The Apsara Platinum pencil has its selling point in its name, it is an an Extra Dark writing pencil. We test out this dark graphite pencil and find it to be a very affordable drawing pencil for artists and illustrators of all levels. Has Hindustan Pencils produced one of the better pencils from India? Watch to find out what we think about this ubiquitous pencil with it’s distinctive black and silver colours.
Reviewing the Apsara Platinum Extra Dark Pencils
Samir: Hello and welcome to Stationery Test Drive with Inky Memo. Today we are going to be talking about the very special Apsara Platinum Extra Dark Pencil. I am Samir.
Vishal: I’m Vishal.
Minjal: This is Minjal.
Vishal: Samir, why don’t you tell us about the Apsara Platinum Extra Dark?
About the Hindustan Pencil Company
Samir: The Apsara Platinum Extra Dark, Apsara is a trademark of the Hindustan Pencil Company, which we have mentioned before when we did a episode on the Nataraj Plasto eraser. The Hindustan Pencil Company is one of the largest pencil manufacturers in India and the world. I think at this point they manufacture something like 8 or 9 million pencils a day.
Apsara is their premium brand, Nataraj being their more regular, student-friendly brand. Now the Apsara Platinum Extra Dark is just one of those things that we picked up because it was what was available in a lot of stores we went to and it’s a strange and wonderful pencil, especially if you’re an artist.
Children’s Book Illustration with the Apsara Platinum Extra Dark Pencils
Vishal: Yes, I have used this pencil extensively in personal work and in professional work. Necessity is the mother of invention and certainly a few years ago when we first moved to India and I needed a bunch of pencils without having to you know go all the way across the city of Bombay to get them from an art store. I needed to secure supplies locally, this was the best pencil that I could find.
And I’ll show you the work I did with it in 2017. This doesn’t look like it’s done with a pencil but it has and it’s been done with these very same pencils. This is a children’s book I illustrated and it was entirely illustrated with an Apsara Platinum Extra Dark, taken into a computer and colored. So this is not inked, this is pure pencils and then computer colors. Maybe some of the details of the actual pencils get a bit hidden on camera certainly, but in person and in print you can see the range of values that you can get out of it, without too much effort. It was a lot of fun to do this, it was great to know that I could just go down the street and get them at any time and not worry that I had to you know find a specific kind of pencil or a really expensive one, like a Palomino.
Samir: Or all the excellent Staedtler Mars Lumograph which we have covered in our earlier episode.
Vishal: When you’re working on a deadline, you have to rely on things that you have rather than on the best tool for the job all the time. And at the time when I didn’t have access to very specialized stores where I was living, this was available down the street for Rs.100 for 20 of them, maybe? I don’t even remember, but it’s maybe a dollar or so for a box of 20 of these which comes with the sharpener and an eraser. And an eraser that is not very good. And for understanding that you should see our episode on the Nataraj Plasto eraser which has already been published.
Minjal: So, the Apsara Platinum Extra Dark pencil has no grades?
Vishal: It has no grades like HB, 2B, 4B, etc. but the range of values you can get from it is something that impressed us pretty much immediately.
Samir: In fact if you actually read the inscription, it says ‘Apsara Platinum Extra Dark For Good Handwriting.’
Vishal: For good handwriting, which I don’t possess and maybe Minjal does, so she can show us some handwriting. I mean, it’s a nice hard writing pencil. It’s a good solid thing, it’s kind of rough and tumble. You’re not going to break this point very easily like you can with a lot of pencils. Which is great when you’re working 18 hours and you’re drawing something.
But we didn’t spend 18 hours a day drawing. We did a bit of drawing and writing and stuff, which is what we do on Stationery Test Drive. We’re artists and calligraphers and designers and today Minjal you have come up with, I think it should say ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Minjal Kadakia.’
Graffiti Lettering with the Apsara Platinum Extra Dark Pencils
Minjal: I did not read the inscription, but this is not good handwriting! I actually do a lot of structured lettering, so for a change I tried the graffiti style of writing for this particular piece. I wanted to use the darker side of the pencil.
Vishal & Minjal: The tip pressure so to speak versus the flat for the shadows.
Vishal: The range that you can get out of a single pencil like this is brilliant!
Minjal: I thought maybe you can go up to a 4B I think.
Vishal: This does not have a ‘B’ value – A 2B, 4B, 6B, but I think for my uses, it’s between a 2B and a 4B depending on how much you layer it, what paper you use.
Samir: I tried looking this up and there are a lot of very serious pencil enthusiasts around the world, and they are all quite serious about this pencil and even in places where it isn’t available people do get this pencil because it is considered to be a fairly good one for very inexpensive costs.
I think now it’s actually available in the US in Walmart under their local in-house brand which is Casemate.
Vishal: So Hindustan Pencils produces it?
Samir: Yes, so the Casemate Premium No. 2 pencil is actually pretty much this pencil. And pencil enthusiasts feel that the Apsara Platinum Extra Dark is probably somewhere between a B and a 2B as far as actual grade is concerned.
Vishal: I don’t personally make that much of a distinction. I know I ranted in our Carpenter’s Pencil episode that it wasn’t a 4B!
Minjal: Everyone remembers that!
Figure Drawing with the Apsara Platinum Extra Dark Pencil
Vishal: So I used the Apsara Platinum, of course for drawing. This is again one pencil, on one single sheet of cartridge paper, 140 gsm. Not even the greatest paper in the world and yeah, I love it. I love the range of mark making, of value, of texture that you can get out of it for fairly low effort, fairly low amounts of time. This was maybe 3 or 4 hours maximum, which is fairly low for a pencil drawing of this kind of rendering. But yes, the flat works great for building up value, the tip works great for textured lines. Doing hair especially, you can layer over it, so you can get nice variations of gradients. You can sharpen it down and it holds a point for a decent amount of time.
That’s the other thing, I know that artists go on about whittling things down to this perfect point, so these extra long points, so that we can draw things. When you’re on a deadline, I’m sorry that kind of goes out to the window. Sometimes you have two days to do something, sometimes you have less than that. You just need to be able to put it into a sharpener and get it to work and you don’t care – when you have a couple of dollars for 20 and you have 20 of them sitting around. I know it may seem disrespectful of the tool sometimes, but it’s not disrespectful of the work. If the work is not done it doesn’t matter how good the tool is.
Minjal: So as someone who doesn’t sketch, Vishal would you sit with two or three different pencils?
Vishal: No, no, this is one pencil sharpened once at the beginning and then once when I wanted to put in a few details.
Minjal: So things like the details in the hair are those things you would do at the end because those are really fine?
Vishal: No, no. Let’s talk about this. But, yeah, say for hair, I start off with a lock like that, then I’ll sketch until the highlight and then it’s just a matter of working it over time. You kind of figure out this sort of flicking motion and a certain play to it.
Samir: We actually brought this up, this particular process that Vishal is describing in our episode on the Staedtler Colour Pencils. A lot of detailed rendering in pencils of any kind has a lot to do with just patience and layering.
Vishal: Patience, layering and a certain stance. I can’t call it anything but a stance. It’s like a fighting position, or a dancing position. You understand your tool, you understand the various points that it is creating over time. I know instinctively, I can’t verbalize this but I know where the edges are, where the points are and look I can get different things based on just that intuitive notion of what I want and in there I will add a strand of hair that is thicker, then a strand of hair that’s thinner. And this is not a sharpened pencil, this hasn’t been sharpened since half of this was done.
Samir: Which is why I assume and again while Vishal is drawing maybe he doesn’t think about this but as he’s drawing he’s probably rotating it a little.
Vishal: Yes, I’m rotating it in certain ways. The thing you don’t want, which is the thing that most people who are writing want, is an even line. I want the anomalies. I want it to surprise me sometimes because you will get lines that you didn’t think of as being good lines on handwriting but that are great lines for drawing.
And again it’s very hard to verbalize why that is, intuitive. We talked about this a lot in our episode about the Plasto eraser that each eraser ends up being a signature of the artist because you use it a certain way and you create these sort of facets on it. It’s like Gemology, almost. Speaking of gems, Samir, I’m sure you have a gem for us in in the drawing department.
Typography with the Apsara Platinum Extra Dark Pencils
Samir: As always without planning it, I went in a completely different direction. We have illustration, we have lettering and I kind of went for design. And again this is something that I haven’t done in a few decades. Because back when I was learning design, we actually learned design on paper. At least for a year, graphic design, visual communication, whatever you want to call it, commercial art, whatever it’s called in your part of the world. We spent an entire year or more doing everything, layouts, typography, lettering with traditional media on paper and on board.
Vishal: So you did not touch a computer until your second year of college?
Samir: No, and it had been so long since I had actually done that, and I thought a pencil that has this kind of range but also says that it’s good for writing might be a good place to try out that sort of very formal layout. And yeah this was a lot of fun for me to do after so long but also it really held up.
Vishal: I think the thing that makes it for me is the variety of texture and sort of micro textures that you get within it. It’s lovely.
Samir: And again here I think I probably sharpened the pencil once in the beginning and then I just used the changing nature of the point to do different textures.
Different Types of Sharpeners for Graphite Pencils
Minjal: So, on the topic of points, what sharpeners are we using?
Vishal: Mine, I believe is just the standard, it’s a Staedtler which I might have on hand somewhere.
Samir: It’s a standard Staedtler sharpener.
Vishal: It’s a Staedtler double sort of, there’s one point that does this stubby thing that’s supposed to be for color pencils but like I said when you want to get to a quick point it’s really good. For extra sharp points I used the desk mounted sharpener.
Minjal: The Derwent?
Vishal: Yes! So it gives you this really nice long point which is great when you want to drag a lot of texture across things, especially with the flat side of the lead, but it’s also a good point to have overall because you can really spend a lot of time filing down those facets over the course of a drawing. I think a good sharpener is an important thing and maybe we’ll cover an actual sharpener in a future episode. The Apsara, like we said comes with a sharpener which is perfectly adequate. I don’t really have much experience with it.
Samir: I think from what I have heard other people say as well, it kind of works well for a few sharpening’s and then it just loosens out.
Vishal: Right, because the quality of the metal in those blades is not as good as that of a an actual sharpener that you spend money on. And, unfortunately that’s the case, many of these things are just free giveaways. I would suggest getting that Staedtler because it has kept a point, its kept sharp over the last five or six or seven years, I’ve not had any complaints with it.
Minjal: As far as the desk mounted sharpeners are concerned I think the Derwent is very good.
Vishal: And yes, you can go in and you can use a blade and a craft knife and whittle away a point or whittle away an entire exposed lead. I’m sure this pencil is hard enough to handle it.
Samir: I think that that when we’re working on things in an A4 size, the wedge sharpening of a pencil with a blade or craft knife really doesn’t have too much of benefit.
Vishal: Yeah, you can’t sweep from your elbow or shoulder on an A4.
Samir: I don’t think even an A3 is big enough, maybe an A2. Then you start to see the benefits of having those whittled down wedge-shaped points.
Vishal: But, I also think that there’s something to be said for small drawings. We’ve done drawings smaller than this as well and enjoyed them.
Samir: Minjal, what were your thoughts on this as a writing instrument?
Minjal: I tried using the Apsara Platinum pencil on different types of papers. On cartridge, I thought I couldn’t get a good grip on it as far as writing is concerned, which is why I shifted to a smooth paper. Well, it’s a nice pencil, I’ve also tried using the Lyra and Kohinoor pencils recently which I kind of prefer over these. They’re smoother on the paper, but this is a decent pencil for writing.
Samir: So the Lyra and the Kohinoor that you’re comparing these two are they softer leads?
Minjal: They’re much softer leads. I wanted to ask you since you mentioned studying design and art in school, do you remember which pencils you’ll were advised to start out with?
Samir: Kohinoor’s, Staedtlers.
Samir: But again, it depends on what you are using them for. Daler-Rowney would be used more for if you were doing freehand drawing or something, but if you were doing structured things then probably more Kohinoor. But again these were, as we keep saying, a lot of these come down to personal preferences and conveniences.
Vishal: And cultures, depends on which country you’re in.
Samir: It depends on where the instructor is from and what they have used before, so you would get a variety of recommendations.
Vishal: And we are all about the recommendations, we can completely recommend this pencil. It’s cheap, it’s abundantly available, now you know even in the US it’s available, so go get yourself some. It’s really worth exploring something with it. We’re not claiming that it’s the most artistically sound, it’s not a Blackwing, not a Palomino.
Samir: I mean all of those are very likely much higher quality pencils and obviously also priced accordingly.
Vishal: On that note I think we’re out of here for this. I don’t think there’s really anything bad about this, certainly not at this price point like we said. Even though it’s the premium of the Hindustan Pencils range.
Samir: I believe they have another pencil that’s one step above the Apsara Platinum which I have never tried.
Vishal: I think I have one, it is a black one, it says something?
Minjal: The Matte Magic one. I’ve also used their Nataraj red and black pencil. Unfortunately they’re not as good as they used to be earlier. The writing, it’s just not very good, and the lead seems to be very brittle, it doesn’t really write well at all.
Vishal: The good thing about the Apsara Platinum is that it holds a point.
What kind of wood is used in making Indian Pencils?
Samir: And this is something that might be unique to the Indian pencil industry, but also might be something that’s happened worldwide, which is that as much as the graphite matters, it’s the wood that matters as much and the wood that goes into Indian pencils has changed drastically over the last 60 years.
When Hindustan Pencils started in 1958, the wood that would often be used I believe is the Deodar which is a tropical tree that’s local to India. And somewhere in the 60s the government put a ban on the logging of those trees. These used to grow in the north of India. So ever since then there has been an entire cavalcade of local trees that they have found to be good for pencils.
So pencil wood production has moved from Kashmir now I think about 60% of it is down in Kerala, from Kolam. It’s a little city in Kerala, and now some of it is also moved back to Kashmir, in this little town called Pulwama, where they use Poplar trees. So there’s about five or six different timbers that go into these and the wood that goes into the Nataraj Pencils has changed probably two or three times in the last 60 years.
Minjal: Yeah, well that’s why the difference.
Vishal: It’s fantastic to know that these are still wood, they’re not some space age or cheap composite material that you would expect them to be by now.
Samir: Yeah, so for example, if we look at the core of the Apsara pencil, you have a much more even, light colored wood but we don’t have a Nataraj Pencil here but we’ll cover that at some point, the Nataraj 621 with the black and red, you will find has a more reddish wood with flecks of red in it. So it’s very likely that this uses a Poplar or that kind of higher density wood whereas the Nataraj being a cheaper pencil probably uses the, I forget the name of the tree, but I think it’s the Vata, the local word in Kerala. So, yes it’s very possible that the actual material in the pencil has changed over the years, which might make it more brittle or stronger, depending.
Vishal: And on that hard note I think we’re done. I think you should subscribe and like and leave a comment on whether you’ve tried this pencil, whether you’ve got especially, if you’re not in India, if you’ve got an Indian friend to get you one of these, if you stumbled upon these in your travels, if you’re using the US Walmart version, maybe you didn’t know that it was Made in India, maybe you didn’t know that its wood comes from South India in Kerala which is famous for many other things.
Samir: I believe that the pencils there are called the Casemate No. 2, which of course they’ve added the number just so that people think it’s a normal pencil with a number. But the free sharpener that’s in there is a Nataraj, they didn’t rebrand that one!
Vishal: Wow! So tell us about your experience with this pencil or tell us about the cheap and good pencil that’s there in your part of the world. Please comment, like, subscribe. Go to inkymemo.com and find our newsletter there, where we talk a lot more about the history of pencils and pens and other tools and the people who made them and the people who stumbled upon these wonderful things that we use now for art and our own enjoyment and for your enjoyment, hopefully. And until next time when we’ll have another Stationery Test Drive with something equally enjoyable and wonderful, I’ve been Vishal.
Samir: And Samir.
Minjal: This is Minjal.
Vishal: And give in to the extra dark side!
Get the Apsara Platinum Extra Dark Pencils
Apsara Platinum Extra Dark Pencils 1 Pack X 10 Pencils + Eraser And Sharpener Free – https://amzn.to/3DXM961