We often get questions about soft pencils: which ones are the darkest, which ones are the best for sketching, which ones are the smoothest. But we rarely give a lot of love to the harder side of the scale. Sometimes we'll get a woodworker who needs to make super-precise measurements, or an architect who wants something extra fine to make a diagram, but otherwise, this side of the grading scale often goes ignored.
Hard pencils have a lot of advantages though! They don't smudge as much (lefties, I'm looking at you!) and you don't have to sharpen them very often. They also last a lot longer than their softer counterparts. In fact, I've been working on a Tombow Mono 100 H since January and I still have two and a half inches left to go. So I got together all the 2Hs we have on offer and did some tests:
Caran d'Ache Edelweiss 2H
Caran d'Ache Natura 2H
Viarco Desenho 2H
Mitsu-bishi Hi-Uni 2H
Here's a simple writing test. The lined paper is Maruman paper (a smooth Japanese paper--it's the same one that's in the Mnemosyne notebooks) and the blank paper is 104 gsm Strathmore sketch paper.
As you can see, the Caran d'Ache Edelweiss was the lightest and the Viarco Desenho was the darkest. This surprised me, since I think of Viarco as running on the harder side, but it was distinctly darker than the Japanese 2Hs.
Another advantage of harder pencils is that they tend to erase really well. Here I tested the erasability of the pencils with the Sumo eraser:
All of them erased pretty well (a testament to the wonderful Sumo eraser, too). Because the Edelweiss is so hard, it left the deepest indentation. Even the dark Viarco erased pretty completely though!
Because 2H pencils are popular with people who need to make precise diagrams and measurements, I also performed a ruler test. Here are six-inch lines drawn with each pencil:
The Edelweiss was again the lightest and thinnest; this pencil might be ideal if you're looking for the smallest line-width. The Tajima 2H was designed to be a carpenter's pencil, and I think it's slightly more forgiving feel makes sense, I would trust it to make a thin line even across a bit of wood grain or texture. The Hi-Uni felt the smoothest of all of them. Despite being the darkest and thickest, the Viarco still felt the most friction-y.
Finally, I tested the point retention of each pencil:
Unsurprisingly, the Edelweiss had the best point retention. The point itself was barely changed, and the line-width was pretty consistent for all ten lines. The Viarco Desenho was the worst, with a noticeable blunting of the tip. Of the two Japanese pencils, the Hi-Uni seemed to have better point retention, but only by a tiny amount.
Overall, I had a better time playing with these hard pencils than I thought I would. I generally think of 2Hs as nails, but they really aren't, and the Japanese ones in particular are quite smooth to write with. I think my overall favorite was the Tajima for its balance of darkness and fineness. But each one has its virtues.