We test out the Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 Pencils. The hexagonal blue barrel of the graphite pencil is iconic in the world of art instruments. Staedtler pencils have a strong reputation in general, but the Staedtler Lumograph pencils often make the list of the best graphite pencils around, for beginners to draw with and for seasoned artists. Their easy availability has made them equally popular with students and hobbyists across the world. Do they live up to the hype? Reviewing the Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 Pencil.
Reviewing the Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 Pencils
Samir: Welcome to Stationery Test Drive with Inky Memo, I’m Samir.
Minjal: This is Minjal.
Vishal: And, I’m Vishal and today we’ll be talking about pencils, specifically the Staedtler Mars Lumograph in two varieties 6B and 4B and therefore let us dispense with all the ‘to be or not be’ jokes right now. But before we do anything else, Samir tell us what you’re working on.
Samir: I’ve been working on some figurative drawings. This is a series that started off as a 36 days of type project and I’ve just been doing a series of figures that are intertwined with letters and this has all been done with regular blue fountain pen.
Vishal: But with pencils underneath, so we’re on theme.
Samir: Yes we’re always on theme.
Vishal: Minjal, you don’t have what you’re working on right now but it’s very exciting and I can put in a picture in the video later so tell us about that.
Minjal: I’ve been doing some research because we’re coming out with some really exciting products on Inky Memo, so do keep following us on our website and our social media pages.
Vishal: Which is @inkymemo
Minjal: And, inkymemo.com
Vishal: Right. By the time this comes out I should hopefully have made headway on a little stream of consciousness comic. It’s called ‘Battalion.’ Right now there’s just a couple of pages of pencils which are very light and I don’t think they were done with Mars Lumograph. So let’s get down to graphite.
Samir: So today we are talking about the Mars Lumograph, technically this is the Mars Lumograph 100. The blue pencils that are quite the classic design and Staedtler does produce various other variations of this as well. The 100 series which is the one you’re looking at here comes in 24 degrees, the grades that pencils come in so all the way from 10H to 12B.
Different Grades of Pencils
Vishal: Now let’s explain the scale for people who don’t know. In the middle there is the thing called the HB and that’s the thing we use mostly growing up in school, that’s the most ubiquitous pair.
Samir: Right, so the HB is exactly on the center, and it is kind of the medium grade of pencil. The grades of pencils are called degrees but I know most of us just call them grades or darkness or various other terms.
Vishal: So H is hard and B is black?
Samir: I guess so.
Vishal: Right, conventionally it’s always H and B, I haven’t heard any other way of describing it.
Samir: Because the the thing that most people don’t realize about pencils is that it’s not just graphite. Pencils are in some ways a solid form of paint, in that they have a pigment which is the graphite and the binder which in the case of pencils is usually some sort of clay or maybe now it’s more artificial kind.
Vishal: So this is an industrial clay, this is not the kind of plasticine that you’re using to make pots or terracotta or something.
Vishal: This is some kind of super fine earth material that’s been meld down.
Samir: And I believe the French were the first ones to come up with this technique.
Vishal: Right, so H’s have I’m guessing some kind of more waxiness to them at least that’s how it feels when you’re using.
Samir: Essentially the difference is in the proportion of graphite to clay. The harder the pencil the more clay it has and the softer the pencil the more graphite it has, and HB is where they’re kind of at an equal proportion and those are good for writing, which we use you know for regular writing.
Vishal: You might remember in school that people would tell you to put down your sketches in 2H pencils because it would force you to have a very light line. As you grow up you realize that the light line is better served by using a softer pencil with an easier and softer application. But yes, 2H, 3H up to 10H like you said, these are used more for precision thin light lines, maybe in industrial engineering drawing and on the artistic side of things. Because let’s say while we are multi talented, Samir and I do a lot of illustration and we are going to be using these pencils for illustration today. Minjal does calligraphy so she’ll have a very interesting take on these. But yes we mostly stick to 2B and up, I think most of my pens – pencils whether they’re even mechanical leads that go into push pencils they’re 2B and up I’ve actually not used 4B or 6B and we’ll get into that.
Samir: And Staedtler interestingly goes all the way up to 12B.
Vishal: I have a 10B somewhere, that’s a big fat pencil that’s really good for just laying down grey tones and depending on the paper you can get quite a bit of range. So let’s at least look at the actual work we did. So, Samir show us your test drive piece.
Figurative drawing with the Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 Pencils
Samir: The thing we’re trying to do with this series is to test out each of these tools and see them from each of our points of views and the different kinds of work that we do. And, this is what I came up with. I’ve clearly been in a figurative drawing mode recently. I used both the 4B and the 6B for this, the 6B for some of the darker areas.
Vishal: I think you can really see the range of values, in terms of black to gray that you can get from these pencils.
Samir: Yeah I mean and you can see how much graphite is laid down. I think it’s catching the light on there.
Vishal: We can put an insert in later so people can really appreciate the details. So tell us, how do you get this? This is very textured but that gray is very smooth, then there are hard lines here. Are these all things that you can get with the same pencil right here in this form or do you need to sharpen it differently? How do you sharpen it? How do you treat this? You know, do you use just a box standard pencil sharpener? Tell us about it.
Samir: I think when you’re doing looser drawings, where you want a line that’s more organic, like in figure drawings, you actually don’t need to sharpen things too much because as Vishal was saying earlier about laying down a very light line, you can lay down the light line even with a very blunt tip on the pencil.
Vishal: So let’s just demonstrate it on this piece of paper. Usually you would hold a pencil like you would and this gives you not the the hardest line ever but there is a tip here that I can really control and put down and get a lot of the texture.
Samir: So, yes, this is the reason the pencil is so ubiquitous. It is a very variable and very adjustable medium.
Vishal: And many artists recommend holding it this way, I don’t do that because I’m used to a certain way.
Samir: And also I think the the sort of painterly way of holding a pencil really works if you’re working on a much larger scale.
Vishal: Yes, but for finer things you do, I do enjoy working at this size and you can get quite a bit of mark-making variety here, and you can see that it’s gone quite dark but there’s an under layer of gray. Is that done by layering?
Samir: Yes I think the especially when they’re using softer pencils like the 4B or the 6B it’s very easy, and sometimes essential to layer things rather than just try to put down the darkest shade in a single layer.
Vishal: Right, so you get a gradation and then you can use, you can use your finger or you can use like a blending stump or something to get that real smooth thing. You didn’t do any of that.
Samir: No, because I wanted the texture of the paper to show through, this is a bit of a rough cartridge paper, so I like that look.
Vishal: So on the other end of what you can do with something like this Minjal? Why don’t you show us what you have?
Double pencil calligraphy with the Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 Pencils
Minjal: So I went all out and just decided to have fun with the pencils. I used a 2B and a 4B, and tied them together with rubber bands.
Vishal: That’s interesting.
Minjal: I thought this would also be a great way to teach calligraphy to kids. I conduct workshops and this would be a fun way to get them started.
Vishal: So if I’m understanding this right, you just put these two together and the gap between the two of them forms this exact width.
Minjal: Yes! But, I had to stick to the basic gothic calligraphy principles, which is hold the pencils at an angle of 45 degrees.
Vishal: Show us that grip because we aren’t used to it as artists.
Minjal: So what you do is hold the pencil at 45 degrees, and then you get a stroke which is a combination of a thin stroke and thick stroke together.
Vishal: And how do you taper to a point?
Minjal: You taper it and then, you cheat a little and just round off the edges.
Samir: Which is something you can’t do in a regular calligraphy pen in most cases. Yes, it’s actually a great cheat.
Vishal: Yeah I mean I really like this bit where it overlaps, it gives it a very different look than pen, flat.
Minjal: Well, this is the first time I tried this out!
Vishal: I think it looks great, I think you should do more experiments with this double setup. I think Staedtler should start selling a kit with some kind of 3d printed part that makes the two pencils sit together at various levels.
Minjal: Yeah that would be interesting. Especially since they have the light and darker grades, it helps with smudging, the shadow effect. So, this is something that I’m also going to now try with Urdu and maybe Arabic calligraphy as well.
Vishal: That would be really great because Urdu and calligraphy lend themselves to more flowing letter forms. Leave a comment if you would like to see Minjal demonstrate some of this. Maybe on a future episode we can do a little test drive Part 2 just trying out these various things.
Minjal: Yeah that would be fun.
Samir: Okay so Vishal what do you have?
Cartoon drawing with the Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 Pencils
Vishal: I went a little overboard by attempting a bit too much shading I would say. This is mine.
Minjal: Wow! Okay that’s really nice.
Vishal: So this is 4B and 2B, there is a under drawing, it’s technically cheating I suppose, with my mechanical pencil which is a 0.7 Pentel, I think it’s a 2B nib but again that is for just a very light precision line. I did not do a preliminary sketch or anything, I was figuring out the pose as I went along, so parts of this were drawn later. I did a light layer of 6B and then went in with a blending stump, you can even use a piece of tissue or a piece of rough cardboard.
Vishal: Yeah and then I think I went back in with the 4B for a textured line. A lot of this is layering, so it’ll be one under layer and then a second layer to get that texture in and really separate those highlights, but at the same time you can use it very graphically with just like a single stroke and pull that to get textural bits. I really enjoyed it, I have not really drawn in this style before, I’ve done a bit of pencil work. I did pencils on a children’s book for which I used an Apsara Extra Dark pencil, which we might cover in the future. It does not have a B or H rating, but I would say it’s closer to a 2B and has a decent value range. But a lot of it depends on the paper. This is almost 180 gsm cartridge paper. I think this is the same one, right?
Samir: Yeah I think it’s the same paper.
Best Paper for Drawing with Pencils
Vishal: This paper is slightly ivory, it’s quite rough, so it takes well to things like this pencil. If you watched our other episode on the Pilot Parallel Pen, you’ll see that the paper fought against our work, at least against my work. In that case this very same paper really fights you because the parallel pen requires as flat a surface as possible. In this case that grain, that unevenness works in your favor because it catches all the little ups and downs and divets into things and the graphite really goes in there. So, I would suggest pick a good paper. The pencils might work with a smooth paper like a Bristol board but you’re really not getting the full range that you would get from a rough cartridge paper like this. So even a natural paper would be great, a watercolor paper.
Samir: I think smooth papers can also have a great effect with pencils like this but it will be a very different one.
Vishal: Yeah, you’re not going to get that really nice interplay of rough and line that you get with rough textured paper, you will get a much smoother effect.
Samir: The rough textured paper actually takes care of the mixing. I think the thing that will be complicated by smooth paper is that you would have to make sure that you don’t over shade a particular area.
Vishal: It’s almost like working against a mortar and or a grinding stone where it it falls into those gaps and it fills them up in a more even way, whereas if you were working on a smooth paper it would be too smooth so all your imperfections of putting lines down would then show finally.
Vishal: But in calligraphy, I think a nice clean line and this rubber band technique is something that people should definitely try. What other uses do you see for this other than just drawing and calligraphy? Has anyone written longhand with these things?
Samir: Before we tried this experiment and honestly before seeing Minjal’s work I would have thought that these were not the best writing instruments and that the Mars Lumograph pencils were more kind of shading.
Samir: Right, so Minjal most of your work is and has always been with a pen. What has been your experience of trying to do something finished with a pencil? Because I know your use of a pencil usually would have been just to do construction lines and things like that.
Minjal: So, a lot of calligraphers are experimenting with different mediums, using them in their finished pieces. So this experiment has actually given me the confidence to make final pieces with just a pencil, which you correctly said is used mostly as a drafting medium. And I think it will also be a good experiment to teach kids calligraphy in this manner because otherwise it can be a little intimidating for them to jump straight to fountain pens, and the pencils may be a good medium for them to start out with.
Samir: Something they can be comfortable.
Vishal: And, also there’s the use of non-standard grips, like the way many artists use them, which is where you whittle these down or expose the graphite more with a blade rather than a sharpener, and then I think you could do some very interesting calligraphy things with that.
Vishal: So I think that is all we can cover today for this. The most important question of course is Staedtler or Faber-Castell? And I know the answer, mine is Apsara. Because I mean, Nataraj!
Samir: I think that’s a religious war we don’t need to get into.
Vishal: They are actually in the same town
Vishal: It’s a very strange thing but they’re the two biggest or at least certainly the two most well-known pencil manufacturers in the world. It’s sort of like DC and Marvel! They both jointly hold a lot of the technological copyrights because they’re old enough and they’ve kind of reached a truce on how they make things. I know that growing up both those names had a pedigree to them, Staedtler and Faber-Castell, you’d look for the nice yellow pencils or the blue pencils. And of course, closer to home, here in India we have Nataraj, who has these nice red pencils and now a whole range of them. We are going to look at some very interesting Nataraj pencils in the future, they’re blue and red, and that’s not just the paint on the top. We’ll talk about that in the future episode so stay tuned for that. But before we go let’s just tell you, the viewer about what we’re doing and where you can find us. You can find me at @allvishal on most social media and on allvishal.com, Samir?
Vishal: Subscribe to the Inky Memo newsletter because as fun as these videos are, Samir and Minjal go very much in depth and geeky into stationery things. I don’t think they’ve covered the Staedtler and Faber-Castell story yet but maybe in a future installment. It comes out once a month, it’s not going to be spamming you a lot so enjoy that, enjoy the rest of these episodes, we’ll be putting them out weekly for as long as we can, as long as we can find new and interesting stationery stories and stationery things to test drive. And if there’s a stationery, a piece of stationery, whether it’s a pencil, a pen, a random thing that you would like us to cover and if we can get a hold of it, then absolutely we’ll cover it and so let us know. Reach out to us, we always want to hear from you and I think that’s it. So I usually do this sign up but Samir what do we do with all our stationery?
Samir: Use that stationery!
Get the Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 Pencils
1. Staedtler Mars Lumograph, 12 Pack Graphite Pencils in Metal Case, Break-Resistant Bonded Lead – https://amzn.to/3yNBqbQ
2. Staedtler Mars Lumograph, Graphite Pencils in Metal Case, Break-Resistant Bonded Lead, Grades 12B-10H, Set of 24 – https://amzn.to/3pcS2GE
3. Staedtler Mars Lumograph, 6 Assorted Sketch Pencils For Drawing, Polymer Block Eraser and Metal Sharpener – https://amzn.to/3pfhGL4