I primarily use fountain pens for my day to day writing and drawing at work, but sometimes I need to pick up a pencil to make some sketches or demonstrate a point. I have a range of pencils, from standard wooden ones to a series of mechanical pencils and clutch pencils. My Worther Shorty pencil is great to carry around due to its short length and chubby grip (who would have guessed that a pencil called Shorty would indeed be short). My Koh-I-Noor clutch pencil with a 5.6mm lead is amazing for shading work and for detail I often use my Parker Sonnet mechanical pencil.
I recently stumbled across a Japanese brand called OHTO that produce a range of pencils and pens and thought that I should grab a few to see if they would enter my daily rotation at work. I particularly like the look of the mechanical pencils that are dressed up to look like traditional pencils.
OHTO was founded in 1929 manufacturing inks, produced the first ball point in Japan in 1949, then finally the company was renamed to OHTO in 1974. The first ball point pen that they made was disguised to look like a pencil, so I find it fitting that my favourite looking products from them are mechanical pencils disguised in the same way.
OHTO Sharp Pencil Small This pen is very very small. I first got this accidentally when thought I was ordering a normal OHTO sharp pencil. It was possibly the biggest disappointment in the box as it was tiny and I was expecting a normal sized mechanical pencil. It turns out that I had clicked the wrong button and ordered this instead! With a dark green painted wooden shaft, the pencil is only around 11cm long and 0.5cm wide making it a bit too small for most tasks. It holds and dispenses 0.5mm leads and has a small pinkish eraser at one end. The fit and finish on this pencil is superb, the text on the side is in silver writing and the metal work of the mechanism and the writing end is also in silver. It extends the lead by a reasonable amount each click, ~1mm, but due to the diminutive size long sessions of sketching or writing are not really on the table. Overall I like the look of this pencil, but probably won't use it for much.
OHTO Sharp Pencil This is the actual pencil that I thought I had ordered in the first place. It feels almost identical to a normal wooden pencil, but is slightly chunkier in width. The green painted wooden shaft looks amazing, the colour reminding a friend of British racing green and I agree. It is very comfortable to hold, the mechanism is excellent and I really love this pencil. The attention to fine detail isn't as good as with the small pen; the mechanism at the top is silver, the writing on the shaft golden and the lead guide at the writing end is also golden in colour. I put some of my favourite lead (Pentel Ain Stein 2B) into the pencil and have used it almost every day since it arrived. It is great for precision drawing and taking quick notes.
OHTO Sharp Pencil 2.0 In the same colour as the small and normal pencils (dark green), this pencil looks like a slightly shorter and thicker version of the normal Sharp Pencil. It uses a 2mm lead core, which can be used either for shading or if you use a lead pointer then for precision work. Same great mechanism as the smaller pencils but this time all the detailing is in gold. The wider barrel diameter is the most comfortable of the pencils and when I am drawing for extended periods of time I will reach for this. The need for a lead pointer makes this slightly less useful, or at least more effort to use but it is worth it. I cannot find the Pentel Ain Stein lead in 2mm so instead I have used some Pelikan lead when the refil it came with was used up. This lead is smooth and holds a point well so definitely a good solution for this pencil. I also have a plain wood version of the pencil, the jury is still on which one I like more as they are both beautiful items.
OHTO Auto Sharp 0.5mm This is a more traditional looking cheap mechanical pencil. Plastic bodied in dark green it just looks like a much cheaper pencil. It has a soft touch grip section in black and a silver pencil guide and push button. The body is triangular and is similar to the LAMY Safari, I quite like the feel in the hand but it is probably quite polarising. The claimed benefit of this pencil is the auto sharp mechanism, the pencil keeps feeding lead as you use it up so in theory you will never run out. I have tried my best but if you are drawing with this it should keep you in lead quite efficiently. I like the mechanism, but I won't be using this much if at all as it doesn't look anywhere near as nice as the Sharp Pencils or the next pencil of the bunch.
OHTO Horizon Pencil This is by far the most feature laden of the pencils tested in this group. It has the same auto feed mechanism as the Autosharp, but also comes with a push button retraction system to protect the mechanism when being stored. It works in a similar way to a ball point pen and is very unique. The barrel is hexagonal tapering to round near the lead and is slight thinner than the Super Sharp 2.0 pencil but weighs a bit more due to the metal construction. It looks superb, comes in a wide range of colours and takes 0.5mm refills. The pen is nicely constructed and feels more premium than the price should command. This is probably the best overall of the bunch, but something keeps drawing me back to the wooden barrelled pens.
Pentel Ain Stein Lead I have this lead in 0.5mm & 0.7mm diameter, in hardness ratings of HB, B & 2B and really like using it. It is stronger than most lead so there is very little breakage when in use, but still manages to be smooth when laying down graphite onto paper. It is 2-3x more expensive than the normal Pentel lead & a lot of the competition but is also the most reliable. At £3.50 for 40 x 60mm leads it doesn't seem particularly expensive in absolute terms.
In the future I will be doing a review comparison of lots of different lead types, but for now I have not found anything better than Ain Stein
I now find myself using the Ohto Sharp Pencil, Sharp Pencil 2.0 & Horizon all the time. I love the way that they look and feel in the hand and when combined with the Ain Stein lead they lay down a superb line. At only £6 for the Horizon and less for the others they are superb value and definately worth adding to any pen/pencil pot.
Where to buy: