Monday, October 01, 2007

Staedtler Mars Micro Carbon Lead Review

Staedtler Mars Micro Carbon Lead Review

In the 2006 Lead Cup, Staedtler Mars Micro Carbon Leads were eliminated in pool play - they had a tough draw as the eventual Cup winner, Pentel Ain, was in their pool. Staedtler finished second in their pool but missed out advancing to the next round on a points count-back. Here in my part of the world Staedtler leads are quite common, so a review seems in order.

Currently the Staedtler website lists the following size and hardness options for Mars Micro Carbon leads.
0.3mm = B, HB, H, 2H.
0.5mm = 2B, B, F, HB, H, 2H, 3H.
0.7mm = 2B, B, HB, H, 2H.
0.9mm = B, HB.
For the purpose of this review I’ll be sticking to 0.5mm, 2B to 2H as per the line up below. Mars Micro Carbon leads come in clear plastic rectangular container of 12 leads. They have a simple push fit stopper, which once removed allows the leads to pour out. The idea behind this is that many of the Staedtler mechanical pencils have lead refill magazines that will take 12 lead refill sticks at a time and the neck of the tube fits into the top of the pencils refill magazine, making for a quick easy top up. The size label is colour coded to match the lead magazine on Staedtlers pencils, e.g. note how the “0.5mm H” part of the label is a reddy-brown colour, and Staedtlers 0.5mm technical pencils all have that same colour lead magazine. For 0.3mm pencils and leads the colour is yellow, blue for 0.7mm, etc. This is all according to an ISO standard for the colour coding of drawing instruments by line widths. The refill tubes and their labelling are clean and functional, but nothing “fancy” in comparison to some of their (Asian) competitors. The reverse side has a barcode and some recycling symbology. I note that they all state “Made in Germany”.

Now it’s time to put graphite to paper, try a few things and do a comparison or two to the reigning champions, Pentel Ain.

The very first thing I noticed was the lead diameter issue covered in my earlier posting. These Staedtler leads certainly are prone to sliding a little bit through the mechanisms of some non-Staedtler pencils. Let’s have a look at the blackness range of 2B through to 2H. As usual, it’s rather hard to tell one grade from the next one on the scale, but you can see a difference over the full spectrum. One thing I did note was that H definitely felt harder than 2H when I was writing with it. HB was the first grade that felt “smooth”. The harder grades all felt “hard”, you could feel the paper grinding lead off the stick. HB was the first grade that felt smooth. So, there was a clear difference in the “feel” of the lead when changing from F to HB. There was also a noticeable change in feel from B to 2B.

Now let’s do some comparison to Pentel Ain. Ain 2H is definitely harder than Staedtler 2H, though there is not really any difference in blackness. In HB the two brands are fairly similar in hardness, but Staedtler is slightly darker. The story is the same in 2B.

One would assume that Staedtler would tailor their Mars Plastic eraser to suit their pencil leads. So, onto a spot of erasing. Well both 2H’s erased easily and completely, but afterwards you could clearly see how much more the Ain 2H had indented into the paper. There was effectively no difference between the two HB’s. With the 2B’s it was close, a little initial smearing but then both erased reasonably well. However, I do have to say that the Staedtler 2B left behind a little bit more of a residual grey smear than the Pentel Ain did.

I won’t pass judgement on whether the leads should smear easily or not, but not surprisingly, smearability definitely increased as the grade got softer. So 2B smeared much more than 2H. Both Staedtler and Ain were fairly similar in smearability, but if forced to choose I would say that Staedtler smeared just a little more than Pentel Ain.

I guess the one trait that is not debatable is strength. Stronger is better, at least until you reach a point where the leads don’t break in any sort of normal use. After that, extra strength is reasonably irrelevant. Pentel Ain has an impressive reputation when it comes to strength. In 2B, Ain was a bit stronger than Staedtler, and both were clearly weaker than their HB grades. There is a huge leap in strength for Ain 2B to HB, much less of a leap for Staedtler. So Ain HB is significantly stronger then Mars Micro Carbon HB. 2H was slightly stronger than HB, but the difference between Staedtler and Pentel had again narrowed I’m not sure which was the stronger of the two brands. Overall, for Staedtler I am not sure they have reached that point of “strong enough”. I do have some occasional breakages when using Mars Micro Carbon leads. I would rate their strength as “OK” or “Acceptable” rather than as “Good” or “Outstanding” like Pentel Ain.

In closing then, Staedtler Mars Micro Carbon leads are good, but they could do with a little more strength in 0.5mm. For 0.7mm and 0.9mm I don’t think there is any issue.

As well as the containers of 12 leads, Staedtler also offer 0.5mm and 0.7mm, 2B and HB leads in a much larger container of 40 leads. This container is a push button dispenser – you push and hold the grey end cap in and leads can then pour out of the conical neckpiece one at a time. Here’s an older version of the container of 12 – it’s the same plastic moulding, just made in opaque blue rather than the current clear plastic, and the labelling is different. In particular the leads are called Mars Micrograph rather than Mars Micro carbon. The actual Staedtler part number is still the same, 250 05-Hardness.


Anonymous said...

I didn't know anybody got fancy with the lead packets. That's just nuts, a mechanical lead dispenser for your mechanical pencil.

Mandrake said...

Great review :) Keep up the good work. I enjoy reading them all mate.

Anonymous said...

You reviewed the old "Micro Carbon" formula leads. A few months ago Staedtler released leads using the new "Polycarbon" formula. Staedtler says they are the worlds best leads.

The new leads have a 20% higher fracture resistance and much improved gliding ability. They come in the same tubes as the old ones but Polycarbon written on the sticker on the tube.

kiwi-d said...

Interesting. Well there's no mention of this "polycarbon" lead on the Staedtler international website but I'll keep my eyes open, and do another review in due corse. Certainly "polycarbon" haven't made it down under yet.

Anonymous said...

They are the mine equivalent to the new pencils they talk about in this press release

This is how they look:

Gunther said...

Yesterday I have learned from Staedtler Germany that only the label of the new lead tubes has changed ("Micro Carbon" > "Polycarbon") but not the formula of the leads.

Anonymous said...

If you do a search for "polycarbon qualit├Ąt" (with quotes) you'll find there are a lot of shops having all the same claim of a new and improved polycarbon quality. This phrasing clearly comes from one source. I thought it was Staedtler. Staedtler also touts about their new mine quality on their homepage.

Maybe the Staedtler people told you it's the same formula because they had the feeling your question went in the direction of "will the new mines still fit my old MP".

If I don't forget about it I'll ask them as well. Can't believe it's the same formula.

kiwi-d said...

Hello again anonymous. Well I've searched as you suggested and agree, lots of polycarbon, etc. But I don't German. On the other hand, the Staedtler website still only shows Mars micro carbon, not polycarbon, and the polycarbon press release only refers to wooden pencil leads. So...seems time for someone to ring Staedtler HQ again...

Anonymous said...

Well, Gunther was right. They just changed the name "for marketing reasons". The formula seems to be the same since the early nineties.

originally: Mars Micrograph 250 Super-Hi-Polymer
1995: marsmicro Polycarbon
2002: Mars micro carbon
now: marsmicro Polycarbon again

Anonymous said...

Hey i am struggling w/ mechanical pencils. I like to use them at work but am having problems with the lead breaking constantly. Do you have any recommendations. I am currently using Office Max 1950134 mechanical pencils & Staedtler Mars micro carbon HB 0.5 mm leads. If i change to a different lead (such as 2B) will that make a difference? I have tried a number of different brand mechanical pencils and nothing seems to work (havent tried Staedtler though).


Kiwi-d said...

You could try moving up to 0.7mm lead. I find Pentel leads stronger than Staedtler so that may help too. Also different pencils will advance different amounts of lead per click - don't advance too much at a time. Try holding the pencil more vertical, that will also reduce lead breakage. Lead grade (2B or HB) shouldn't make much difference - if anything 2B is likely to be weaker.

Carlos said...

It seems strange to me that you've never done a review to the Faber Castell leads. Is it for a special reason?

Kiwi-d said...

Carlos - I never really use F-C leads much. I don't think they are particularly good. See the results of The Lead Cup.