Review by Tina Koyama
Although I’ve long been a fan of Blackwing pencils for both drawing and writing, I have no love for the erasers attached to them with their iconic ferrules. In fact, I find them so mediocre that they prompted me to go on a Blackwing eraser hack-a-thon a few years ago. After finding the best block eraser for the job (spoiler alert: my favorite is the Tombow Mono Smart), I now hand-carve erasers to put into my Blackwing ferrules. You can imagine, then, how my graphite-dusted eyebrows perked up when I heard the news: Blackwing now offers a soft handheld eraser ($10 with holder).
Since Blackwing cores are made in Japan, and since Japanese companies make most of the best handheld erasers on the market, I’ve often wondered why Blackwing pencils couldn’t come with better attached erasers. My big hack-a-thon gave me the explanation: While handheld (bar style) erasers are the best form factor for performance, the bars that perform the best are often too soft to use inside a ferrule. Some of my favorite soft plastic or “foam” erasers were too flimsy once I had hacked them to a size that would fit. The softness that makes erasers perform well (a kneadable being best of all) is exactly what makes them unsuitable for ferrule use.
As soon as I touched the new Blackwing handheld, I knew it wouldn’t hold up to ferrule hacking. That was my original intention. But it still looked like a decent eraser worth using, so I decided it was time for another eraser rub-off – this time specifically to challenge the Blackwing.
First, I’ll talk a bit about the eraser and, of course, its “ferrule.” The eraser looks like a standard white plastic eraser of the type most pencil users are familiar with. Designed to look like the iconic ferrule and clip, the holder is made of matte black aluminum with a debossed Blackwing logo. Although it’s heavier than the paper sleeve that most bar erasers are covered with, the holder itself doesn’t add much weight. It’s lighter than I expected. It’s packaged in a simple cardboard box.
Bonus points for being a symmetrical sleeve, so I could turn it around and make it lefty-oriented (no, it’s not a big deal to use a righty-oriented eraser, but when most things in life are upside-down or backward to a lefty, it’s nice to have some things that aren’t).
As with the eraser attached to a Blackwing pencil, the clip pulls the eraser out. The eraser can then be extended, making it easier to hold as the eraser gets smaller. When it’s too small, it can be easily replaced (replacement erasers are 3/$10).
Time for the rub-off! I dug into my eraser collection and pulled out a dozen contenders:
- Tombow Mono Zero
- Tombow Mono
- Tombow Mono Smart
- Tombow Air Touch
- Pentel Hi-Polymer
- Pentel Mark Sheet
- Pentel Ain
- Rabbit (or Sakura) Pure Slim
- Sakura Sumo Grip
- Seed Clear Radar
- Faber-Castell Dust-Free
- Blackwing standard ferrule eraser
I prepped the test sheet (a page of Canson Mixed-Media paper with a mild tooth) with a long swatch of three layers of graphite and a single line that would be the equivalent of a written mark. Both were made with a Blackwing Lab 08.25.22 limited edition pencil, which contains a balanced core (mid-range between Blackwing’s softest and hardest cores). Since I’m a big colored pencil user, I also made a three-layer swatch with a Faber-Castell Polychromos pencil in Pale Geranium Lake.
The first round of testing indicated that all 13 erasers took graphite off eventually, so their differences were mainly in how much effort was needed to remove the marks, how much dust they produced, and their basic “feel.” The Blackwing handheld far outperformed its standard ferruled sister and was a strong defender against the others.
As expected, colored pencil removal performance was spottier. The Blackwing handheld was average in the color category and would not be my first choice (my current favorite for colored pencils is the Rabbit Pure Slim).
For round two, I picked the four erasers I thought were most similar to the Blackwing handheld in terms of performance, dust and “feel”: Tombow Mono, Tombow Air Touch, Pentel Hi-Polymer and Pentel Ain. For this test, I scribbled with the same Blackwing pencil in a Field Notes Brand notebook containing 50-pound Accent Opaque smooth text, which is much less toothy than the mixed media paper. They all performed equally well, including the Blackwing, and all produced similar types and amounts of crumbs. In feel, the Blackwing is most similar to the Tombow Mono; the other three contenders are just slightly firmer than the Blackwing.
Given that the Tombow Mono is a popular favorite among many pencil users for its performance, I’d say the Blackwing handheld is an excellent eraser!
Like most things Blackwing, the question now is less about performance and more about price. When an equivalent-size Mono in a paper sleeve can be had for $3.50, is the aluminum sleeve worth the price? It doesn’t enhance the act of erasing, so its presence is esthetic. Perhaps in a conference room setting, it would look more professional than an eraser used by school kids. But if you just want a solid eraser, the refills without the holder would do the job well at a price comparable to many other good erasers.