Do mechanical drafting pencils make good art tools? Is the Pentel Graph 600 a good mechanical pencil to draw and sketch with? We test this affordable and very well made drafting pencil to find out. Along the way we try drawing with this pump pencil to create abstract line art, product illustration and Ligne Claire children’s book illustration to make up our minds and to help you make up yours.
Reviewing the Pentel Graph 600 Mechanical Pencil
Samir: Hello and welcome to Stationery Test Drive with Inky Memo. Today we are going to be talking about the Pentel Graph 600 Mechanical Pencil but before we get to that I am Samir.
Vishal: I am Vishal.
Minjal: This is Minjal.
Features and Cost of the Pentel Graph 600 Mechanical Pencil
Vishal: Samir tell us about this wonderful mechanical pencil by Pentel. Let’s get one thing out of the way straight. This is not the best pencil that Pentel purports to make. This is the Graph 600, it’s very much in the mid-range, it’s a metal body construction but maybe there’s composites in there. It’s very well-weighted, very well-balanced. It sort of tips towards the front which I know a lot of people don’t like but as someone who’s used this particular pencil for nearly a decade now this is one of my favorite tools.
This is the one that I keep on me, to the point where I keep this one at home because I don’t want to lose it. I’ve kind of gotten a sentimental value for it and I carry a cheaper pencil in my bag going outside, that one’s by Faber-Castell. So, don’t feel bad, it’s a good pencil, it’s just not as good as this one.
Minjal: Also, speaking of cheaper pencils the Pentel Graph 600 is actually available for 250 Indian Rupees.
Vishal: 3 or 4 USD, which is still pretty decent but considering the ceiling for mechanical pencils used to be 1 dollar at most even when growing up and they were all pretty badly engineered and pretty badly made. They were all plastic construction, they would often just break, the clutch measures would get stuck. But, this Pentel 600 is now dozens, if not hundreds of leads later, and it is going strong. I use it a lot and Minjal I think you got this one fairly new, so you’re a convert because I influenced you.
Samir: And I’m going to be influenced very soon to get the third one.
Vishal: I mean there is the Pentel Graph 1200 or 1000 and I’m sure it’s wonderful but I see no reason not to use this. I use this all the time and what we have used it for this week is what we do every week which is artwork made to our own particular strengths and interests with stuff. This is what Minjal has done. Minjal, tell us about this spiral fan.
3D Spiral Ribbon with the Pentel Graph 600 Mechanical Pencil
Minjal: I was actually looking up 3d Alphabets and trying to figure out the construction of the alphabets and I came across this on Pinterest. I thought it would be a nice idea to replicate it using the pencil.
Vishal: So is this a V, an S, a J?
Minjal: It’s actually a ribbon, a 3d spiral ribbon.
Vishal: I think in some ways it comes across more in landscape than in portrait for me.
Samir: It’s one of those abstract pieces of art which you can see in different ways if you just rotate it.
Minjal: I used a metal ruler to create the lines and the grip of this pencil is fantastic, it feels really nice using it.
Vishal: And the consistency of this is what people look for in a mechanical pencil. That’s certainly what I look for partially, you know where you can do either that with a with a ruler but also you can get the same thing.
Samir: The line weight and the line quality stays exactly the same as you want it to.
Minjal: And I am using the original Pentel leads that came with the pencil and again it’s one of the finest, darkest leads that I’ve used in a while.
Vishal: See I don’t even remember what I’m using. One of the weird things that I only really caught on to as an adult is that you can load these up with multiple leads. I think that’s a side effect of getting a pencil this good because all the older ones would get jammed up if you put multiple leads. Whereas this one you can put a dozen leads and sometimes that’s what I’ve done, so I don’t even remember what brand it is. It might be a mix of them. You get colored leads, we’ll talk about those as well.
But this one you can just load a dozen of them and you just have a pencil that’s ever-consistent, if not necessarily sharp because even these pencils have sharp ends that you can develop over time and then sort of rotate into. This is a clutch pencil so we can talk about that mechanism as well which keeps it clutched in a particular orientation. But there are other kinds of mechanical pencils aren’t there?
Samir: Yes, I think most mechanical pencils use a clutch mechanism but there are also some that use a rotary and a screw-based mechanism.
Vishal: And that is one of those newer styles where it kind of keeps everything constantly rotating, where you end up with a much more consistent line overall. It’s always kind of rounded and I think people who write things with it enjoy that. But we as artists want these.
Samir: So those new mechanisms, and I haven’t actually tried one of those, is that this front bit which holds onto the lead is actually a little flexible and any pressure onto it causes a slight rotation of the whole mechanism. So as you write it keeps rotating through like a 360 degrees and therefore you are constantly writing on every edge of the tip of the lead.
Vishal: Minjal, you have 2 papers here, are we allowed to show the other side? Before we get to our own tests.
Minjal: This is the other piece I created.
Samir: And these really showcase the technical pencil quality of these pencils.
Vishal: These are also called technical pencils by a lot of people.
Samir: They have a strangely wide variety of names for this pencil. The generic terms that people call it across the world vary a lot. They’re called technical pencils, they’re called automatic pencils, they’re called mechanical pencils. And in some parts of the world this is also supposedly called a pump pencil.
Vishal: I mean I guess this seems like how you would operate a pump, so that might be where that comes from.
Samir: So more interesting stationery names are always coming out in these videos.
Vishal: See our episode on the Sakura Gelly Roll for ball busting fun, really! Samir, why don’t you show us yours? We rarely show each other what we have done before, so this is all a kind of a surprise for each of us. You have taken the line art quality of this pencil to its maximum.
Ligne Claire Drawing with the Pentel Graph 600 Mechanical Pencil
Samir: What Minjal went for was consistency, I wanted to see how far I can push the variety of line it can make. So I did want consistent lines so that this can be a sort of Ligne Claire style.
Vishal: Ligne Claire, I’m not quite sure how to pronounce it in French but it’s the style that you must have seen in Tintin Comics if you’ve ever seen them, are done in that. It’s a clear line, or a clean line.
Samir: It’s not necessarily a consistent line but one that’s clean. So I did go for that through most of this drawing but I was also trying to see if I could do things like textures. And the weighted pencil just really helps you do things like that.
Vishal: I think the fact that the area where you keep your hands is pretty much entirely a metal construction, it weighs it forward and I told you that some people don’t like that, for an artist, for me it’s brilliant. I like the forward weight.
Samir: Before we talk more about the pencil, this drawing, just on a personal note, this drawing is kind of an inside joke for myself.
Vishal: It’s a throwback as well.
Samir: It’s a throwback to something that I drew 20 years ago. 20 years ago I worked on a children’s book which was called the ‘Higgledy Piggledy House.’ And in it the character of Zach, a little boy is scared by the little mouse that lives in his room. And this drawing for me was kind of a reversal of roles. I’m sure we’ll find the old illustrations and put it on screen.
Tiger Balm Product Illustration with Pentel Graph 600 Mechanical Pencil
Vishal: I’ve done something also for old people, for the various aches and pains that we have. And I kind of went in the other direction of Samir and Minjal, where I didn’t go for precision and I didn’t go for clear line but I used it to build up value and build up a sense of light and shade. And yes this is the same pencil, that’s the thing we like to show on test drive. It’s what you can do, what each of our individual skills can bring to all of these.
Samir: The interesting thing is that we always most of the time seem to come up with three completely different interpretations without actually exchanging notes about it.
Vishal: Yeah, we almost never show each other and say okay you do this, I’ll do that. So this this just comes up however it does. This was literally last minute, I did this without really even knowing what I was drawing when I started drawing it. I knew there was going to be a Tiger because we are into the Year of the Tiger now. So, Happy New Year.
By the time this comes out it’s well into the year but, yeah, this is my favorite pencil, so I know it wouldn’t let me down in terms of being able to pull this off and that’s I think a great thing for any tool to have. You don’t have to worry, there are enough worries as an artist, as a creator, as to what you’re going to put down on the blank page and this one at least you know is going to be there with you along the ride and not not let you down. Every line on this is from one pencil and I think that shows the range literally, figuratively that you can get.
Mechanical Pencil Erasers
Minjal: Also, I was mentioning earlier the eraser on this Pentel Graph 600, the plug is fantastic.
Vishal: Okay, these are not known for being good, just like the old mechanical pencils that we grew up with, the eraser was terrible. But, the Graph 600 eraser plug is superb.
Minjal: The Pentel Graph 600 Mechanical Pencil is a perfect package. It writes well, it looks good and it has a functional eraser.
Vishal: And mind you, not just functional eraser, artists look for erasers of this gauge, of this type. If you buy a electric eraser, it often has a head that’s exactly like this.
I think Tombow makes something called the Mono Zero which is even thinner than this, which is used for pulling out highlights, that’s what most of them are for. You don’t use these for bulk erasing. For that you go and you get the trusty Nataraj Plasto 621 which we have made an episode of and please go and watch that. Are there any downsides to this other than the fact that we love it too much?
Different Lead Sizes for Pentel Graph 600 Mechanical Pencil
Samir: I couldn’t find any. I mean Minjal and Vishal both have one, I just used Vishal’s when I was doing this, I’m definitely getting one. Because I do use a mechanical pencil and I use a 0.7 because I like that thickness. But I use a regular old, plain, generic plastic one and it just does not have the feel of this the thing.
Vishal: The thing I like about the 0.7 specifically is that it you can get a great deal of line expression and width without having to go over it several times. But, you can get very, very thin lines out of this as well. So that would almost mimic a 0.3. And, you can get a really nice wide line too, that’s why I like the 0.7.
Minjal: As much as we love Indian stationery we unanimously love Japanese stationery, right?
Samir: I think we just love stationery. And when we find one that’s just the best example of what it is we love it even more.
Vishal: We certainly have access to a lot of Indian stationery, being in India, but we are not at all jingoistic in that sense, whoever makes a good thing or a bad thing we will try it out.
History of Pentel Co. Ltd.
Samir: Pentel is is not a company that’s known mainly for its pencils.
Vishal: I mean it’s Pen Tel, I’m guessing the pens are the thing.
Samir: No, I mean strangely enough, the name Pentel comes from pen and telling a story. It was a Japanese made-up word that they just kind of made a company name out of it and they started making crayons when they first started in 1947 or so I think.
Minjal: So that would be just like Sakura.
Samir: Yeah, but much later. And what Pentel is actually known for is for inventing the Sign Pen and essentially the Felt Tip Pen because the Sign Pen was the first Felt Tip Pen in the world.
Vishal: And we’ll be covering one of those in a future episode.
Sometimes I’m tempted to try out the Graph 1200 or 1000 because they’re available now. I don’t know if I kind of want to find out whether that’s better or not.
Samir: Just on a personal choice level I think I’ve seen the Graph 1200, the pictures of it anyway, and it just seems a lot bulkier and I don’t know if that would work for my kind of drawing. Like I’m rarely sitting down in a very balanced, technical drawing situation.
Vishal: I like that movement, you know, where the back of the pencil kind of skirts over your knuckle, that’s something that I like having access to with this weightage and this kind of thing. I don’t know if I can find it even in some of our other pencils that we like, like the Apsara Platinum Extra Dark.
If you’re drawing something a bit more like loose when you’re starting off and you want to you want to just put down just any random line, the Pentel Graph 600 works out better and then you can cohere it and then you figure out, okay I can see a shape in there. It’s great for exploration.
As much as Minjal you did technical stuff and Samir did Ligne Claire and I did a much more structured drawing than even I thought I would do. Sometimes you just want to explore and find shapes and then as you go along you can press the pencil in more, as you get more confident, but when you start off you just literally go however you want and then you bring it in, you make something off it. And the Pentel Graph 600, it’s a beauty.
Samir: And that’s the reason why we test out what might seem eventually to be very similar things over and over again. But the point is that each of these objects, each of these tools has a very individual design to it and there might be one that you like and that works for you or the way that you hold the pencil, the way you draw, and it’s important to test out all of these different things and find the one that really works for you.
Vishal: Now, this is a joke in artistic communities where you know you can draw the greatest thing in the world and people will still ask you what pen did you use, but it does make a difference.
Minjal, as a calligrapher is this a thing that happens to you there as well, where people are more interested in what pen you use, than what the actual work is?
Minjal: Yes. If you look at the Instagram accounts of calligraphy artists across the world, the minute they put up an artwork there will be 60 people asking which pen have you used, what ink have you used, what is the nib size?
I think people also sometimes forget, that like we’ve been saying, simple tools, inexpensive tools can also create and produce really solid artwork, so it’s not just about the tools.
Vishal: And at the same time the Pentel Graph 600 is not an inexpensive tool, this is 4 or 5 USD, which is quite a bit for some people, for a pencil. They’ll spend that on their latte but not on a pencil. Whereas I was glad to spend it on this. I’ve seen pencils that are three or four times this, let’s just name names. I tried the Muji one that people seem to love at a Muji store, it was not as good and it was four times as much as this.
Minjal: I’ve used the Staedtler mechanical pencils, not as good.
Vishal: Right, so it comes down to an individual fit. We certainly went with this one, you might love the Staedtler and I’d love to see work you’ve done with that, with the Muji, with some baroque pencil that you’ve carved out of the bone of a endangered species, maybe that works for you. This works for us.
Samir: And again that’s the reason why we are three people testing out the same thing because we don’t always agree on these things. There are many episodes where I like something and Minjal doesn’t or Minjal likes something and Vishal doesn’t, and that’s fine, that’s exactly the point. You need to test these things out and figure out what works for you and once you realize why they work for you then it just lets you find better things quicker.
Vishal: And then you’ll get to that hallowed position where people are just asking you what pen you use because you have gone past that point and understood it but you can’t bring everyone with you. We wish we could bring you on all our journeys but we’ll appreciate that you show up for the rest of our Stationery Test Drives going forward and the ones that we’ve done before.
If you’re new here please follow us online, our names are on screen right now and you can find our social media links in the description. Usually there are links to the products as well, by the way. If you have trouble finding them, some of them are maybe specific to India or specific to elsewhere in the world.
Samir: We try to link them as far as we can.
Vishal: I’m sure you’ll be able to find most of them or equivalents of them. If you do find equivalents of them in the same price range or in the same use range please show us what you have done with them.
Follow us online, follow us on on our social media, follow the Inky Memo newsletter which has many great stories about the history and provenance of tools and techniques. We will be back soon with another test drive, with three new looks at things, sometimes tools that we have never used before or that only one of us has used or that we will vehemently disagreed on as to whether it’s good or not. Until then I’m Vishal.
Samir: I’m Samir.
Minjal: I’m Minjal.
Vishal: And, clutch those pens!
Samir & Vishal: Or pump them!
Get the Pentel Graph 600 Mechanical Pencil
1. Pentel Graph Gear 500 Automatic Drafting Pencil – https://amzn.to/3IT4d1L
2. Pentel Drafting Kit with Graph Gear 500 Automatic Drafting Pencil, 0.7mm, Blue Barrel, Lead and Mini Eraser – https://amzn.to/3IPPGUy
3. Pentel Arts Graph Gear 800 Mechanical Drafting Pencil 0.7mm – https://amzn.to/3iGhvnU