Saturday, March 11, 2006

Staedtler graphite 777 Mechanical Pencil Review

Art, Mechanical Pencils and a Hint of Envy?

If you search the blogs for pencils or mechanical pencils you get a lot of results for artists mentioning the pencil they use for their artwork. Now I have looked at a few of these sites and there are a lot of talented people out there. One thing that has really surprised me though is the number of people who seem to be drawing with thin lead mechanical pencils. I am not surprised at them using mechanicals, it’s the thin lead bit that I find surprising.

There are a number of mechanical pencils advertised as “sketch” pencils; usually they are clutch mechanism (or leadholder) types, with thick leads in the 1.5 to 3mm sort of range. Some are even thicker again. I have absolutely zero artistic ability, but have always imagined 0.5 / 0.7mm leads to be a bit thin for drawing, and that artists would be using something thicker. So I asked a couple of these artists what particular pencil they used, and there was a common thread amongst their replies, namely something cheap and disposable because they frequently lost their pencils. Some were almost apologetic or embarrassed about using a “cheap” pencil. So my surprise deepened. Not only were my lead thickness ideas wrong, but my idyllic image of them sketching away with a fine mechanical pencil from Lamy or Faber-Castell was also out of the window. Just how wrong could I be? I do have trouble getting my head around this. They invariably draw on good quality paper like Moleskine notebooks, but their drawing instrument is seemingly of little consequence.

One particular artist was OMWO from “The Way of the Indiscreet Mechanical Pencil” and he said that he currently used the Staedtler 777. I thought that if it’s good enough for him, I should give it a try, and went to the store and bought one. So, obviously a brief review of the Staedtler 777 is in order.

The Staedtler “graphite 777” is a basic lightweight all plastic economy model mechanical pencil available in 0.5 and 0.7mm lead. It has a push top ratchet mechanism with a fixed tip. The body comes in a variety of attractive, bright, almost semi-transparent colours, and is slightly flexible with an almost rubber feel to it. I quite like this flexy body concept, and there is no problem with where to grip this pencil (anywhere you like), but it does start to bring out my anti-rubber grip feelings. The uncovered eraser on top is a matching colour to the body. Bare erasers are a feature of many economy pencils – I guess manufacturers save a few cents by not putting a cap on the eraser. This means you can see a dirty smeared worn down eraser, but on the other hand you have quick and easy access to it. The eraser is a decent size and seems to erase fairly well.

You load more leads into the mechanism by pulling the entire pocket clip section off the body. I do wonder about the long-term viability of this arrangement, but it is Staedtler (serious German engineering), so I’m sure you would get your money’s worth from it. This arrangement does mean that you can use the eraser, insert a new eraser and refill the lead magazine all without activating the lead advance mechanism. That’s more than many a pencil can claim. So, overall this is a perfectly good economy grade pencil.


  • Best Points – Interesting “flexy” body in a range of bright attractive colours.
  • Not So Good Points – “Rubbery” feel to the body, uncovered eraser – but give them some points for the matching colour scheme.
  • Price Range – Economy

Dimensions: 144mm long, 8mm diameter.

Now if any artist ever actually reads this blog, I would really like to know about the mechanical pencil you use, and your thoughts on it. Thin lead or thick? Why? Cheap disposable pencil or something more? Do you think your pencil is an important part of your art? If so, don’t you want a good quality mechanical pencil like a craftsman wants a good reliable tool? Or is it only the quality of the lead that counts – lead is a consumable and the holder is irrelevant beyond basic functionality? So take pity on an envious engineer, one who can’t draw without a T-square and template, and thinks that 0.7mm is a really fat line. Enlighten me!

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm an artist, and I use both thick and thin lead pencils, and also both mechanical and wooden. You want thin lines, use thin leads or a sharp point. You want expressive, shaded sketches, use a fat soft lead. Often use both in one drawing. Cheap is OK as long as they perform well, but I like fancier pencils, too. I have a bunch of cheap Staedtler Polo .5 pencils I picked up at Big Lots years ago - they're great! I just googled "Staedtler Polo" and found something that looks exactly like your 777, not like what I have at all, so maybe they don't make this model anymore. I really, really like my Caran D'ache fixpencil 3mm for sketching. They're sort of hard to find, but Lee Valley Tools carries them.

Fallbrook construction said...
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Dorai said...

Does anyone know where one can get the graphite 777, and also the related Staedtler triplus micro, in the US -- whether brick-store or online? I like the plain-cylinder or plain-prism look of these pencils (without the ergonomic bulges and striations common these days), and also the promise of the extra-large eraser on the triplus micro.

I concur with the observation about artists' general lack of exacting fetishism about their marking tools. In this they seem markedly different from those who self-describe themselves as writers. All the drawing-instruction books that I have have some perfunctory text on choice of pencil, but there isn't any conviction in it -- one of them mused that promotional ("swag") pencils felt good to draw with. Artists seem to use anything at hand, and to exploit whatever serendipitous quality it may have without seeking to fulfill a pre-determined quest for any particular properties. For writers, a pencil must be *just* so. Perhaps it makes sense in a way: A writer needs to be able to have the same quality sustained over a long period of time. Variations are not opportunities to be exploited but obstacles that trip up the writing process... (Of course, someone is going to upset this beautiful theory with some ugly hard facts.)

kiwi-d said...

Thanks for your comments. The 777 must be easy to find as Google swamps you with US retail options, but the Triplus seems to be mostly European sites - at least on the first few pages.

kiwi-d said...

But then again
http://www.utrechtart.com/dsp_view_product.cfm?classId=1510&subclassID=151010&brandname=&item=24791
The Staedtler Triplus.

OMWO said...

Well, I use 0.5mm leads because I want to carry a single mechanical pencil with me, and I use it for everything, from writing grocery lists to drawing on my pocket-sized moleskine, so those leads are just what the doctor ordered.

Concerning the rubber grip, the one on the 777 seems to be quite nice to touch and pretty resistent to wear and tear. At least the way I use it.

Concerning special grips etc, I think I like a pencil that feels as simple as possible. Most mechanical pencils with fancy grips and stuff like that become too specialized for a specific task. Worse, you are always aware of the presence of the pencil. Its special properties make you constantly aware of it.

I like a pencil that will be almost unnoticed in my hand. Like an extension of it, as featureless and as discrete as possible. I want to forget about the pencil, I want to think of the drawing. It's kinda hard when the pencil has neon signs all around it and carries everythibng including the kitchen sink :)

kiwi-d said...

Thanks to you all for your comments, I do actually feel enlightened!

Anonymous said...

I'm in Canada and the world of mechanical pencils seems to be getting smaller all the time. All of these pencils you're asking about used to be readily available at retail locations. Two factors have come into play. First, Staples has put a lot of independent stores out of business and the selection has dropped. Secondly, nearly all the older brands like Berol, Papermate and Uniball have all gradually almagamated into one, and atr now under the brand of 'Papermate" in Canada. This reduces selection and competition.

Staples does have a catalogue of items that you can special order from, and they have a larger range of pencils in the catalogue.

The second thing I can recommend is to find a local supplier and get them to order something in for you.

The Staedtler Triplus and 777 are both available, but stores that used to carry them have replaced them with cheaper quality brands like Pentech.

From an artistic perspective, I like to draw with a 0.5mm pencil and a 2H lead. The price doesn't matter--you pick a pencil that has the right 'feel' when you draw, and what may look like a good pencil may not work for drawing. The grip is important if you're going to be drawing for extended periods. You need something that feels comfortable and does not dig into your finger if you hold it for a while.

MMO AGGRO said...

that pencil was my very first mechanical pencil and i still use it today

Pipps said...

Does anyone know if the 0.5mm labeled version of this pencil will accept and operate with 0.7mm leads? I cannot seem to find one anywhere that is sold as a 07. Please help!

Kiwi-d said...

Hi Pipps. Sorry, no 0.5mm pencil will operate with 0.7mm leads, or vice-versa.

OMWO said...

Has anyone noticed a decline in the quality of the 777? I've had a lot of trouble with them recently, with the mechanism dying on me quite a lot. They used to last a long time. Usually I replaced them simply because the plastic grip sometimes degraded with time and became all weird and sticky, but now I've been replacing them quite fast because they stop working all of a sudden. It's really nagging at me, I still love the 777, the eraser on it is unbeatable for my type of drawings, and it's so light and cheap and doesn't open holes on my pockets. I love my 777 still, but I hope staedtler isn't becoming too cheap for its own good. Maybe I just got a bad batch, so I'd like to hear from other people.

Kiwi-d said...

Hi OMWO, long time no hear. I am afraid I personally cannot comment on your 777 matter, but my experiences with Staedtler have always been positive and if I was you I would contact them about it. If it is a quality control problem on a particular batch then they may well be grateful to hear from you.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Kiwi-d :)
yeah, it's been awhile!

>if I was you I would contact them about it

I guess I may do that, thanks for the advice.

Cheers!

OMWO

a nobud said...

I'm no artist, but do have to occasionally draw for school stuff, but does anyone know where to get this pencil in the United States? Thanks... that would help a lot. This seems too off the hook...

Anonymous said...

I have been religiously using the Staedtler 777s for about a year, and on all of mine the clip wears a groove into the rubbery body compound around the circumference of the pencil. I actually like the feel of the compound, but it's very strange-it's not durable like plastic but it's also not resilient like rubber. It's a bit unfortunate but they are still great pencils, especially for the price.

Also, at "a nobud", I got mine at a university bookstore, so maybe try there.

a nobud said...

Yeahhhhh, except I'm not anywhere near a university, and don't attend one regularly, so that option is out.

Anonymous said...

I'm an artist. We like the fat leads to use with a lead pointer and the thin ones for when no pointer is available.

Anonymous said...

I've been using these for quite a while now and find that they do eventually wear out (I posted as Anonymous in April). On my oldest ones, the lead now gets pushed back into the pencil during normal writing, making them pretty much useless. Luckily my bookstore still has some in stock and I bought 6 new ones, fearing that they will stop carrying them. I've yet to find a pencil as good as this that is available to me in the US (either online or in a store near me). I use my Staedtler 925 25 when I'm at home but when I have to carry a pencil with me it can't have a rigid drafting point or I'll break it, and it can't be expensive because I'll probably lose it. These are almost perfect.

Sapphire said...

I keep finding posts that I haven't seen before.
What I use depends on what I'm doing.
A quick sketch for reference will use anything to hand that'll make a mark.
Underdrawing for a finished ink drawing will be done in 0.5mm pencil because I need a fine line and can't be bothered with sharpening. Any thing would do but I tend to use rotring tikkies because I use rotring pens.
For a finished pencil drawing I'd use mainly woodcased pencils or woodless graphite crayons because I can sculpt the points.
I don't go for a million grades because you can a huge range of tone from a single pencil by varying the angle and pressure. I tend to stick with B, 4B and 8B because the softer grade seems to take over when pressing harder on the lighter grade gets inconvenient or starts to flatten the the paper. A fairly hard lead, 2H or 4H is useful for light shadows or burnishing layers of soft graphite to get an even tone.
Most of the pencil artists I know have a limited range of grades like this but we all seem to have different ranges. So the makers can still sell the full range of grades - but not to the same person. Something similar seems to apply to paintbrush sizes.
It's probably why there are so many grades and why adjacent ones are just about indistinguishable.

Anonymous said...

I don't recommend the 777. It gets easily clogged an is ALMOST impossible to repair. Opt for a triplus micro instead.

James said...

Is this pencil being phased out? It used to be abundant on ebay with dozens of sellers offering them - now there's none!

Anonymous said...

I currently have and use a Berol Mechanical Pencil, 0.9mm, every day for the past 12+ years. It is just now starting to wobble a bit on the point. I have contacted a few stores in the area but, no one seems to carry it. So I googled it and found one in Russia for $34 plus $
9.50 for shipping. That seems to be alot of money for a mechanical pencil. Does anyone have any contacts or ideas where I might find one?

Kevin said...

The color-coordinated eraser is a big plus when using colored leads. It is easy to see which pencil has which color when 3 or 4 are in your pocket. The eraser is also large enough to be useful. This is an excellent pencil for map makers.

Pedro said...

I had been drawing since my childhood and has always used mechanical pencils. I left the practice of regular drawing when I went to work on my parent's pharmacy. There I used pens. I drawed sometimes, untill now that I am pensioned and I am constanlty drawing portraits. I have restarted the artistic phase of me. The first months I used wooden pencils, but then I wanted a replacement for constant sharpening and blunt points, and, alas, the mess that follows sharpening! Reading the books of Lee Hammond, she recommends mechanical pencils for drawing, and she has been drawing with Pentel (Kerry?) pencils since more than 20 years. She has developed a complete style resting on mechanical pencils, and I am following all her advices. Needless to say, her drawings are wonderful. The best of mechanical pencils is that you don't have to worry about sharpening and constantly lose the form of the tip. I love mechanical pencils. Right now I am using a Rotring 600 with .7 tips, a Pentel Kerry with .5 tips, Pilot Croquis (all lead sizes, 3 of them), and have ordered a Lamy 2000 (thank's to this site) and Ohto pencils. Will be buying many others in the future because I am also a fan of pencils. I consider myself and artist, and I love mechanical pencils. When I found Dave's Mechanical Pencils blog, my passion for pencils became a fetishism.

Kiwi-d said...

Welcome Pedro.

Rot Ring said...

Hi Pedro,
using a rotring 600 you are my man :D
Where can we look at your art?

Pedro said...

For now I have some drawings on Facebook, you can search for Pedro A Vazquez BUT, please include a note before or in the moment that you want friendship. I'll then be your friend or of anyone here that asks for it. Just don't speak about politics or religion... thanks

Anonymous said...

I'm an artist I've been drawing through my whole life ,I use mechanical pencils on daily basis, and since I discovered your Cool blog I became addicted to these pencils ,I used both disposable pencils and the (more) as you said above ,lately I've been using pilot super grip loaded with blue pilot color eno to block in and use a rotring tikky 0.9 to clean up the drawing.

And If you want to draw straight lines without the use of templates or rulers try drawing the line by swinging your arm ,and this a video for feng zhu explaining it more http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMTU4MTk4OTgw.html (the quality isn't much but you will get the message)

Anonymous said...

very interesting, I'll forward this, thank you.

Anonymous said...

One of the early posts mentioned staedtler polo. That pencil was a rage in India in the 90s. It was quite different from the polo that features in the staedtler catalog for the international market. It had a clip and a push button like a micro or micro-fix s. There were two variants - polo GT and polo GT special, the latter one having a stainless steel lead sleeve. Colors were limited to pink, gray and sky blue. Suddenly in early 2001, Graphite 777 or Mars 777 replaced the polo, the price range being the same (50 Rs roughly 1 US dollar). I lost my special polo and purchased a midnight blue version of the mars 777. For a mechanical engineer who has a shit-load of drafting work, this is the most ridiculous pencil ever. Besides, I am not sure whether any of you folks have experienced that the green and orange versions have a slightly different texture. I am saying this because, the blue one when exposed to sweat and grime used to wear out in layers (similar to a snake shedding skin. I know it is a gross analogy but that is the best I could quote). Moreover, when I mounted the pencil on my compass and 6 months of use nearly punctured a hole rendering the pencil useless. I tossed the damn thing and bought a dark green Faber Castell contura, a purple version of the contura, a steel blue staedtler hi-matic and another polo gt with a resin sliding sleeve. These guys served me well but as careless as I was, I lost them. Currently as a student in the states, I use a papermate clickster and a papermate silhouette. The bottomline is that I thing that the Graphite 777 or Mars 777 is a disappointment to staedtlers reputation as the maker of one the finest mechanical pencils.

Anonymous said...

I have just bought a Staedtler graphite 777 with 0.5mm leads. It is white with violet hibiscus flowers all over the body and a fitting violet clip. The eraser is white,too.
Staedtler has brought out a whole series of writing instruments in this design which I find quite retro. The pencil is covered with a thin foil which has the flower motive printed on and will soon wear off for sure. It was made to last one to two years with less frequent use, not longer. So don`t expect much quality or durability from this particular model.