Hello pencil pals!
Most of the recommendation questions we get from you guys are about the different things that pencils can do on paper. But sometimes you need a pencil that can write on something else (our favorite is the dentist who needed an indelible pencil to label dental molds--now their office bulk-orders Viarco Copying Pencils). We have two kinds of pencils now that are made specifically for writing on difficult surfaces, so I thought I would break down what they're made of and what they can write on so you can decide which one best suits your needs!
The Stabilo All-Surface Pencil is a water soluble-pencil made in the Czech Republic that can write on paper, glass, plastic, and metal. Because it is water soluble, it can be easily wiped off of surfaces with a damp cloth. We carry it in graphite, white, and red. They are the size of a regular pencil and come pre-sharpened. You can use a regular sharpener on these pencils (knife, hand-held, or crank), though I wouldn't recommend going for a long point on the white or red ones, as the cores are quite soft.
The Mitsu-bishi Dermatograph 7600 are paper-wrapped grease pencils made in Japan. They come in 12 colors, and we have five of them. I love holding these pencils--they are about the size of a mini-jumbo and the paper is super glossy. The cores don't come sharpened, so they can be a bit funky to write with straight out of the box, but the core is so soft and pigmented, it doesn't matter so much. These are also really fun to "sharpen," by pulling off a strip of the paper. The cores are made of wax, talcum powder, and pigment.
Here's how both the Stabilo and the Dermatograph look on glass:
I was surprised by this result as a few of the window sign painters in our neighborhood come in regularly to get the Stabilo's to lay out their designs on the windows before painting them over. But I can see how the red or white one would be good for making precision marks on glass for something like a "rough draft" or a cut mark. The graphite Stabilo was barely visible on this glass (I did try it on a regular window and it worked a bit better, but I had a terrible time trying to photograph it!) The Dermatographs showed up much brighter, but you lose a bit in precision. All of these marks were resistant to running water. The Stabilo's wipe off easily without much work. The Dermatographs required a bit more elbow grease, but I wouldn't consider either pencil difficult to remove.
Cut to me, wandering around my apartment, looking for alternative surfaces to write on. On plastic:
All of the pencils performed very well on the plastic lid of my turntable, including the Stabilo Graphite. Again, the Stabilos wiped off very easily with a damp cloth, while the Dermatographs wipes off "moderately easily" (is that a thing?).
On metal (this is my bike):
Again, all the pencils worked beautifully on this powder-coated metal. The water-soluble Stabilos wiped right off. This was the most difficult surface from which to remove the Dermatograph though. I scrubbed and you can still kind of see traces of my little swatch rainbow.
In conclusion, I think the Stabilos are good for temporary marks on difficult surfaces: measuring things, writing prices on items at a yard sale, sketching a draft, etc. The Dermatographs feel better for high-visibility and more permanent work, like labeling, color-coding, etc. Both of them are fun to play with and work really well on paper, so they're all great for playing around!