What makes a perfect "sampler" pack?
In the analog writing tools world, there are many examples of such packs. Jet Pens has an amazing selection of samplers, CW pencils has a pack of favorite things, and Pencils.com has a Sampler Pack. After acquiring several of the aforementioned, I thought testing them here on Inkpothesis would be fun. They have been sitting patiently to the side while waiting for enough time and sufficient lighting.
I wasn't sure which sampler I would start with until a recent conversation started in The Erasable Podcast Pencil Community on Facebook. A member posted about the possibility of creating a small grouping of pencils what would help newcomers identify their preferences in pencils, and help us answer the question "What's the best pencil for me?" This grouping of pencils would include pencils across a range of attributes- different shapes, sizes, grades, weights, and end types. Being semi-new to pencils, but also having acquired a ridiculous number of different types fairly quickly- this process is very much at the front of my mind. I knew the Pencils.com Sample Pack included a good amount of variety, so I decided to put it to the test first and pair it with some discussion of how this pack is similar and different than my "ideal" pencil starter set.
The Pencils.com Sampler Pack includes 6 pencils for $7.95 which is less than a dollar mark-up from their "individual" prices, and you would need to buy a dozen of many of them to get them to those prices. Immediately upon opening the pack, you notice that the pencils are varying in length and diameter. The Jumbo Palomino Golden Bear immediately put a smile on my face. I have several dozen regular sized Golden Bears, and apparently I didn't read the description of this pack very closely because I had no idea a Jumbo version even existed. Being the visual the outlier of the group, it was the first one I reached for.
The next three of the group were all ones I had previously tried, a sci-fi-fi looking Musgrave Test Scoring along side two natural finish pencils, the Generals and the ForestChoice. The Musgrave is a full-hex pencil with a very thin one-paint layer finish. The thin finish shows off the stark sides of the hex shape, and also contrasts against the other thick lacquered pencils in the pack. The finishes of the two natural pencils are similar, but have a definite different tactile feel. The ForestChoice is a little smoother, while the General's is a much more "raw/grainy" wood feel by my estimation.
I had not tried the final two pencils, the Caran d'Ache Grafwood and the Faber-Castell 9000. As soon as I picked up the Grafwood, I loved it. The thick lacquered finish and slightly larger diameter of the pencil give it a nice weight even without an eraser. The Faber-Castell 9000 also has a very nice lacquer finish, and the design of the dipped end cap is just plain good-looking.
Even without writing with a single one of these pencils, it has already helped identify some of my personal pencil preferences. Semi-hex vs. full-hex vs. round, Jumbo vs. regular vs. in-between, and thin paint finish vs. natural vs. thick lacquer.
Now let's get down to the business of writing.
Results in Pictures:
In general, the two biggest outliers in terms of writing experience in this pack at the buttery Musgrave Test Scoring and the light firm Caran d'Ache Natura. The Faber Castell is the next softest grade coming in at a B, and three remaining pencils are all HB (although there are certainly differences among them especially due to the thick core of the Palomino Golden Bear). Again, there is much to be learned here in terms of preferences. For me, the thick-lacquered dipped Grafwood is by-far my favorite pencil in the hand. And I don't know what it is, but I really don't like the feel of the raw General's pencil. I love the look of raw pencils, but I'm not sure I've found one that I truly love in terms of tactile feel. I really want to like the natural finish, as I know how popular they are among pencil aficionados, but so far in general- it's just not for me. The beauty of a sample pack is that it teaches you about yourself.
In terms of writing experience, the Grafwood is a little hard and light for my every day writing preferences, but would be great for something like lettering where I like to erase and trace over drawings with pen. The Musgrave glides across the page, but doesn't retain a point enough to create the kind of crisp lines I prefer. However, for drawing purposes I see great utility for the pencil, especially considering the price. I was impressed with the point retention of the 9000 in my hands considering the darkness of the lines and the grade B graphite. Again, these are just my personal preferences, and likely yours would be completely different.
In general, I think the Pencils.com Sample Pack is a great start for someone wanting to figure out their preferences- especially for the price.
What is missing from this pack in terms of features? There are no triangular pencils, matte finish pencils, lighter weight pencils, or bare ended pencils. Additionally, the range of grades is only H-Bish.
I have been thinking a lot about what my perfect pencil sampler pack might look like if I was trying to help someone identify their own preferences based on pencils I have tried so far. More on this later, but here's a preview of my first attempt on a sample pack. Back to the discussion in the Erasable group, minimizing the number of pencils while maximizing the range of features covered and minimizing the price while maximizing the quality are both important here. My pack comes in at 8 pencils for $10.04. Still being pretty new to this world, I'm sure my perspective will change over time- and there are likely things even now I am missing/ leaving out/ could improve. I would love to hear your perspective! What would you include in your perfect sampler? What ranges of features do view as most important?