though to be honest, none of the stock Palomino erasers work all that well. Your best bet is to use a stand alone eraser if you are inclined to erase. Check out my eraser reviews for my best recommendations.
To give some perspective about the various graphite firmnesses used in the Editions, the firm graphite is the same as what is used in the Blackwing 602. While the “balanced graphite” is the same as the Blackwing Pearl. The “soft graphite” is the same as the original Palomino Blackwing which is colloquially known as the Blacking MMX. As for the “extra firm”, this is a new design as far as I understand it only available through the Editions.
So, to give you a wrap up of how the Editions shake out thus far, there have been one MMX edition, one Pearl edition, three 602 editions and two “extra firm” editions. So, what do you think the release in March 2017 might be? Will Palomino go back to one of their classics like the MMX or Pearl cores or will they try something totally new?
Since the site I found this particular art was all in Spanish I had to rely on some iffy translation software but it looks like Catharsis Studio used over 2500 pencils to create signage for BCN Lip Language School to hang in their lobby out of pencils. I love the script “Lip” and how great it looks out of pencil eraser “dots”.
Clever and colorful but I feel sorry for whoever has to dust this!
Most of my childhood memories of using pencils are dismal at best. I recall many papers looking messy as my left hand smudged across the page, even with standard-issue No. 2 pencils. As soon as I was allowed, I switched to any kind of fast-drying pen available back in the Dark Ages of the ‘70s and never looked back at pencils.
Fast-forward several decades to when I started sketching, and even then I went almost immediately to ink. It was my love for colored pencils in recent years that finally helped make graphite pencils friendly to me. In fact, now I love graphite pencils – for both writing and drawing.
I thought I’d preface my review of JetPens’ 2B Wooden Pencil Sampler with that background so you’d understand why I chose the 2B set. JetPens offers pencil samplers in a range of firmer grades that might be better suited to writing, but I tend to favor softer grades for drawing as well as writing. I was hoping 2B would be a grade that could serve as an all-purpose pencil.
Before I get to the writing experience, a couple things are worth noting about appearance and material quality. Right about the time I had gotten this sampler, I was reading David Rees’ partly practical, mostly satirical book, How to Sharpen Pencils, to improve my hand sharpening technique. The Staedtler Mars Lumographwas the only pencil in the pack that came pre-sharpened, so I was delighted to have four fresh pencils to refine my sharpening skills. The wood casing on both the Uni Mitsubishi 9800 and Uni Mitsubishi 9000felt harder to cut through than either the Tombow Mono 100 or the Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni. At times the wood splintered. What’s more, the exposed graphite cores in the 9800 and 9000 broke when I cut away a bit too much of the wood, so I had to start over. The wood casing on the Hi-Uni was noticeably easier to carve, never splintered, and the core remains unbroken even with the same exposure. I’m not sure if this experience says more about my hand-sharpening skills or about the wood or core quality, but since pencil reviewers rarely mention hard sharpening, I thought I would.
All five pencils are attractive and smoothly lacquered. All but the 9800 have painted caps (I tend to look askance at pencils with exposed ends; they look unfinished to me). The Hi-Uni has a pretty divoted yellow dot in its cap. I give bonus points, though, to the Mono 100, which has a distinctive white band wrapping over the cap – an elegant touch that makes it the most visually appealing of the five. (A practical reason why I appreciate distinctive caps is that I can identify them quickly in my bag, where all my sketching and writing implements stand upright, point down.)
My scribbling, writing and erasing tests and sketches were all done in a Baron Fig notebook, which has just the right amount of tooth for my liking. All five pencils in the 2B sampler are pleasant writers. The Staedtler Mars Lumograph feels the roughest of the five, especially when I shade large areas, but when writing, the roughness gives way to a nice feedback.
The Tombow Mono 100, Uni Mitsubishi 9800 and Uni Mitsubishi 9000 all feel equally smooth when writing. In fact, blindfolded, I’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart. Since I’m familiar with sketching and writing with the Palomino Blackwing, I used it as sort of a “control” factor so I’d have something to compare with. While not quite as soft as the Blackwing (which seems closer to a 3B or 4B), the Hi-Uni and the 9800 feel just as smooth.
Although I don’t usually use an eraser when drawing (or even when writing – I simply strikeout, an old habit from my years of ink use, I guess!), I put a Tombow Mono Zero eraser through my scribble tests to see how they erased. They all erased cleanly, though the four Japanese pencils erased slightly more completely than the Staedtler.
Despite the mild smudging I experienced (unavoidable in the lefty world), I decided that 2B is not too soft for writing in my planner and jotting notes (though I probably wouldn’t choose it for longer drafts). The softness just feels pleasant gliding across the page.
Incidentally, I was a fan of the Tombow Mono (not Mono 100) line and have almost all the grades, so just for fun, I compared a 2B Mono to the 2B Mono 100. I closed my eyes to see if I could tell the difference. Nada. (Maybe their cores are identical and only the branding is different?)
As mentioned previously, the Mars Lumograph has a bit of scratchiness that I notice when writing and when using the side to shade large areas. Although the Mono 100 appears just slightly darker and the Hi-Uni is slightly lighter, the four Japanese pencils are equally smooth as silk in just about any sketching application – the point and the side. In softness, however, the Hi-Uni has them all beat. Not by much, but there’s a certain velvetiness to it that makes it nearly silent. (Nothing annoys me more than a noisy, scratchy pencil when I’m trying to sketch stealthily in public!)
In all my sketches shown here, I started with one of the 2Bs and tried to get as wide a range of tones as possible with only that pencil. I found that with a 2B alone, I couldn’t get quite as dark a tone as I wanted for shadows, so I tended to reach for a softer grade to put in the final dark touches. In other words, a 2B is not a standalone grade for my sketching needs. (I wish JetPens had a 4B sampler – I’d have fun testing that to find the ideal standalone sketching pencil.)
Although I’d be happy with any of the five 2Bs for writing, my top pick for both writing and drawing is the Uni Mitsubishi Hi-Uni. It seems to skim effortlessly and nearly silently across the page; I feel like I could write or sketch with it all day. Since writing this review, I’ve treated myself to the full Hi-Uni range, and the line has surpassed the Tombow Mono as my all-around favorite.
It’s worth noting that my fave is one of the most expensive in the sampler – nearly three times the cost of the 9800. (Only the Mono 100 with its fancy banded cap costs a dime more.) So maybe, I have expensive pencil tastes. But here’s how I look at it: Ranging from $0.85 to $2.60, the sampler pencils average out to $1.70 each. In my mind, the sampler is an excellent value. I got to compare five pencils at a price, per pencil, that’s a lot lower than the two pricey ones – and the cheaper ones turned out to be great pencils, too.
I received my Blackwing Point Guard in the mail last week. As a subscriber to the Blackwing Editions, I only had to pay shipping to receive it so I was willing to try it out, even though I had already heard through the blog phone tree that it wasn’t worth it. Curiosity killed the cat and cost me $3 in shipping and a trip to the PO Box.
The first thing I noticed is that its heavier than any other pencil cap I own. Not like brass-heavy just more substantial, and larger than any of the other pencil caps. Since Blackwing pencils are already exponentially larger than pens and other pencils, sticking a Point Guard on one makes it almost impossible to get it to fit into any pencil or pen case. Euphamistically, its friggin’ huge.
It also does not fit onto the pencil very far. In the photo above, I aligned the cap with the marks on the pencil to show exactly how far the cap fit onto the pencil. I know some people can get a pretty long point on their pencil but that still leaves an awful lot of clearance at the end.
I chose common favorites beyond the Palomino Blackwings like the Prospector, Tombow, Mitsubishi, CDT, General’s Cedar Pointe, Natajar, Faber-Castell Grip 2001 (for its triangular shape), and the Mitsubishi Colour Pencil (its a round barrel and slightly wider) to get a range.
My experience with the Point Guard mirrored many other’s. I found it very difficult to actually get it on to a Blackwing Pearl. I practically had to wrench it on. It sort of broke my heart a little to do it knowing I was marring the paint to do it. I really like Pearls. But for you, I did it. And here’s the proof. Yep. It marked it up. And I had to wrench the Point Guard off again. I mean I looked ridiculous trying to pull the cap off. I can’t imagine trying to pull that cap off in a meeting. I looked like I was wrestling a candy cane out of the mouth a rigor moritised-earthworm. It was not pretty. In a public place, I would have inevitably lost purchase on one or the other and let them fly across the room. Hence, the need to bring in the other pencil caps for comparison. Were they all this difficult to use? Or did they all fall off?
So I started testing the other pencil caps like the transparent plastic Sun-Star and the aluminum caps.Between the plastic Sun-Star caps and the aluminum caps, I was able to cap and shake test all of the pencils shown above and easily remove the caps without endangering those around me. They fit snugly but not TOO snugly. Mostly, these caps keep the points of your pencils from poking you or your carrying case or from the lead breaking in transit. Some of the caps fit better than others with some pencils but clearly the price points are drastically better so its easier to have an assortment of Sun-Star and Kutsuwa Pencil Caps on hand than it is to have more than one Point Guard.
The aluminum caps have slits up the side to make it possible for them to fit wider hex and round barrel pencils more easily. Of course, this means its also possible to stretch the aluminum out so that they no longer fit snugly around a standard hex pencil and wouldn’t pass Blackwing’s rigorous “3-shake test”. But you can find two 8-packs of aluminum Kutsuwa Stad Pencil Caps on Amazon for under $9 so you can outfit an entire dozen of pencils and then some for the cost of ONE Point Guard.
The bottomline: Don’t waste your hard earned pencil funds on the Point Guard. Buy an assortment of these other pencil caps instead or do a search on JetPens for Pencil Caps or ask at your favorite shop or web site for other pencil cap recommendations. I appreciate that Blackwing tried to innovate the pencil cap but in this instance, it just didn’t work.
It’s not everyday that a company unveils a new pencil. Today, Baron Fig announced its new Archer Pencil. Or should I say “rolled” out its new pencil since they are packaged in a matte charcoal paperboard tube? Inside, are snuggled a dozen hexagonal graphite painted pencils with a charcoal tipped ends.
Discreetly stamped in white foil is the Baron Fig bran name and a monoline arrow on the opposite side on the barrel of the pencil just below the the black dipped end. Very nicely designed and very simply branded. The paperboard tube doubles as storage for your pencils much like the tins of yore but with a modern Apple/21st-century twist.
I sharpened the pencils with a 2-step, long-point sharpener and the HB lead had no problem holding the point and keeping a nice point for the duration of my test writing. The Archer is a lighter pencil than a Blackwing since it doesn’t have the large ferrule and eraser on the end so I found it light in the hand and easy to balance. The lead is lighter and harder than the Blackwings as well but that means its a bit less smudgy too. I even did some heavy scrbbing tests after I photographed the writing sample just to verify my instincts, and the Archer really did maintain a god crisp point even after scrubbing a good chunky of graphite on the page.
I’d compare the Archer to one of my favorites, the Faber-Castell Grip 2001 HB, in terms of hardness but the wood is a bit weightier. It smells good too. Yes, I sniffed it. This is a full-service blog.
I really like these pencils but I am biased because I like pencils that are HB, a bit on the harder side without erasers and are well-designed. The price is right and the packaging and design is SPOT-ON.
The Archer is available in a tube of one dozen for $15. You can order today and pencils will start shipping on 10/20.
DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Baron Fig for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.
I was very curious about the Pilot Color Eno Mechanical Pencils ($2.75 each) so I bought all eight colors. The are 0.7mm colored pencils in mechanical pencil form and they are supposed to be erasable in the same vein as the Col-Erase but in mechanical pencils which means that pencil sharpeners would not be needed. So, I thought these would be worth a try. Each pencil is $2.75 each and there are replacement colored leads ($1.65 per tube) in the original formula and newer Neox leads ($3.30 per tube) as well and there are replaceable erasers too. ($1.65 per pack of 5)
Because the leads are 0.7mm, you can get a fine line but there are some sacrifices. If you press too hard on the fine 0.7mm lead, it will snap. But with some of the lighter colors like the yellow, you can’t really see the color unless you bear down on it. Some of the other colors, like the blue, is just too hard and scratchy. You can’t get a rich, creamy color like you can with other colored pencils because the lead had to be formulated such to hold together in such a fine diameter. So, yeah… sacrifices.
Based on my experiments, I wouldn’t recommend getting ALL the colors. I’d recommend getting the “animator’s friends” which would be the soft blue (AKA non-photo or non-repro blue) and red (which is similar to the beloved Col-Erase Vermillion or Carmine Red favored by animators). I would recommend, if you like thes ecolors, to then upgrade to the Neox leads though.
I also like the violet and pink pencils for sketching. The violet is actually quite dark and smooth and, conversely, the pink is pretty light. I liked the pink so much, I actually upgraded the lead to the Neox which doesn’t seem to wear down quite as fast. I burned through three of the standard pink leads in about a week.
Above are some quick sketches using the Pink Neox and the standard soft blue leads.
The colors I wouldn’t recommend are the yellow and the blue. The yellow was just too light to be useful and the blue was the hardest lead of the lot. Maybe I got a dud lead but it was super scratchy and uncooperative. I just couldn’t get it to lay down any color. I might try the Neox lead for the blue pencil to see if I have better luck because the stock lead did not do me any favors. I found the orange and green to be acceptable but not colors I’d race out to buy again.
As for the erasability, I’d not recommend the erasers anymore than I do the erasers on Col-Erase. They do erase a bit but its by no means a complete success. They are just OK. I would recommend trying other erasers like a foam or plastic eraser for better success. The nice thing is that the pencils are not super smudgey like graphite and that their erasable tendencies mean that if you use these as part of a base drawing for a painting or inked artwork, you can choose a color that might coordinate with your overall color palette so that it will blend in and disappear as color is added where graphite might gray your colors.
For sketching in meetings, the Pilot Color ENO mechanical pencils are a lot less intrusive to use rather than being the d-bag who brings in the handheld sharpener and leaves a pile of shavings on the table. They also make it easier to have a good portable kit for travel as the pipe for the lead is fully retractable into the plastic barrel so it will not be damaged in transport.
Note: These pencils were tested on the Block Bitacora spiral-top 90gsm bond paper made by Minerva from Peru. Acquired in one of the many kits received from Rad + Hungry.
DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.
I know there was a lot of hullaballoo about the Blackwing Volumes release this summer of the #56 Joe DiMaggio release. But then just a week or two later, they very quietly released their Blackwing Colors Coloring Pencils collection (set of 12 in presentation box for $19.95) and I couldn’t click the Buy It Now button fast enough.
The set includes 12 colored pencils, produced in Japan. Each pencil is hexagonal and the barrel is completely painted in the color of the lead color (thank you!). The end cap is metallic silver and the logo name is imprinted in metallic silver on each pencil though the color name is not. This no-color-name isn’t a huge issue in a same 12-color set but in low light it can be a bit hard to tell the brown, purple and black pencils apart. Also, it suggests that there aren’t plans for more colors where it might be helpful to clarify between various tones and hues which is a disappointment. But maybe if there is really good feedback and response, other editions will be produced and more colors will be added with names stamped on the pencils for clarity.
From a purely presentation standpoint, these pencils, like all Blackwing products, are flawless. The finish on the pencils is beautiful and silky. The hex shape feels good in the hand. The cedar wood gives them and almost wood chime-like sound when they clink together in my hand. For looks alone, its worth it to have a set of these pencils. They cost the same as a box of Palomino Blackwing 602s, so what are you waiting for? The rest of the review can wait until you place your order…. go on.
Okay, now that you’ve ordered some, what can you expect in terms of quality? The Blackwing Colors are SOFT, creamy colored pencils. I put these pencils up next to Derwent Coloursoft and Prismacolor Premiers and in terms of color and softness, they were right on par. One notable thing about the Blackwing Colors set is that rather than include a white pencil as the last color, they chose to include metallic silver instead. While I find this to be a fun add, if you plan to do any blending, you may want to go out and purchase a white, cream or colorless blender from Prismacolor or Coloursoft to add to your set to help with blending and burnishing.
I did contact Palomino to ask if the pencils were wax- or oil-based colored pencils but I did not get a reply back. Based on this side-by-side comparison with two other wax-based colored pencils, I’d guess that the Blackwing Colors are wax-based but its just a guess. If anyone here’s a definitive, please leave a note in the comments.
As with Prismas and Colorsofts, on textured stocks the Blackwing Colors would wear down quickly because the leads are soft. They did sharpen very easily. I used a Staedtler sharpener which gave a fairly sharp point which is not always recommended for soft colored pencils. I got a little crumbling at the tip because the point was so fine, not unlike an over-sharpened Prisma, but the point of the Blackwing Colors did not break.
I was testing the pencils on Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook paper which has a bit of tooth to it which is why the paper is still showing through on all the color swatches. Later in the day I switched to testing in my current daily notebook (my new Quo Vadis Forum refillable with blank refill, review soon!) which has very smooth paper which is not normally conducive to pencils and the Blackwing Colors worked great. This was a surprising turn of events for me.
I wanted to include what the pencils looked like with examples of blending and burnishing so I did some real quick examples this morning and shot them with my iPhone. The colors aren’t as clean as the other images but you can at least see the effects that can be achieved. I used the red and blue pencil to blend and create purple. Then used the red, pink and orange to blend a lovely sunrise effect. And finally, I blended the bright grass green and yellow together to create some lime-y hues. They all blend well, actually better in person than they look in the photo. And they will also blend well with Prismas, Colorsofts, Derwent Artists and other wax-based pencils. The little bit of smudging you see was from me running my hand over the loose particles rather than blowing them off. The pencils don’t actually smduge.
As for burnishing, I applied a heavy burnishing of white Prismacolor over the background of my drawing and it worked beautifully with the Blackwing Colors creating a more impressionistic look and softening the overall pencil marks. So, the Blackwing Colors are burnish-friendly.
I am absolutely thrilled I purchased the Blackwing Colors colored pencils. They are leaps and bounds better than the Palomino Colors. They are currently only available in the set of 12 so if you burn through one particular color like I seem to be doing with the red and blue pencils, you may want to refer to my Coloursoft and Primsacolor comparisons for open stock replacements. They will certainly not be as pretty a pencil but they are comparable on the inside. Hopefully, Blackwing will get the hint and offer open stock soon as well as more color options. I want turquoise, parma violet and some ochres ASAP!