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Mechanical Pencil Month – Day 15: The Goldilocks pencil

Unusually, the subject of today’s post is a range of pencils still in production. More specifically, it is about one particular pencil from this range, for reasons that shall become apparent. The range in question is the somewhat longwinded Pentel Graph 1000 for Pro PG1000 series. The specific pencil is the PG1004.

The Graph 1000 for Pro – not to be confused with the altogether more zany Graphgear 1000 – is an unassuming design, available in any colour as long as it’s black.

Pentel Graph 1000 for Pro range barrel text and lead hardness indicators

It is similar in size to the Rotring 600, which makes it all the more surprising to discover upon picking it up that it weighs only half as much, at 11 g to the Rotring’s 22 g. This is due to its largely plastic construction, something that would usually seem incompatible with the idea of a “pro” pencil. The same goes for its smooth grip with rubberised inserts, a feature I generally find disagreeable in draughting pencils.

Other elements of the design are equally odd – the point that can’t decide whether it is conical or cylindrical, the diminutive clip that reminds me of the vestigial forelimbs of a Tyrannosaurus rex, barely capable of functioning.

Pentel Graph 1000 for Pro points

However, against all the odds the Graph 1000 for Pro is a delight to use. Being lightweight, it is less fatiguing than the Rotring 600, but more importantly the balance of the pencil is noticeably towards the point.

Pentel Graph 1000 for Pro balance

It turns out that the indecisive cylindrical/conical point is made of solid brass, as is the clutch mechanism, which shifts the centre of mass forwards.

Pentel Graph 1000 for Pro brass point section and clutch

Being a fixed sleeve design, the point has none of the disconcerting wobble of pocket-safe pencils such as the Graphgear 1000 or Rotring 800. Even the rubberised grip is pleasantly inoffensive, feeling more like a hexagonal pencil in the hand. It is all the more the pity that Pentel does not make 2 mm lead holders.

Of the five models in the range, the one I find myself using most is the PG1004, which as the name suggests takes 0.4 mm leads.

Pentel Graph 1000 for Pro eraser, lead hardness indicator button and lead reservoir

This is something I have come back to after many years wavering between 0.3 mm for drawing and 0.5 mm for writing. 0.4 mm was something the cool kids at architecture school would use, preferably with F grade lead. The refills were not something you could just buy at the local graphics shop either – 0.4 mm had to be ordered in specially. Moreover, the shop would probably insist that you bought the whole retail pack of twelve boxes of twelve tubes containing twelve leads each. That’s 1728 leads. Students would club together to buy a pack, which would then be distributed among them like some kind of illicit contraband.

At the time, I imagined that the cachet of 0.4 mm was purely down to its obscurity, all the more so in F. After all, the usual lead thicknesses of 0.3, 0.5 and 0.7 mm corresponded nicely with the respective ISO technical pen widths of 0.35, 0.5 and 0.7 mm (this also explains Rotring’s ambiguous 0.3/0.35 labelling of their 0.3 mm pencils – see day 12, item 12). It seemed that 0.4 existed purely to plug a gap that didn’t need filling.

It was only more recently that I began to acquire the odd 0.4 mm pencil and decided to give them a try. Refills are still relatively difficult to find, but the internet at least is willing to sell you one tube at a time, albeit at inflated prices. To my surprise, 0.4 mm seems to offer the best of both worlds. Not too thin, so it doesn’t continually break like 0.3 mm leads. Not too thick like 0.5 mm, so I don’t keep wanting to switch back to a 2 mm lead holder. Likewise, F grade lead is sharper than HB, but not as hard as H. The combination of the two could be considered the Goldilocks zone of fineliners.

Pentel Graph 1000 for Pro range with matching Ain Stein lead refills

To round off day fifteen, I had intended to research the history of 0.4 mm pencils and hopefully explain when and why they came into being. That was until I discovered that the always excellent Lexikaliker had already done just that. It appears that Pentel was responsible for the first 0.4 mm pencil, in the form of the rather elegant PG4, released in 1976 (I have a PG2, PG5 and PMG, but no PG4). Other makers soon followed suit, but 0.4 mm seems to have remained a largely Japan-centric phenomenon, possibly due to the European preference for ISO line weights as mentioned above.

So while the ultimate rationale behind this intermediate width remains unclear, Lexikaliker’s opinion chimes with my own – 0.4 mm is just right.

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