Thursday, July 19, 2007

Caran d’Ache Lead Review

Caran d’Ache Lead Review

Caran d’Ache leads were one of the surprise performers in the 2006 Lead Cup, losing to Pentel Ain in the grand final, so it’s high time they received proper recognition with a review of their own.
Firstly, according to my 2006 catalogue, Caran d’Ache only offer a very limited range of thin lead refills, but just to confuse me the catalogue lists leads in two different sections, and they disagree with each other.

One section of the catalogue lists the range as
0.5mm = B, HB, F, H, 3H, 4H
0.7mm = B, HB, 2H
The other section lists the range as
0.5mm = B, HB
0.7mm = B, HB, 2H

Well, that certainly got me confused for a starter. Presumably they are in the process of scaling down their offering.

Right then, I have only ever had a couple of containers of 0.5 and 0.7mm HB grade Cd’A leads, so obviously I needed to get some more of their range to do a proper review. Caran d’Ache isn’t available in my country so it was off to that world wide interweb net thing to do some shopping. Talk about easier said than done!

Whilst Caran d’Ache writing instruments and mechanical pencils are fairly easily to obtain online, their lead refills are another matter. Very few retailers seem to offer them, and it gets harder from there. For instance I found one retailer who offered a full range of lead sizes and grades. Now this made me a little suspicious as it included many grades not in the CdA catalogue. As I was keying in my order, I suddenly realised the reference numbers were exactly the same as the reference numbers for the Pentel leads on this same retailer’s website. I didn’t complete that order! Then I found another retailer who offered a reasonable selection, but after placing my order they contacted me to say that most of the ones I had ordered were “not imported into the USA”. (This went along with my earlier theory of Cd’A reducing their range offer.) I went ahead and paid a small fortune to get the ones they did have. When the package arrived they had sent HB leads instead of the B leads which I had ordered, and was invoiced for. To make matters even worse, they had previously told me they couldn’t supply HB as it wasn’t imported into the USA, only B was!!!! Their customer services department then refused to accept they had sent me HB and so basically they’ve shafted me and that’s that. Yet another retailer to cross off my list! And yes, months later these turkeys still have all the leads that they said “are not imported into the USA” listed on their own website.

Seriously, it’s just nonsense, I’ve spent seventy-five bucks and ended up with 3 containers each of 0.5mm HB, 0.7mm HB and 0.7mm B leads. Complete madness! Surely things aren’t supposed to be this hard. Enough whinging, on with the review, limited though it might be.

Firstly the aesthetics. Well, Caran d’Ache don’t seem to put much importance on this aspect of their leads. The only markings on the containers are a four digit catalogue number, the hardness grade, and the recyclable plastic symbol for plastic number 6 – polystyrene. That’s it. They don’t mark their name or logo on the lead containers, they don’t have “leads” or anything on them, they don’t even say the lead diameter - you have to work it out from the four digit code, i.e. 6705 are 0.5mm and 6707 are 0.7mm leads. This really is rather surprising in todays market. Fair enough if they don’t want to make a big song and dance on the container, but to not even put their own name or logo on them…???
The lead container is a simple rectangular transparent container with an opaque red top. There are 12 sticks of 60mm long lead per container. You pull the top off and the leads are right there – no fancy ‘lead-dispenser systems’ for these guys. Don’t mix those red tops up either, otherwise your container of 0.5mm HB just turned into 0.7mm B leads.

During the 2006 Lead Cup, Caran d’Ache leads had two consistently reliable winning characteristics, namely they laid down a good solid very dark line, and were very resistant to smearing. Their strength was in the “above average” category and erasability was not so good. Actually if you think about it, excellent smear resistance and poor erasability could easily go hand in hand.

Load your weapons! Let’s do some writing with 0.7mm HB and B leads, compare them to each other, and to Pental Ain which I’ll take as the “test standard”. Firstly, when it comes to blackness there isn’t much difference between the two, but B is darker, as it should be. If you write a paragraph in HB, and then one in B, you can see a difference, but really it’s not all that big a difference. As I’ve said before, manufacturers could probably delete every second hardness grade and we’d never really miss them. Whilst there may not be much difference between HB and B, both being good solid dark leads, I do think they are a little darker than their Pentel Ain counterparts - again you notice it if you write a paragraph or two for comparison.

When it comes to smoothness, then both HB and B are smooth, but again if you really try and compare the two, then HB is just that little harder and rougher. I did feel that in comparison Pentel Ain was a fraction smoother writing than Caran d’Ache.

Excellent smear resistance was a trait of Caran d’Ache in the Lead Cup, though whether that’s a good or bad trait depends on you. For general writing, smear resistance is a good thing, but many an artist might like to blend and smear the graphite as part of their sketches. Well, when it comes to smear resistance, Caran d’Ache have got it in bucketfuls. For comparison I wrote a few words with Pentel Ain HB and Caran d’Ache B lead, and wiped my finger quickly over them. You expect a B grade lead to smear more than a HB. But no way, Caran d’Ache B lead stays put better than Ain HB. Don’t buy Caran d’Ache if you want a “good smeary lead”!

These Caran d’Ache leads are good strong break-resistant leads, but not quite as strong as Pentel Ain. Really though, I’m one of those who thinks no one should have breakage problems with 0.7mm leads, and personally I think good 0.5mm leads are plenty strong enough for most of us as well.

So, overall, Caran d’Ache leads are excellent leads, but they really could do with a few more grades, and being easier to purchase!

Photo: Not in the best of condition, but this is the little cardboard box that holds 12 refill containers.


Anonymous said...

bummer that you got shafted by that retailer. goes to show you that even morons can make money.

lastwinj at yahoo dot com

Anonymous said...

Ken Bromley art supplies do a nice range of cheap caran d'ache leads.They havea great website. I just bought the 2mm fixpencil with the integrated sharpener in the plastic push button. They are selling
the leads in 6 packs for £2.15. Cheap no?

Kiwi-d said...

Thanks for the note about ken Bromley. Their CdA leads do seem a good deal, although only HB available in 0.5 and 0.7mm

Penmaniacs said...

hey dave, do you know where i might be able to buy or order the new caran d ache 2009 or 2008 catolog?

Penmaniacs said...

Dave, on the sidebar of your blog you have a "the answer is 515"
is that the number of mechanical pencil masterpieces you own?
if not then what is it

Kiwi-d said...

Re catalogue, sorry, no idea.
Re '515', yes you win Jeopardy.

Lou said...

Dave, on the sidebar of your blog you now have "Let's Play Jeopardy 691". Could this mean that you've purchased 176 mechanical pencil masterpieces since Wynne and Wes posted a similar question to you in 2009? If so, shouldn't you be seeking help for your mechanical pencil problem? I know a good psychiatrist in Canada who specializes in mechanical pencil addictions. Let me know...

Kiwi-d said...

Its worse... that 691 hasn't been updated for a long time... might just delete that sidebar element.