I’m going to come right out and say it: I’m a little burnt out on reading about a certain pencil from a certain company that sells its products for two bucks a pop and periodically releases special editions that send the pencil nerdosphere into a Beanie Baby level craze. So for this week’s review, I’m going to go in a completely different direction. Something cheap. Something Made in China. Something nobody is buzzing about. And yet, something reminiscent (in some ways) of the aforementioned, unnamed company’s flagship offering. I’m talking about the Marco Grip-Rite 2B (model 9002).
A product of Axus Stationery in Shanghai, the Marco brand is most well known in the west due to a strong following for their affordable colored pencils. Their Raffine and Renoir colored sets have a positive reputation among artists. However, Marco is no slouch when it comes to the graphite game. They produce several lines of graphite writing pencils, and today we’re going to zero in on one that looked particularly enticing when I recently dug through my to-review drawer: the Grip-Rite 9002 in a 2B core.
Marco’s Grip-Rite is a triangular pencil with a straight-forward design. A simple white screen-printed label on one side features the Grip-rite and Marco logos, 2B grade and 9002 model number. The printing isn’t extremely durable; some of the logos were worn straight out of the box. However, its simplicity is refreshing and there are no barcodes, slogans, or other random printing cluttering up the other facets of the barrel. These pencils come un-tipped and un-dipped, and are simply straight-cut across the back end. The lacquer is relatively thin but otherwise smooth and well-done; each box contains several each of three semi-gloss finishes (pink, gray, and blue).
The cross-section of the Grip-Rite barrel is that of a bulbous triangle. Often, tri-grip pencils have a basic triangular shape with flat edges but rounded-off corners. The Grip-Rite has a “Reuleaux triangle” shape, which means that although it has three sides, they each have a circular radius and are slightly curved. While triangular pencils often leave my hand feeling a little cramped, I find the Grip-Rite’s shape to be very comfortable; the curved sides feel a little less aggressive and the Reuleaux shape “fills” my grip out a little more fully.
This review focuses on the 9002 model, but there are other versions of the Grip-Rite out there: the 9001, which features an eraser nub; and the 9003, which has an end dip. Those pencils have slight cosmetic differences, and are available in HB as well as 2B. Perhaps those would make good material for future write-ups.
I was pretty impressed with the level of quality to which these pencils were assembled. The barrels are all quite straight; most of them perfectly so, and the few that were warped were only slightly off. The cores are mostly well-placed as well. Looking at the ends, they appeared to be well centered in general, but one in particular was kinda doofy. This is the one I chose for my review. In practice, its off-centeredness wasn’t consequential.
Sharpening up the Grip-Rite revealed a soft, white-grey wood with no odor — probably basswood. My hand-crank helix sharpeners result in a perfectly clean, smooth and tidy point. A few twists of the trusty brass wedge hand sharpener led to clean results and a nice, long ribbon of wood, although the transition from collar to core wasn’t as seamless.
One freshly-sharpened tippy-tip snapped off during my test run, but for a 2B pencil, that’s not bad. Overall the cores seemed relatively sturdy and well-bonded to the wood. I didn’t have any issues at all with broken core chunks coming dislodged from the casing.
The Marco Grip-Rite 2B is definitely a soft, dark, “Asian 2B” pencil, but with slightly moderate characteristics compared to some of the more adventurous makes and models in that category.
The line darkness of the Grip-Rite is as its 2B designation promises. I swatched it against a bunch of 2B-graded and otherwise dark-writing pencils and found it to be about on par with the Blackwing Pearl, but not as rich and bold as the Tombow 8900 2B (which runs quite dark for its grade) or the Nataraj Bold. So, it’s dark — maybe a bit darker than its typical grade-mates — but still in the 2B ballpark.
Overall, it’s pretty smooth. The Grip-Rite is a little less smooth than the Pearl, which feels more waxy. This pencil has more of a “dry” softness. Of course, compared to HB pencils like the recently-reviewed Musgrave Ceres or an old standby like the Cedar Pointe, the Marco example gives a silky sensation. Unfortunately I happened upon a few pieces of grit in the core from time to time, but these were rare enough that it wasn’t particularly frustrating.
The Marco Grip-Rite’s soft 2B core tends to go dull fairly quickly, which is about par for the course for pencils on the B side of the spectrum. I initially perceived the tip to erode a little faster than other soft pencils, but I’ve been living in the HB world for a while so I was afraid that my judgment might be slightly skewed. I did my due dilligence, though, and got all scientific about it with some repetitive writing experiments. After writing blocks of identical text, I verified that the tip of the Grip-Rite does tend to wear down really fast — faster than the Blackwing Pearl and roughly on par with the Mitsubishi 4563 2B. Which is to say, it’s not very durable at all (even for a soft pencil).
The graphite of the Grip-Rite struck me as a little messier than usual during my daily use. I came across some errant thumbprints and such while doing general-duty writing. Doing a little rub testing confirms this suspicion: it’s more smeary than both the Blackwing Pearl and the Chinese-made Ticonderoga.
Having no eraser of its own, you’ll need a block or end-cap to get rid of mistakes made with the 9002. A good eraser like the Hi-Polymer will make short work of the Grip-Rite’s errors, so there’s no worries there. However the Pink Pearl had some trouble soaking up all of the dark graphite. I’d advise using a good eraser with these pencils. If I ever manage to get my hands on the 9001 iteration, I’ll post an update.
BONUS Sharpener Review
It’s always fun when manufacturers throw in a little extra with a box of pencils, especially a sharpener. The sharpener that came with the Nataraj Bold box is actually one of my favorite hand-wedges of all time, so I was pretty stoked about the little wedge that came with the Grip-Rite box. However, Marco’s sharpener is substantially more “meh”.
The good news is that it sharpens to a reasonably long point. Not as fine and lengthy a taper as my helical sharpeners or, for example, the Kum Long Point. But definitely longer and nicer than most compact hand-wedges, if that’s your thing.
However, I found the finish that the sharpener leaves to be pretty rough and unpleasant. The collars left behind on high-quality cedar pencils were splintery and inconsistent. When tested on the Marco pencils it came with, it completely sheared off the section of collar adjacent to the core, leaving a very exposed “throat” to the lead.
Overall, the bundled Marco sharpener is marginally useful — it’ll do in a pinch, but if you have anything else available you’ll probably want to reach for whatever alternative is handy. The point is nicely shaped, but it gnaws pencils up too much for me.
As I wrapped up this review, it occurred to me how similar the Marco Grip-Rite 2B is to the Mitsubishi 4563: triangular, soft, dark, smooth, smudgy, and in need of a frequent sharpen. That said, I think that the Grip-Rite outdoes the 4563 in a key aspect: the Chinese model seems to have tighter quality assurance and quality control processes, resulting in a better product. In addition, I find the “bloated” triangle shape of Marco’s product to fit my hand more comfortably than the more traditional shape of the 4563.
The Grip-Rite 2B is a little too messy and too quick to go dull to be a favorite of mine, and that’s coming from a guy who is admittedly biased toward soft pencils. But it writes nicely and is quite well-made — it certainly wasn’t cringe-inducing to use. Just for grins, I picked up the standard Blackwing (the “Blackwing Black”) and got reacquainted with it, and it seems like you could also use all of the same adjectives to describe that pencil as the 2B Grip-Rite. So, if sharpening pencils doesn’t bother you and you’re not as mess-prone as I am, you may appreciate the smooth and dark writing that the Grip-Rite 2B offers.
The logo and the color scheme strike me as a little bit juvenile, but often these types of pencils are aimed at students, and Marco does offer similar products with more mature appearances. Anyway, the Grip-Rite 9002 looks like a legitimate, high-quality pencil — and seems to write like one as well.
I give the Marco Grip-Rite 9002 in 2B a good overall grade. It’s dark, smooth, and well-made. The only thing I have to dislike about it is that the tradeoff between line darkness and point retention/smudge resistance isn’t optimal: the writing, while dark and smooth, isn’t quite nice enough to balance out the rate at which the point sheds graphite in my mind. But it’s pretty close. And unlike that other company known for dark, soft pencils, the Marco Grip-Rite isn’t $25 a box.
Fans of the standard Blackwing and the Mitsubishi 4563 2B should give this one a whirl — it’s similar to both, cheaper than the Blackwing, and better made than the 4563.