Writing tools are like burritos: a cheap one will get the job done, but a premium one is more satisfying. If you crave a mechanical pencil you’ll treasure instead of tolerate, these are the best available.
There’s a surprising amount of thought and engineering that goes into a high-end pencil. If you haven’t looked at any since grade school, you’ll be shocked at the innovations that have been applied to the basics by some of the more dedicated manufacturers. And if you’ve been using mechanical pencils as the precision writing and drafting instruments that they are, you’ll want to check out the following to broaden your horizons.
We’ve selected models that represent the best overall, the best ultra-premium tool, the best that can advance the graphite without moving your hand, the best for those who prefer a pen feel, and the best for consistent writing sans lead breaks. If those are all categories of pencil bliss you’d never even contemplated before well then, friend, you’re in for a treat.
Best Overall Pencil: Uni Kuru Toga Roulette
The Kuru Toga is a thoughtfully-crafted pencil that won’t break the bank. This Mitsubishi-designed line is a favorite of architects and engineers thanks to the ball bearing mechanism in the head, which automatically rotates the lead as you write, ensuring that the tip is always sharp and precise.
There are a handful of Kuru Toga versions made from metal and plastic with rubber finger grips, but we prefer the Roulette variation. The all-metal shaft is topped off with a knurled crosshatch pattern on the grip area, which won’t break or wear down even in harsh environments. The Kuru Toga Roulette is available only in 0.5 mm, and we recommend pairing it with Kuru Toga brand lead, which is designed specifically for the self-sharpening mechanism with a softer outer shell and harder graphite core. The Standard model is less expensive and available in most office supply stores in 0.3, 0.5, and 0.7 mm variants.
Best Premium Design Pencil: rOtring 800
Fifty bucks may seem like a fortune to spend on a single pencil, but once you try out the top-of-the-line rOtring model, you’ll understand why devotees are willing to do so. The 800’s signature feature is its fully retractable lead sleeve: twist the base and the mechanism retracts the entire head back into the body, protecting it while it’s in your pocket or bag.
The rest of the pencil is full of premium touches, including an all-metal hexagonal design from Germany, knurled grips on the front, back, and even in the removable eraser housing, and an embossed logo on the clip. The 800 comes in black or silver finishes, both with gold and red accents, and it’s available in 0.5 mm and 0.7 mm sizes. The new 800+ model adds a silicone ring to the head, making the body double as a handy phone or tablet stylus when the head is retracted.
Best Pen-Style Pencil: Pentel Sharp Kerry
Maybe you love the flexibility and feel of a mechanical pencil, but your work environment demands something a little more refined. Look no further than the Sharp Kerry from Pentel. This model has remained more or less unchanged since the 1970s, and with good reason.
It mimics the look of a solid fountain pen right down to the removable cap (which handily protects the lead tip when not in use), giving the shaft a more balanced, elongated shape for your hand. The design is basic plastic and comes in a variety of colors, with both 0.5 mm and 0.7 mm variants available for $10-20 depending on the retailer. It’s a bit thicker in the shaft than a typical mechanical pencil, which might be a plus or a minus depending on your grip style.
Best Pencil For Lead-Breakers: Zebra DelGuard
Those who press heavily while writing might shy away from mechanical pencils altogether thanks to the relative fragility of the lead. If that’s you, give the Zebra DelGuard a try. This model uses a double-spring feeding mechanism in the head and tip, locking the lead in place with each advancement. This more or less eliminates lead breakages at the standard 3-5mm lead extension from the tip, so that awful cracking noise when you’re filling in a bubble sheet will be a thing of the past.
Otherwise the design is fairly standard with a plastic body and no finger grip beyond a few body grooves. This is also a solid budget pick with a street price under $10, with various colors available in 0.5 and 0.7mm lead variants. Use it with Zebra’s “Unbreakable” lead refills for the best results.
Zebra DelGuard Mechanical Pencil with Bonus Lead Refill, Fine Point, 0.5mm Point Size, Standard #2 HB Lead, Black Barrel, 1-Count
Best Finger-Advanced Lead Pencil: Pentel Quicker Clicker
This classic design integrates the lead advancement mechanism into the rubber finger grip, allowing busy users to extend the lead tip without adjusting their hand position. It’s a handy feature if you prefer to write or sketch for hours without interruption.
We prefer the Quicker Clicker to Pentel’s similar Side FX design thanks to a thinner shaft, more comfy finger grip, and metal pocket clip, though the latter does feature a much more generous refillable eraser. The Quicker Clicker comes in a wide selection of colors and lead widths, from the minuscule 0.3 mm all the way up to the rare 0.9 mm, which is ideal for quickly filling in standardized answer sheets.