Eraser caps are kind of a big deal. A lot of times high-end or exotic pencils don’t come with erasers at all. Then there are the more mundane, everyday, school and office pencils; sure, they all have erasers…erasers that tend to be awful. For those of us accustomed to having an eraser handy at the butt-end, this is a problem. The solution is adding a pencil-cap eraser.
OK, but which ones? How do I find one that doesn’t suck as bad as the pink smudge-master “erasers” that pencil makers seem to be fond of? I, the Polar Pencil Pusher, am here to take some of the guess work out of surmounting this obstacle. I obtained three of the most commonly-available, affordable eraser caps and put them to the test to see how they perform. Then I ranked them to crown an overall champion.
Meet the Contenders
The Pentel Hi-Polymer block eraser is my go-to when I’ve got a job that a typical nub eraser just can’t handle. I have had a natural bias, then, toward the Hi-Polymer pencil cap erasers. It seems an intuitive assumption that the eraser caps are the same material as the block eraser but in a different format, and Pentel throws some weight behind this by stating as such on the packaging. However, I’ve become skeptical recently that the Hi-Polymer caps are actually the same. I just don’t perceive them as working quite as well as the block version. So I decided that the name on its family crest was not enough to earn it a place of honor atop my pencils. I had to make it prove its mettle against some competitors.
The Paper Mate Arrowhead is an eraser I didn’t even know existed until I went rummaging through the supply room deep in the bowels of my work building’s basement. There I found an enormous box full of them. This room is to office supplies what “a home” is to old people; the various divisions within the building banish materials, which they’ve purchased from their own individual budgets, when they are deemed to be not worth the storage space they occupy. Anything cast into this white-collar dungeon is up for grabs regardless of division of employment. The fact that some admin tech is that desperate to be rid of them doesn’t inspire confidence in their quality. Plus, I’m a little leery of Paper Mate supplies in general and the Pink Pearl block erasers are highly mediocre. But in the Arrowhead’s defense, I don’t want to assume guilt by association, and in this digital age lots of perfectly fine “analog” office supplies end up cast aside in the basement. So I decided not to be hasty in my judgment, and to give them a fair shake. Anyway, they’re there, they’re free, and if I like them I’ll probably never have to buy another eraser cap again, so why not?
And finally, there’s the Helix Professional Cap Eraser. I’ve seen these hanging around (literally) in a lot of different stores and have been tempted to give them a whirl. I feel a little bit skeptical as they seem like they’re trying to position themselves as a cheaper knock-off of the Pentel eraser, with the same color and shape. Maybe it’s not intentional, but I have accidentally reached to grab these instead of the Pentel caps since they look so similar. Nonetheless, being a knock-off does not necessarily indicate a lack of quality. Maybe the imitate (or exceed!) the quality of its more renowned white hexagonal competitor? so I chose the Helix cap to round out this three-way dance.
Competitor #1: The Pentel Hi-Polymer
I’ve been dealing with the Pentel Hi-Polymer cap eraser for the longest amount of time, so we’ll address it first and accord it the status of reigning champion. Like the Hi-Polymer block eraser, this cap is made of a white material. It comes in a peaked, angular shape. Of the three, this one is the leaner eraser, packing less overall volume and weight.
The sensation of erasing with the Pentel cap is a good balance point between firmness and softness. The pointy tip doesn’t bend over at all, but it is gentle on the page and doesn’t feel like you’re scraping the graphite away with a rock.
The opening of the Hi-Polymer is somewhere between the other two; not especially tight or loose. It does seem to have kind of a “shallow” fit, which taken into account along side its relative looseness might not make it a good match for skinnier pencils. But that’s grasping for critical straws, as I’ve never actually had a problem with it.
Competitor #2: The Paper Mate Arrowhead
This eraser sets itself apart from the others by being neither white, nor angular. It comes in a tall, bubble-gum pink “mushroom” shape with a small, flat top that is the same height as the Hi-Polymer eraser, but flared out a little wider. This provides us accident-prone folks with a little more eraser for the money, but also more mass at the back-end of the pencil.
Given its relatively stubby, stout shape, I wasn’t worried about it being overly soft & unruly, and indeed the Arrowhead goes where you tell it to. However, it does have a pleasant “give” to it when pressing it to the page, while still remaining firm enough to transfer pressure from the hand to the paper.
Of the three, the Arrowhead is also the tightest-fitting eraser cap. It actually took a little bit of effort to get it onto the end of a Tombow 8900 pencil. The odds of one of these bad boys slipping off are as slim as the opening that holds them on.
Competitor #3: The Helix Professional
The Helix Professional pencil cap eraser looks very similar to the Hi-Polymer in that they are both white with an angular shape. However, Helix’s offering differs in that each eraser is taller/longer, meaning more material and a finer point.
The feeling of the eraser applied to the page is a bit stiff and, dare I say, dry. Not dry as in dried-out bad, just less…I’m struggling for a word here…mooshy? I appreciate the stiffness, because I’m really not a fan of bendy erasers that flop all over the page as I try to use them. Before attempting to use it, I was a little bit afraid that the Helix cap would behave that way, simply because it has a longer tip. Thankfully, it doesn’t. It does, however, have a little bit of a scratchiness to it that I’m not as thankful for.
The opening of the Helix cap seems a little looser than its competitors, but still hangs on tightly. In fact, it feels a little bit like the interior is tapered and the grip seems to increase the further you insert the pencil. It also seems to have a little more depth to it than the others, so there’s more of a sleeve to grip on to.
This is probably the most important aspect of an eraser: if it doesn’t actually erase well, then that defeats the whole purpose of having an eraser in the first place. I compared the three erasers using both a typical HB-leaded pencil, and a softer/darker Blackwing Pearl. I didn’t pay attention to how easy/fast it erased, rather, how completely it erased before it couldn’t remove any more graphite.
The Pentel Hi-Polymer and the Paper Mate Arrowhead performed roughly equally; neither made the writing vanish completely, but it mostly removed it. The Helix cap was the odd one out. It did OK, but not as good of a job as the other two.
Of course, most (all?) erasers leave behind little bits of rubber junk when used. Some people end up with crumbs in their bed; I usually end up with little bits of eraser in mine (sorry babe!). So this is a factor that a lot of us consider when buying an eraser. To test it out, I filled in one square on a page of graph paper and erased it, then visually inspected the little bits that were left behind on the page and stuck to the eraser itself.
Both the Paper Mate Arrowhead and the Pentel Hi-Polymer left a substantial amount of little black crumbs all over the place. The Helix eraser seemed to roll its waste up into more of a single ball. I’d say that the Helix is slightly less messy than the other two.
Who’s the winner?
The results came down a lot closer than I thought they would! Again, with the Hi-Polymer name attached to it, I had high expectations for the Pentel pencil cap. For whatever reason, it doesn’t quite live up to the abilities of its block eraser namesake, but it still does pretty good. The Paper Mate Arrowhead performs equally as well, though. The Helix pencil cap takes a clear but close third place; it isn’t quite as good at erasing as the other two, but it still did OK.
Delving into the finer details doesn’t do much to break the tie at the head of the pack. The Arrowhead packs more material, but I think the white, angular Pentel looks better. But, the Arrowhead is more affordable — assuming you don’t mind buying them by the gross. Both of them have a good texture & consistency. It’s hard to decide. Meanwhile, the underdog Helix comes out of nowhere and makes a case for itself by being less messy than the others.
Now that the dust has settled, I’m going to give first place to the Pentel Hi-Polymer cap. No, it’s not as good as the block eraser version, and the Arrowhead gave it a good run for its money. But I think it looks better, and it’s generally more available at most retail locations (in these parts anyway) whereas you’d have to go out of your way, or mail order, the Arrowhead, and a lifetime supply of them to boot. I’m going to use up the handful of Arrowhead erasers I grabbed, though, and probably the Helix ones, too. All three of them are good pencil-cap erasers, although none of the are as good as a nice block eraser. But if you are standing in the office supply aisle at a big box store staring the three down and can’t decide, go with the Pentel Hi-Polymer cap. It’s the best of the three (by a hair!) and does a decent job overall.