Palomino Blackwing

I was quite excited when I received some of the new Palomino Blackwings yesterday. I sharpened one in my Deli 0635 pencil sharpener and took it to the office. Later that day I tried the Palomino Blackwing out, writing a word or two and was amazed: The pencil was incredibly smooth, very dark and did not smear as much as expected from such a soft pencil. In the afternoon I took it to a meeting to take some notes, but when I tried to use it in a real life situation I became disillusioned pretty fast. I found it necessary to constantly rotate the pencil to keep the point from becoming too wide. I usually use very few pressure and in this case, too, I used very few pressure (this type of pressure and angle normally does not even make the Kuru Toga engine revolve), still the point was just eroding away more and more.

T-Prime and Palomino BW. More in common than the eraser colour.
The 602 after one line

This behaviour is very different to a Blackwing 602, which will keep the point for much longer. The Palomino Blackwing did actually remind me of another pencil I like, the TiTi T-Prime B (previously mentioned here). Both are very dark, very soft, the Palomino Blackwing even more so, but both are not pencils I would like to pick up when I have to write something, just because they use up so fast that they need constant sharpening.

The Palomino BW after one line

Please do no think that this is supposed to be an objective review. Without specialist equipment to replicate the same conditions this is obviously not possible, e.g. applying the same pressure. (In a previous blog post Lexikaliker mentioned two devices that would do just that, the Elcometer 501 and 3086). Despite my unscientific approach: the thickness of the lines in the beginning and the end should give an indication of what I tried to describe. The pencils were sharpened using a Möbius + Ruppert’s grenade. The paper is from Rhodia (Bloc Rhodia Nº 13).

The 602 keeps a finer point longer

The Palomino Blackwing is a great pencil, one of the smoothest pencils I have ever used …I just find it too impractical for writing small text (my lower-case letters are usually 2mm (1/16″) high). It might be better suited for other tasks, such as drawing or writing large letters, where you need a thicker line. Who knows, the Palomino Blackwing might still become a success story despite this problem, maybe it will be the new Moleskine. Moleskine’s paper does not seem to be the best for fountain pens, but we all know how popular it is today. I was told that in Chinese fairy tales the beautiful girl is usually ‘a bit ill’, which is supposed to make her even more ‘precious’. This reminds me of Moleskine and the Palomino Blackwing.

  • I would like to thank Sean for the Blackwings.
  • I would like to thank Kent for the TiTi T-Prime B.
  • The Blackwing 602 used in this comparison is the version with U.S.A. printed on the body, but without the black stripe on the ferrule.
  • I referred to the Elcometer and a blog post from Lexikaliker. These devices move a pencil over a surface under a fixed pressure and angle to the surface. The purpose of these tests, scratch hardness tests (Wolff-Willborn tests) is actually to determine the resistance of coating materials or lacquers to scratch effects on the surface, not to test the pencils themselves.

34 thoughts on “Palomino Blackwing”

  1. nippyhedgehog

    Thank you very much for this review. Ever since the news of the Blackwing’s return I have been wondering how the new version’s point would hold up compared to the old Blackwing.

    I have ordered a dozen of the new Blackwings and look forward to testing them myself, but in the meantime I appreciate your assessment of the point retention.

  2. Nippyhedgehog, I think the difference between the BW602 and the PBW is even bigger than what the scanned lines of text suggest, but it would be great to hear what you think. Will you use them for writing text? It would be great if you could leave a comment with your first impression after you tried them out.

  3. Thanks for the review! Sadly I do not have the other reference pencils with which to really understand he comparisons, but I have my own box on the way, and will try to do some comparing of my own.

    Sadly, I also prefer to write rather small, and will probably have trouble finding a good use for my PBWs. If it lays down a line like my 4B Penmanship pencil, I may be able to put it to some limited use (headers and such), but I really won’t know until I have it in my had.

    Still, it’s a bit disappointing that the point retention is a bit weak, even if it’s been mentioned in a few of the early reviews. I’d have liked to see something that could be used as a slick writing tool.

    Thanks again!

  4. Thanks for a thorough review and some really nice photos. I haven’t heard of an Elcometer before, maybe I should read Lexikaler’s posts more carefully. Anyway, thanks for the education.

    I too have the KuruToga problem (or does KuruToga have a problem with us?) – which means I consider myself a light writer.

    A flock of Blackwings landed here on my porch and like you I couldn’t wait to try them out in real life.

    I can’t be scientific about it, but to me this pencil is very practical, as I write mostly on newsprint like papers – it does really make a mark, it also photocopies very well. These advantages taken in consideration I don’t mind the more frequent sharpening. I haven’t had problems with a very fast wear – I think, I write small as well – maybe it’s the paper?

    BTW. I have an Itoya pencil, which I think is my closest match. The penmanship 4B Roberts mentions isn’t quite as dark – the wider core in both pencils makes the line blur quite a bit. Not a real match for the Palomino Blackwing

    Regards Henrik

  5. Robert, I find point retention weak when you really have to write notes. For the odd word here and there it’s great (Reminds me of a comment I read at Dave’s blog: nothing longer than writing ‘Dentist 3.30’ in a diary). So I have one lying on my keyboard at home and one on my keyboard in the office and I grab it for little things. Please let us know how you will use your PBWs in the end.

    Dave, sorry I nearly didn’t see your comment it was in the spam folder. Not long ago there was a day with >250 spam comments. I think the spam filter is a bit strict now (caught > 3000 spam since I started using it). Please let me know if you write a comment and it does not appear, I will then try to ‘locate’ it.

    Henrik, I remembered the Elcometer, but couldn’t find it after glancing over all posts. In the end Lexikaliker told me were it was. I noticed that people from countries were you do not write with fountain pens in school hold them at strange angles. I wonder therefore whether there is a correlation and whether the Kuru Toga problem is more likely to affect fountain pen users. Great that the PBW works great for you. I am sure there are many people who will love it. Some people write all text in upper case letters. I should try that with the PBW. It might be just the right pencil for this sort of thing. Thank you for your insights on the Itoya and Penmanship pencils.

  6. Great review, and great photos. Like Henrik, I’ve found the new Blackwing to be great for newsprint — it’s become my favorite crossword pencil quickly!

  7. Ok! I’ll agree to the fast wear of the lead. I had mine Thursday and today Saturday I can only see half a “g” in the word Blackwing printed just below the ferrule 🙂 . Maybe I’ve been overdoing it a little – but I find it a great pencil. Like John I use it for crosswords too. One of the Blackwing quotes (can’t remember where or whom)goes: “It’s a great pencil – it wears down so fast that I really feel I get something done”. 🙂
    regards Henrik

  8. nippyhedgehog

    My shipment of Palomino Blackwings arrived, and today I had a chance to test the Palomino Blackwing against the original Blackwing. I do find that the point of the Palomino Blackwing wears more quickly than the original Blackwing, but the Palomino Blackwing does lay down a darker line, which I like. I agree with you that it is necessary to constantly rotate the pencil barrel on the Palomino Blackwing to keep the point from becoming too wide.

    Another thing I noticed: the ferrule doesn’t grip the eraser holder well enough to keep the eraser from slipping down back into the ferrule when you try to move the eraser out and expose more of the eraser.

    A final thought: I am a big fan of the Palomino 2B pencil. It seems as smooth and dark in the line it lays down, and about the same in point wear, as the Palomino Blackwing. Can any one tell me — is there any difference between these two pencils in terms of graphite performance? I can’t discern any from my initial testing.

  9. @ nippyhedgehog: well, I had the idea too: are we having a 2B in disguise? I think not – I can’t prove anything scientifically, but to me the feel is different (softer) and the blackness from the PBW seems “more black”. I used cartridge paper and news print for my comparison.
    Another small bonus: I’ve found that I do not need an extender for the last 3 cm. of the PBW. The ferrule acts nicely as one.
    I haven’t had any problems with ferrule and eraser like the one you mention.


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  11. Great post Memm!

    I would agree that the Palomino BW is not just a version of their 2B. The BW is a bit softer and smoother. I can’t remember where I saw it—I think it was a comment posted by WoodChuck—but the extent to which the lead is similar to the original BW was him asking the manufacturer to “get it as close as possible” to the original.

    re: the ferrule — all you need to do is slightly pinch the ferrule shut, this will create more ‘grab’ on the sides. I’ve had to do this with most of the BWs I’ve had.

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  13. Memm,

    This has definitely been my experience, too. I take a lot of notes in my profession, and I am turning the point a lot with the Blackwing. I’ve mostly been using it to sketch out sitemaps for websites, annotating notes on a page, and other notetaking that doesn’t involve a lot of straight, rapid writing. It’s really good for that. Otherwise, I use a Golden Bear or an HB Palomino to take notes.

    Thanks for the review!

  14. I agree with it not being a Palomino 2B. In addition to increased darkness, the color/tone/temperature of the lead in the Blackwing is just different to me. If that makes ANY sense. 🙂

  15. Just got mine and sharpened one up. First impression is that it’s too soft and fragile for a sharp acute point. That’s not a terrible surprise, but a disappointment nonetheless. It is indeed smooth and dark for a pencil, to my hand a sort of powdery version of a Uni Penmanship 4B. Without doing lots of side-by-sides, my impression is that the Uni Penmanship is better at a fine point, being equally smooth (if not slightly smoother) and dark while being a little stronger and more resistant to breakage. Unlike Henrik, I do not get any “blurring”, but perhaps that is because I am comparing sharp pencils, where the the thickness of the lead does not impact line width at all. Perhaps the Palomino degrades a bit more gracefully as it gets dull due to the thinner lead, but I haven’t tried that. I suppose if I crush the point a little after sharpening, I’ll probably get a little less snapping, which might make the PBW usable for some applications.

    I hardly need to mention the pencil’s finishing. If the lead were stronger, I’d probably be tempted to strip them and make a lacquer project out of them. However, I must say the ferrule is very clean and well-executed, at least aesthetically. When one of these gets short enough, I’ll probably take the ferrule off and see how it looks on more attractive pencils. I’ll also probably cut out some black erasers for it, if I find the design usable enough.

    I’ll give them some more paper time and see how they hold up. They’re not bad pencils at all, but I am going to have trouble finding a use for them due to their fragility. My smoothest pencils only get limited use, and they seem to me to be marginally better performers than the PBW. Time may change my opinions, but currently I feel like I have superior pencils for almost every application I can think of.

  16. I received my dozen of Blackwings yesterday. First, disappointments:
    – the quality of the print and lacquer is worse than I expected even after some critical reviews;
    – it does not keep sharp point for a long time;
    – the impression of the graphite is like it is not graphite at all rather something polymeric.
    Now for the good things. It writes nicely and smoothly. It has a very nice and distinctive ferrule. It looks like something [almost] nobody ever seen. Overall the experience is more than positive.

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  18. memm, your posts are enjoyable to read all the way to the annotations.

    First impression, a highly subjective one:
    Judging in its own right instead of as a resurrection of the original bw 602 (which I haven’t tried) I like California Republic’s interpretation of the name ‘blackwing’ quite a lot. Overall the design is elegant, the pencil is very pleasing to look at. Several reviews said otherwise but to me the black paint is of high quality, the imprint, the band and the golden ferrule go extremely well with this shade of black*. I especially appreciate the gold imprint not being shiny, it’d otherwise be distracting. Also it is an enjoyment to touch this pencil, it is uniform and smooth yet not slippery.

    It doesn’t seem to wear down as fast as a Staedtler 4B, which has comparable darkness. As for smoothness, I only wrote with it for a few hours so far, the impression may change later, but for now it feels smoother than Staedtler 4B, can be smoother or less so than a K-I-N progresso 4B depending on paper.
    * yes I assume there are different shades of black. the mirado classical black for example has a slightly paler shade and lacks the luster.

    More on wear rate, Woodchuck mentioned using a mechanical device to measure “the wear rates as determined by the length of line drawn per millimeter of wear under constant pressure”. Not sure if it’s one of the devices described on Lexikaliker.

  19. Thank you for your kind comments.

    Claire, I haven’t used a 4B, but used the Staedtler Mars Lumograph 3B a few times for writing (but normally avoid soft pencils, not only because of the sharpening, but also because I prefer lighter lines to dark lines that smear – this of course depends on the paper and purpose of writing).
    When I read Woodchuck’s post I thought of the Elcometer, too. 8^)

    I started using the new Palomino Blackwing 602, which is much better for writing. This week, after a few days of use, the ferrule came off. that’s not nice. I wonder whether this is a one off problem or whether the ferrules are not attached as well as they should.

  20. Cedar must be a softer wood because the bite marks left by my Carl Angel-5 rotary sharpener are more severe on both variants of the Palomino Blackwing than any other of my pencils. The bite marks are also more obvious because the PBW’s don’t have much lettering on them so they stand out much more. I find a Faber-Castell 9000 in 4B to be at least the equal if not better than the PBW but the looks of the PBW blow the FC9000 out of the water. Of the two PBWs I prefer the looks of the Matte Black to the Silver Grey PBW 602…gold flecks ‘n all.

  21. Kevin: I’m with you there, I love FC 9000 4B, though the marking is a bit on the light side (just like their other grades); I also find PBW more attractive than PBW 602, glad I’m not alone!

    memm: you are right the choice of soft /hard pencil depends on preference, paper and purpose. I use 4B pencils half of the time, mostly because on the paper I use (thin fibrous writing pad with dark printed grids) an HB is hard to read. When I write on smoother paper 4B lines do look a bit dirty and I use harder ones. But in general I do prefer soft pencils, I mean, I’d use them when they work. Wopex HB is the hardest and lightest I feel like working with, just a preference.

    As for sharpening, I enjoy doing it. For me it’s part of the workflow: I start with two sharpened 4B, and when both of them need sharpening (usually half an hour) I take a five-minute break!

  22. oh almost forgot, memm, about the ferrule: I was surprised to find that there’s not pinch mark on them (the small circular dent on most pencils’ ferrules, including the original 602).

  23. Kevin: I noticed the same with quite a few of the more expensive cedar pencils, but the PBWs seem much more prone to it. I think partly it’s due to the “soft” lacquer used (it seems less “hard” a surface than a Mono 100, for example). I’ve also noticed that the angle of the edges of the pencil when it’s clamped make a big difference to the depth and severity of the marks left.

    Claire: I read in a comment somewhere (I think by Woodchuck) that the ends of the new Blackwings were machined down slightly and the ferrules were then glued. That explains why they’re the only pencils I’ve come across where the ferrule wasn’t pinched on.

  24. Koralatov: thanks for your comments above. There is another comment on another blog that suggested I line up the pencil logo every time I sharpen thus at least aligning the bite marks… but it still leaves the same number of bite marks, they just look a bit “prettier”.

    >This week, after a few days of use, the ferrule came off.
    Memm: quite disturbing to read this so I checked my “in use” PBW 602 and the ferrule is solid as a rock, can’t budge it.

  25. Kevin, I just checked the other two PBW 602 I have and the ferrule is fine (but I have not used them yet, so the eraser hasn’t been used yet which means it wasn’t exposed to sideways movements yet). At the moment I assume this problem was a one off.

  26. I’ve only got one intact Palomino Blackwing left, having given almost all of them away to people who might find more use for them than I could. I don’t think I’ll be buying any more of them, though I don’t hate them really.

    I like the idea (and the feel) of the matte finish, but I feel the “stamping” and painted stripe significantly cheapen the look of the pencil. I used a mildly abrasive sponge on one or two pencils, and was able to basically rub away the excess paint around the stamping, making the imprint look a little cleaner…but it’s tricky because the imprint is so shallow and the stripe so easily damaged. Once the markings have been rubbed off, I guess it’s no big deal anyway.

    Swapping out the white erasers for black ones is easy enough now, but the effectiveness of the stock erasers leaves me ignoring them completely, except in situations where bad erasure is better than no erasure.

    It’s one of those pencils that comes very close to something really interesting and compelling, but seems to fall just short in the details.

    Matthias, do you plan to do a write-up of the 602 version? Too bad about the ferrule…the glue can be broken without too much effort, but mine have held up pretty well so far, and I use them a lot. Biggest drawbacks for me are the eraser (the color is fine this time, but the quality is still lacking) and the imprint depth (more attractive, but easily wiped out). What are your thoughts?

  27. Thanks for this information. I don’t think I write a post about the PBW 602 soon, there are so many blog posts I want to do, some of them already for many months. ABout the eraser, I cut the right size out of a Staedtler rasoplast and use that in the PBW 602.

  28. Just got a colleague hooked on the Palomino and Palomino Blackwing. She didn’t like the 602 as much as the other two (neither do I, really). In terms of writing, she couldn’t tell the difference between a Palomino 4B and a Palomino Blackwing. Anyone else feel the same way, the lead being the same?

  29. My big problem with Palomino is the HB is so dark it almost negates the need for any other grades…hence it is the only Palomino grade I own and am ever likely to…until that is improve their packaging from zip lock bags. Thats my protest!!

  30. It depends on brand, but I got the impression HB on a writing pencil is sometimes darker than HB on a drawing pencil. For example, Staedtler Norica and Mars Ergosoft HB are both darker than Mars Lumograph HB, so are some Dixon pencils I’ve tried. It may not be relevant in this case since Palomino is probably marketed as both writing and drawing pencil (and therefore the range of grades), just an observation.

    Sometimes I feel 4B for writing is an overkill so I’d like to try their HB, but I’m also sitting on it because of the packaging! Any idea how we’d know when packaging change occurs? On their website Palomino comes in two packaging options: ziplock banded version and boxed version, and the latter costs a dollar more. I went for the box but still got the ziplock. Maybe we should just write to them?

  31. Claire, I did email them through Ebay messages (my purchase was done through their ebay store) ….. they never responded.

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