Pencil Review: Yellow Pencil Showdown

Yellow Pencils in Cup

I was totally inspired by my nephew’s back-to-school list this week. It included amongst handy wipes, kleenex and paper towels (who knew kids needed to provide those?) a box of #2 Ticonderoga yellow pencils. Well, you and I both know there are other pencils out there that are far superior to the Ticonderoga but is there a yellow #2 that could get past the watchful eye of a third grade teacher and provide a superior writing experience for my nephew? Let’s put a few to the test!

Yellow Pencils

I went through my stash and found these candidates:

Yellow Pencil writing sample 1

After my first scour through the house, I grabbed every yellow pencil I could find. “Are you yellow? Come with me!” There were a couple pencils that got ruled out immediately for being NOS and unavailable anymore. I didn’t know we had some of these just laying around. Pencil hoarders!

Even though the PaperMate Mongol was a “Made in the USA” NOS it was a bit, dark and scratchy and was ruled out twice. The Baron Fig Archer got ruled out twice as well for being in a set of other colors so not truly a yellow pencil and for being scratchier than the rest.

Yellow Pencil writing sample smudge test

I did a smudge test using a cotton swab with all of them. I borrowed the cotton swab idea from pen testing (light bulb moment!) so that I could use a fresh swab for each one and not have graphite-y fingers. The Eagle, Musgrave, Calendar, Koh-i-noor and Badger were the best performers here.

Overall the Koh-i-noor was the hardest of the pencils. The vintage Eagle HB was the second hardest and secretly my favorite but was not the winner simply because it would be unfair to give top billing to a pencil that is hard to get. But it was a silky writer and I collected all the NOS Eagle HBs in the house into a squirrel hole. MINE! If you prefer a harder, lighter color the Koh-i-noor might suit your tastes. Also if you tend to use smoother paper, the harder lead is nice.

I tested all these pencils on Moleskine paper which is a fairly smooth stock. And they were all freshly sharpened with a KUM two-step long point sharpener to a fresh point. The factory points are just not good enough and sometimes are a bit scratchy.

Yellow Pencil Finalists

After initial test, I narrowed down to seven finalists. These are the pencils that I think are good alternatives to the big box store Dixon Ticonderogas currently available.

Yellow Pencil writing sample 3

So based on price and availability, these were my best choice recommendations for other yellow pencils:

  1. General’s Badger #2 ($0.75 each)
  2. Musgrave Harvest 320 #2 (0.35)
  3. Caran d’Ache 351-2 Yellow School Pencil ($2 each)
  4. Mitsubishi  9852 HB ($1.30 each)
  5. General’s Carbo-Weld Supreme 550 #2 ($1.10 each)
  6. Dixon Ticonderoga 1388-2  USA HB Soft (NOS)
  7. General’s Pacific 365 #2 ($0.80)

The General’s Badger is an American made pencil that writes well and passed with both myself and my faithful husband who got roped into testing pencils with me. We played with them on drawing paper and writing paper over several nights and both agreed that the Badger was our favorite. Bob writes with a heavier hand than I do but we settled on the Badger as the best all-around pencil. It is a little more expensive that the Musgrave Harvest but provided a smoother writing experience. We liked the finish on the pencil too.

The Musgrave Harvest took second place for being the most reasonably priced option with good point retention, American-made and an all-around good alternative to the Ticonderoga. It’s darker golden color and gold foil gives it a classic nostalgic look too.

Third place is the Caran d’Ache Yellow School pencil which is pencil poshness. It has a silky writing experience albeit a little harder and lighter than some of the others, a great eraser and the paint exterior is top notch. Of course, it also comes with a premium price tag. If you want the feel of a back-to-school pencil at fancy boarding school prices, this is the one for you.

The Mitsubishi 9852 “Master Writing” HB is a little bit softer, darker writing experience but it gives this pencil an amazingly smooth, silky writing experience. The pencil is a yellow-orange color with a bronze ferrule which gives it a unique look. It’s on the pricier end but well worth it.

General’s CarboWeld Supreme 550 #2  is another solid option from this American classic. Its a bit more expensive than the Badger. It’s slightly smoother and maybe a bit darker than the Badger.

And the last option was a tie between the General’s Pacific and the Dixon Ticonderoga NOS. The Pacific is a little less expensive than the CarboWeld Supreme 550 #2 but still provided a great writing experience. Of course, if you can find a dozen NOS Ticonderogas in the wild, it’s worth grabbing them while you still can. They really are gems. I didn’t believe the “they don’t make ’em like they used to” adage until I picked up these NOS pencils and used them again.

Go forth and get your back-to-school on!

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16 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Kindergarten teacher here- the biggest issue teachers have with the “cheap” pencils is not the quality of the writing experience as far as the lead goes– is that the point breaks every two seconds! The low quality yellow pencils that parents sometimes try to send in to school often times break even as they are being sharpened in the pencil sharpener. We end up sharpening half the pencil away before we can finally get a point that will stay. Then we go through our pencil supply very quickly and end up buying pencils for our students out of our own pockets 🙁 Thanks for the great review!

  2. I know this doesn’t reflect on the actual usability of a pencil, but for pure aesthetics:

    The Ticonderoga has all that lovely green, which goes nicely with the yellow (not goldenrod – yay!) I kinda like the “soft” label as a secondary trait.

    The Mitsubishi has the black and blue, which keep it from looking boring.

    Look at all the aesthetic variations of the LE Blackwings, for example.

    Sad that the Ticonderoga is mostly flash with little substance 🙁

  3. Thanks for the review and ranking. So, a question from someone relatively new into the pencil domain: what does NOS stand for?

  4. I always thought it was weird for schools to ask for yellow n°2 pencils ; is it really a mandatory thing, or just a suggestion? What if you give your kids blue Staedtler Norica (for example)?
    When I was a student (in Europe), I remember we were given recommendations like HB/2B pencils or mechanical pencils, but it was just a recommendation.
    Now that almost all big box store yellow pencils aren’t made in USA anymore, and that the quality is dropping and dropping, it’s too bad students are (almost) forced to learn with crappy tools!
    I learnt with crappy pencils too (cheap supermarket things. Not yellow but very crappy), and that “disgusted” me of using pencils for approximately 20 years, before coming back to quality pencils, and rediscovering them 🙂
    I highly suggest you to sneak some good yellow ones in your Nephew’s box! I’m pretty sure he’ll notice the difference, but his teacher won’t!

    1. My first thought was Hackwing-ing his pencils too so they would look cool too. My nephew is already a bit of a freethinking kid so I think he’d appreciate a subversive pencil experience.

  5. No General’s Semi-Hex? I actually prefer it to the Badger. The #1 is amazing and the #2 feels a bit darker with less effort and somewhat cheaper.

        1. LOL. I will certainly remedy the situation. I’m always shocked how, despite copious amounts of pencils, there’s always something I’m missing.

  6. Wow, the differences between different countries is huge, and is it specified that they needed to be yellow? Here in New Zealand, pencil brands tend to be Staedtler and Faber-Castell, plus some Mitsubishi and generic store brands. The pencil from my childhood was the red and black Staedtler tradition 110 in HB.

    1. Oddly, yes. The paperwork said “yellow” otherwise my nephew would be packed off with some Blackwing 602s just because Auntie likes to spoil her charges.

  7. As a parent on the 8th year of buying pencils, schools only specify a brand when they’re trying to avoid getting an alternative that doesn’t consistently perform, so it ends up being a waste of money AND time. Glue sticks, pencils, scissors and crayons tend to be specified by brand.

    So his teacher’s won’t care or notice what he’s writing with, as long as he doesn’t have to run up and resharpen every 5 minutes.

    Be aware that in the younger grades, where students often sit at group tables, everyone at a table of 4-6 uses the same pile of supplies. So sending in nicer pencils doesn’t mean your kid will get to use it.

    I ordered personalized Dixon pencils from eBay for my daughter’s kindergarten year – they came in red, blue, green and purple, with her name in silver. She had her own cup of crayons and pencils (side note: Her teacher collected frosting containers, and then personalized them for each child.)

    First grade she still had colorful Dixons left (I overbought). But she kept coming home with random yellow pencils that weren’t hers, because that what was left in the group cup. She was also sick way more often in 1st grade…

    We also like a brand called USA Gold. My little leftie prefers them – they don’t smear as much as the Ticonderogas.

    1. As a lefty, I discovered red and blue pencils which are wax-based and don’t smudge at all. I had to reach adulthood before I could use them but I pretty much swear by them now — especially the red/blue combo ones. Smudgy hands were the worst as a lefty. As soon as she can switch to a mechanical pencil, and good quality leads, she’ll be very happy!

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