Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Lead In The Real World

I’m sure pretty sure all of us mechanical pencil people have our own favourite lead sizes, grades and brands, but I’ve always been interested in what lead sizes are actually used by the population at large, out there in the real world. Twelve years ago I started making some efforts to actually answer the question, by asking industry sources – retailers, distributors and manufacturers. Some didn’t want to say anything, but a few were happy to give some quite specific answers. On the one hand the information wasn’t particularly confidential, but they also generally didn’t want it shouted from the rooftops. However, over ten years have gone by, and I don’t think they will mind this post. So, here then, a little snippet of real world lead facts.

five containers of mechanical pencil leads
Leads - 0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.7 & 0.9mm

Firstly then, the New Zealand importers of two major worldwide international brands of mechanical pencils replied to my questions.

I asked each of them what percentage of sales was each lead size of their biggest selling technical drafting model of pencil, and of their general writing pencil. The results were surprisingly similar between the brands, and so I average them as below. These are the figures for the NZ market.

Technical Pencil

  • 0.3mm = 8% of sales
  • 0.5mm = 48%
  • 0.7mm = 33%
  • 0.9mm = 11%

General Writing Pencil

  • 0.5mm = 57% of sales
  • 0.7mm = 43%

Sales of lead refills, HB grade only

  • 0.3mm = 2% of sales
  • 0.5mm = 55%
  • 0.7mm = 40%
  • 0.9mm = 3%

Secondly, a member of JWIMA, the Japanese Writing Instruments Manufacturers Association, supplied the association statistics for the then three-monthly annual quarter. So, that’s essentially the production of the entire Japanese lead manufacturing industry.

Leads, all grades, standardised as 60mm lengths.

  • 0.3mm = 4.3% of production
  • 0.4mm = 0.3%
  • 0.5mm = 67.8%
  • 0.7mm = 24.8%
  • 0.9mm = 2.7%

And yes, production was in the many hundreds and hundreds of millions of sticks of lead. 

Just as a point of interest, of the 0.4mm lead, only 4% was noted as “for export”. As you might suspect, in the 0.7mm and 0.9mm lead sizes the great majority was noted as “for export”.