Pencil Review: Red Pencils

I have a thing for pencils, particularly red/blue pencils, but you knew that already, didn’t you? So, in my never ending hunt for red/blue pencils, I occasionally come across red marking pencils. These are also extremely useful. For most people, these are correction pencils or grading pencils. For me, these are sketching pencils so my criteria for usefulness is often slightly different.

For grading, teachers are looking for red pencils that can’t be erased. I’ve come to understand that in Japan, there is a tendency to prefer a warmer, red-orange color rather than a bright fire engine red as it seems less harsh  in the already over-angst ridden Japanese educational system.

For correction notes in a professional setting, erasability is an either/or proposition.  It’s not necessary but can be helpful if someone changes their mind about a change in a document.

For sketching, I like being able to erase but for a lot of artists, its not necessary. The point of sketching in red is that you can then ink over your red lines, scan in your drawings in color and then drop out the red channel in RGB and voila! No sketch lines. Hence, the need to erase is not necessary. I like to be able to erase some of the lines just because they can get a little distracting. I like the red lead (or blue, also an option) because its less smudge-y than graphite as its usually wax-based and tends to stay put or fade rather than turn my paper all grey if smudged.

So, I thought I’d round up the pile of red pencils (not artist grade, so there are no Prismacolors or the like in here) that I’ve acquired and show you the differences.

I tested these in a sketchbook with toothy 60lb drawing paper and then did some additional tests on Rhodia smooth paper as well.

The Hex-Shaped:

Viking Valgblyant Jumbo ($3) The Viking is the only jumbo-sized red pencil in the mix and while I’m not sure the original intention for it, I was charmed by its white gloss paint, dipped end and hole drilled in the end as if to hang it by a clipboard for marking off orders. It also erased pretty well so I might work well for quick under sketches on large canvases, for outdoor marking or other big projects. I’m envisioning it used for wall murals maybe?  The thick lead would make it durable too for heavy hands. The lead was a warmer, orangey red but it felt a little dry and chalky overall.

Ticonderoga Erasable Carmine Red ($9.69/doz.) Oh, Ticonderoga. I keep trying. The box I purchased was a “made in Mexico” set I picked up at my local big box office supply store. I was hoping it would bode well for the quality. I resharpened them from the factory “pre-sharpened” point in hopes of getting a less scratchy writing/drawing experience. Overall, it was a pretty dry, hard pencil. It made erasing very challenging as well for a pencil clearly labelled “erasable”. At the price point, they are about $0.80 per pencil which is twice the cost of the Musgraves.

Musgrave Hermitage 510 Thin Red ($0.40) The Musgrave Hermitage Thin is the classic red checking pencil. It’s the least expensive in this group and I’d consider the baseline by which to judge all other red pencils. It is a solid choice. The color is a good true red, the price couldn’t be better and the look is classic. The Hermitage is still made in the USA, it is a fairly sharp hex and has a pleasant creamy consistency.

Mitsubishi Hard 7700 ($2) The Mitsubishi Hard 7700 is cooler in color than their Fine Vermillion 2451 round. The end is unfinished but a beautiful glossy finish with a soft hex shape. It keeps a good point but feels a bit drier on drawing paper than the Ticonderoga.

Of the three hex-shaped red pencils, the Musgrave was my favorite core, the Mitsubishi had the best feel in the hand because of the finish.

The Rounds:

Kitabobshi Red Pencil 9352 ($1) The core of the Kitaboshi Red is the coolest red color of the three round pencils I found. The consistency of the core of the Red and Vermillion feel similar. They are both soft but drier than a Prismacolor.

Kitaboshi Vermillion Pencil 9351 ($1) The Kitaboshi Vermillion is almost the same color and consistency as the Mitsubishi Fine Vermillion Hard. I can’t tell that the core consistency is all that different than the Musgrave or the hex Mitsubishi but if you prefer round pencils over hex shaped pencils, than either of the Kitaboshi would be a good option.

Mitsubishi Fine Vermillion Hard 2451 ($2.50) The biggest difference is that the Mitsubishi Fine Vermillion Hard has a finished end with ferrule and eraser. It’s the most expensive and the exterior finish doesn’t feel any smoother than the Kitaboshi. If you like the warmer red color and like a round pencil, go with the Kitaboshi over the Mitsubishi Fine Hard.

I generally prefer hex-shaped pencils though for colored pencils I love Prismacolors so I do make exceptions. These round red pencils don’t offer more than the hex red pencils.

The Mechanicals:

Pilot Color Eno 0.7mm Mechanical ($2.75 & $1.65 for 6-lead refill) While the mechanical pencil bodies don’t really matter here, the Pilot Color Eno 0.7mm may be the gateway for some into the world of colored mechanical pencil leads. You can put any color lead into any mechanical pencil as long as its the right diameter. The standard Color Eno leads are fairly soft and a little on the pink side.

Uni Kuru Toga 0.7 with Uni Nano Dia 0.7mm Red ($7.50 and $3.30 for 20-piece refill) The Kuru Toga is a favorite mechanical pencil for many folks so I put my favorite red lead into it. I hate to bias this but there you have it. This is my go-to lead as it fits into many of my mechanical pencils (it’s also available in 0.5mm). It’s soft enough to work with a light touch. It’s still a cooler red than the hex pencils but since it is in a mechanical pencil, I don’t have to worry about having a sharpener handy and can lay in fine details for drawings.

If I were only using red pencil for writing, I’d go with the Musgrave Hermitage but since I am mostly using it for sketching, I tend to favor the Uni Nano Dia 0.7mm Red in whatever mechanical pencil strikes my fancy. The leads fit in my vintage Sheaffer Skripserts, my Kaweco Special in Black as well as the Uni Kuru Toga so I have a lot of pencil options.

NOTE: I employed the Doppel-Läufer Universal 0440 rubber eraser ($1.50) for the erasing as it has a grittier end designed for erasing colored pencil and ink. So most pencils erased a bit but red pencils just don’t erase as well as graphite pencils do.

DISCLAIMER: Some items were sent to me free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review. Others were purchased from shops with my own funds. Please see the About page for more details.

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3 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Great review and very comprehensive! How about a Prismacolor Verithin? Though I know they have a specific purpose, I’ve never liked Verithins because they are so hard, but I bet they might be good for writing. In fact, I bet most of the colored pencils I’ve rejected for being too hard for my liking (in terms of coloring/sketching) might be good for writing. I once tried to find a colored pencil to use specifically with FN Expedition/Yupo paper, and the best turned out to be Verithin. Strange! But it just goes to show that every colored pencil has its place (and therefore ALL must be acquired or at least tried).


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