Review by Tina Koyama
Mechanical pencils and lead holders are not a large part of my (otherwise vast) stationery stash. I have a few clutches for art materials, and I keep a couple of mechanicals on principle, but I love woodcased pencils so much more for tactical and esthetic reasons that I don’t reach for mechanicals often.
Recently, however, I heard about some colored leads made by Caran d’Ache that got my attention. I’ve long been a huge fan of Caran d’Ache woodcased colored pencils . . . I couldn’t resist trying the Swiss company’s 2mm colored leads (set of 4/$20.50)!
Sold in a set of four leads – one each of yellow, red, blue and green – they come packaged in a slim, transparent tube. Let me get this picky complaint out of the way: The tiny stopper on the soft tube is a bear to pull off. It would have been nice to see these dearly priced leads packed in a hard plastic box (certainly I’ve seen graphite leads sold in such boxes, including Caran d’Ache’s own graphite leads). With that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.
While making basic scribbles, I was immediately taken by how soft these 2mm leads are. A couple of years ago, I reviewed Koh-i-Noor’s Diamond Lead Holder Drawing Pencils with colored leads, which were the best colored leads I had used up to then. Although I wouldn’t have called them “soft” by woodcased pencil standards, they were satisfactorily soft to sketch with. The Caran d’Ache leads are significantly softer yet! Mind you, not creamy-Prismacolor soft – I’m not sure it’s possible to fairly compare a clutch lead with a woodcased pencil – but soft enough to make me sit up straight. These were different!
As a convention, I tested for erasing also, though I wasn’t optimistic. I first tried a Tombow Mono Smart (which was a finalist in my Blackwing eraser hack-a-thon), and the color barely budged. Then I tried the Seed Sun Dolphin 3 electric eraser (a favorite in my eraser rub-off challenge), and it didn’t fare much better. Don’t bother erasing these.
It was time for the only test that really matters to me: the sketch test. Stupidly, I couldn’t find my Koh-i-Noor Diamond lead holders until after I had finished the sketch, so I used what I had easily at hand, a Mitsubishi Uni lead holder, and changed the lead each time I needed a different color. (Yes, it was tedious and annoying, but I was so eager to get to the sketch that I couldn’t take the time to keep looking.) The pigment applied and blended beautifully, just like many woodcased colored pencils, and look at the rich hues that resulted!
As I said, it’s hard for me to compare a lead with a woodcased pencil, but I’d put it somewhere in the range of a Faber-Castell Polychromos, which is on the harder end of the scale of artist-quality pencils. And the pigment content is right up there with the quality I would expect from any colored pencil bearing Caran d’Ache’s name.
Immediately after I finished the sketch, I remembered where I had put my Koh-i-Noor lead holders, so I filled the appropriate colors with these remarkable Caran d’Ache leads. I also gave passing thought to my Pentel Multi 8 2mm lead holder, but I knew from my experience with the Koh-i-Noor leads that I’d have to break the Caran d’Ache leads to get them to fit. The heck if I’m going to break leads that cost more than $5 each! I will happily use them in my Koh-i-Noor lead holders. (Goldspot, which provided the Caran d’Ache leads, also carries a 2mm Caran d’Ache Fixpencil lead holder, but only in black.)