Mechanical pencils

Nespresso + Caran d’Ache

Thanks to Pen Heaven I was able to get my hands on a Nespresso + Caran d’Ache fixpencil for the purpose of writing a review.

Cooperations, like the one between Nespresso and Caran d’Ache, often use the letter “x” between the two company names, but Nespresso and Caran d’Ache have opted for the use of the “+” instead, so I will follow their approach.

Before the Fixpencil arrived I expected to see a lead holder that is basically the same as the standard Caran d’Ache (CdA) Fixpencil, just in a different colour, but to my surprise there were several unexpected, but noticeable, if small, differences.

First up: the pen itself.

The surface of the pen, or rather the paint, is less smooth that the other CdA Fixpencils I have handled so far. This surface is not too rough for your fingers and feels pleasant to use. The colour is imitating the aluminium look of the Nespresso coffee capsules.

My pen had three small indentation on the body that don’t seem to belong there. I assume this is a one-off quality control issue.

This Fixpencil is most likely not the only CdA made from recycled aluminium, as mentioned in my previous Nespresso bog post, so I assume the issue with the dents is not a direct result of using recycled aluminium. The dents could probably have occurred with any CdA Fixpencil or other hexagonal aluminium pen, like the 849 and I wouldn’t expect to to be common.

The packaging states that the pen is "made from Nespresso recycled aluminium equivalent to one capsule"

The packaging states that the pen is made from Nespresso recycled aluminium equivalent to one capsule. A very specific claim and as mentioned before I will believe this claim despite some of CdA’s previous claims that were misleading.

When I first used this lead holder I thought the pen feels lighter or ‘hollower’. After using the pen a few times I must have gotten used to it as I don’t notice this anymore, A quick trip to the scales confirmed the initial impression, though: The Fixpencil 22 and the Fixpencil 884 (Junior) both weigh 11.75g, while the Nespresso + Caran d’Ache edition weighs 11.05g.

Top to bottom: Fixpencil 884 (Junior), Nespresso + CdA, Fixpencil 22

The internal mechanism also came as a surprise. The mechanism is the same as in the currently available Fixpencil 884 (Junior). I write “currently available” as the 884 might have contained a different mechanism in the past, but I am not able to verify this.

The use of the 884’s mechanism also means that the Nespresso’s push button does not come with an (emergency) sharpener. As shown on the photo above, the push button is the end of an internal plastic pipe.

Next: the lead

To me the Nespresso lead is a big let down. The packaging states that the lead is “partly produced with Nespresso recycled coffee grounds”.

Weight-wise the lead is similar to the CdA Technograph lead, but the surface looks very different: rough and matt instead of smooth and shiny.

This is an interesting idea, but unfortunately, the lead doesn’t write very well, unless you are keen on faint pencil lines. If wonder if those coffee grounds would have had a better use if they were used as fertiliser. Depending on the paper you write on this issue is more or less pronounced, but for me the Nespresso lead’s attributes are nowhere near as desirable as the Technograph’s.

Top: CdA Teachnograph lead, bottom: Nespresso + CdA lead

The lead feels smooth on most paper, but produced a very light line on paper, much lighter than what you would get from Faber-Castell for example. I mention Faber-Castell because the lines produced by their leads are already very light compared to other, like Staedtler for example. Pressing harder when writing with the Nespresso lead won’t help with producing a darker line, i.e. the lead has a high pressure insensitivity.

When you sharpen the lead to a fine point it also seems to break easier than the Technograph lead. To some extent this behaviour reminds me of the Wopex lead, just that the Nespresso lead provides a much worse writing experience. I haven’t had a chance yet to use the Nespresso wood-cased pencil and I doubt I will find someone IRL who owns some and let me try, but based on Pencil Talk’s review of the Nespresso Swiss Wood Pencils, which doesn’t mention the issues I encountered, I wonder if the lead in the Nespresso Fixpencil is worse than the one from the Nespresso pencils.

A side point, but just in case you wonder: the Nespresso lead weighs the same as the Technograph lead.

Overall, this is a nice lead holder with a good, sturdy build. It would have been nice if this Fixpencil came with the same mechanism as the Fixpencil 22. The higher price than normal Fixpencil is due to the fact that this is a Limited Edition – funnily enough that links strongly to Kiwi-D’s and Koralatov’s comments on my previous blog post.


You can find another review of this pencil at The Gentleman Stationer.

A broken Orenz

If you read Bleistift blog regularly you might have noticed that I really like the Pentel Orenz. I think it’s the best sliding sleeve pencil since Staedtler’s Microfix.

The sliding sleeve works well and the pencil’s design is great, too, but unfortunately there is one weakness in the design that caused one of my Orenz mechanical pencils an issue: The metal clip is very close to the push button and there is only a very narrow strip of plastic to hold it in place. This narrow strip of plastic is will have to bear the brunt of any outward pressure the springiness of the clip cannot handle.

If you regularly clip the pencil onto slightly thicker pockets (or notebooks etc) the plastic will weaken over time and will eventually break off. In my case I regularly carry the Orenz in a pen pocket on my jacket. The pen pocket is not that thick, but apparently thick enough to cause this issue.

If you are squeamish please look away, the following photos, showing pencil mutilations, are not a sight for the faint hearted.

When the plastic from my Orenz broke off I didn’t initially notice as I was in a meeting. I just noticed that, when holding the pencil, the clip seems to be very loose.

Some closer inspection revealed the true horror and damage, though.

Here is a comparison how this looks like on an undamaged Orenz.

Please keep your Orenzes safe…

Fresher

For many years there hasn’t been much going on in terms of new Caran d’Ache mechanical pencils. There is a lot of choice when it comes to ballpoint pens but there wasn’t much to look at in terms of affordable (<£50) mechanical pencils (there are unusually many in the ‘above £500’ range, though).

In recent years this changed to some extent with the 849 mechanical pencil being available in a few new colours and editions, e.g. Black Code. There are, however, not many shops here in the UK that actually stock these.

Image © Caran d’Ache

Today a new pencil joined the Caran d’Ache offering, available in a set with a ballpoint pen as a limited edition, the Set Fresher.

Image © Caran d’Ache

I am happy to see more mechanical pencils from Caran d’Ache, even though it is basically just the same pencil in different colours. I wish they’d do something else, e.g. offering a 0.5 mm version, but for now, just seeing more colours are a nice change.

Caran d’Ache seems to be starting the different colour limited editions game for their mechanical pencils and lead holders, or maybe not starting it but taking it up a notch, while Lamy is by now really good at the ‘new colour game’. Every time I think I won’t buy another Safari they come up with more good colours: last year the re-release of the original colours, this year the beautiful strawberry and cream colours, with matching clip etc.

Kaweco is also really good at this, with a mix of happy affordable colours and more posh looking ones that are slightly more expensive.

In terms of new innovation there have also been some news.

The new Kurutoga Dive is not only rotating the lead like previous versions, but is also advancing it. It is a capped and a limited edition. I wonder if the cap is there to protect the mechanism when not in use. Maybe the front is not as sturdy (in the current version) as previous Kurutogas with less complicated mechanisms. If that’s the case there might be a regular version without a cap in the future. This thought might explain why this is a limited edition: maybe they want to see first how this mechanism fares in the real world, or the manufacturing process isn’t automated enough for mass market production and some manual labour is currently involved in assembly which doesn’t make it quite mass market ready yet….


I believe that the use of the images in this blog post falls under “fair dealing” as described by the UK Copyright service.

Faber-Castell Grip 2011

Today: a look at the Faber-Castell Grip 2011 mechanical pencil. Many years ago I bought a gel pen from the 2011 series. Unfortunately Faber-Castell stopped this gel pen and their gel refills, but there are good alternatives available.

Just like the 2001, the Faber-Castell wood-cased grip pencil, the 2011 has a triangular design with rubbery grip dots and I have read in the past that this series of triangular gip-dotted pens was a big success and saved Faber-Castell from many headaches.

Availability and price

I paid around £10 for my grass green version at PurePens. From what I can tell these are easily available in many European counties and I have seen them in high-street stores in Germany and the UK. In the USA the situation is different: I had a look to see how much they are in the USA, but I only found one place that sells them: Amazon Marketplace – for $18.

Now with a cool hologram sticker

Properties

Shape and grip

I have already mentioned the main deign feature: the triangular design with rubbery grip dots.

As always, different people buy a specific pen for different reasons. I bought the 2011 mechanical pencil so that my blue gel pen from this series has company. Other make that decision to help them write without pain: a previous colleague of mine only had items from the Faber-Castell grip line in his office. When I asked him about the reasons behind this he told me that he has carpal tunnel syndrome and that it is easier for him to write with pens from the Grip line. He only used pens from this Faber-Castell series and instead of typing on his keyboard he used dictation software. I don’t know enough about this syndrome to comment further, but it sounds as if Faber-Castell’s grip design can help people to write easier or with less pain.

Weight and the grip diameter to weight ratio

Another speciality of this mechanical pencil is the low weight, probably partly down to the clutch mechanism I will mention later. As seen in the diagram below the 2011 mechanical pencil is very much on the light side.

The Grip 2011 is pretty light

If you don’t only want a light pencil, but also a big grip diameter then it’s worth looking at the diameter to weight ratio. Here the Grip 2011 is near the top, with a ratio 2.5 times better than some other pencils, like the TWSBI precision. Only the the Staedtler 925-15 is doing better, thanks to its low weight and its big diameter, but it does have a slightly thinner grip diameter. The only pencil in my database with a similar grip diameter to the Grip 2011 is the Caran d’Ache 888 Infinite.

Mechanism

The main disappointment for many seasoned mechanical pencil fans will be the Grip 2011’s clutch mechanism: it is a very simple two-jawed plastic clutch. That’s not a problem, but many mechanical pencileers prefer a brass mechanism. Generally speaking very cheap mechanical pencils, like Staedtler’s $1 graphite 777, will come with plastic clutches, but there are also much more expensive mechanical pencils than the 2011, like the Rhodia ScRipt, that have plastic clutches.

Lead capacity

If you want a mechanical pencil that can hold a lot of leads then the Grip 2011 might also be for you: 0.7 mm leads usually have a diameter of less than 0.7 mm. The inner diameter of the Grip 2011 is 6.75 mm. If you look at the circle packing in a circle problem you will realise that this pencil can hold a huge number of leads.

Conclusion

The clutch will put many potential customers off, but with it’s low wide, its good grip-ability, the above average looks and the reasonable price this pencil will have no issues finding enough customers.

If you want to find out about the fountain pen version have a look at the Well-Appointed Desk’s review.

The EGO.M Cento 3 – a graphene pencil

Lead holder and mechanical pencil (click to enlarge)

A few weeks ago I received a surprise parcel from John Hall of Write Here fame. Inside the parcel were two rather unusual pens that I have been using regularly since then. It’s time to send them back soon, but before I do that I want to show you these very special pens and talk about their unusual design.

Pens made from graphene on a notebook made from coffee (click to enlarge)

You can also find a video about the Cento3 on the Bleistift Youtube channel:

The mystery of a pen body made from graphene

Let’s get their most exotic property out of the way first: these pens are 3d printed from graphene. With graphene not being very think (one layer of atoms) you could think of it as being two-dimensional. You also commonly read that a one atom thick layer of graphite is graphene. With that in mind I am wondering how something three-dimensional can be graphene without turning into graphite. Maybe it is a flat ‘two-dimensional’ layer rolled up with some other material in between, but in that case, does it keep graphene’s properties and are they desirable in a pen body in the first place? So many questions….

The front of the mechanical pencil (click to enlarge)

I also wonder whether creating the Cento3 pen body requires very special 3d printers so that the graphene layers don’t melt together into a lump of graphite and whether the body has some sort of lacquer on top. Whatever the answers to all my questions are, the pen that Ego.M have produced is a very special pen and as I don’t understand enough about materials science I will just go along with the claim that this pen is made from graphene.

The design’s history

The idea for this pen was thought up 20 years ago, in 2001, when Achille Castiglione and Gianfranco Cavaglia came up with a pen design using the ‘trilobate’ shape. Think of three slim pens arranged together like a three-leaved clover and connected – I hope the image below gives you a better idea than my short description.

I hope this image give an idea how the ‘trilobate’ shape is being used for this pen. (click to enlarge)

At the time some non-working prototypes were made from wood, but the pen was not commercially produced until recently when the prototypes were rediscovered by the designer’s children and EGO.M, based in Bologna, started developing the prototypes into commercially produced pens which were then officially released in February 2021, 103 years (100 = Cento, so Cento3 = 103) after Achille Castiglione was born.

About the pen

Surface

The first thing most people will notice when they look at this pen is that the individual strands of extruded plastic filament are quite visible. On the body of the mechanical pencil I received for testing the pattern produced by the 3d printing process is much less ‘even’ than on the lead holder I got. I assume every pen is unique in this respect and if you pick another sample this might be different, i.e. another mechanical pencil might look ‘smoother’ and another lead holder might look less smooth. The uneven surface loves to attract dust which is quite visible if you enlarge the photos.

The EGO.M logo on the mechanical pencil(click to enlarge)

Weight

The next thing to notice is that for their length and diameter the Cento3 pens are quite light. In the diagram below you can see that compared to some of the mechanical pencils we looked at in the past only slim and plastic-y mechanical pencils and tiny mechanical pencils are lighter than the Cento3 mechanical pencil.

Mechanical pencils by weight (click to enlarge)

Amateurs like me often like heavy pens as they give the user the feeling of being more substantial and of higher quality, but professionals actually like light pens. It makes sense to use a light pen that isn’t tiring when you use it all day long.

Mechanism and ageing

I was not able to figure out what kind of mechanism is used in the mechanical pencil as I don’t see a non-destructive way of getting to the mechanism. I assume the 3d printing of the body is done directly on the mechanism.

Pens change over time. One example is the beautiful surface of the Lamy 2000. Over time it becomes more and more smooth and shiny. I am not sure how hard the filament is that was used to print the Cento3, but there is a good chance that over the years the surface might become more and more smooth. This is just a guess, but it might change the character of he pen over time.

The weight and shape make the pen surprisingly comfortable to hold and use. The 3d printed structure provides a good grip when you hold the mechanical pencil. Many mechanical pencil users rotate the pen automatically and even subconsciously to make the lead use up more evenly. This is slightly more difficult with the Cento3 compared to a thinner pen, but it is possible without hassle.

The lead holder

In my opinion the lead holder version of the Cento3 feels much posher than the mechanical pencil. Maybe it is down to the chrome-y front section or the more even printing of the filaments.

The front of the lead holder (click to enlarge)

Conclusion

These pens are a great innovation. They are not the first 3d printed pens available, but the first ones I know of with the graphene link. The mechanical pencil sells for £60, as does the lead holder. There’s also a fountain pen version for £80.

Thanks to John for lending me these for my blog post and video.

If you want to find out more about these pens you can do so

Please note that the pen is properly black, I just lit it so that you can see the surface well which made it looks less black on my photos than it actually is.