Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pentel Ain Stein Lead Review

Pentel Ain Stein Lead Review

Prior to the 1960’s the thinnest commercially successful mechanical pencil lead was 0.9mm. Thinner leads of sufficient customer acceptable strength were just not possible. Then in the 1960’s Pentel developed pencil leads using polymer rather than the traditional ceramic clay as the binding agent. Suddenly leads of 0.5mm and even thinner were possible, and the 0.5mm mechanical pencil as we know it today was born.

Pentel have recently released their latest generation lead, Ain Stein.
S = Strongest
T = Technology
E = Enhanced SiO
I = Integrated
N = Network

Now, I don’t read Japanese so I can’t really say exactly what Pentel claim about Stein, but as far as I can make out from Google Translate, it appears they have incorporated some silica like crystalline regularity into the structure of the lead, thus improving strength, smoothness and darkness. I’m not sure if silica is the main binding agent or if it’s a polymer and silica mix.

Clearly a new product such as this immediately aroused my interest, and I was off on an internet shopping expedition. When I opened the parcel containing my first delivery of Ain Stein I was immediately struck by the sheer colourfulness of it all. It was a mighty pretty sight.
pentel ain stein lead range

To coincide with the release of Ain Stein, Pentel have also released a Limited Edition Graph 1000 x Stein PG1005S mechanical pencil. There is also an Ain Stein plastic eraser as well. It’s eye-candy. It really is. I can only apologise and say that my photographic ability and equipment is just not up to the task.
pentel graph 1000 ain stein mechanical pencil

The leads come in very nice plastic containers, with a bright colour scheme sweeping through the spectrum by lead hardness. As at the time of writing, in 0.5mm the range is 4B through to 4H, including F and HB Hard and HB Soft as well as normal HB. There is also red and blue coloured lead.
ain stein leads

You twist the top of the container to uncover a small hole which the leads are dispensed through. The container is recyclable.
pentel ain stein lead container

Well, Ain Stein certainly has the style, but does it have the substance? Is it smoother, darker and/or stronger than good ole’ everyday Ain? Time to put our size 0.5mm HB models to the test.
pentel ain and ain stein

First up, how do they compare when erased by Staedtler Mars plastic eraser? (S = Stein, N/S = Non-Stein)
ain erase test
No difference as far as I can tell.

How about smear resistance?
ain smearing test
No real difference. Both are quite smear resistant, although if you twisted my arm I might suggest that maybe Stein had a fraction more smear. Just maybe.

Let’s check out darkness.
pentel ain darkness test
Yet again, no difference that I can really tell.

Pentel also seem to be claiming an improvement in smoothness.
Well, here maybe for the first time I did notice some difference. Normal Ain is certainly a smooth lead, but Ain Stein did seem a fraction smoother. I did feel that little more of a glide over the paper.

Finally then the strength test. My lovely assistant loaded my test pencils with Ain and Ain Stein so I didn’t know which was which and I proceeded to snap leads. Over and over. The end result was pretty conclusively inconclusive. I did at times think I noticed a difference in failure mode with Stein being a much cleaner sharper break versus normal Ain tending to crumble and break, but other times they seemed the same. Equally on those occassions when I thought one was stronger than the other it was usually Stein, but not always, and most often I didn't think there was any difference. So, I’m not going to dispute that the lead testers down in Pentel’s lab can show Stein as being stronger, but out in the real world I don’t think your average pencil pusher will notice much difference.
pentel ain stein leads

So, final conclusion? Pentel apparently say Ain Stein has improved strength, smoothness, consistency and darkness. I can’t disagree, but overall I can’t really agree either. All of my tests here are very subjective, as is each users own experience with their mechanical pencil, lead, paper and writing style combination. I won’t therefore be surprised to see someone else disagree with my assessment of Ain Stein. As I said, I’m sure the Pentel lead experts can tell the difference, just not ordinary folk like me.

40 comments:

James said...

Interesting.

What about the coloured leads? I found the Pentel 0.5 Hi-Polymer Red to be very pale (pink really) and scratchy. I use the Staedtler Red - while it's fragile, it's red and smooth.

Have they improved?

JiBi_AI said...

Wow
I love new package so much
so sad that I just bought the new one of Ain leads 2 days ago and maybe I have to use it for more than a year until the 40 leads are all gone....

Rachel said...

Lead, schmead - I love that green pencil!

memm said...

It would be great if you could write a bit more about their coloured leads. I often use red leads, but even the best ones, as recommended by Gunther, are still miles away from graphite leads. Does their Stein technology help?

Peter Hosey said...

Interesting. I hope to see these here in the US, although I suspect I'll continue to see nothing but Super Hi-Polymer outside of Kinokuniya, like usual.

How's the eraser?

Also, I'm interested in the blue lead. Is it any better at non-repro than the PPB-5, or is it just the “STEIN” version of it?

Kiwi-d said...

Crikey, all this interest in the coloured lead. I haven't tried the coloured lead at all yet. No promises...but maybe in the new year. I also can't say anything about the eraser. No plans to unwrap it. I just assumed it was one of their existing erasers in a new sleeve. Strange how pentel USA seem uniterested with the Ain brand.

Peter Hosey said...

Even if it is, it might be the same stuff as one you haven't previously been able to try, such as the ZEH.

It's impossible to tell from Pentel's model numbering, the only consistent feature of which is “ZE” marking an eraser.

ThirdeYe said...

Thanks for the Stein review. I saw those on JetPens and was curious about them, wondering if they were worth getting. I think I'll just stick to the regular Hi-Polymer stuff (same as regular Ain), as I can get a pack of 3 12-lead tubes for just over $2 on Amazon, with free 2-day shipping (thanks to my Amazon Prime account).

Anonymous said...

I just ordered some of this stuff on Jetpens too. I was looking to buy some AIN but when I saw Stein and couldn't find any information at all on the internet I figured what the hell and bought it. At the very least its no more expensive than AIN so we'll see how it goes...

2nd_astronaut said...

Crazy Japanese... The name AIN Stein :-) Very good...

razide said...

Maybe the Ain Stein is cheaper or easier to manufacture,
Pentel Oz only goes to 2B in the old AIN range so is the 4B a new release or are we just limited here ?

The plastic containers have a vague previous generation iPod Nano styling & look quite eye catching.

Snazzy Graph1000 pencil but they should have a dark green lead too.

razide said...

Checked StationaryArt & saw the old AIN range did have 4B & 3B so Pentel Oz has a more limited range but they do have a 3H for gouging the paper instead.

Dwscamel said...

Thanks for the speedy review. I've been following this blog for a long time and successfully converted to mechanical pencils, but now like the others, I'm curious about the colored leads. If only there was a good smooth dark color available? Pencil only suffers from being harder to read than ink!

Time Waster said...

They have pink and Yelow colors I'll pick up a pink one if they show up the bay.

I never tried a graph 1000 yet...

Anonymous said...

So what do other people think of 4B? I love it.

Sapphire said...

I use 4B mainly for puzzles in newspapers and very quick scribbles.
I like it but not as a general writer - too smudgy.

Anonymous said...

I am now even more in the fog with Pentel's range... Are those leads the same as the previous Pentel BLACK AIN that I saw on some asian online stores?
I more and more think that all this is just marketing: maybe the same lead formula with different name depending on the geographical location?

Anonymous said...

I don't believe they are the same as the black ain. (right?)

The black ain lead was better. (right?)

Kiwi-d said...

Well Pentel do appear to be claiming Ain Stein as a new formulation, but how different they really are to existing Ain, Black Ain, and the various other Pentel leads...well only Pentel know. Certainly some of it is just marketing...as I understand it Pentel Super Hi-Polymer and Pentel (normal) Ain are the same actual lead, just different branding strategies on the conatiner they are packed in.

Anonymous said...

I don't like the twist opening of the container - doesn't look like a very elegant solution, particularly in its twisted form. Smoothness is an interesting subject because I like a lead to have a crisp note on the paper like the lead provided with a Pentel Sharplet 2 (probably just standard Pentel lead) - I'm not really fond of the "crayon, waxy" type feel. Having said all that I'll still give it a try because I,m a Pentel fanatic.

Julian English said...

I recently purchased a few tubes of Stein leads, including the red 0.5 lead. They seem no stronger to me then the regular Ain red leads. I'm pretty heavy handed and so mostly have given up on using colored leads. Even some Koh-i-Noor 2.0 mm leads broke like crazy for me. They are all just too brittle for my hand.

As for the color, it seemed the same to me as the regular Ain red. If anyone is interested, I could take a comparison picture and post a link here. If that is okay with Dave.

Kiwi-d said...

Julian - thanks for the offer, fine by me.

Julian English said...

Okay, I'll get to it in the mid to late afternoon tomorrow. US Central Time.

Anonymous said...

AIN stein, EIN stein!! Close.

Kiwi-d said...

What about RAMMstein?

Anonymous said...

Funny, you don't strike me as a heavy metal enthusiast.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous from September 29-what's your favorite lead, if I may ask? I'm the same way, and (being fairly new to name-brand Pentel lead) find it a bit crayon-like in HB. I have some H on order to try that, but I'm wondering if maybe it has to do with the formulation and not just the hardness. The standard lead in my Staedtler 777s seems to be a lot crisper than the Pentel lead so I may try Staedtler refills to see if I can actually tell a difference or if I just think Pentel lead is 'soft'. I don't really have much to compare to because most of my pencils have a random mix of different leads in them so I usually have no idea which lead I'm using.

Anonymous said...

Hi anon - given the Sharplet 2 is a low end Pentel pencil I imagine it would have just the standard formula lead from Pentel NOT the hi-polymer. This may give it a strength disadvantage according to Daves tests but I don't find any difference. By the way I like the Graphite 777 for the same reason - that lovely, crisp consistent note it puts on the paper. It seems like these makers go out of their way to ensure a pleasing result at first use - I'm convinced that the 777 lead is at least 2B.

Anonymous said...

Whatever lead is in the 777 is definitely a lot crisper on paper, but it is also darker than Pentel Ain HB. It does seem to wear pretty quickly suggesting a "black" lead, but it sure doesn't feel like it, unless Staedtler's leads just bite more. I'd like to get some Staedtler HB refills to see if the lead seems comparable to what's in my 777.

Julian English said...

Well, I'll certainly never have my own pencil blog.

It turns out I no longer have any standard Ain red lead. I looked and looked and then it dawned on me that I had given it away some time ago.

The only red lead I still have is some Pilot Eno 0.7. So, here is a picture with that next to the Stein red 0.5 lead.

http://i51.tinypic.com/wvzxxt.jpg

It is probably of minimal or no use. I'd say both are slightly lighter then how they appear in the picture. I went back over each swatch as they were too light doing it only once and I simply can't press down with any real degree of force with these leads.

The Pilot struck me as a little stronger and darker but I suppose the size difference doesn't really make it a fair comparison. Even though it has been awhile since I used the standard Ain red leads, I'll stand by saying these Stein leads are no stronger.

Based on this and, more significantly, Dave's review, I have to wonder if this isn't all just advertising on Pentel's part.

Time Waster said...

Pentel HB lead say 8 years ago or more was a different forumla and alot harder. The new Polymer HG lead says on packaging says it's a new formula and alot softer then say 7-8 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Right... but if we start to think that every marketing claim is really true, they will sell us 10 different pentel's leads with all the same formula.
I still impressed about they possibility to offer every 6 months an 'new' lead...

1962PENCILS said...

@ Anonymous
~AIN stein, EIN stein!! Close.

@ Kiwi-d
~What about RAMMstein?

Steinway sounds better! ;-)

http://www.steinway.com/pianos/steinway/grand/model-d/

Ricardo

Anonymous said...

I hope they have addressed the fragility issue - the Pentel 0.7mm blue I just bought (not STEIN) fractures at the slightest touch and the red is only a little better.

Wendell said...

When the Ain Stein first came out, I saw a few reviews in Japanese online, and they also reported no significant difference.

I'm wondering about the similarity of the Ain Stein to the Mitsubishi Nano Dia. When I compared the Nano Dia with the Pentel Ain, they wore at the same rate and looked very close on paper. However, the Nano Dia felt kind of powdery and the 0.9 mm actually squeaked when I wrote. To me, the Ain clearly felt better. (BTW, differences are much easier to detect with thicker leads, so I usually buy some 0.9 just for comparison purposes.)

After introducing the Nano Dia, Mitsubishi all but dropped their previous standard line, the Shu. I'm afraid Pentel may be planning the same fate for Ain. If the Ain Stein is like the Nano Dia, I'd better buy a lifetime supply of Ain while I can.

Regarding the comments about colored lead, I have three suggestions. One, get a pencil with a sliding sleeve. They allow you to press much harder without breaking the lead. Two, if you can live with a 1.1 mm lead, buy vintage. Leads were made in darker colors back when. Since fatter leads aren't popular now, you can find vintage pencils and colored leads relatively cheap on eBay. Three, consider a woodcase colored pencil. The Prismacolor Verithin and Col-Erase are made to be equivalent to a No. 2 pencil. They are the only artist's colored pencils I know of that can keep a point well enough for writing.

Wendell said...

Oh, dang! I was just consoling myself with the thought that if Pentel Ain were discontinued, I could just use Pilot Neox Eno. But in fact Pilot has also just released a new line, the Pilot neox GRAPHITE. (No, I'm not shouting. That's how they spell it.) Pilot has so far not released any description of the new lead, but it is just now becoming available.

Kiwi-d said...

I don't like to be cynical, but somehow I imagine this will just be another case of "same lead, different label".

Wendell said...

Pilot finally has a page for the Neox Graphite, but I so far found no reviews. They do appear to claim a new formula that is darker and stronger just due to increased purity of the graphite. Something more to try...

http://www.pilot.co.jp/products/pen/sharp_pen/sharp_pen_ct/neox_graphite/index.html

B2-kun said...

Since I was missing the "B" tube in my rack of spare AIN leads, I went ahead an order one of these Stein lead tubes. Yet after reading all these comments, I'm expecting it to be basically the same old lead in a redesigned package. We shall see.

Zepp said...

I suspect Ain STEIN is only for Pentel to earn even more profits: If you notice the modern lead catalogue, you will find that NanoDia (replacing Uni's SHU), Ain STEIN (replacing Ain), and Pilot's Neox Graphite System (replacing the ENO) have only 15 leads for 0.3mm, rather than 20 in the old days. The other diameters have the same amount of leads, though.

I have to say as well that no matter where you find these leads, online or in the stores, that the new replacements are more expensive than the old ones. For what? Yes, there might be a difference between the old and the new, but the difference is so minute that most of us can't notice.

Despite what you said in the review, Dave, I think I'll temporarily stick to plain Ain, even though Ain STEIN will be smoother. I do not think the change in smoothness can justify the higher price, at least in my opinion. (HK$2 where I live, which equates to NZ$0.3)