Want to take a world "tour"? Check out our Global School Pencil sampler pack!
Much like clothing sizes (because everyone has experienced that moment where a shirt definitely does not fit like the size stated on the label), pencil cores don't have an industry-standard blend, so the feel of a pencil can vary wildly depending on its country of origin. At CWPE, we carry pencils from 11 different countries around the world*, which has given us ample opportunity to identify differentiating characteristics based on a pencil's country of origin. Here's a look at pencils across the world!
Czech Republic - Koh-i-Noor
Pencil to try: 1500 HB
- Runs firm - their HB feels more like an H
- Slightly brittle, mildly scratchy graphite.
- Pencils are made with processes that haven't changed since the 1790s!
- Fun Fact: the Koh-i-Noor 1500 was the world's first yellow pencil, debuted at the Paris World's Fair in 1889, and then at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 where it set the trend for American pencil manufacturing in particular.
Denmark - Viking
Pencil to Try: Skoleblyanten HB
- Runs a teensy bit soft - the HB feels just a hair darker than one from Switzerland or the US.
- Made with cedar that sharpens really well, and often has interesting characteristics, like knotholes (these don't affect the sharpening of the pencil)
- Fun Fact: Viking was founded in 1915 by a matchstick company!
France - Calepino**
Pencil to try: Calepino Matte Black #2
- Runs true to scale - HB feels like a balanced HB
- Made by the only non-Bic factory still in France, based in the Loire region, with FSC-certified Pulay wood
- Fun Fact: Calepino takes its name from 15th century Italian scholar Amborgio Calepino, who was known in his day as "Calepin." In French "calepin" means "little book in which you can write down notes."
Germany - Staedtler, Faber-Castell
Pencil to try: Castell 9000 HB
- Runs firm - HB feels more like an H
- German graphite has a slightly coarse, scratchy feel that is excellent for point retention
- Some pencils, like the Castell 9000 are made from cedar, while many others are made with softer woods like linden or basswood.
- Fun Fact: Staedtler and Faber-Castell have long battled over which company was established first as a pencil manufacturer, which was eventually drawn into a legal case in the 1990's (Faber-Castell won).
India - Hindustan Pencils (mfg. for Nataraj, Apsara, and Sivo)
Pencil to try: 621 Ruby HB
- Depends on the pencil! The most popular pencil, the 621 Ruby, runs a little firm and gritty for an HB, while other pencils like the Absolute are silky and smooth.
- Pencils are made with soft woods like linden or poplar, which are often sourced from local farmland, court yards or even residential premises.
- Fun Fact: Hindustan pencils are made with materials all manufactured in India - mostly made by Hindustan themselves, even down to the tiny screws holding the blades on their sharpeners.
Japan - Mitsubishi, Tombow, Kitaboshi, Camel, Blackwing
Pencil to Try: 9800 HB
- Runs soft - Japanese pencils are especially smooth and dark. An HB feels more like a B or even a 2B in some cases.
- Pencils from Japan are typically some of the highest quality in the world, with very well-centered cores, high-quality California Incense Cedar, and lovely finishing details (and an average of 14 coats of paint).
- Japanese cores tend to have a little polymer mixed in the graphite, making them a little less smudgy than most pencils!
- Fun Fact: Most Japanese pencils have a pre-determined designation stamped on them, such as "Master Writing," "Hi-precision Drafting," or "Office Use." This dates back to a time when there were strict pricing regulations on school and office supplies in Japan, so pencils needed a designated purpose in order to price and market them correctly.
Pakistan - Shahson's
Pencil to try: Goldfish Autocrat
- Runs true to grade - an HB is pretty well balanced
- While the paint jobs on these pencils can be very inconsistent, for an inexpensive pencil these hold up pretty well and do not shatter too easily, while keeping their point well. We recommend them often for lefties, as the imprinting reads left-handed!
- Fun Fact: Shahson's most well-known pencil, the Goldfish Autocrat, used to be scented to smell like sandalwood!
Portugal - Viarco
Pencil to try: Desenho HB
- Runs true to scale
- These pencils have incredible point retention, with very crisp graphite cores.
- Made using quality cedar wood
- Fun Fact: The Viarco's creative director designed their gorgeous scented pencils with his grandmother in mind - she grew these plants in her backyard.
Spain - Milan
Pencil to try: Milan Graphite/Highlighter Combo
- Runs firm - HB feels more like an H
- Pencils from Milan tend to have especially innovative qualities - such as an unusual shape, or a special add-on like the graphite and highlighter combo pencil.
- Pencil cores have really nice point retention and are generally pretty break resistant.
- Fun Fact: Milan first launched in 1918, when synthetic erasers were first invented. Their erasers continue to be one of their best-selling products (and they make excellent erase-sharpener combo units!)
Switzerland - Caran d'Ache
Pencil to Try: Edelweiss HB
- Runs true to scale
- Swiss pencils are made with California Incense Cedar (with the exception of their exotic wood pencils!), and even though they are extremely common in art supply stores across the world, are really nice quality.
- The graphite in the cores is milled exceptionally finely, making these a little less smudgy and really nice to sharpen. The core is made from a precise combination of graphites from three different countries.
- Fun Fact: The name Caran d'Ache is pronounced the same as karandash, which actually means "pencil" in Russian. Caran d'Ache takes their name from a 19th century French cartoonist who used the term as a pseudonym.
United States - Musgrave, General Pencil Company, Moon Products
Pencil to try: Semi-Hex 498 #2
- Runs true to scale - we even use the Semi-Hex as a benchmark for testing out all our other pencils!
- Many US pencils are made with California incense cedar, however some are made with cheaper quality woods.
- We find that America pencils can be fairly cheap, but generally are great pencils for the price. The Bugle by Musgrave is one of our all-time best sellers, because for its simplicity and humble price, it holds its point incredible well. The same can be said for many American pencils!
- Interesting note: General's Pencil Factory in Jersey City, NJ, first established in 1889, is the only remaining pencil factory in a once-prolific East Coast industry that once included Dixon Ticonderoga, Eberhard Faber, Empire, Eagle, and a US branch of Koh-i-Noor.
*Technically, we carry pencils from 12 different countries, as Tombow has started making many of their pencils in Vietnam. However, the quality has remained consistent to the standard from when they were manufactured in Japan, so we still consider these to be Japanese-quality pencils.
**While founded in France, as far as we know Conté pencils are no longer manufactured in France.