Ergonomically designed and always sharp, mechanical pencils are the ideal tool for artists, writers, designers and other types of creative professionals. Choosing the right mechanical pencil can be a tricky process, however. Because there are a lot of features to pay attention to, it can sometimes be hard to see the forest for the trees.
In this article I will show you the most important features to pay attention to when buying a mechanical pencil and give an overview of the best models for drawing and writing.
Let’s get started!
|Best Mechanical Pencil||Summary||Price||Best Offer|
|rOtring 600||Best overall||$27|
|LAMY 2000 Mechanical Pencil||Best high-end||$57|
|Uni Kuru Toga Pipe Slide||Best on a budget||$6|
|PILOT Dr. Grip Limited Mechanical Pencil||Most ergonomic||$10|
|Pentel Arts GraphGear Gift Set||Best gift set||$54|
|Pilot Color Eno 8 Color Set||Best with colored lead||$11|
|BIC Mechanical Pencil Variety Pack||Best variety pack||$14|
|Pentel Sharp Kerry||Most like fountain pen||$15|
Top Mechanical Pencils in 2021
rOtring mechanical pencils are well known for their high quality German craftsmanship. The rOtring 600 is no exception to that, giving you a pencil that lasts a lifetime.
It features an ergonomic knurled barrel that gives you plenty of grip in every situation. Combined with its excellent weight balance, it offers use for hours at a time without having to deal with fatigue.
Its hexagonal body keeps it from rolling off drafting tables. Under the push button that activates the precise lead advance mechanism you can find a small eraser for correcting your work.
Because of its long lead sleeve at the front, the rOtring 600 is a popular pick for a drafting pencil.
- Precise lead advancement
- Hexagonal shape that prevents rolling or sliding.
- Lead hardness indicator
|Available sizes||0.5, 0.7 mm|
- Great ergonomics and balance
- Tip gives clear page view
- Two year warranty
- Fragile tip
LAMY 2000 Mechanical Pencil
Its polycarbonate Makrolon body is different from that of other mechanical pencils, in that it is both lightweight and solid enough to be dependable. The shape of the body is comfortable to hold and lets you produce smooth, clean handwriting.
It is considerably more expensive than the other mechanical pencils in this lineup, but if you like to write with style, it is certainly worth it.
- Retractable tip
- Replaceable eraser
- Spring loaded pocket clip
|Available sizes||0.5, 0.7 mm|
- Comfortable to use
- Smooth writing
Uni Kuru Toga Pipe Slide
The Uni Kuru Toga Pipe Slide is a mechanical pencil that is hard to beat at its low price point. Exclusive to Uni mechanical pencils, it comes with an automatic rotation mechanism that keeps the lead from flattening on one side. As a result, it always has a sharp tip that creates super thin, consistent lines.
Its plastic body has the potential to get damaged if not handled with enough care. Considering its low price, this might not be too big of a problem.
- Lead rotation mechanism
- Retractable tip
|Available sizes||0.5 mm|
- Crisp writing
- Pleasant grip
- Small, squishy eraser
- Advances short length of lead per click
PILOT Dr. Grip Limited Mechanical Pencil
If you are looking for a mechanical pencil that prioritizes your comfort, look no further than the PILOT Dr. Grip Pencil. It comes with a soft, comfortable grip that prevents strain when you spend hours writing or drawing on end.
The entire line of PILOT Dr. Grip products is commended for ease of use by the Arthritis Foundation. So if you worry about having pain in your hand, these pencils are a good solution.
The grip is a bit on the firm side, however. If you are looking for something even softer, you can take a look at the Uni Kuru Toga Alpha Gel. It comes with a softer grip and an automatic lead rotation mechanism.
- Soft ergonomic grip
- Retractable tip
- Shaker mechanism
|Available sizes||0.5 mm|
- Exceptional comfort
- Great weight distribution
- Luxurious finish
- Not that durable
Pentel Arts GraphGear 1000 Premium Gift Set
The Pentel Arts GraphGear 1000 Premium Gift Set comes with four high quality pencils, each with a different size of lead (0.3, 0.5, 0.7 and 0.9 mm). They each have a different color, so that you can easily distinguish them at a glance and stay focused on your work.
The lead hardness in the pencils can be identified using the built-in hardness indicator. Because of their long 4 mm tip, the pencils are easy to use as a drafting pencil with rulers or templates.
Aside from the pencils themselves, the set also includes four lead refill tubes and four eraser refills. It has practically anything one needs to enjoy these mechanical pencils for a long time. A gift welcomed by any artist, architect, writer or mechanical pencil enthusiast. Or just for yourself, of course!
- Tip is designed to work well with templates and rulers
- Built-in lead hardness indicator
- Dual-action tip retraction system
|Included sizes||0.3, 0.5, 0.7, 0.9 mm|
- Versatile and durable
- Includes high quality lead
- Each pencil is color coded
- Lead refilling can be a hassle
Pilot Color Eno 0.7mm 8 Color Set
If you are not into boring gray graphite lead and prefer colors instead, the Pilot Color Eno 8 Color Set is for you. It features eight separate mechanical pencils, each with a different color.
The 0.7 mm graphite is ideal for both drawing and writing. Unlike regular colored pencils, these will always have a sharp point.
A downside of this kit is that each pencil only comes with two leads inside that wear out quickly. If you plan on using them regularly, it is wise to also buy a set of 0.7 mm colored lead refills.
- Eight different colors of pencil
- Each pencil has an eraser
- Retractable tip
|Available sizes||0.7 mm|
|Colors||Red, Pink, Orange, Yellow, Green, Soft Blue, Blue, Violet|
- Lead size is good for drawing & writing
- Many colors
- Lead is erasable
- Only 2 leads per pencil
- No carrying case
BIC Mechanical Pencil Variety Pack
For people who have a tendency to lose their pencils, or just have multiple children, the BIC Mechanical Pencil Variety Pack is perfect. It comes with 60(!) mechanical pencils. 20 of those have a precision 0.5 mm point, the next 20 are extra strong (0.9 mm), and the remaining 20 are extra sparkly with a medium-sized 0.7 mm point.
You might expect to pay a decent bit for such a set, but nothing is further from the truth. At under 10 bucks, it is a steal for any parent who needs to supply their children with pencils when they go back to school.
- 60 mechanical pencils in three different sizes
- Three leads per pencil
|Included sizes||0.5, 0.7, 0.9 mm|
- Lots of mechanical pencils
- Great value
- Multiple lead sizes
- Environmentally unfriendly
Pentel Sharp Kerry
Mechanical pencils usually look more industrial than attractive. The Pentel Sharp Kerry is different. It sets itself apart by being designed to look like a fountain pen.
With its colorful barrel, capped design and stylish clip it can fool anyone into thinking they are dealing with a fountain pen instead of a mechanical pencil. And even with the cap placed on, it is small enough to function as an EDC (every day carry).
The Sharp Kerry comes in two lead sizes (0.5 and 0.7 mm) and has several color finishes available for you to choose from.
- Removable cap
- Designed to look like a fountain pen
|Available sizes||0.5, 0.7 mm|
- Writes well
- Quality construction
- Multiple barrel color options
- Barrel has limited grip
Buyer’s Guide – What to consider when buying a mechanical pencil
There are so many different mechanical pencils available that it is hard to find the right one if you don’t know what to look for. You can find them made of metal, plastic, metal and plastic, with different lead advance mechanisms and in a variety of lead diameters. Almost any combination is out there for you to buy.
To help you make your decision, I have laid out the most important features and considerations below.
Material and build quality
Not all mechanical pencils are constructed from the same materials. Cheaper ones are typically made out of plastic, whereas the more expensive ones are made using metal. You can also find mechanical pencils that are fabricated with both materials.
Intuitively it makes sense to think that a more expensive metal pencil is better and gives you a superior experience. That is not always the case, however. Depending on your needs, you might want to go with the cheaper plastic option.
Metal mechanical pencils
Metal pencils have a higher quality than their plastic counterpart. Not only does this make them more precise, but they are also more durable. They hold up better under daily use and are more likely to survive being dropped.
Being constructed out of metal also means that these pencils are heavier. Depending on your preferences, this can be a benefit or a drawback.
Heavier mechanical pencils feel more balanced in your hand, allowing you to write or draw with smooter motions. Additionally, you can hold the pencil with a looser grip. This ultimately means less fatigue when using the pencil for prolonged periods of time.
Of course, a metal pencil can also be tiring to use because of its weight. This is why people who need to use the pencil for hours a day often opt for one that is only partially made out of metal. Not every part needs to be constructed out of plastic for a mechanical pencil to be qualitative and durable.
(Partially) metal mechanical pencils are an excellent choice for artists, architects and other professionals. Because of their durability, they are also great options for woodworking, carpentry and other construction-related work.
Plastic mechanical pencils
Plastic pencils are significantly easier to mass produce than metal ones. Their material cost is also lower and because of that, plastic mechanical pencils tend to come in at a much lower price point.
There are several downsides to plastic mechanical pencils, however. For one, their durability is not great. It is relatively easy to break one by being careless or by mishandling it. Forgetting that you have one in your pocket and sitting down is a common way of sending one straight to the trash can.
Because of their light weight, they are also less precise and harder to draw smooth lines with.
Plastic mechanical pencils can still be a good choice for some, mainly because of their low price. If you are on a budget (like a student) or won’t be using the pencil that often, a plastic one will be just fine.
When using a mechanical pencil, you regularly need to advance new lead through the tip. Not every pencil uses the same method for this, so when choosing a pencil this is something to pay attention to.
These are the most common advance mechanisms you will find:
Most mechanical pencils come with a push button to advance lead. When clicked, it advances a certain amount of lead in the direction of the tip. Push buttons are usually placed on top of the pencil, but they can sometimes be found on the side of the pencil or built into the clip.
As the name suggests, automatic mechanical pencils automatically advance the lead. As soon as the last bit of exposed lead is used and the lead sleeve touches the paper, the advancing mechanism activates and gives you more lead.
A downside of this mechanism is that the amount of exposed lead is limited. The lead sleeve also touches the paper a lot of the time. Not everyone likes this when drawing and writing. Because of this, automatic mechanical pencils are not preferred by everyone.
Twist mechanisms advance and retract lead through the use of a twisting knob. This knob is either placed in the nose cone, or in the top cap of the pencil. A big advantage of a twist mechanism is that it lets you set the precise length of lead that sticks out of the tip.
It is an uncommon mechanism in modern mechanical pencils. You are most likely to find it in older pencils that take 0.7mm or wider leads.
Mechanical pencils with a shaker mechanism have only been around for a short period, but it looks like they are here to stay. They allow you to advance lead by shaking the pencil, without first having to reach for a button or knob. This quick method of advancing lead has been welcomed by many who don’t want to be distracted from their work.
The mechanism works through the use of a small weight that slides around inside of the pencil. When you shake the pen fast enough, the weight hits a click mechanism that advances the lead.
Pencils with a shaker mechanism can be a bit bulkier than other pencils. Nearly all of them also have a push button on top, still giving you a choice on how to extend new graphite.
Body knock / bend mechanism
Mechanical pencils with a bend mechanism extend lead after you squeeze the center of their barrel. Just like the shaker mechanism, this enables advancing lead without changing your grip.
This mechanism is not too common and is predominantly used in Tombow OLNO pencils.
Lead advance precision
Aside from the advance mechanism, the advance precision can be an important consideration as well. The more precise the advance, the more consistent the amount of lead is that comes out with each click.
If you use your mechanical pencil a lot, it can be beneficial to have an exact amount of lead come out each time. This allows you to get familiar with it and get more consistent writing and drawing results.
The more you use the pencil, the more important this is. For this reason, it is the professionals and mechanical pencil enthusiasts that feel the most strongly about this feature.
As you can expect, the more expensive pencils tend to have a higher precision. Metal mechanical pencils also generally give higher precision than plastic ones.
One of the most important things to decide on is the size of lead you want to write or draw with. The size always refers to the diameter of the lead, and is measured in millimeters.
Common diameters range from 0.3 mm to 0.9 mm, even though you can find them as small as 0.2 mm and as large as 1.3 mm. This is what they are typically used for:
|Diameter||Writing application||Drawing application|
|≤ 0.4 mm||Fine writing||Detailed drawing with fine lines|
|0.5 mm||Regular||Regular drawing|
|0.7 mm||Regular||Non-detailed drawing|
|≥ 0.9 mm||Bold text||Sketching|
Smaller diameter lead lets you create sharper and finer lines, whereas larger diameter lead is better suited for thick and bold lines. Keep in mind that you have to treat small diameter lead with more care. It is fairly easy to break when too much pressure is applied.
0.5 mm and 0.7 mm are the most versatile, middle ground options. If you are buying your first mechanical pencil, these options are a good place to start.
Most mechanical pencils are only suited for one specific size of lead. If you want to draw or write with a different diameter, you need to buy additional pencils and keep them at hand for when you require a different size.
Some of the more expensive pencils come with an interchangeable mechanism that allows you to switch between diameters. That way, you can use your favorite pencil for all your work.
Just like pencil lead can differ in diameter, it also can in hardness. The hardness (or softness) of pencil lead is expressed with a letter and an optional number. It ranges from 9H to 9B, where 9H is the hardest and 9B the softest. HB and F lie in the middle of the spectrum.
Soft lead is darker, leaves smooth lines and works well for creating shadows. Hard lead makes lighter lines and is better for working on fine details.
You can find plenty of refill kits online that come with a variety of hardnesses. These make it easy to swap out the lead with that of a different hardness.
High-end mechanical pencils often come with a rotating indicator that shows you which type of lead is currently inside of the pencil.
The grip section of a mechanical pencil is your interface with the tool and defines your level of comfort while using it. Especially when using your pencil for long periods of time you want something that is comfortable. Grip size, material and texture all influence your experience.
If you have small hands, a small grip is beneficial. But if you have larger hands or suffer from RSI or arthritis, a bigger grip will give you more comfort.
As for materials: metal and plastic grips are the hardest options. They often come with a texture to increase grip and prevent slipperiness. On the other end of the spectrum are silicone and rubber grips. Their material is grippy or squishy and quickly absorbs your hand’s heat. Plastic and especially metal tend to remain cooler to the touch.
Aside from these basic features, there are also less common ones. You will encounter these less frequently in your search for the best mechanical pencil, but that does not mean that they are of less use.
Some mechanical pencils come with a retractable tip. This retracts the lead sleeve into the nose cone for protection. Not only does this prevent damage to the lead sleeve itself, for example when accidentally dropping the pencil, but it also keeps the pencil from puncturing your leg when you keep it in your pocket. It also prevents scratching other objects that the sleeve might come into contact with.
If the pencil does not come with a cap and you don’t plan on using a case to carry it around, this is a great feature to have.
Something to keep in mind is that retractable tips can be less stable and bulkier than fixed tips. So if you value precision and being able to see your work better, a mechanical pencil with retractable tip might not be the best choice.
Auto lead rotation
A common occurrence with regular mechanical pencils is that the graphite wears down on a single side, creating a flat chisel-like shape at its tip. Because of the small diameter of the graphite, this effect is not as pronounced as with regular pencils.
If this is something that you get bothered by, pencils with auto lead rotation are worth taking a look at.
Auto lead rotation works by rotating the lead a tiny bit each time you press it against your sheet of paper. Instead of ending up with a flat spot, the lead wears down more evenly and has a sharper tip.
Just like with a retractable tip, this mechanism creates a small bit of potentially unwanted movement. If this is not an issue for you, then the Uni-ball Kuru Toga series is the one to buy, as they are the only mechanical pencils that come with auto lead rotation.
Regular mechanical pencils only have a single clutch that holds the lead, usually located way back from the tip. As a result, the pencil lets go of the last centimeter of lead, making that section unusable.
Mechanical pencils with a dual clutch let you use every last bit of lead. Instead of throwing out the last 10-15% of each stick, you can use nearly everything.
A good example of a mechanical pencil with dual clutch mechanism is the Platinum Oleenu Shield.
Frequently asked questions
What is a mechanical pencil?
A mechanical pencil is a pencil with replaceable “lead” (technically graphite). As the graphite wears away, you can extend it through the click of a button. It is the perfect tool for neat, clean writing and technical drawing.
Why use a mechanical pencil?
The big benefit of a mechanical pencil is that it does not get dull. As such, it does not need to be sharpened like a regular pencil. The lead always has the same size and provides you with consistent fine lines, time and time again.
Because mechanical pencils do not need sharpening, they also do not shorten. This gives better writing and drawing experiences, because you get the opportunity to get used to the specific weight and balance of the pencil.
You will also find that the fine lines drawn by a mechanical pencil are easier to erase than that of a regular pencil, and that the cost of buying replacement leads is a lot less than that of buying new pencils.
What to do when a mechanical pencil is jammed?
When you use a mechanical pencil, you will have to deal with lead jams sooner or later. It might not occur often, but it will happen. Luckily, they are not too hard to resolve.
Unscrewing the tip of the pencil is a good place to start. This gives you access to the clutch mechanism. After that, press the push button on the back of the pencil while holding the ring around the clutch jaws, and you should be able to remove any stuck pieces of lead from the jaws.
To unclog the lead sleeve itself you can hold the push button to engage the advance mechanism, before sticking a pin down the tip to dislodge any pieces of lead.
Higher-end pencils sometimes come with a cleaning pin, but if you don’t have access to one, then you can always use a sewing needle, piece of guitar string, etc. Anything that is smaller in diameter than the sleeve and that is unlikely to break off inside.
Why does your mechanical pencil lead keep breaking?
There are several common causes of pencil lead that keeps breaking.
- Extending the lead too far out of the sleeve. Try keeping the extended amount of lead shorter.
- Using colored leads. These tend to be more fragile than their plain graphite counterparts.
- Writing or drawing with a small diameter (≤0.4 mm) of lead and pressing too hard. These sizes need to be handled with more care.
- Using inferior quality leads. Poor manufacturing standards and impurities in graphite can make these prone to breaking. Sticking with well-known, more break-resistant brands of lead will give better results. Notable examples are Pentel Ain Stein and Pilot Neox.
Which lead is darkest?
The softer the lead, the darker the color. However, soft lead also smears and breaks more easily. Instead of going straight to 9B graphite (the softest on the hardness scale), it is recommended to stick to 2B to 4B.
Pilot Neox Graphite pencil lead is a shade darker than equivalent hardness of other brands. If darkness is your priority, that is a good brand to choose.
Does pencil lead expire?
Pencil lead does not expire. You can use it indefinitely, as long as it is stored in the right conditions. It is possible for it to degrade when it is exposed to excessively dry or humid air for a prolonged period of time.
How many leads should you put in a mechanical pencil?
This depends a bit on the pencil and the size of its reservoir, but in general it is recommended to keep somewhere between 1 and 4 pieces in there. The consensus is that more pieces of lead equals more build-up of graphite dust and more jamming.
Can pencil lead kill or poison you?
Nope. Pencil lead does not actually contain any lead. It is made of graphite (a form of carbon) mixed with a clay binder. In small amounts, like those found in a pencil, these substances are harmless.
What brand of mechanical pencils is best?
There is no specific brand that is superior to all others. It often depends on your needs. However, some brands that are known to sell quality mechanical pencils are (in no specific order) rOtring, Pentel, Uni-ball, Zebra, Staedtler and Faber Castell.
How long do mechanical pencils last?
The durability of a mechanical pencil depends on the build quality and on how you treat it. Plastic pencils tend to last the shortest, whereas high quality metal ones can last a lifetime when treated correctly.
Can you insert any diameter lead in a mechanical pencil?
Most mechanical pencils are designed to only accept lead of a specific diameter. But there are pencils with interchangeable mechanisms. These let you insert multiple different lead sizes into a single pencil (not at the same time).
Whether you are writing out equations, creating detailed drawings or simply scratching some quick notes, you need a pencil that is consistent and that you can rely on. A mechanical pencil is the obvious choice.
There are many different mechanical pencils to choose from. When starting out, you can’t go wrong picking one with a 0.5 mm or 0.7 mm lead size. These sizes are thin enough to render fine drawings with, but still provide enough ‘meat’ to write legible text with.
As the all-round best mechanical pencil, I can heartily recommend the rOtring 600. It is my go-to mechanical pencil and in the years that I have used it, it hasn’t let me down.
If you don’t mind spending extra, then you won’t be disappointed by the LAMY 2000. Its combination of a stylish design, light weight and excellent build quality is something that is hard to find in mechanical pencils.
Even on a budget, there are still plenty of options. One that stands out is the Uni Kuru Toga Pipe Slide. With its patented automatic lead rotation mechanism, you can enjoy even sharper lead than you are used to from mechanical pencils.