Friday, August 08, 2008

Attack of the Clones

Mechanical Pencil clones - there’s lots of them about, but to me clone isn’t really the right terminology, since to my way of thinking they are either variants or copies. By variants I mean they are made by the same manufacturer with just some minor alterations, and by copies I mean made by a different manufacturer. Then of course there are outright counterfeits, but that’s another subject. But anyway, clones is a great word, so much better than boring old ‘copy’ or ‘variant’. After all Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, has got plenty of us Kiwis in it, and the clone army are New Zealanders, so I should be happy with the word clone.

Today I want to have a look at 3 rather similar mechanical pencils.
From top to bottom:
Faber-Castell Grip Plus
Penol Jumbo (1.3mm lead)
A No Name No Identification Unknown pencil
At first glance these are all very similar pencils, the only feature that obviously separates them apart is the pocket clip which is a classic variant component. Keep the body, mechanism, etc all exactly the same and just put a different pocket clip on to make a different variant that you can sell under another brandname.

A second glance reveals that the rubber grips are not quite the same either. Penol & No Name are very similar to each other, but a little different to Faber-Castell - I doubt your average man in the street would pick up on it though.

So, putting aside colour schemes, brandnames, etc that’s pretty much all that separates these three clones to the casual observer.

Right, lets take a serious look and play spot the differences. I’ve done my best with the photography, but some of it was really beyond my camera and "lighting facilities".

Rubber Grips
Penol and No Name are very similar, but close inspection reveals differences in the grooves. They both have 16 grooves per side, but you can see differences in alignment, depth, etc between the two. Internally the two grips are quite different. This would suggest they are not the same manufacturer as each other. Eraser Cartridges
Pull the cartridges out and No Name has some side grooves and depressions that the other two don’t have. The other two are very similar, even having mould cavity identification letters in the same place. I’d suggest therefore that Penol and F-C eraser cartridges were made by the same factory. Hopefully in the enlargement below you can see the grooves depression in the main shaft of No NameMetal Tips
All three metal tips are very similar, but under close inspection No Name’s tip is a little longer and thinner. Unscrewing them reveals significant differences. No Names tip is clearly completely different. Penol and F-C are quite similar, but see how the shaft on Penol is slightly longer than F-C. Internal mechanisms
The black housings that screw into the main body are all quite similar, although No Name is different because of its different metal tip.
Now if we unscrew the black housing and pull out the mechanism. No Name and F-C are different to each other. Penol and F-C have different white storage chamber shafts, but this could be a difference caused by the difference in lead diameters. Mould markings on the black housing section really make me think Penol and F-C are the same. No Name’s black housing is clearly different when held up against the others. All three mechanisms actually screw back into any of the three different bodies! It’s basically to close to call, but I’ll go with the theory that Penol and F-C are the same.

So, where does this leave me. I could carry on dissecting and investigating, but I’ve had enough. So at this stage, my guess, and it’s only a guess, is that Penol and F-C are made in the same factory. They just make the body in a different colour, use a different pocket clip, a different rubber grip moulding, and print different brandnames on them. I’ll explain the metal tip difference as just part of the difference between 0.7mm and 1.3mm mechanisms, but I admit it’s the weak point in my theory. Thus I would say Penol and F-C are variants of the same manufacturers pencil, and No Name is a copy. If I’m wrong then one of Penol or F-C is a really close copy of the other, almost worthy of the name Clone.

Many brands we think of as manufacturing their own products actually source some finished product from other manufacturers, and I'm sure all would buy in a lot of components from sub-contractors, e.g. pocket clips, internal mechanisms, erasers, etc are often made by sub-contractors who then supply the same item to many different assembly factories.

Another view on this clone

For the record – Thanks to Henrik from Denmark for sending me the Penol Jumbo and No Name.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The original-model Paper Mate PhD looks to be another member of this clone family. The current Ultra version is different.

Anonymous said...

A great review with very interesting insights - thank you for your time and effort!

There is also the Remedy from STAEDTLER Canada that looks like another clone of that particular model.

Anonymous said...

... and the Remedy from STAEDTLER USA.

Kiwi-d said...

Hi Anonymous and Gunther. Yes those two are defintely similar. I don't have a PhD so won't comment further. I do have a Remedy. Without pulling it apart there is one noticable difference - on my 3 featured clones the pocket clip housing is the end piece of the main body, like an end cap, but on the Remedy the pocket clip housing is a "ring" where the body carries on through. However, other similarities indicate this could still just be a variant and once again lead to very interesting questions about the relationship of Faber-Castell and Staedtler USA to a particular factory in Japan.

Of course we extend to vision to "look-alikes" and "similars" then the Pentel Clarius and others come into view. Put an end cap on instead of an eraser cartridge and ....?? But I think with many of these the similarities are coincidental. Afterall, all pencils have many things in common.

Germ said...

Don't forget, alot of meanufacturers share drawings or outright steal designs.....

cool post. it's always fun to compare similars.

Anonymous said...

OfficeMax in the US happens to sell a model that walks, talks, and acts like a Pentel P205, except for blank surfaces where there would normally be embossing. ("Korea" is printed on the pencil clip.)

There's probably not a whole lot of variation you could ask for, as you point out. (The Penol and FC mechanisms look like budget Pentel (e.g. Carnival), and the same for the eraser seen in the Olympio review (P205 or Kerry). Hey, if it works, why change it?)

Anonymous said...

@ Mason. Why the AHAHAHHAHAHHAHAH Penol Jumbo?
greetings Henrik

Anonymous said...

This is a very late comment to a different pencil, regarding the Pentel Flexfit II. I was wondering if the grip attracts lint and other debris easily if I were to put it in a cloth pencil case. I'm asking because I thought the Dr. Pilot mechanical pencil was stunning & thought it was "the one", but it's magnetic grip for all things cotton was a turn-off.

Kiwi-d said...

Re the Flexfit II - It was quite a while ago now, I don't really recall a bad a problem, but like many rubber grips it did attract some lint and dust.

Anonymous said...

FC grip plus and Penol Jumbo 1.3 is definetely variant and assembled by same manufacturer, Kotobuki Japan you wrote about it last November. No name one is a copy probably from China. Your analysis and insight are very much professional. I will put my eyes on Dave's mechanical Pencils more often. Anyway you are great.

Kiwi-d said...

Glass Auto Pen - thank you for the compliments. If you are able to tell us, I am very interested to know how you know the FC and Penol are from Kotobuki.

LePhare said...

Thanks for the link KD. Have not been about much of late. Attack of the dreaded M.S, not the dreaded clones!
Good post,

Anonymous said...

The Penol model is identical to a model sold by Staples stores in the US a while ago. It also was a 1.3 model with an identical clip. The color was light blue and it had Staples store brand markings. A similar clip appeared on an inexpensive Sheaffer pen model a few years ago.

Bob S. in AZ