There are a ton of mechanical pencil models out there, and there really is something for everyone. If you’re in a hurry, we think that the Zebra M-301 Stainless Steel Mechanical Pencil are likely the best of the best for most people, but sometimes you might want something a little bit more special.
Mechanical pencils have superseded the old variety for many people, and if you’re one of those who enjoy them but haven’t extended beyond your basic Bic clickers, then you may be in for a surprise. Whether you’re an artist, a student, or just plain love mechanical pencils, we’re here to help. Take a look at our top picks, then you’ll want to hop into our guide to find out just how deep this rabbit hole goes
There’s no two ways about it, the Zebra M-301 is our favorite of the dozens of mechanical pencils we tried. For the average person it just doesn’t get any better than this.
Top 5 Mechanical Pencils
|Zebra M-301 Stainless Steel||Clicker||0.5mm and 0.7mm||Check Price|
|Paper Mate SharpWriter||Twist||0.7mm||Check Price|
|Pentel Graph Gear 1000||Clicker||0.3mm||Check Price|
|Papermate Marvel Avengers||Clicker||1.3mm||Check Price|
|Staedtler Mars 780||Clicker||2mm||Check Price|
1. Best Overall Mechanical Pencils
Zebra M-301 Stainless Steel Mechanical Pencil
The Zebra M-301 is a classic design, and it’s definitely our favorite of the different models we tried. It features a slim, aluminum barrel and smooth clicking action. The internals seem to very, very rarely have any problems as well and during our testing we didn’t experience a single jam.
They’re also available in both 0.5mm and 0.7mm which makes them ideal for most people. Whatever you might find yourself needing, there’s something here for you.
The only real problem is the eraser: it’s tiny, wears down extremely quickly, and will block the barrel. The erasers are also pretty much impossible to find, meaning a separate eraser is pretty much essential.
The non-slip grip, fairly low expense, and long-lasting body make these some of the best around and we can’t recommend them enough for the average person. For anything short of highly technical drawings they really can’t be beat.
Pros and Cons
- Comes in both 0.5mm and 0.7mm models
- Long-lasting and super durable
- Well-tuned internals
- Sturdy pocket clip for easy access
- Sharp tip makes pocket carry problematic
- Eraser is mostly for show, purchase a separate eraser
2. Best Twist Design Mechanical Pencils
Paper Mate SharpWriter Mechanical Pencils
If you’re a fan of twist-type mechanical pencils, then the PaperMate SharpWriter is definitely the right one for you. They’re the best of the bunch, with a smooth action and large rubber eraser to help you cover up mistakes. They’re also super cheap, just adding to the attractiveness of the pencils.
The tip also has some minor shock absorption which will help to keep from breaking the lead for those who are heavy handed. They’re available in both 0.5mm and 0.7mm but we favor the latter pretty heavily for this type of pencil, since 0.5mm leads are remarkably easy to break.
These are pretty much a throwaway once the lead contained within them is done, so you may want to avoid them if you’re the type to get attached to mechanical pencils.
On the other hand, for those who like twisty pencils there’s really no substitute for the SharpWriters. They’re simply the best around for this type of pencil.
Pros and Cons
- Twist-type pencil
- Great eraser
- Shock-absorbing tip
- Come with #2 lead for standardized tests
- Somewhat hard to refill
- Rather cheap build quality
3. Best Mechanical Pencil for Technical Drawings
Pentel Graph Gear 1000 Automatic Drafting Pencil
Technical drawing requires a specialized pencil. Something tough, comfortable on the hand for those long sessions, and with a smaller than average lead size. In this case, we’d like to present the Pentel Graph Gear 1000 to you for your perusal.
This 0.3mm pencil is made to last. It has an excellent, and unique, grip which is made of metal with latex spots for resting your fingers as you hold them. The fixed sleeve allows you to lay things down precisely and quickly, and it comes loaded with some of the best lead around.
They’re expensive, there’s no doubt about that, but the quality is pretty much unmatched without spending even more on something customized.
For those who are looking to do technical drawings, there’s no equal to the Pentel Graph Gear 1000. It’s the best on the market for those into professional design.
Pros and Cons
- 0.3mm lead
- Awesome grip
- Tight bottom design
- Amazingly well-weighted
- High price per pencil
- Lead is too small for regular writing
4. Best Mechanical Pencils for Kids
Papermate Marvel Avengers Mechanical Pencils
These are pretty cool mechanical pencils any way you look at it, but their design is especially made for kids in more ways than just the excellent renditions of Marvel characters on the side.
The main advantage for children is the 1.3mm lead. It’s fairly hard to break, making it great for kids whose main problem with mechanical pencils are always breaking the leads. On top of that, they have an easy, triangular design which holds easier than hexagonal pencils for small hands as well.
They also have a super large eraser which can be used to erase mistakes as your child goes along.
For young children, these excellent mechanical pencils make a cheap and easy way to get them introduced. Between the special design features and the characters featured you’re in good hands.
Pros and Cons
- 1.3mm lead is hard to break
- Triangular design for smaller hands
- Features Marvel characters
- Large and easy to use erasers
- Not great for adults
- Eraser falls out easily
5. Best Leadholder
Staedtler Mars 780 Technical Mechanical Pencil
Leadholders have somewhat fallen out of favor with many people these days, but the classic design makes them quite capable for technical drawings and graphing and if you’re the type that’s in love with them, then Staedtler is the place to look.
This is a 2mm lead holder with German engineering behind it. You’ll want to invest in a lead pointer to use this one, however, unless you have an uncommonly steady hand.
This lead holder is made of metal, holds together amazingly well, and has just the right lead size for most things. 2mm is a great middle ground for both technical drawings and less formal applications.
It might seem like dated technology, but many people still prefer them over the much easier to use mechanical pencils on the market so you may want to give it a shot. Lead holders are favored by some people, and if you’re one of them then you could do a lot worse than Staedtler. On the other hand, you’ll also need some extra purchases to get the most out of it, so it’s really up to you.
Pros and Cons
- One of the best leadholders on the model
- Holds 2mm lead tightly
- Excellent quality construction
- Fairly cheap for a lead holder
- Lead holders are somewhat hard to use
- Requires extra equipment
Why Use Mechanical Pencils?
While many people just prefer the feel of mechanical pencils, there’s a lot to recommend for those who are on the fence as well.
The good news is this: budget mechanical pencils can be had at about the same price as normal pencils. This makes their advantages even quicker to realize for most people, and all but the most premium of mechanical pencils are affordable.
The biggest advantage, for most people, is the ability to keep them in your pocket without worrying about the lead breaking. When you’re on the go you can just press the lead back in and you’ll quickly have a pencil ready to travel.
You also don’t need to sharpen them in order to maintain consistent lines. This is one of the biggest complaints about regular pencils and most people have forgotten to keep a sharpener with them at one point or another in their writing career.
This is also great for drafters, since you don’t have to worry about lines changing thickness while you’re working.
Sharpeners also have a hidden cost: sharpening a regular pencil reduces its size until you’re left with just a nub.
It’s an irritating interruption for those who are planning on working for extended periods of time. Depending on what you’re doing, there are even some mechanisms which will turn the lead as you press, keeping it extra sharp for the best line consistency possible.
Overall, except for a specific subset of people who are planning on using their graphite pencils for a very specific type of fine art, there’s really no reason to bother with normal pencils at all.
The First Choice: Lead Sizing
The sizing of your lead is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when it comes time to pick your pencil. Nearly all mechanical pencils will only accept one lead size, so you’re pretty much stuck once you’ve picked them out.
Lead sizes start at 0.2mm. From this size to 0.4mm, you’re pretty much limited to technical drawing. It’s not all bad, but the leads will be too fragile for most people to use for handwriting, but they’re perfectly sized for drafting.
0.5mm or 0.7mm leads are the primary sizes for writing. They’re also great for quick sketches, and some people have even found a way to adopt them for art. As a general rule, if you have a heavy hand then go with 0.7mm and if you’ve got a lighter touch then use a 0.5mm for the best results.
0.9mm leads are usually used for younger children in the US. The leads are usually a bit harder to find within this size, although they can be readily found if you’re willing to go online or if you have a good office supply store around.
Any bigger than 0.9mm and you’ll be looking at “lead holders” instead of traditional mechanical pencils. If that’s the case for you, then consider the range from 1.0mm to 2.0mm for technical drawing and anything bigger as usable for general writing.
If you’re unsure of your needs, then 0.5mm is a great place to start, since most pencils available in this size will also be around in larger sizes.
Lead hardness is another matter entirely, and not unique to your pencil. Older Scantrons used to require a #2 hardness, and it’s still the most common, but it’s not as important as it used to be due to advancing technology.
Types of Mechanical Pencil
Of course, not all pencils are created equally or there would only be one brand and style of them.
Most models are click-through. These operate easily enough, you press down on the eraser end of the pencil and it drops the lead. If the lead isn’t contacting a surface, you can generally pull things incrementally.
Those who are familiar with mechanical pencils generally have an easy time with these, since you can easily adjust the lead to the perfect length by using your finger or a hard surface and just holding and letting off the button. Some have a tendency to retract a bit more when you let off, but this is easily accounted for.
Rotating mechanical pencils are usually considered a “cheap” choice. With these, you simply rotate the tip in order to extend or retract the lead. They’re usually really finely tuned, but the screw mechanism contained within them isn’t used often.
Lastly, lead holders function more like a regular pencil than a mechanical pencil but have some advantages with quickness. They come in two general designs: they’ll either hold a series of small leads with attached plastic pieces or they’ll hold a single piece.
Honestly, we don’t feel the cost is justified for the latter type of pencil, but some people love them so we couldn’t skip over them entirely.
For most people, clickers are the way to go.
This is one spot where mechanical pencils often come up short.
The first problem is that many of the high-end mechanical pencils lack a full sized eraser. This usually contributes to a sleek and stylish design, but it can be a serious pain. If you’re dropping the money for one of these, we recommend chasing down a decent eraser set as well.
Others have a full sized eraser… but outlast them.
One of our reviewers noted that they often only used one or two pencils out of a 24 pack of Bic clickers, but ended up being glad for all of the pencils because it let them steal erasers from them.
Depending on the brand, you may be able to purchase erasers separately as well, but some are notoriously hard to track down.
Zebra, we’re looking at you.
And if that’s the case, you may want to avoid using the eraser entirely, especially if it’s the only access to the lead chamber for refilling.
The Premium Stuff
There’s a few different things to keep an eye out for if you’re looking to get the most out of your mechanical pencil experience.
One of the most common features is a shaker mechanism. These are pretty handy, but non-essential for the most part.
A shaker mechanism will allow you to just shake the pencil instead of having to hit the button in order to extend more lead. It’s a great way to keep writing without having to break the flow of what you’re doing.
They can also be irritating if you’re the type who plays with their pencil while writing or drawing, since it can easily lead to you extending too much lead if you’re not careful.
Auto-feed mechanisms are another premium feature. They feature the ability to keep lead going until the piece of graphite you’re working with is done.
They usually have a cone around the end which will facilitate this process, and frequently work best when there’s almost no lead coming out of the end. They’re definitely a love-or-hate thing, but the ability to keep going without having to stop to adjust the lead can be rather handy.
Auto-rotating pencils are some of our favorites. They automatically adjust the pencil with a shaker mechanism, usually around 9° so that the lead stays even on all sides. Those of us who grew up with mechanical pencils often rotate the pencil manually anyways to avoid the dreaded “chisel” that results from drawing too much on one side, but it really does help.
That said, they’re not great for writing in cursive due to the fact that a word is often a single continuous line anyways.
They were originally created for Asian languages, Japanese in particular, where multiple strokes per character is the norm. If you’re writing in those languages, or don’t use cursive very often, they can be lifesavers though.
Styling and Results
The styling of a pencil actually means quite a bit when it comes to the hand feel of the final product. Little things like grips and rounded tubes can make a ton of difference for those who use their pencils regularly.
Round bodies really are the best for those who are going to be using their pencils for a long time. Many of the cheaper pencils feature hexagonal bodies which aren’t too bad for an hour or so but will seriously start to wear after an extended period.
Plastic vs. Metal
Here’s the thing: most high-end mechanical pencils are going to be made of metal. They’re just better. They’re easier on the hands, can be built lighter, are smoother, and… well, metal is a far superior metal for them to be made of.
Plastic isn’t bad, but you’ll definitely know the difference if you’ve used a metal one before.
The material is also one of the biggest determinates of pricing. It basically comes down to this: if you frequently lose pencils then go with a set of cheaper plastic pencils, if you can generally keep track of your stuff then a single or pair of metal mechanical pencils might be the way to go.
As a general rule, the interior of your mechanical pencil will be as well built as the outside.
Even the cheap ones can last a long time if you’re careful with them, and once in a while you end up with one that’s just built a little bit better than the rest and will last for a long time.
On the other hand, with brands like Cross or Zebra you can expect fantastic internal mechanisms that are going to last until you lose the pencil or it gets broken in a freak accident.
How easy a pencil is to disassemble in case of a jam is really dependent on the individual pencil’s design, and doesn’t seem to be related to the cost much, if at all.
That “Style” Factor
There are a ton of different colors and styles out there to suit nearly anyone’s taste. Where possible, we’ve noted if there are multiple colors available of an individual pencil.
The overall construction can add a lot to the “presentation” of a pencil as well. If you’re carrying one in your portfolio, for instance, you may want to spend a little bit of extra cash and make sure you end up with something which looks sharp and professional instead of like it belongs on a school child’s desk.
This is purely up to personal choice, of course, but it is one reason that people opt for mechanical pencils over regular ones.
Picking out the best mechanical pencil may take a little bit more thought than you were expecting, but it’s a rewarding experience. Even if you’re not a big pen and pencil lover, when you end up with something high-quality and perfect for your hand you’ll understand why so much time has been spent on the development of superior writing instruments.
Don’t just grab whatever is at hand to take notes, pick something which is perfect for your needs and you’ll be able to truly enjoy the experience.