Sunday, March 30, 2008

Zebra M-301 Mechanical Pencil Review

Zebra M-301 Mechanical Pencil Review

The M-301 is a rather dinky looking smallish polished steel and black plastic pencil. As you might expect it is also rather lightweight. These factors combine to make me think of it as a notebook or compendium pencil, rather than a fulltime everyday office pencil.

The plastic grip section has horizontal and vertical grooves which cut the surface into tiny squares and actually make quite a good grip. I commend them for not sticking a rubber grip on instead! The lead sleeve is a fixed 3mm thin pipe. I’m a little surprised by this. A retractable sleeve would fit better with my idea that this pencil is aimed at the pocket, purse, notebook, compendium segment of the market. The lead advance mechanism is a push top ratchet – 10 clicks will get you 6mm of lead. My pencil is 0.5mm lead. “Japan”, “Zebra M-301” and “.5” are clearly printed in black on the main barrel of the pencil. The “0.5” is particularly prominent, which is good. Underneath the top cap is a small eraser and you remove that to access the lead refill chamber.

The pocket clip is a plain but strong and functional steel strip.
  • Best Points – Small solid pencil, good for a compendium, etc. The price is probably a good point too.
  • Not So Good Points – Lead sleeve not retractable.
  • Price Range – Low.

Dimensions – Length 133mm, diameter 9mm. Balance point about 75mm up from the tip.

Now that was a pretty short review by my standards. I’ve got to admit that overall Zebra is one of those brands that tend to leave me a little flat. I’m not really sure why. Their pencils are perfectly good products, I guess it’s just that somehow I don’t associate them with innovation or cutting edge design or outstanding quality or…, they tend to be just more of the same. Am I being unfair here?

Footnote – It was a long time ago, but my M-301 was a freebie from Cult Pens.

49 comments:

Germ said...

Zebra are cheap pencils for the most part. But, they aren't terrible. for the price, a solid value, IMO. definitely a good addition to a collection.

PaddlePressure said...

I have been wondering for some time now when Dave would finally get around to reviewing this pencil, which, from my viewpoint in the Midwestern United States, appears to be something of a modern classic.
I got my first Zebra M-301 many years ago, as a freebie with my Daytimer calendar/planner notebook. I have since purchased one by itself, and noted that the packaging touts it as ideal for use with with planners. So, Dave, you've hit the nail on the head there!
But, I think you've missed the boat completely with your criticism of the lack of a retractable lead sleeve on this pencil. A retractable lead sleeve may be a great feature on a pencil that you want to keep in your pocket or purse. But, if you're going to keep in a leather loop attached to your notebook, there's really no need to retract the lead sleeve, because the whole thing is safely immobilized there.
Also, you may be interested to know that, while the M-301 continues to occupy a place of honor on the shelves of my local superstores (Staples, Office Depot, etc.), you can now find next to it a newer, more expensive model that features the hated RUBBER (not scored plastic) grip, namely the M-402.
Finally, I have found on the Web many remarkably enthusiastic user reviews of both the M-301 and the M-402. My own assessment is similar to Germ's. But, these pencils seem to have a very loyal following!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave, I hold in my hand an unopened two-pack of Zebra 0.5mm lead M-301 Ultra mechanical pencils which I purchased at the eight-bits store for the princely sum of one U.S. dollar (vanishing more and more every day). I suspect my Zebra Ultras are either an earlier iteration of the M-301 to yours, or manufactured to slightly different specifications for the American market. In addition to the colorful zebra motif in the background, the packaging notes the stainless steel barrel, free erasers, and the "NEW soft rubber grip". Eyeballing the unopened package, there apparently is not any writing on the barrel, just a white plastic barcode sticker. The clip is a black plastic affair with a metal insert which may or may not be integral to the stainless steel body as it curves underneath the plastic of the clip toward the barrel and I can't see where it goes. It is on the obverse or facing side of this metal insert that we find written in ascending font size "ZEBRA M-301ULTRA". For some reason the metal eraser caps have holes drilled through the top so that you can actually see the tiny little white eraser plugs inside. The black rubber grips have zebra-patterned stripes (grooves) molded into them. I had some loose examples of this pencil which I gave away as gifts, but as I recall it was a competent little writer. Mine, I filled with AIN 4B lead which is super smooth and dark for doing puzzles. I've got to say however that I actually prefer the looks of yours. The decorative metal ring just above the point, the precision molded plastic grip, and the plain metal clip are just better looking. It is hard to get excited about the little Zebra in a universe where offerings such as the Leonardo Sketch Pen and Ohto Super-Promecha shine so brightly, but it's not hard to like it for what it is and what it does at such an inexpensive price point. At fifty cents a copy I would have bought it on looks alone, but what also drew me in was that it was Made In Japan. I am almost sick to death of shoddy stationery products made in China and dumped overseas. You can imagine my surprise in finding these little Nipponese Zebras in the flood of mediocrity which is the Dollar Store.

Barrel Of A Pencil

kiwi-d said...

Folks - thanks for your comments.

I definitely agree that that Zebra generally score very very highly on the value for money scale. I think that is perhaps their greatest selling point. To be honest I struggle with how to handle the whole cost and value thing in my reviews, particularly as the cost can vary enoirmously from one place to another country. I generally tend to shy away from the whole cost thing, although I do have a price range in my summation at the end of reviews. I sort of try to review independant of the price range and let people judge the value separately. But then I sometimes bend that rule, its pretty hard to review a $150 pencil one week and a $0.75 pencil the next, without money entering your thought process.

Interesting to know about "Ultra" version.

Paddlepressure - I guess we will have to agree to disagree about me missing the boat. Although it's true I haven't sailed competitively for many years, I can still catch a passenger ferry on time! :-)
I do tend to feel that all pencils that are not serious draughting instruements should have a retractable lead sleeve. You are certainly right that in a compendium its not really necessary, but I feel as a smallish pencil it is also likely to be considered for purse or pocket use and the non-retractable sleeve is an issue.

I do have a M-402. Grrrr, rubber, Grrrr. But the price, it is hard to resist...

Gunther said...

Re Zebra: I can recommend the new Tect 2way, both the plastic and the metal variant (although I prefer the latter). The need for locking the shaker mechanism is worth discussing but it's an interesting feature.

Time Waster said...

I know a cartoonist for DC comics who uses a Ultra Zebra it has a rubber grip but it's not really rubbery I think it's made of Zebra stripes the grip is. This pencil is too lite for my taste but it's a good one and has been around since the 80s while I was in Grade school.

Nick15 said...

I've been using this pencil for some eleven, twelve years... at least since high school, and I've never considered switching since. This is probably the most perfect pencil for my needs: it's light, very economical, and it fits my hands just perfectly. The lack of a rubber grip is also a plus. I also believe that the quality of the pencil is extremely tops; I've never had any of the one I've own break on me, as opposed to the numerous other, more expensive pencils. The only reason why I've ever had to replace one was because I lost a previous one.

I also disagree with the criticism of the lack of a retractable sleeve. Having it fixed means that the lead will always be where I expect it to be. This as opposed to a retractable sleeve which means the lead tip can be at any point between retracted and extended, which really puts me off.

In the end I totally swear by the M-301. I really only wish Zebra could make 0.3, 0.7 and 0.9 sized M-301 too.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the M-301 review! I've used these pencils and their pen cousins for many years. They are my favorite daily-use tools because of the no-nonsense design, sturdy construction and reasonable price.

Thanks to co-workers and small children (which are sometime difficult to tell apart) quite a few of my writing implements go missing. It is not too painful to replace the 3-5 dollar Zebra.

I also stock my travel notebooks with them for the same reasons!

The retractable tip would be nice but to keep the pencil in their price point it would have to be inexpensive and would probably end up being wobbly or not functioning properly after some use.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Zebra should make a blunt-cone tip like the Lamy 2000 (?) or Pilot Dr.Grip or Pilot (fat) Shaker. It would be nice to have a pencil version of their F-301 Compact ballpoint too - that is, a capped version, even more compact when closed.

Anonymous said...

Where do I get an eraser refill for this pencil?

Anonymous said...

Zebra M-301 eraser refills available here:
http://www.cultpens.com/acatalog/Zebra_Eraser_Refills.html#a2993

HwcNYC said...

I loved to use these pencils back in grade school, but they tended to break where the tube meets the screw in tip.

Anonymous said...

never used this pencil before, but it reminds me of the Pentel P205, especially the non-rubber grip. Perhaps you could review the Zebra M-402? One of my favourite pencils and I like to think of it as an upgrade to the M-301.

Sue said...

I recently went shopping for a mechanical pencil and I was surprised to find the M-301 still on the shelves. I remember buying one together with the matching ball point sometime in the early 80s. That was my first purchase of a "good" pen and pencil that I really liked using. I remember being impressed enough with them that I kept seeking out replacements as they were lost. I also aquired the matching capped roller ball when that came out.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Sue, a matching capped roller ball? It seems to me that the F-301 (and its upscale cousin, the F-402) matching push-button retractible ballpoint pen is as readily available in the superstores of the Midwestern United States as the M-301. But, I have never seen a matching capped roller ball!

Sue said...

I still have the Rollerball. It's in my desk drawer waiting for a refill. (It's been waiting a long, long time.) The original refill is a Zebra A-100 .7mm and, you know what, a Uni-ball Impact RT refill just happens to fit tolerably well. How about that!

The pen is marked RB Zebra R-301 Rollerball Japan.

It's the same style as the F-301, just a bit wider. I don't remember when I purchased it, it could have been anywhere between 1985 and 1995.

Kevin said...

Nice review. Do you know where to find a set of M605 and F605 units? I used to use them in school years ago, and I'd love to find another set.
Thanks for the info. Nice blog BTW!
Kevin

Anonymous said...

I have an m-605 japan .5 lead. It is the best and i wish they still sold them. anyone know where i can get one.

Anonymous said...

I also used an M605 in school (red) and loved it. Where can I find another one?

Anonymous said...

Sadly the *-605 series was discontinued a few years ago. I emailed Zebra once and they told me to go buy a 301.

Anonymous said...

I have a Zebra F605 ballpoint pen (made in Japan) which belonged to my late mother. I still use it but was unaware until very recently that there was a companion M605 mechanical pencil. In any case, I really like the feel of the barrel in my hand as I write with it and much more preferred than the current Indonesian-made Zebra F302 pen. Incidentally, just last month, I contacted Zebra about this pen and they told me that it was discontinued about ten (10) years ago. So I presume that the M605 MP was discontinued about the same time.

Bill said...

I started buying Zebra F-301 pens in 1994 as a courier to keep sorry attorneys from stealing my Cross pens. I bot an R-301 Rollerball and it now sits in a drawer due to the fack I have not been able to find correct refills. I do not use the M-301 pencils much. I prefer the Pentel P-205. I do keep an M-301 attached to my Daytimer for quick use in the truck. They are very good inexpensive pens and pencils. Wish Zebra hadn't quit making Rollerball refills.

Anonymous said...

Can't refill the M-301. The lead retracts back into the pencil. Used the right size. Went through the eraser but can't feed the lead. Is it ruined?

Matthew R said...

There is probably a short piece of lead that needs to be removed from the tip. If it moves out at all, try to get the lead out far enough to pull on it. If it won't go out at all, unscrew the tip and use another piece of lead to clear the tip. Then look at the three jaws and verify they're clear. Then put the tip back on, hold it tip down, and press the button repeatedly until you see the lead feeding.

Anonymous said...

I think all of you people are INSANE. GET A LIFE!! Wait-- come to think of it I collect sardines in the can and I guess that's pretty weird. Never mind.

-Robert B.

CM said...

I've been using my Zebra M-301 for at least five years and quite honestly it's hard to imagine ever switching to anything else.

Anonymous said...

i found mine in biology class

Anonymous said...

these are sold in dollarama

Anonymous said...

Erasers for the Zebra M-301 pencil are indeed hard to find, but you can find Pentel #Z2-1 erasers (which fit the Sharplet-2, among others) just about everywhere. Just remove the ferrule, cut it with an X-Acto knife to about one centimeter, and it's a perfect fit.

--Richard

Anonymous said...

Kiwi, I think that it's about time that you should review the Zebra M-402 which I think is an even better mechanical pencil than the M-301. Whilst Zebra products may "tend to leave you a little flat", it MAY be because they're somewhat more conservatively designed. On the other hand, I think Zebra products are of great quality and offer a lot of value for your money.

I will tell you that in several ways I prefer Zebra products over the majority of Pentel's line of mechanical pencils. Apart from some of Pentel's older designs that are still in production (i.e. P200 series, Kerry, S55, S57 and a few others), a great portion of Pentel's modern line seems to be targeted at and designed for hipsters!

Kiwi-d said...

Anonymous - I would be very happy to publish a guest review of the M-402 from you if you wished to take up the challenge.

Anonymous said...

could you write a review on the zebra #2 pencil? it looks like a regular wood case pencil but it mechanical... : ) awesome site!!

Anonymous said...

I have two sets of M-605s/F-605s (black). I love those things!

What a shame Zebra discontinued them.

The current F-701 all steel ballpoint is also a great pen. I have 4 of them. Nice solid feel.

Anonymous said...

Love these pencils but have driven myself nuts trying to refill them. Partner took a look, poked something sharp into the eraser, pulled it out and inserted new lead.

Peter Hosey said...

You shouldn't need to stab the eraser, unless maybe you wore down the eraser so far you can't get purchase on it with your fingers. (Another reason to use a block eraser. :-) )

Incidentally, I have a few M-301s (Kmart had them on sale awhile back—$1.34 or some such for a two-pack), and I have a metal planner, and neither one fits in the other: The M-301 is just a little bit too big for the planner's pen well. I also have a TS-3 miniature pencil, and that fits, but it's way too small—like Dave in his review of that one, I'd worry about the pencil falling from the cap down into the well. I ended up buying a second Kuru Toga and carrying both in my backpack instead.

Sapphire said...

Is this one of those pencils that has no holder on the eraser?
They annoy me slightly. If you use the eraser right down it can drive you crackers trying to get it out. Some Pilots have a tiny notch in the edge of the magazine tube to insert a pin and lever out the eraser.
The tiny erasers may be useless for large erasures but they are good for crosswords and sudoku so mine do get used down to the flat.
Which is another annoyance - stationers sell pencils and leads but not erasers. Why is that?

Peter Hosey said...

Sapphire: Yes, there's no metal clamp on the eraser. It has a notch like you describe.

You might look into stick erasers. Most of those that I've seen (the Tri-Eraser being *literally* the biggest exception, unless you count Maped's eraser-in-a-plastic-holder as a stick eraser) have pretty small eraser area, comparable to the M-301's built-in eraser. There are even battery-powered models, though I've never used one.

Anonymous said...

the 301 Ultra is the same as the Metamode which comes in more unothodox colour schemes.

I have a few of these.

Dubai Wanderer

Time Waster said...

This pencil has been around forever to the point where I rememeber it breaking in the 1980s in grade school on me.
The mechanism broke on me rendering it useless. I have some Ultras but I just bought them on a whim.

Anonymous said...

i have a m301 ultra and when i click the lead advance button the lead just slides out completely (with one click)...is there a fix for this?

Anonymous said...

that's the result of some graphite fragment(s) being stuck in the chuck mechanism of the pencil. this keeps the chuck from fully closing around the lead to grip it.

Another cause could be a missing grommet inside the tip of the pencil that slows lead from advancing too quickly as you..well...advance it.

Anonymous said...

so is there a way to fix it? or do i have to deal with it? i think its the 2nd thing because there isnt anything in the clutch..i checked...

Artur said...

I have used this pencil since the 8th grade (4 years ago) up until recently when I left it on my music stand at school and I believe it was stolen. It was a great pencil, and I had a green tip and click-top on it because my friend and I switched those parts; he had a green m301. Amazing pencil, the three-part metal clutch is great, jammed only once or twice. Only downside is that the sleeve at the tip loosened and fell off and when I put it back in it would advance into the body of the pencil and I would have to push it back out with a paperclip. Since I lost this special one, I am going to try the Pentel p205.

Anonymous said...

i think that Zebra tried to gear the m301 ultra variant towards a full time pencil because the grip and body seem wider, even though the body length is the same...anyone else that own a m301 ultra and regular m301 notice this?

saddly the m301 ultra was discontinued in 2007... but i still have one left and it is my favorite mechanical pencil : )

Lefty

Anonymous said...

i dont know why you dont think its a good pencil, its fine, better than bics

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I've had a M301 for just under a year now and you're right, it's not exciting even for a pencil. It's just sort of unobtrusive, but it's quietly and unobtrusively become my main drawing tool.

It's not for lack of other options, there's a rotring 600, some 925-5s, at least one Graphgear and others sat in my pencils box, but this one just, sort of, works. If I were to take the 600 out of the office and lose it I'd probably have a fit, so at least part of it's price.

But it's still proven to be strong and reliable, it's survived being dropped, thrown, sat on without so much as a scratch. It's comfotable too, compared to similarly priced pencils it's wonderful. It's certainly good enough to be used as a serious drawing tool, even if only as a back up or 'out'n'about' piece.
Still not very exciting though...

Jonathan.

PS, The Ohto Cute fits the cheap and indestructible bill quite well too, better than the many, many plastic and rubber pencils out there.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

Personally, as someone with admittedly little experience, I still want to put my two cents in. I personally think that the Zebra M-301 is simply the best mechanical pencil I have ever used. Even ignoring the price, the pencil grips lead extremely well compared to others I have used. I enjoy the lack of a retracting lead guide because I makes it feel much more solid than it would be if it did. Overall , though, I feel that it is a quality mechanical pencil, especially for the price.

- W. Wang

J Ferguson said...

I've been pleased with Zebra products in the past, in particular their mini stainless-steel pen and pencil set, their SARASA gel pens (only gel pens I will use) and the mechanical pencils currently under review, the M-301.

Vasco said...

I think the design on this pencil is pretty good — and that people keep reading and posting about it 5 years later means that Time is not being to harsh on this little, well-built pencil, with an almost unbeatable price for it's design/build quality. Personally, it reminds me of those glorious japanese pencils from the 80's like the professional and expensive Uchidas and the masterly crafted hi-range Pilot's. Somehow the design of the M-301 still synthesizes the spirit of the graphic 'atelier', which is now filled with iMacs instead of drafting tables (at its best, it's filled with both ;))