|A set of 36 Techjob mechanical colored pencils|
How the heck did I even get on the Amazon trail that led me to these pencils? I can tell you for sure that I was not searching for “mechanical colored pencils.” For one thing, I generally prefer woodcased pencils over mechanical lead holders any day (epic searches not withstanding). And for another, almost all colored leads are hard, low in pigment and usually disappointing in other ways.
Whatever I was actually looking for, Amazon presented me with a set of 36 Techjob Mechanical Colored Pencils. With mild curiosity, I scanned the reviews, which were surprisingly positive. Being in the depths of the dark, cold, wet winter doldrums, $17.99 seemed a low price to pay for potential entertainment. I bit. (Ah, Amazon, you win again.)
The non-water-soluble Techjob pencils (I can’t imagine what kind of technical job would use these pencils, but I hope, somewhere in the world, there is one) with “free cutting color leads” come in a distinctive, sensible, oval-shaped plastic tube. It takes up little space on the desktop compared to the flat tins that most sets of 36 pencils come in, and the pencils are easy to pull out. I like that.
|End caps indicate the color numbers.|
Less likeable is the esthetic of the pencil itself, which, despite its desire to resemble its woodcased counterpart, looks and feels very . . . plasticky. The color-matched end cap, which looks like an eraser attached with a ferrule, pulls off for lead insertion. The end cap also identifies the color number (a color name does not appear on the barrel).
When I first opened the container, I saw what looked like an empty tube that I thought was intended for storing refill leads. Instead, it turned out to be the included “free pencil sharpner” [sic], and a good one, at that. Although many lead holders come with pointers either attached or as separate units, most are open, allowing the shavings to fall out, so they have to be held over a wastebasket while in use. The Techjob’s lead pointer enables shavings to fall neatly into the transparent tube, and the cap snaps shut over the pointer. (I do fear for the longevity of the cap’s hinge, however; it feels like it could break off at any moment.)
|Shavings drop down into the tube.|
Swatching the 36 colors in a Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook, which has a medium tooth, I was immediately impressed by the pigment level and vibrancy. The 2.6mm leads are as soft and vibrant as the Caran d’Ache 2mm colored leads I reviewed a few years ago for the Well-Appointed Desk – but at one-tenth the price! The slightly crayon-y leads produce some dust, but not an intolerable amount.
|Each swatch is 3 layers in a Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook.|
I compared the white Techjob to a white Prismacolor, and they are equally opaque. The set also includes metallic gold and silver (the sparkle doesn’t show much when scanned, but they are average for metallic colored pencils).
|Swatches made in black Uglybook.|
For my first test sketch, I picked out three pencils that come closest to a Zorn palette for a portrait from an Earthsworld photo reference. In a relatively smooth Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook, the leads were easy to apply and blend multiple layers. I spent more time on this portrait than I usually do because the pencils are so enjoyable to use. Their softness meant that I had to sharpen often, but I like the tidy lead pointer.
|1/21/23 Techjob mechanical colored pencils in S&B Zeta sketchbook|
(Earthsworld reference photo)
I had so much fun on that portrait that I immediately made a second one, this time with a secondary triad and in the toothier Alpha sketchbook. You can see how soft the pencils are by the paper’s visible tooth, and yet I had no problem layering colors. Sometimes I don’t enjoy using soft pencils on paper this toothy, but these were just as pleasant to use as they were on the smoother Zeta.
|1/21/23 Techjob mechanical colored pencils in S&B Alpha sketchbook|
(Earthsworld reference photo)
At 50 cents each, these Techjob pencils are amazingly good! I am hard-pressed to think of any woodcased colored pencil in a similar price range that I enjoy using as much. They also set a technical precedence: I always thought that colored leads were hard and lacking in pigment because it was not possible for them to be made as soft as woodcased leads without the wood support. The Caran d’Ache leads mentioned earlier proved that it is possible to make soft leads – but at an extremely steep price (not to mention a range of only four colors). And now I see that it is possible to make excellent soft leads for a very low price.
Several Amazon reviewers had pointed out that refill leads were impossible to find; my own searches seem to confirm that. If no refills exist, I suppose that’s no worse than all the many sets of colored pencils on the market that offer no open-stock replacement singles. And yet it’s somehow worse to have a full set of refillable, color-matched mechanical pencils with nothing to refill them with. It’s hard to recommend all that plastic left behind with nothing to do.
One reviewer said that 2mm June Gold colored leads will fit, but I immediately tried mine, and they do not fit. Besides, I think the Techjob leads are better than June Gold (which, up to this point, would have been my recommendation for low-cost leads in a full range of colors). I don’t expect to use up all of these leads, but I’ll keep looking for refills, just on principle.
Oh – and wouldn’t it be nice if I also found a set of equally soft and highly pigmented water-soluble Techjob leads? That would make a better use case for plastic mechanical clutches: When I use the “licking” technique with woodcased pencils, I’m always concerned that the wood may be compromised if it doesn’t dry completely. A plastic barrel would be a practical solution. Something to put on next year’s sketch material wish list!